This recap covers the latest from the Gaza border clashes, a look at the northern border, a measles outbreak in Israel, the earliest discovered reference to Jerusalem, the detention of an American student and more. Come back every week for the latest Israel news (without the rhetoric).
Philadelphia Shooting Victims Remembered in Israel
News of the Shabbat massacre at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania inspired an outpouring of empathy in Israel. On Saturday morning, a gunman entered the synagogue and opened fire, killing eleven while exclaiming, “Jews must die!” What is being called the worst anti-Semitic hate crime ever perpetrated in America might seem less consequential when measured against the type of terrorism and vicious anti-Jewish attacks with which Israelis are accustomed, but in Israel, every attack against the Jewish people, wherever it occurs, is taken seriously. On Sunday night, hundreds gathered in Zion Square at the intersection of Jaffa Road and Ben Yehudah Street. Participants in the vigil candles in memory of the 11 victims. A hand-painted poster expressed the common sentiment in English, “We are with you Pittsburgh!” Arutz Sheva posted a video:
A Ritual of Violence on the Gaza Border
Every Friday, the same scene is repeated at the Gaza-Israel border fence. Masses of hundreds, frequently thousands, of Palestinians gather near the fence, set piles of tires blazing, throw rocks, and launch flaming kites as smaller, bolder groups try to reach breach the border fence or lob an explosive at the Israeli troops on the other side.
They are organized by Hamas and met with tear gas, warning shots, and deadly live-fire from Israeli troops guarding the border. Every week, hundreds of injuries are reported along with several casualties, usually fatally shot by the IDF as the protestors attempt to breach the fence or come too close to hitting the troops.
On Friday, four Palestinians were killed and 170 were wounded, according to the Gaza Health Ministry. Twice, rioters managed to breach the fence for a short period of time, according to Ha’aretz.
On October 17, a rocket fired from inside the Gaza Strip hit a home in Beersheba causing extensive damage but no injuries. The Israeli air force responded with airstrikes on Hamas targets. Israel also halted the transfer of fuel and gas into Gaza and shut down the pedestrian crossing at Erez and the commercial crossing at Kerem Shalom. This exchange also follows a repeated tit-for-tat pattern between terrorist factions in Gaza and the Israeli military.
The weekly clash has become a ritual of protest and violence that has been sustained since March - far longer than previous organized protests at the Gaza border. Here are some numbers so far.
- The clashes have occurred nearly every weekend since March.
- At least 160 Palestinians have been killed in the border clashes. Many of those killed were claimed as Hamas members. (Source: Gaza Health Ministry)
- 1 Israeli soldier has been killed and several wounded at the border since March.
- Hundreds of rockets, mortars and incendiary kites have landed in Israel since the protests began wounding civilians and scorching 8,000+ acres
- Well over 100 Israeli airstrikes have hit Hamas targets in Gaza
Why and How?
This is far from the first protest at the Gaza border, but it’s ability to sustain the violence for more than 6 months now sets it apart. How has Hamas managed to mobilize Palestinians week after week to face Israeli tear gas and gunfire? Propaganda, social pressure, and powerful leaders urging Gazans on is nothing new, but one thing that may be driving the crowds to the fence week after week is the protest is seen as the only available course of action under the current circumstances.
Gaza’s 2 million residents are facing widespread desperation. They get only a few hours of electricity a day, the water is undrinkable, and skyrocketing joblessness and limited freedom of travel lead them to protest the perceived source of oppression. The desperate conditions are largely the result of a joint Israeli-Egyptian blockade on the Gaza Strip implemented when Hamas took over. The blockade includes restrictions on travel, passage of resources, and more in an attempt to restrict Hamas’ ability to carry out terror attacks. Hamas has used the collapsing infrastructure and dire conditions in Gaza to mobilize Gazans to protest to reclaim land and end the blockade through force or international attention.
Israel has maintained their position that Hamas is using the protests to cover border infiltrations and terror attacks and has countless videos of IDF forces repelling Hamas member crossing the fence with weapons. Israel says it is defending its border and its people, and the Israelis accuse Hamas of exploiting young protesters and encouraging them to risk their lives for the sake of inspiring international pressure to ease the blockade. Bolstering that argument is Hamas’ refusal to negotiate with Israel directly and their exploitation of deaths, such as the death of an infant blamed on Israeli tear gas later found to have been resulting from a congenital heart condition.
A New Ceasefire Chance?
For months, Egypt has brokered negotiations between Israel and Hamas, once preventing a full invasion of the Gaza Strip, but every cease-fire so far has collapsed. This week, they’re taking another stab at it. On Friday morning, before four more Palestinians were killed at the border, London Based Arabic newspaper Al-Hayat reported that Egypt had negotiated another deal between Hamas and Israel that promises to end the border riots and launching of incendiary devices.
This deal differs from previous agreements and builds on the foundation of a bigger, long-term agreement discussed earlier this year. In return for a complete halt of violence at the border, Israel pledged to increase sea fishing, fuel, and electricity and allow the continuation of UN humanitarian projects in the Gaza Strip.
Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman told Army Radio on Thursday that Egypt and the United Nations had asked Israel to ease its blockade on the Gaza Strip in another effort to effort to restore calm and prevent a wide scale military confrontation, according to the Jerusalem Post.
The question now is if Hamas can actually stop the protests after creating such momentum throughout the year, or if they will even try to hold their end of the bargain.
Oldest Jerusalem Reference Discovered
Last winter, archeologists in Jerusalem uncovered the foundation of an old Roman structure, not a rare thing in the Middle East, but it’s what was scratched into the base of a limestone column that stood out.
"Hananiah son of Dodalos of Jerusalem."
The inscription, written in shorthand Aramaic—the common language in the Roman Era—seems to be nothing more than an ancient trademark or perhaps “Hananiah was here” graffiti, but this unremarkable inscription is the oldest occurrence of the name “Jerusalem” known to exist. That might seem surprising in view of the fact that King David made Jerusalem his capital nearly one thousand years before the Roman Era. Specifically, the inscription represents the earliest-known mention of the full name of the city that is spelled as it is today. The Israeli Antiquities Authority said the inscription is 2,100-years-old and was discovered during a salvage excavation before paving a road.
Other inscriptions mentioning Jerusalem during First and Second Temple eras are usually abbreviations, according to archeologists. That’s not a surprise because of the 660 times that Jerusalem is mentioned in the Bible, only five of them use the full spelling, according to Brigit Katz of the Smithsonian Institute.
As far as Hananiah son of Dodalos, we don’t know who he is. But there are guesses. Smithsonian.com points out that
“Hananiah” was a common name in ancient Israel, but “Dodalos” was an unusual one and might be a modification of “Daedalus,” the craftsman of Greek mythology. Perhaps Hananiah and his father, then, were craftsmen possible having worked on the structure the inscription was found on. Alternatively, they might have operated a shop housed at that location.
The column with the inscription is now on display at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem.
Syria and Russia in the North
In the past month, Syrian forces supported by Russia have retaken much of the land north of Israel, previously held by rebels, forcing a new dynamic in the discussion between Israel, Russia and Syria.
Israel has maintained that they will act to prevent Iranian encroachment on their border under the guise of Syrian support. To prove that point, Israel has struck dozens of Iranian targets in the past year almost with impunity. One Israeli jet was shot down; the pilot was recovered.
To avoid an escalation, Russia stepped in and ensured Israel that they would keep Iranian forces out of the Golan Heights region near the border. Now that much of that territory is held by the Syrian military, The United Nations Disengagement Observer Force has resumed their activity monitoring the demilitarized zone established after the Yom Kippur War in 1974 but abandoned during the civil war. The UN forces patrol alongside Russian military police.
Though the border is calmer, the conflict is far from cool. Last month, Syria’s Foreign Minister Walid Muallem addressed the UN General Assembly and declared that Damascus aims to recapture the territory from Israel after Syrian regime forces have retaken areas opposite the Israeli border.
Plus, Russia recently supplied Syria with a new air defense missile system - the s-300. The system is designed to provide air defense against presumably Israeli jets striking Iranian/Syrian targets. Israel claimed that their air force will still be able to operate in Syria despite the new system. After Syrian air defense accidently downed a Russian spy plane while targeting an Israeli sortie, Russia demanded that Israel give the Russian military a heads up before carrying out strikes in Syria. Israel declined.
Though the Syrian government has claimed most rebel-held territory, the conflict is not over. So far the war has left more than 350,000 people dead (estimates vary widely and the number could be closer to 500,000) and displaced millions.
U.S. Student Detained in Israel
An American student that was held in an Israeli detention facility for two weeks has been allowed to stay in Israel after the Supreme Court ruled in her favor.
On October 2, Lara Alqasem, 22, was detained at Ben-Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv because authorities claimed she had ties to the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions anti-Israel movement.
Alqasem was on her way to Hebrew University where she was accepted as a graduate student, but was barred from entering the country and was held at an airport facility despite having a student visa from the Israeli Consulate in Miami, according to Ha’aretz.
The story gained traction internationally and dozens of Hebrew University students and professors protested her detention. Israeli officials at the highest level piped in defending her detention including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
"Every country and every democracy has arrangements regarding who can enter and who cannot," Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said. "I'm convinced that [Strategic Affairs Minister Gilad Erdan] has examined the issue. The court is also examining it, and they'll decide whether to let her appeal the decision. If they don't let her appeal, she has to be deported."
But now, the Supreme Court of Israel has ruled and said there was not satisfactory cause to bar her entry.
Alqasem’s father is of Palestinian heritage, and it’s because of that name that her mother, Karen Alqasem says she first encountered trouble at airport security.
Her detention didn’t come out of nowhere. A 2017 law validates barring visitors who support of call for a boycott against Israel - specifically the BDS movement. So far, 15 people have been denied entry because of the law but Alqasem was the only one who appealed to the court.
Israeli Minister of Public Security and Strategic Affairs Gilad Erdan said the student was "president of a chapter of one of the most extreme and hate-filled BDS groups" in the U.S., which has chapters that "repeatedly engaged in anti-Semitic and violent activity with the goal of bullying and silencing students simply for their support of Israel." Alqasem does appear to have been involved in the leadership of the BDS chapter at the University of Florida, and Erdan also claims she "changed her story several times" since arriving in Israel and erased her social media accounts prior to traveling, according to NPR.
After the Supreme Court ruling, Erdan said they granted BDS a victory.
“I deeply regret the Supreme Court’s decision today, which indicates a basic lack of understanding of the nature and methods of the BDS campaign. It has compromised the power of the state to fight back against the boycott activists that harm us,” he said.
The Supreme Court ruling, however, viewed the detention as a test of Israel’s democracy.
“The inevitable impression is that invalidating the visa given to her was due to the political opinions she holds,” the judges wrote. “If this is truly the case, then we are talking about an extreme and dangerous step, which could lead to the crumbling of the pillars upon which democracy in Israel stands.”
Nearly 900 Measles Cases in 2018
The number of measles cases in Israel spiked this year with 882 since the start of the year, nearly 60% of those cases in Jerusalem, according to the Israel Health Ministry.
213 of those cases were reported just last week - that’s enough of a spike to worry health officials, especially concerning the concentration of cases in Jerusalem. Ha’aretz reports that officials are pointing to low immunization rates in Jerusalem and surrounding areas and are planning an immunization campaign focused on the ultra-Orthodox to address the outbreak.
The Health Ministry blames the sickness outbreak on lack of vaccination, but public health funds also said that they had a shortage of vaccines and could run out within a week. The ministry has ordered additional does, but rejection of vaccination in some communities will continue to be a barrier. To try to overcome this, Former Health Minister Yael German asked Haredi rabbis to urge their followers to immunize their children to protect them from the disease and for greater public health.