And yet, the good stuff is with us as well.
It’s been a winter here in Jerusalem that has brought some bitter cold (by Jerusalem standards), and periods of heavy rain, interspersed with warm and sunny days.
Every year at this time, I am pleasantly surprised when I am out and about and start to see blossoms open on the almond trees. Not a profusion – one tree here, another there. But the sight of these blossoms brings a lifting of the spirit: spring is on the way, and it’s so very beautiful in Jerusalem.
In line with our increasingly close ties with India, we have this:
India is close to concluding a number of bilateral military deals and joint projects with Israel, collectively worth some $3 billion – these are expected to be finalized ahead of the first visit to Israel later this year of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s (pictured).
This is potentially big news:
“Scientists at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem have destroyed the HIV virus using peptides containing multiple copies of the virus’ DNA. Combined with existing HIV medications the peptides activate the cell’s self-destruction mechanisms. After two weeks there was no sign of the virus. Human trials will commence in a few months.”
A court decision that moves in the right direction:
Seventy Jahalin Bedouin families who are living in temporary houses illegally on land that is part of Ma’aleh Adumim, east of Jerusalem, had petitioned the High Court for the right to remain were they were. As reported by Regavim, the Court has ruled against them, saying that no building will be done there. While the Bedouin claimed they were in Area B (controlled civilly by the PA), the Court ruled that they were in Israel-controlled Area C.
The State has provided the Bedouin with free plots of land in Abu Dis, where they could build permanent homes; infrastructure and roads are already in place for them. However, the Palestinian Authority has discouraged that move.
Said a representative of Regavim:
“The Palestinian Authority is more concerned with its strategic hold on the area than with the welfare of the Bedouin.”
The confusion I speak of today refers not only to the larger world, which is in utter chaos in many places, but also to what’s going on here in Israel. There is a definite lack of clarity with regard to policy. Enough so to make one’s head spin.
I want to go back to the issue of release of prisoners’ bodies. As I tried to make sense of the policy presumably embraced by Israel with regard to release of those bodies, I found myself mired in that confusion. Until I sorted it out:
Bodies of terrorists who had lived in Israel proper – either with citizenship or Jerusalem residency papers – are under the jurisdiction of Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan, who has a stringent approach to the matter and believes that withholding bodies from the families has a deterrent effect. Bodies of terrorists who had lived in Judea and Samaria, in PA areas, are under the jurisdiction of the Civil Administration, which means Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon, pictured, who has a more lenient policy on the matter.
Ya’alon’s jurisdiction on the matter explains why the bodies of the three “Damascus Gate” terrorists who had been carrying concealed machine guns were released so quickly: they were from the Arab village of Kabatiya.
So, we’ve got two different policies, which seems to me a bit nuts. This is but one example of the confusion potentially created by the fact that Israeli law has not been applied to Judea and Samaria.
But there is more, which was not very acceptable from my perspective. This week it was announced from Erdan’s office that arrangements had been made for the release of the 10 bodies still being withheld of terrorists who had lived in eastern Jerusalem. These were the the terrorists whose families met the three Arab MKs.
What was distressing is that the MKs obviously petitioned Erdan’s office on behalf of the families, and convinced Erdan that those families were ready to abide by his requirements: a small family funeral at night to avoid massive turnouts and inciteful rioting. Additionally, a monetary bond would have to be posted by the family, which would not be returned if the family did not abide by the rules.
Those rules set out by Erdan were good. The problem is that the three Arab MKs had been given credibility. That should not have happened when you consider their behavior when with the families – identifying with their Palestinian cause, standing in silence to honor those “martyrs” killed, etc. As Arutz 7 put it: “The MKs won.”
At first, releases – which are to be staggered – were set to begin the very next day, but this was delayed because of protests planned by Jerusalem Arabs.
Erdan has said that if one family fails to abide by the rules, additional bodies will not be released.
As to the three MKs, the Knesset Ethics Committee received a record 450 complaints about their behavior, including from Prime Minister Netanyahu, Knesset speaker Yuli Edelstein, and other members of the Knesset. The Committee ruled for suspension – which means they cannot participate in the Knesset except to vote. MKs Hanin Zoabi and Basel Ghattas were suspended for a period of four months, while MK Jamal Zahalka – whose record of similar previous actions is less problematic – was suspended for two months.
MK Avigdor Lieberman (head, Yisrael Beitenu), pictured below, who sits in the opposition, has made some “off the wall” comments over time, but is making sense to me of late. On this issue, he said:
“Rather than impose on them the maximum penalty, suspending them from the Knesset sessions for six months and garnishing their wages, and thus really discouraging such actions, the ethics committee has turned the case into a joke by deciding on a punishment that is not serious…”
There is still the issue of whether the three MKs broke the law, which is being investigated by the attorney-general.
And Netanyahu – with backing of the coalition – is promoting legislation that would be added to Basic Law, providing for the long term suspension or even expulsion of an MK, for “behavior inappropriate to their position as a member of the Knesset.” Suspension or expulsion would require a vote of a super-majority of 90 members of the Knesset.
Those on the left are objecting to this, with Tzipi Livni, for example, saying that this will “crumble democracy.” The fear is that this legislation would be used against the political opposition.
I see it precisely the other way around. It is a perversion of democracy, it seems to me, that Haneen Zoabi still sits in our Knesset. In 2014, she wrote in a Hamas- affiliated news site that:
“We must abandon our own deadly trinity – and instead of security coordination, declare popular resistance; instead of negotiating with ‘Israel,’ besiege it; and instead of splitting, unite [Fatah and Hamas].”
Note the “we.” She identifies as Hamas. So did she identify with anti-Israeli radicals and terrorists when she rode on the Mavi Marmara.
And Basel Ghattas?
According to Palestinian Media Watch, he said:
“The day Arab MPs abstain from visiting Martyrs’ (Shahids) families who have lost their precious sons in the turmoil of the struggle against the oppressive occupation – they did not go to kill or attempt to kill for criminal reasons or illegally – the day we abstain from visiting Martyrs’ families, we will have to vacate our [parliamentary] chairs and leave the keys at home.”
We make a laughing stock of ourselves when, in our desire to show our “inclusiveness,” we balk at finding a way to remove Zoabi, and Ghattas, and others like them, from the Knesset.
After chaos ensued yesterday at a Knesset session about this legislation, Nissan Slomiansky (Habayit Hayehudi), head of the Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee, vowed that he would work to remove MKs who support terrorism from the Knesset, one by one.
A man who takes pride in fostering what we should be, without fear of international criticism of our being “anti-democratic or “anti-Arab.”
Another issue that is looming large in public consciousness, and causing no small amount of confusion and angst, is that of Hamas tunnels:
In the last war with Hamas in Gaza, in 2014, we destroyed over 30 tunnels that had been dug under Israel, having crossed the line from Gaza. One of those tunnels is seen here:
Hamas also had an enormous network of tunnels inside of Gaza, used for storing weaponry, ready hiding from Israeli troops, ambushing those troops, and more. Some of these tunnels were damaged in battle, but by no stretch of the imagination was the network destroyed.
We knew that Hamas would get to work immediately after the war, repairing destroyed tunnels and constructing still more. Heavy equipment has been sighted doing excavation on the Gaza side of the border (where a new road has been built very close to the border).
There have been several “work accidents” of late, with 11 people now having died, apparently when tunnels being constructed by Hamas collapsed.
“Last week, IDF Maj. Gen. Yoav Mordechai, the coordinator of government activities in the territories, refused to say whether Israel was involved in the tunnel collapses when asked about this by the Palestinian Ma’an news agency. ‘God knows,’ he answered. ‘I would suggest to the residents of the Gaza Strip not to occupy themselves with the tunnels and to get away from them, especially after seeing the results in recent days.”
The big question has been whether the excavation and repair work is being done only inside of Gaza, albeit right to the border, or whether tunneling is again being done in Israeli soil.
Hamas has in recent days bragged that they have restored tunnels reaching into Israel.
Residents of communities in the south adjacent to the border have said they can hear the tunneling. In a recent response to concerns about the situation, Defense Minister Ya’alon said that all complaints are checked and no tunnels have been discovered dug under Israeli homes.
I don’t know how residents near Gaza felt about this qualified reassurance, but it left me feeling very dubious. Does he mean to say that residents would only hear the tunneling if it were directly under their homes? Surely, this is not the case. And how about if tunnels are being dung 500 meters beyond homes? He didn’t address this.
Minister of Education Naftali Bennett (head, Habayit Hayehudi) came out in favor of a preemptive attack on Hamas.
This is an issue of major significance: How long do we sit still when we know the enemy is increasing its capabilities, and allow that enemy to choose the time of its next attack?
In other circumstances, I would agree with Bennett. But I am mindful of what we are facing to our north, where a larger concentration of our troops is now stationed. The lifting of sanctions against Iran is making it possible for the Iranian government to increase its funding of Hezbollah, which is considered a far larger threat to us than Hamas. To divert too much time and energy into attacking Hamas right now might not be the wisest option.
I do not feel equipped to second guess the government on this.
At any rate, both Netanyahu and Ya’alon criticized Bennett, with Ya’alon calling his suggestion “childish.”
But I was not happy with Netanyahu’s response, which was an attempt at deterrence: If Hamas attacks us via tunnels, he warned, our response would be stronger than in 2014.
The problem here is that the “stronger than in 2014” attack would come AFTER we had been attacked. So, perhaps it is the wrong time for a full attack on Hamas in Gaza, but this suggests that tunnels inside of Israel will remain because we don’t even know where they are. Don’t even know in spite of all we heard about different technologies for locating the tunnels, advanced after the last war.
Then, two days ago, IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot spoke out on the issue, and was somewhat more reassuring. Hinting that much of the effort against the tunnels cannot be spoken about publicly, he said that this is now the IDF’s main priority, and that perhaps as many as 100 engineering vehicles were in the area involved in efforts to find and destroy tunnels.
“We have advanced capabilities…(Emphasis added)
“We will not allow the fact that there is quiet in the south to blind our eyes.”
We have to pray for the success of those advanced capabilities, and for concentrated intent to take out the tunnels, for today’s news is a shocker:
An IDF appraisal of current security threats issued yesterday morning speaks about one major tunnel being excavated way into Israeli territory by Hamas, with 1,000 workers lending efforts to the digging.
The decision was made by Hamas to utilize one major tunnel that would allow a large number of terrorists to launch a significant attack deep inside Israel. The tunnel, says the report, crossed into Israeli territory some time ago and is progressing some 50 meters per day.
What this means, if the report is accurate, is that the information was acquired by intelligence, but we still do not know where this major tunnel is. Reportedly, there are some 30 drills digging down at sites identified via intelligence but the tunnel has not yet been found.
This report possibly helps us understand both Netanyahu’s threats and Bennett’s desire for a preemptive attack.
Enough confusion for one day.
We close with a prayer. Cantor Ya’akov Motzen, praying for the IDF:
If it is reproduced and emphasis is added, the fact that it has been added must be noted.
“We Have Legal Grounds” –