A different Palestinian perspective on Israel, BDS, and human rights

The media are full of bad news, but as much as possible I shall try to stick to good or positive news over the Sukkot holiday. There’s plenty of time to catch up afterwards.

Today’s relatively good news relates to a rather different Palestinian view of BDS, accusations of “apartheid Israel” and much more. For those who haven’t been paying attention, the views expressed by the speaker, Bassam Eid,  a very well-known Palestinian human rights activist, in the following article and video will prove extremely surprising. But for those who know the speaker, whether by reputation or from personal contact, his perspective is not shocking at all.  Bassam Eid has made something of a name for himself as a very clear-headed, straight-talking activist who is not afraid to take on the radical-chic chatterati, the extreme leftists, and the bigots and haters who hate Israel more than they support the Palestinians.

Barry Shaw tells us about Bassam Eid and his work – and how he has been boycotted by the EU amongst others for not being anti-Israel enough! (Emphases are added):

NETANYA, Israel — Bassam Eid is a Palestinian human rights activist. He created Palestinian Human Rights Monitoring Group that focuses on human rights abuses by and corruption in the Palestinian Authority. No other ‘human rights’ organizations focus on citizen abuses at the hands of Palestinian leadership both in Ramallah and Gaza. He was jailed by the Palestinian Authority for his work.

Eid’s organization focused only on human rights violations perpetrated by the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank and the Hamas regime in the Gaza Strip.

“There are many human rights organizations in Israel, whereas there are and were hardly any organizations in the Palestinian Authority that monitored its actions in this regard,” Eid says.

Eid’s organization received significant funding from European states and managed to employ researchers who operated in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Five years ago, however, things changed, and the funding from Europe came to an end.

Why should a person who bravely exposes the corruption and human rights abuses of the Palestinian leadership against their own people be suddenly deprived of his funding by European countries?

“I think it happened because European policy in recent years has been to come down hard on Israel and not the Palestinian Authority,” Eid says. “They view Israel as the main obstacle to the peace process and want to support the PA. One of the ways to show this support is to stop funding organizations that are critical of the PA.

For his outspoken truth Eid was intimidated and prevented from speaking by BDS protesters at the University of Johannesburg in March 2105.

About the Palestinian Authority Eid told Rebel Media;

“The Palestinian Authority is living in one valley and the Palestinian people are living in another valley. There is no communication between the two.”

“Almost not one Palestinian benefited from the money coming from abroad to the Palestinian Authority.”

“I am not sure that there is even one Arab state that is in favor of a Palestinian state. If you take the Palestinian case from 1948 until 1967 the West Bank and east Jerusalem was under the control of the Jordanians and Gaza Strip was under the Egyptian control. Did Jordan or Egypt between 1948 and 1967 try to create a Palestinian state?  …

The evidence that Arab states really don’t care about improving the lot of the Palestinian Arabs can be seen in the factual statistic that not one Arab country is listed in the top twenty nations that donate to Palestinian humanitarian causes.

To Israel, he says, “You must remember that your country is still feeding 1,800,000 Palestinian in the Gaza Strip. The State of Israel is supplying food, medicine and fuel while 22 Arab do nothing and watch Israeli trucks bring supplies into Gaza.

You are still feeding us Palestinians and, thanks to you, we are surviving.”

Watch Bassam Eid in this video (via Yehieli):

Kol hakavod to Bassam Eid. On the one hand it is both saddening and infuriating that he is so ostracised by his own people and by those who claim to support the Palestinians. On the other hand it is heartening that such a courageous man has managed to make a dent in the international media and in international human rights organizations. Maybe he will the harbinger of more brave souls who will follow his lead.

Posted in Boycotts and BDS, Lawfare and Delegitimization | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Sukkot 5776 – Chag Same’ach!

חג סוכות שמח Happy Sukkot!

The festival of Sukkot, the most joyous festival in the Jewish calendar, begins tonight, lasting for 7 days (8 outside of Israel), running straight into the Simchat Torah festival on the 8th day (9th day outside Israel).

Sukkot is the last of the Shalosh R’galim (three pilgrimage festivals). Like Passover and Shavu’ot, Sukkot has a dual significance: historical and agricultural. Historically, Sukkot commemorates the forty-year period during which the children of Israel were wandering in the desert, living in temporary shelters. Agriculturally, Sukkot is a harvest festival and is sometimes referred to as Chag Ha-Asif Chag Ha-Asif (in Hebrew), the Festival of Ingathering.

Inside our Sukkah

Inside our Sukkah

On this festival Jewish households build a sukkah (pl. sukkot), a booth-like structure, where all meals are eaten, and people (usually the menfolk but not solely) even sleep there. The flimsy roof consists of leaves or branches, widely enough spaced so that one can see the stars at night, but close enough to provide shade during the day. It is considered “hidur mitzvah” – glorifying the mitzvah – if the sukkah is beautifully decorated, so of course this provides much entertainment, not to mention arts-and-crafts time, for the children to beautify their sukkah.

The sukkah is a commemoration of the flimsy huts that the Children of Israel dwelt in during their 40 years of wandering in the desert, with only the ענן הכבוד, the Cloud of Glory, to protect them by day and the עמוד האש, the Pillar of Fire, by night.

By leaving our safe and warm (or cool) houses just when autumn and the rainy season starts and going to live in a fragile hut for a whole week, it is also meant to remind us how fragile is our existence on this earth, and it is only by the grace and protection of G-d that we survive.

Arba Minim – the Four Species

On Sukkot we also bundle together the Arba Minim – “The Four Species” consisting of a Lulav (branch of palm), branches of Hadass (myrtle), Aravot (weeping willow) and an Etrog (a citron, related to the citrus family) and during Shacharit (morning prayers)  wave them together in all 6 directions to show G-d’s presence everywhere.  Between Yom Kippur and Sukkot the streets of Israel are packed with markets and stalls selling the Arba Minim and sukka decorations. Many people take extra care when buying their lulav and etrog, examining them minutely as if they were buying a precious diamond.

The weekdays of Sukkot, as on Pesach, are called Chol Hamo’ed (lit. the weekdays of the festival) which are a semi-holiday in Israel. Schools are closed, and many places of work are either closed or work half day, giving families the chance to go on trips, hiking or visiting. On the intermediate Shabbat (Shabbat chol hamo’ed) of Sukkot, Megillat Kohelet (the book of Ecclesiastes) is read in shul. We will have the pleasure of hearing our son reading the megillah in his shul this year, as in previous years.

One of the very exciting events that will be taking place in Jerusalem (h/t Reality) is the Hakhel ceremony on 2nd day Chol Hamo’ed, an event that takes place only once every 7 years:

Jerusalem—The annual celebration of Sukkot is always a magical experience in Israel’s capital. Between haggling for the arba minim (four species) in the shuk, joining Chasidic simchat bet hasho’eva celebrations in Me’ah She’arim, attending the annual birkat hakohanim (priestly blessing) along with thousands of Jews at the Western Wall, and dancing at huge communal hakafot on Simchat Torah, the fall holiday code-named Zeman Simchateinu (The Time of our Happiness) simply comes alive, and the happiness and joy are felt from every corner of the city. However, this year, Sukkot in Jerusalem will be even more unique as it will feature an international event which takes place once every seven years: the Hakhel ceremony.

Hakhel, which comes from the Hebrew root of “gathering in,” is a biblical command dating back to Mt. Sinai. On the first day of Chol Ham’oed Sukkot following the end of the shemitah (ritual sabbatical) year, the King of Israel is commanded to get up in front of the Jews who made the triannual pilgrimage to Jerusalem, ceremonially receive the Torah scroll from several high profile Jewish leaders including the Kohen Gadol (High Priest) and read several passages from the Torah. These readings, which included the two paragraphs of Shema, the command to bring ma’asrot (tithes) on produce, and regulations on Jewish rulers, were followed by seven special blessings which were only said at Hakhel. Even in the time of the Temples, when korbanot (offerings) were consumed by divine fires on a daily basis, the ceremony of Hakhel was considered unique and exciting, and the crowds who attended were so large that the Torah simply writes that it is as if “the entire nation” was there.

After the destruction of the Second Temple over 2,000 years ago, Hakhel itself was discontinued, as there was very little to do without the correct personnel and setting to conduct the ceremony. Rabbi Menachem Schneerson, the last Lubavitcher Rebbe, very famously called upon Jews to conduct their own “mini-Hakhel” gatherings in public places around the world, in order to build unity and encourage the virtues that the Jewish kings read about during the ceremonies.

However, with the founding of the State of Israel and the return of Jewish rulership to the Land of Israel, one of the first issues to return was that of Hakhel. As Jews had been keeping track of shemitah years throughout the exile, it was no secret when to do Hakhel. When the city of Jerusalem was reunited in 1967, and the Jewish people regained free access to the Western Wall, the “where” of Hakhel became a possibility, too. However, it wasn’t until 1994 that the Chief Rabbinate of Israel instituted an official Hakhel gathering at the Wall, with the chief rabbis, the president of Israel and others in attendance.

7 years ago my daughter and I attended the Hakhel ceremony at the Kotel and it was an unbelievable experience. There were hundreds of thousands of people cramming the plaza and standing on all the stairs on both sides leading up to the Jewish Quarter; people were standing on balconies and hanging out of windows all around the area, and the atmosphere was indescribable: so intense and exciting and emotional.  See my pictures below from 2008.

I hope we’ll be able to repeat the experience this year!

If you want some other suggestions for trips and activities during Chol Hamoe’d, the Times of Israel has an excellent, exhaustive list of the best days out this Sukkot. The list covers all the different types of activities, from festivals to Sukkot -related themes to campsites and more, for families, active types, culture vultures, music lovers and others.

Some of the organized tours and tiyulim appeal to me:

Organized Tours

Kfar Kedem takes you back in time to the Mishnaic period. Dressed in ancient style clothing you will milk a goat, make cheese, ride a donkey and learn all about how things were done at the time of the Mishna in the most beautiful surroundings and by fun, animated tour guides.ked

Scavenger hunts in the Old City or Gush Etzion make a fun way to learn and explore with your family. Book your place and tour Israel in a unique way.

Archaeological Dig in Beit Guvrin is a great activity in digancient caves. Be the first to discover new finds with tools just like real archaeologists. Great guides make this very meaningful — a real experience of Israeli history at your fingertips.

Top Tiyulim and National Park events

National Parks — As well as usual hikes, there are special events at some National Parks (free for National Park members), for example, Mamshit Nabatean Market, September 28 – October 3, The secrets of the Megillot at the Qumran, sand sculpting competitions and more…

Ramat Hanadiv — lots of choice here — great trail paths and beautiful gardens to explore as well as a lovely milky kosher restaurant.

Majrasa — Probably the most popular Tiyul especially for young adventurers — a beautiful half hour-long shaded walk in the water!

Einot Tzukim — more swimming than hiking this is a beautiful oasis in the desert great for the whole family

Although the news from our region is unrelenting, posting will probably be very light in the coming week as I prefer to enjoy the chag rather than focus on the bad stuff.

Chag Same’ach!

I wish all those celebrating a chag Sukkot sameach!

!חג סוכות שמח

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Shabbat Shalom

Due to festive overload (and a dash of writer’s block), I’m posting a Shabbat Shalom post instead of my usual Good News Friday. Normal programming will resume some time after the chagim (after the festivals) – that is the usual excuse given in Israel for any delay in anything, from government services to, well, blogging! :-)

Enjoy these beautiful pictures and get yourselves into the Shabbat mood.

Shabbat Shalom everyone!





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Israel coordinates with Russia on Syria as Obama abandons the region

Between Shabbat and chagim and more Shabbat and more chagim the world still goes on, and it’s not always happy reading. Before Yom Kippur we learned of the  Russian military buildup in Syria:

Satellite images showing Russian military installations in Syria

Russia ramped up its military buildup in Syria over the weekend, and there are now a total of 28 combat aircraft plus 16 helicopters on the ground, CBS News national security correspondent David Martin reports.

The Russians masked the transport of the military aircraft by flying them in behind transport aircraft, Martin reports, and the speed of the buildup has surprised the U.S.

If the White House had been paying any attention at all to the goings on in the Middle East instead of abdicating its duty, it would not have been so surprised. But instead of contending with the villains in the Syrian civil war, i.e. Assad, Hezbollah and Iran, the Administration has been arming the rebels – without thought as to who those rebels might be. Harry’s Place describes Obama’s fecklessness on Syria: (emphases added):

The AP reports:

No more than five U.S.-trained Syrian rebels are fighting the Islamic State, astoundingly short of the envisioned 5,000, the top U.S. commander in the Middle East told angry lawmakers on Wednesday. They branded the training program “a total failure.”

After the first 54 fighters were sent in to fight in July, a Syrian affiliate of al-Qaida attacked the group, killing several and taking others hostage while many fled. Asked how many remain, Gen. Lloyd Austin told the Senate Armed Services Committee, “It’s a small number. … We’re talking four or five.”

Congress has approved $500 million to train Syrian fighters, and officials have said fewer than 200 are going through training now. One of the problems has been that many Syrian fighters want training and equipment to fight the government forces of President Bashar Assad, but the U.S. program is limited to rebels who agree to only battle the militants.

Yes, that is a problem. A big one. Especially when it is the Assad regime, even more than the Islamic State, that is responsible for the human catastrophe in Syria that is killing hundreds of thousands and creating millions of refugees, thereby strengthening the extremist rebels.

The American failure of judgement is all the more blatant as the Wall Street Journal reports that Russia and Iran are seen as coordinating on Syria:

Russia and Iran have stepped up coordination inside Syria as they move to safeguard President Bashar al-Assad’s control over his coastal stronghold, according to officials in the U.S. and Middle East, creating a new complication for Washington’s diplomatic goals.

Senior Russian and Iranian diplomats, generals and strategists have held a string of high-level talks in Moscow in recent months to discuss Mr. Assad’s defense and the Kremlin’s military buildup in Syria, according to these officials.

The buildup is continuing: On Monday, U.S. defense officials said Russian surveillance drones have started flying missions over Syria, and Moscow has sent two dozen more fighter jets to Syria.

U.S. officials said they haven’t unraveled the full extent of the cooperation or its intention. “We assume [the Russian buildup in Syria is] being coordinated with the Iranians,” said a senior U.S. official, who said the U.S. tracked Gen. Soleimani’s trip to Moscow.

They assume? Don’t they have intelligence? (Both kinds…). As Chess Master Gary Kasparov wittily remarked on Twitter:

The WSJ continues:

The coordinated Iranian and Russian support for Mr. Assad poses a formidable obstacle to the diplomatic aims of the Obama administration, which wants to remove the Syrian dictator from power.

As support from Moscow and Tehran pours into Syria, the U.S. has moderated its demands that Mr. Assad step down before a transition takes place.

Secretary of State John Kerry said last weekend that Mr. Assad may be able to remain as part of a transition to a new government.

A Tweeter summed it up succinctly:

The WSJ mentions Israel’s concerns (more on that further on) and continues with an analysis of possible competing Russian and Iranian intentions in Syria:

Senior U.S. and European officials said that while they suspect there is significant cooperation between Moscow and Tehran, their long-term interests could diverge.

Mr. Putin, they said, appears to be using the Syria conflict to try to increase the Kremlin’s influence in the Middle East and in the international diplomacy focused on finding a post-Assad government.

Tehran, meanwhile, wants to maintain Syria’s coastal region and the areas adjacent to the Lebanese border as the key supply route for arms going into Lebanon and Palestinian militant groups.

The BBC concurs with this analysis and asks What’s at stake for Russia in Syria?

The increased supplies of arms and weapons systems provided by Moscow will make any military operation against Damascus more challenging. Despite the presence of Russian military advisers and other troops, any direct military confrontation between Russia and Western forces in Syria is unlikely though.

What’s the endgame for Russia in the wider Middle East?

The confrontation between Russia and the West over Ukraine has contributed to Moscow’s heightened engagement in the Middle East. The Kremlin believes that good relations with states in the region can help Russia avoid international isolation and compensate for the negative effect of US and EU sanctions.

If necessary, the Kremlin can also use its leverage with other states in the region, such as Iran and Egypt, to put additional pressure on Western countries.

PM Binyamin Netanyahu and Russian President Vladimir Putin meet in Moscow to discuss Russia’s role in SyriaAs the WSJ above noted, the Russia’s entry into the Middle East poses many problems for Israel. To defuse the situation as much as possible, Binyamin Netanyahu flew to Moscow for a lightning visit, and in an usual step taking 12 officers with him:

DEBKAfile reports that Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu will be attended by twelve military officers when he meets President Vladimir Putin at the presidential dacha outside Moscow later Monday. The executive plane is to carry, along with the prime minister, IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Gady Eisenkot, Military Intelligence Chief Maj. Gen. Hertzi Halevy and another 9 officers, each a specialist in one of the military aspects of the Syrian conflict. It will be a lightening trip. Straight after the meeting with Putin at midday, the prime minister and party are due to fly home.

Following the visit, the PM announced:

The Times of Israel reported: Russia to allow Israeli airstrikes on Syrian arms transfers

“My goal was to prevent misunderstandings between IDF forces and Russian forces. We have established a mechanism to prevent such misunderstandings. This is very important for Israel’s security,” Netanyahu told Israeli reporters during a telephone briefing from the Russian capital.

“Our conversation was dedicated to the complex security situation on the northern border,” the prime minister said. “I explained our policies in different ways to try to thwart the deadly weapons transfers from the Syrian army to Hezbollah — action actually undertaken under the supervision of Iran.”

Netanyahu said that he told Putin in “no uncertain terms” that Israel will not tolerate Tehran’s efforts to arm Israel’s enemies in the region, and that Jerusalem has taken and will continue to take action against any such attempts. “This is our right and also our duty. There were no objections to our rights and to what I said. On the contrary: there was readiness to make sure that whatever Russia’s intentions for Syria, Russia will not be a partner in extreme actions by Iran against us.”

The prime minister told his Russian host that Israel’s policy is to prevent these weapons transfers “and to prevent the creation of a terrorist front and attacks on us from the Golan Heights.” Netanyahu came to the Kremlin to “clarify our policies, and to make sure that there is no misunderstanding between our forces,” he said.

Putin for his part appeared to want to reassure Israel about Russia’s intentions:

Putin replied by saying that the Syrian army was too bogged down in its own civil war to deal with fighting against Israel.

“All of Russia’s actions in the region will always be very responsible,” Putin said. “We are aware of the shelling against Israel and we condemn all such shelling. I know that these shellings are carried out by internal elements. In regard to Syria, we know that the Syrian army is in a situation such that it is incapable of opening a new front. Our main goal is to defend the Syrian state. However, I understand your concern.”

He also said he remains mindful that many émigrés from the former Soviet Union live in Israel, which “has a special effect on our bilateral relations.”

Let’s hope this is not a game of Russian roulette for Israel.

IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Gadi Eisenkot (left) with Chief of the General Staff of the Russian Army General Valery Vasilevich Gerasimov, September 21, 2015. . (photo credit:IDF)

IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Gadi Eisenkot (left) with Chief of the General Staff of the Russian Army General Valery Vasilevich Gerasimov (photo credit:IDF)

An interesting agreement emerged from the Moscow talks, as the JPost reports: Israel and Russia to coordinate in air, sea and electromagnetic arena:

The IDF and Russian military will set up a joint working group to coordinate their Syria-related activities in the aerial, naval, and electromagnetic arenas, a senior defense source said Monday. The source spoke soon after Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Gadi Eisenkot returned from a one-day visit to Moscow, following intensive meetings on Russia’s newly expanded military role in Syria.

According to foreign reports, the Israel Air Force has launched multiple air strikes in recent years to intercept Iranian and Syrian weapons that were on the way to Hezbollah storage facilities in Lebanon.

Israel has shared concerns with Russia that it’s interceptions could be compromised if military coordination is not put into place soon.

In Russia, Eisenkot met with his Russian counterpart, General Valery Vasilevich Gerasimov – the first time chiefs of staff from Russia and Israel held a direct meeting in Moscow. Eisenkot also participated in part of the meeting held between Netanyahu and Russian President Vladimir Putin. Afterward, the two sides agreed to set up a joint working group led by the deputy chiefs of staff from each country. The first meeting will occur in two weeks, and the location will be decided in the coming days.

“It will coordinate air, naval, and the electromagnetic arenas,” the source said. The full composition of the working group has not yet been determined, he added.

“Everything will be raised there. The meetings in Russia were held in a good atmosphere,” the senior source said.

The international diplomatic implications of Netanyahu’s Moscow visit are clear, as Haaretz writes that Netanyahu’s Moscow visit signals end of American era:

The United States was fully informed on the Netanyahu-Putin summit that took place in Moscow on Monday. At least that’s what Benjamin Netanyahu said afterwards. “Our ties with the U.S. are of foremost importance, strong, steadfast and stable. We are entirely coordinated on this matter,” he said. And yet, one of the most significant geopolitical moments in recent years, Israel’s acknowledgement of Russia’s return as a major player in the region, took place without American participation.

Not that long ago, it would have been nearly unthinkable that an Israeli prime minister could ask for, and receive, an invitation to an emergency summit with the president of Russia, in much less time than it would take him to obtain a similar invitation to meet the president of the United States. Netanyahu is still the most American of all Israeli leaders, but one thing he shares with Vladimir Putin is the disdain for what they both see as the weakness and prevarication of the current American leadership. It was that perceived weakness which allowed Putin to continually challenge the West over his invasions of Ukraine and it allowed him this month to steal a march on the United States and become the first world power (and second country after Iran) to put its soldiers boots on the ground in Syria. It is that frustration with the hesitancy of America to act in response to Russia which prompted Netanyahu to rush to Moscow and promise Putin that “Israel is neither for, or against Assad.”

Putin and Netanyahu are not alone in this club of leaders who feel that under Barack Obama, the U.S. has left a vacuum in world affairs. Two other prime ministers in Asia whose politics would normally put them in the pro-America camp, India’s Narendra Modi and Japan’s Shinzo Abe, feel the same, and not surprisingly, Netanyahu gets along very well with them. That’s also true of President Abdel-Fattah al-Sissi, the only Arab leader who has no problem saying in an interview that he speaks with Netanyahu on the phone every week.

“Obama’s reluctance to use his power around the world hasn’t only weakened America’s position,” says one senior European diplomat. “It has weakened the main European countries as well, because we have been so used to operating together with the U.S. over the last 70 years, we can’t go it alone today.

Netanyahu, who is so often and usually justifiably lambasted for his heavy-handed style of diplomacy, can be hardly blamed in this case for his prompt and pragmatic response. In 2012 he bet that Mitt Romney would be elected and was badly mistaken. Three years later, he’s not about to wait around for another U.S. president more to his liking. Putin is the president who has fighter jets and special forces deployed in Syria, while for the first time in eight years, the United States will for the next two months have no aircraft carrier in the Mediterranean or Persian Gulf. Washington still has 10 (soon 11) ocean-going carriers while Russia, despite its efforts, has none; but the test in the Middle East is not having the power, rather being prepared to use it.

There are not many articles in Haaretz with which I agree, but this is one of those rare ones with which I do.

It’s not all plain sailing for Russia by any means though. Could they be getting in too deep? Russia urges action after a shell hits their Damascus embassy:

Russia’s foreign ministry on Monday called for “concrete action” after a shell landed on its embassy compound in the Syrian capital, blaming forces battling Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

“What is needed is not just words but concrete action,” the statement said, adding that “the shelling of the Russian embassy was done from the direction of Jobar, where the anti-government militants are based.”

The militants have “outside sponsors” who are responsible for influencing their actions, the foreign ministry said.

The Russian embassy in Damascus’s Mazraa neighborhood had been hit by shells on prior occasions. In May, one person was killed by mortar rounds that landed nearby. Three were hurt when mortar rounds landed inside the compound in April.


It looks like Russia is going to have its own game of Russian roulette in the region. But who will be the first to go down?

Posted in Defence and Military, International relations, Iran, Mideast news | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 17 Comments

Yom Kippur 5776 – Gmar Hatima Tova!

Jews praying in the synagogue, by Maurycy Gottlieb (Wikimedia Commons)

Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, is upon us once again, beginning in a few hours time here in Israel, when we will be entering a 25-hour fast with day-long prayer services, composed of beautiful, spiritual and emotional prayers and songs, being held in shuls and community centers throughout the Jewish world. It is a day when we must ask forgiveness from our fellow man if we have wronged them, forgive those who have wronged us if they ask to be forgiven, and pray that Hashem will seal us in the Book of Life.

In Israel, traffic comes to a complete halt throughout the country, even in the most secular towns, and a serene and holy calmness pervades throughout the land. Even the international airport and public transport close down for the day, starting from a few hours before the fast until an hour or so after the fast ends.

You can read more about Yom Kippur at Aish.com who have a great Yom Kippur info-graphic.

Sadly the serenity and holiness of the day will be challenged davka in Jerusalem where tensions are still running high and security has been heightened:

Israeli Jews prepared Tuesday morning for the Jewish High Holy Day of Yom Kippur amid increased tensions in the West Bank and Jerusalem, following days of Palestinian rioting centered on the Temple Mount and the al-Aqsa Mosque located within.

Police and the military were on high alert ahead of the 25-hour fast, during which most of the country will shut down and roads will empty.

Thousands of policemen will be spread throughout Jerusalem during the holiday to keep the peace.

The Muslim Eid al-Adha holiday, another possible flashpoint, will start on Wednesday evening, just as the Jewish fast ends.

But let us not dwell too long on the depressing news. Here is something more uplifting to prepare us for the holy day. Rabbi Raymond Apple writes in his column Oz Torah about the meaning of Kol Nidre:

Nothing rivals the awe and splendour of Kol Nidrei night. Nothing rivals the Kol Nidrei melody. But nothing explains the apparent banality of the Kol Nidrei words.

The explanation needs us to acknowledge how often the prayer book appeals to God and says, “May the words of our mouth and the meditation of our hearts be acceptable before You” (Psalm 19:15). We don’t seem to notice that the verse equates the words of our mouth and the meditation of our hearts, implying they are in agreement.

The reality is that there is often a gap. We mean one thing and say another; we say one thing and mean something else. Every Yom Kippur we make a private resolve,

“God, this year I’m going to tidy up my life” – but our hearts say something else, “No I’m not: I like me just as I am and I have no real intention to change anything”.

Enter Kol Nidrei:

“God, make my words match my thoughts, and if I mouth words which I don’t really mean, tell me to stop all the nonsense. Don’t look at my vows; look at my heart. Don’t hold me to empty vows; teach me not to promise things I can’t or won’t do; forgive me for the words which I am unlikely to fulfil…”

He brings us this beautiful rendering of Kol Nidre by Chazan (Cantor) Avraham Feintuch:

In the spirit of the day, I would like to ask forgiveness from anyone whom I might have offended or hurt.

To those who are fasting I wish an easy and meaningful fast.

I would like to take this opportunity to wish my family, friends and readers Gmar Hatima Tova – May we all be inscribed in the Book of Life.

גמר חתימה טובה

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Netanyahu finds his backbone in confronting Palestinian violence

Last week I wondered whether Binyamin Netanyahu was getting more serious about fighting the growing terrorism in Jerusalem, on the Temple Mount, and elsewhere in Israel.  Amongst the measures proposed were the relaxation of the rules of engagement of the police to allow them to use low-velocity live fire against the terrorists and stiffer penalties in court,

Unfortunately, in the week that has passed since Rosh Hashana with its accompanying violence, the number of incidents of stone throwing on Route 443, one of the two main Tel Aviv-Jerusalem highways, has davka increased by 50%  (Hebrew link).

It also ought to be noted that the violence over the weekend included rocket fire from Gaza, although with no injuries thank G-d.

For an idea of what has been taking place over the last few days, Jerusalem Online reports there have been 136 stone-throwing incidents in Jerusalem alone – this is not to mention all the dozens of stone-throwing attacks in other places in Israel as well as arson of forests, firebombings and general mayhem. Here are a couple of pictures via Twitter.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, cabinet sercretary Avichai Mandelblit and Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein

We cannot go on relying on miracles. Sadly, that is what Israel’s Attorney General thinks we ought to do – just play nice and maybe it will all go away.  He opposes tougher penalties on such attempted murder, and considers that the present penalties are sufficient. How he can say that in the face of the latest mayhem is incomprehensible. Here is a partial list of the weekend’s violence, and another report from Sunday:

Underscoring the prime minister’s comments, a vehicle was attacked by some 15 masked figures with stones Sunday morning while traveling from Tekoa in the West Bank, to the neighborhood of Har Homa in Jerusalem.

No one in the car was hurt, but the vehicle’s windshield was smashed in, while glass and other debris fell on a 1-year-old baby and the other family members.

The family managed to escape, but nearly drove into a pole.

Another group of masked individuals threw rocks at a fire truck near the settlement of Beitar. No injuries were reported in the incident.

On Sunday evening, cars in the settlement of Anatot in Binyamin were pelted with rocks. No one was hurt, but three cars were damaged.

But the good news is that, with the backing of Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, Netanyahu finally found his backbone, and insisted that the courts must accept harsher penalties for stone-throwers, despite the AG’s opposition:

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Sunday that Israel’s justice system must accept the cabinet’s bid to enforce harsher measures against those throwing rocks or Molotov cocktails, including changes in the rules of engagement to more effectively target those caught in the act.

“We can’t accept the principle that in Jerusalem, our capital, or in any other part of Israel, people organize grassroots terror and start to throw Molotov cocktails at passing cars,” Netanyahu said. “That will not become the norm here. The opposite norm will be established — we will prevent you proactively, we will punish you with the full force of the law after the act. This norm we will transmit to every citizen, resident, and judge in Israel. With all due respect to the courts, it is our right and our duty to lay down this norm as we did with sex offenses.”

Kol hakavod to him! Now let’s wait and see if the courts take any notice of the Prime Minister’s orders, and whether he will fold in the face of the Attorney General’s opposition.

King Abdullah

Meanwhile Netanyahu’s spine solidified even further as not only did he not accept Jordan’s accusations of Israel’s provocative behaviour on the Temple Mount, but he slammed Jordan for breaching the Temple Mount status quo:

Following Jordanian King Abdullah II’s criticism of Israel over recent violence on Jerusalem’s Temple Mount, Israel reportedly responded to the monarchy and indicated that Jordan itself was allowing the status quo at the site to be broken.

According to a Channel 2 report on Monday, Israel communicated to Jordan that it should not be shirking its own responsibility at the Temple Mount and that it was in fact the Jordanian Waqf that has allowed the rioters who were armed with stones to sleep in al-Aksa Mosque.

Muslim “worshipper” with stones at the ready in the Temple Mount mosque

Abdullah on Sunday indicated to a visiting delegation of Arab MKs from the Joint List that he was following events on the Temple Mount closely and it would be an important subject in meetings with world leaders at the UN next week.

The king told the delegation of five visiting Joint List MKs that the Aksa Mosque was a place for Muslim prayer, with no division or partnership.

Let’s hope that Netanyahu’s new-found courage and stiffened resolve will hold up throughout the long days until calm can be restored in Jerusalem and the rest of Israel once again.

Posted in Israel news, Terrorism | Tagged , , , , , , | 4 Comments
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