Shortly after posting a selfie taken with Miss Israel, Miss Iraq began receiving death threats. Also in this weeks Israel news recap: Trump’s Jerusalem Fallout; Labor Strike in Israel, and China’s new Middle East role.
Trump’s Jerusalem Fallout
Just over a week has passed since President Trump officially recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.
The nearly worldwide condemnation of that move was coupled with a call from Palestinian leadership and Hamas for rage and mass protests against the U.S. and Israel. The past week has not sent the Middle East spiraling into total war but was not without incident.
Protests and riots broke out at about twenty locations on the Gaza border and in the West Bank drawing a strong response from the Israeli Security Forces. Soldiers responded with tear gas and other deterrents as protesters threw rocks and blockaded streets. In some cases the Israeli military responded with live ammunition saying they were targeting instigators of the riots. Two were shot dead at the Gaza border. Varying accounts allege that between four and ten Palestinians were killed in the clashes. A Palestinian wearing a fake bomb belt was also shot after stabbing an Israeli border police office.
Sporadic rocket fire from Gaza into Israel targeted villages near the border with one rocket striking near a home in Ashkelon. No casualties were reported. Israeli airstrikes hit four Hamas facilities killing at least two terrorists and injuring dozens of civilians. In a separate operation the IDF destroyed a Hamas terror tunnel and boasted new tunnel detecting technology that an Israeli official said he hopes will make terror tunnels a threat of the past.
Besides the violence, the diplomatic fallout of Trump’s decision is still continuing. After Vice-President Mike Pence postponed his visit to the region many Arab leaders canceled their meetings with him signifying a major roadblock to the U.S. involvement in negotiations. The pope of Egypt’s Coptic Church canceled a meeting with Pence saying that the vice-president did not take into account the “feelings of millions of Arab people.”
White House officials say they remain committed to finding a peaceful resolution in the Middle East.
Strike Grinds Israel to a Halt
The wheels of Israel’s infrastructure ground to a halt on Sunday as hundreds of thousands of workers in the main public-sector union staged a half day strike to protest massive layoffs planned by Israel’s TEVA Pharmaceuticals. One of Israel’s largest companies, Teva is an economic super-house for the small state and one of the world’s largest maker of generic drugs. Last week the company announced it would cut some 14,000 jobs from its global workforce, 1,700 of those in Israel where the manufacturing plant will close. The cuts come as a result of massive company debt, but the Histadrut labor federation says that the workers should not be paying the price for the company’s failings.
The resulting strike is forcing the temporary closure of airports, banks, all government ministries, and the stock exchange. Strikers blocked major roads and burned tires.
Public transportation still operated for soldiers.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he planned to meet with Teva’s chief executive, this week to try to minimize the blow to workers.
China Premieres New Role in Middle East
Israeli and Palestinian delegations will meet in Beijing this weekend at the invitation of the Chinese Foreign Ministry, which is funding the visit.
Not a traditional player in Middle East power games, Chinese officials have recently expressed interest in becoming more active in facilitating Middle East negotiations. Historically, China has not involved itself deeply, at least not overtly, in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but by the end of this conference China said it will hold a press briefing to announce the country’s position on the conflict.
Though China has kept its distance from the conflict in the past, they have made recent investments both political and economic into both the Palestinians and the Israelis. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has supported tightening relations between the two states, especially after China opened a $5.7 million (USD) cultural center in Tel Aviv last month. Last week, however, China made it clear that they supported the creation of a Palestinian state with its capital in East Jerusalem.
Last month during a meeting with Netanyahu Chinese President Xi Jingping said “A peaceful, stable, and developing Middle East serves the interests of all, including China and Israel.”
Rather than politics or ideology, one reason for China’s recent interest in Israel is economics. Israel and China signed a $300 million trade agreement in September boosting the export of Israeli environment-friendly energy and agricultural technologies to China.
If China continues to build relations in Israel they may fill the role traditionally occupied by the U.S. as peace-talk facilitator after the severing of diplomatic relations between the Palestinians and the U.S. last week.
Miss Iraq Flees after Selfie with Miss Israel
A seemingly innocent selfie an Iraqi beauty queen took with Miss Israel turned into a nightmare for her and her family after receiving death threats for taking the photo.
The selfie was snapped during a Miss Universe event in November when Sarah Idan, Miss Iraq, took a photo with Adar Gandelsman, Miss Israel, and shared it on Instagram with the caption “Peace and Love from Miss Iraq and Miss Israel.” It received well over 5,000 likes but also death threats.
Shortly after sharing it, Gandelsman told Israeli TV that Idan began receiving threats against her and her family saying they would be killed if the photo was not removed. Now, her family and relatives have fled Iraq fearing for their lives.
Idan, who lives in the U.S., confirmed the threats with a tweet saying “I’m not the first nor the last person to face prosecution over a matter of personal freedom. Millions of Iraqi women live in fear. #freeiraqiwomen.”
Idan went on to defend her friendship with the Israeli model in another post.
“I want to stress that the purpose of the picture was only to express hope and desire for peace between the two countries,” she said, adding that the photo “does not signal support for the government of Israel and does not mean I agree with or accept its policies in the Arab homeland.”
Many Arab countries including Iraq do not have diplomatic relations with Israel.