News Digest — 7/26/23

Tisha B’Av: What The Jewish Summer Fast Day Is All About

Jews around the world are set to mark, remember and mourn on Tisha B’Av (the ninth day of the Hebrew month of Av) Wednesday night (26th) and throughout the day Thursday (27th), the anniversary of the destruction of the First and Second Temples in Jerusalem and a number of other calamities in Jewish history that occurred.

Tisha B’Av is first and foremost a fast day, where Jews abstain from all food and water for an approximate 25-hour period starting from sunset till nightfall the next day.  It is also the time when the Jews read the Book of Lamentations in which the biblical Prophet Jeremiah laments the destruction of Jerusalem and the subsequent exile from the Land of Israel.

While most commonly associated with the destruction of the First and Second Temples, Tisha B’Av actually marks a number of calamities throughout Jewish history.  Chronologically, the first such tragedy is believed to have been the sin of the spies.  According to some traditions, the day that the 12 spies gave a slanderous report about the Land of Israel to the Jews in the desert, leading to that generation being forbidden from entering the land, is traditionally believed to have occurred on Tisha B’Av.

A number of other events are often cited as calamities befalling the Jewish people that occurred on or near the ninth of Av, including the Roman destruction of Betar and crushing of the Bar Kochba revolt; the First Crusade;  expulsion of the Jews from England France and Spain; the beginning of World War II; the formal approval of the Nazis Final Solution; the mass deportation of Jews from the Warsaw Ghetto to concentration camps, the 1994 bombing of the Argentine Israelite Mutual Association (AIMA) in Argentina by Hezbollah; Israel’s 2005 Disengagement from the Gaza Strip and more.



PLO Calls To Disrupt Tisha B’Av Services

The PLO in Jerusalem announced a “Night of Rage” on Wednesday (26th) this week that will take place all over “occupied Jerusalem.”

In a published message the organization called on Muslims to come and stay at the Al Aqsa Mosque and hold prayers there on the night when the Jews mark Tisha B’Av, which marks the mourning of the destruction of the two Jewish Temples.

The Muslims who will come to Al-Aqsa Mosque were also called to oppose the expected “invasion” of Jews visiting the Temple Mount on Thursday (27th), during the fast.

The organization emphasized that Israel’s attempt to damage the sanctity of Jerusalem will bring nothing but disaster and humiliation and called for Palestinian youth to confront the “occupation” in every street and square.

At 9:30 on the evening of Tisha B’Av there will be a reading of the scroll of Lamentations in front of the Western Wall, and the following morning (Friday, 28th) a visit by many Jews to the Temple Mount is expected.



Hezbollah Armed Operatives Spotted Patrolling Israeli Border

In footage filmed Tuesday morning (25th) by an IDF soldier stationed on the Lebanon border, several masked Hezbollah gunmen are seen peering into Israeli territory from beyond the fence, the military said.

IDF sources clarified that the operatives did not cross the so-called Blue Line demarcation  and did not pose a threat to the locals or forces.  However, this incident constitutes a violation of UN Resolution 1701, which prohibits Hezbollah from operating on the border.  According to the sources, Hezbollah operatives initially tested the boundaries of the resolution, and in recent months, they have moved freely up to the border line without any response from Israel.

Last week, Hezbollah-affiliated TV channel Al Manar published footage showing IDF Chief Of Staff Major General Herzl Halevi standing alongside a group of soldiers and officers during a tour near the Lebanon-Israel border.  According to Al Manar reporter Ali Shoaib, the video was filmed while the group was at the border line, facing the Lebanese village of Houla, which is just a mile over the Israeli border. 

Tal Be’eri of the Alma Research and Education Center, which monitors Hezbollah activity on the northern border, stated that he estimates that “Hezbollah was not informed in advance of the chief of staff’s arrival.  It is possible that the person who filmed did not know whom he was filming, but he understood that it was an important visit based on the number of people and the security detail.  His role was to film everything happening near the border – and that’s what he did.  Hezbollah identified him later.”

In early July, Israeli security officials confirmed that Hezbollah personnel dismantled one of two posts that were erected in Israeli territory on Mount Dov near the Lebanon border.  However, they reported that the number of people stationed at the post did not change, remaining between six to eight gunmen, who all gathered inside the remaining structure.

Hezbollah relocated the structure to the Lebanese side, north of the Blue Line.  Initially, their operatives only removed a part of the tent, and later dismantled the infrastructure and moved its concrete base.  Israel believes this step was taken due to heavy international pressure exerted on the Lebanese government from the US, France and the UN.

In response, the IDF stated, “As part of routine activity last week, IDF forces documented Hezbollah operatives moving in the Lebanese territory near the border.  The operatives did not cross the Blue Line and were closely monitored by our forces.  If they had crossed, the force would have acted accordingly.  There was no apparent danger to our forces or the residents of the north.  IDF forces will continue to operate in the border area to protect the security of the northern residents.”



Israel, Vietnam Agree On Visa Waiver And Direct Flights

Foreign Minister Eli Cohen met Monday (21st) with Vietnam’s deputy Prime Minister Luong Cong Truong, who is visiting the country at the head of a delegation that includes the Commerce and Industry Minister, Deputy Foreign Minister, Deputy Science and Technology Minister and other senior officials.

During the meeting, Vietnam agreed to add Israel to its E-visa project in the coming months, allowing Israeli citizens to obtain a fast and affordable electronics visa to the country without the need to visit an embassy or pay a fee.

Following the decision, Israelis will be able to enter Vietnam with an electronic visa starting from October 2023.  Additionally, Vietnam’s deputy prime minister announced during the meeting that direct flights from Vietnam to Israel will also begin in the coming months.

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, around 20,000 Israeli tourists visited Vietnam annually, and it’s estimated that the change in visa and direct flight policy will increase tourism ties between the two countries, which are celebrating 30 years of diplomatic relations.

Currently there are no direct flights to Vietnam, and the route involves at least one connecting flight.  Israeli travelers who wanted to visit the increasingly popular destination made the connections mostly through the United Arab Emirates, Turkey or one of the Far East countries.

If the agreement is approved, including a clearance to fly over Saudi Arabia’s airspace, the only airline with the capability to apply for flying Vietnam-Israel will be El Al.  However, Vietnamese airlines are also expected to compete for the route and other direct flights.

The officials also discussed the expected signing of a Free Trade Area agreement between the two countries.  Vietnam is the second Asian country to sign a Free Trade Area agreement with Israel after Korea, making it the first such agreement made by Vietnam in the Middle East.

Trade between the countries reached around $2 billion in 2020, with approximately 90% being Vietnamese exports.

“The agreements allow a significant increase in the availability of direct flights to various destinations and the removal of restrictions on the number of airlines operating direct flights to these countries,” according to a statement from the Transportation Ministry.

“Updating the agreements between Israel, Vietnam and Thailand, alongside approval for flights to and from Israel to fly over Saudi Arabia’s airspace, which significantly shortens flight times to the East, opens the market to additional companies operating direct flights to these countries,” the ministry statement added.

“The increase in flight availability to these destinations is expected to encourage competition in flight routes and lead to reduced flight prices, while increasing the number of tourists between Israel, Vietnam, and Thailand,”

“Direct flights and an ease in issuing visas will strengthen tourism ties between the countries and promote economic relations between Israel and Southeast Asia,” Cohen said.

In addition, Transportation Minister Miri Regev presented a new flight agreement with Azerbaijan to the Knesset, along with significant updates to aviation agreements with Vietnam and Thailand – now pending approval by the government.



Exclusive: Israel Rebukes Jordan Over Restrictions On Religious Jews

Foreign Minister Eli Cohen has recently sent an official demarche (letter) to Jordan in protest of the kingdom’s treatment of religious Jewish tourists, Israel Hayom has learned.

The letter of protest comes on the heels of a troubling incident some two weeks ago in the Yitzhak Rabin Crossing north of Eilat when 150 haredi Jews were essentially imprisoned for 48 hours upon entering the Jordanian side.  According to their version of events, the Jordanian security officers insisted that they cut their traditional sidelocks.  The official reason cited by the guards was that it was safer for tourists not to be visibly Jewish while traveling.

Israel has rejected that claim and as a result, Cohen has taken the usual step of issuing a rebuke letter, sending it to the Jordanian Embassy in Tel Aviv.  In the letter he writes that it is not the first time religious Jews were asked to take such discriminatory steps.

The Jordanian restrictions of this nature have been documented for several years now, and it includes a prohibition on having Jews publicly wear kippot or bring Jewish scripture, prayer shawls, and phylacteries, as well as kosher food.  In his letter, Cohen said that while Israel appreciates the Jordanian desire to ensure the Israelis’ security, it is inconceivable that this would result in having them not enter Jordan or force them to dispose of Jewish artifacts.  He called on the Jordanian side to end this policy and offered to conduct dialogue to find a solution.

“It is just beyond the pale that Israelis would be discriminated against in the border crossing and denied entry just because they are religious Jews,” Cohen said.  “The peace between Israel and Jordan is important for both countries.  We will engage the embassy in Israel and the Jordanian authorities so that we may find a solution for thousands of Israelis who want to visit Jordan but cannot currently do so just because they carry various items.  We are taking many diplomatic steps to resolve this issue.”



Illegal Palestinian Construction On Biblical Site Prompts Rare Israel Action

Over the past several days, Staff Officer for Archeology (SOA) inspectors within the Civil Administration carried out enforcement operations in the Tel Aroma archeological site in Samaria, located in Area B, which is under Palestinian civilian control.  This is a relatively rare operation since, up until several months ago, the Civil Administration refrained from enforcing violations of archeological sites not located in Area C, which is in full Israeli control.

“Tel Aroma” is a biblical site mentioned in the Book of Judges and a Hasmonean fortress city.  It overlooks the Itamar Ridge and has been suffering from extensive destruction of its archaeology.  Among other incidents, it was discovered that a Hasmonean fortification wall with a unique Herodian addition of decorated stones was stolen.  About a year ago, Israel Hayom revealed that the Palestinian Authority planned to build a Palestinian heritage site and a mosque commemorating the Shahids (martyrs) at the location.  This plan was considered “terrorism aimed at harming Jewish history” by Yossi Dagan, head of the Shomron Regional Council. 

The “Shomrim al Hanetzach” (Preserving the Eternal) organization said that last week, the Civil Administration personnel confiscated an excavator used at the site to pave an illegal road while destroying archeological finds.  As a result of the excavator’s confiscation, the violations were stopped.

The Civil Administration has recently changed its policy and began operating in Area B as well, where violations of antiquities laws and archaeological site destruction occur.  Several months ago, Israel Hayom reported that the Civil Administration operated in the Khirbet Turpin ruins, also located in Area B.  At the beginning of this month, SOA personnel operated in Khirbet Turpin again, confiscating four vehicles and arresting looters at the scene.

“We welcome the new trend,” Moshe Gutman, chairman of Preserving the Eternal, noted.  He said, “The State of Israel has understood that it is also responsible for heritage sites located in Area B.  The policy change that began in Khirbet Turpin is spreading throughout Judea and Samaria, led by the political echelon.  We hope to see more and more effective enforcement operations such as these.  The heritage belongs to us all.”

The Israeli government declared a stated goal to act against the phenomenon of archaeological site destruction in Judea and Samaria and preserve the Jewish heritage in the region.  Last week, as was published by Israel Hayom, the government approved a massive plan to combat the destruction of antiquities, allocating $32 million to the cause.