July 18, 2018

Palestinian Authority calls on world to stop Israeli attacks on Gaza

The Palestinian Authority on Tuesday called on the international community to intervene to stop Israel from carrying out a military operation in the Gaza Strip.

The PA government, which held its weekly meeting in Ramallah, also repeated its call for providing “immediate and urgent international protection” for the Palestinians.

The PA, however, did not address the issue of the economic sanctions it has imposed on the Gaza Strip. The sanctions include, among other things, halting payment of salaries to thousands of PA employees and forcing thousands of others into early retirement, as well as suspending social welfare assistance to hundreds of families.

Hamas and other Palestinian factions have held the PA responsible for the continued “humanitarian and economic crisis” in the Gaza Strip.

Condemning what it called the “Israeli escalation and threats to launch an aggression on the Gaza Strip,” the PA said that residents of the Hamas-controlled coastal enclave were still suffering from the effects of three “brutal wars waged by Israel and which resulted in the martyrdom and wounding of thousands and the destruction of all aspects of life there.”

The PA also condemned what it termed the “silence” of the international community toward Israel’s “flagrant violation of international and humanitarian laws.” It claimed that Israel was perpetrating “crimes and racist measures against the defenseless Palestinian people.”

Referring to the decision to evict the Bedouin hamlet of Khan al-Ahmar, east of Ma’aleh Adumim, the government, headed by PA Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah, accused Israel of committing war crimes against the Palestinians living there.

Hamdallah told his ministers that the Israeli decision to evict Khan al-Ahmar was part of a plan to “isolate Jerusalem, dividing the West Bank and perpetuating its military occupation.” This purported scheme, he added, is a “flagrant violation of international laws and conventions.”

According to Hamdallah, Israel is seeking, “through its aggression on the Bedouin communities,” to change the reality on the ground and undermine the two-state solution.  “The entire world should move to prevent a new nakba [catastrophe] which the refugees in Khan al-Ahmar are being subjected to,” Hamdallah said.

The PA government also praised the recent decision by the Ireland’s Senate to ban the importation of products from Israeli settlements. It said such decisions underscored the “historic relations between the Palestinians and the Irish people, as well as Ireland’s commitment to defend social justice, equality, freedom and the rights of the oppressed.”

The government called on all EU countries to follow suit and take action against the “illegal settlements and their expansion.”

PLO Secretary-General Saeb Erekat also launched on Tuesday a scathing attack on Israel and accused it of carrying out “extra-judicial killings, assaulting holy sites and displacing Palestinians.” He also accused Israel of pursuing a policy aimed at “Judaizing” Jerusalem.

Erekat, who was speaking during a meeting in Ramallah with Montenegro Minister of Foreign Affairs Srdjan Darmanovic, called on the international community to hold Israel accountable for “violations” against the Palestinians. He also reiterated the Palestinians’ refusal “to accept Israeli and American dictates.”



Trump and Putin praise Israel in Helsinki, diverge on Syria and Iran

US President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin discussed Israel, Syria and Iran in their meeting in Helsinki and in subsequent comments to the press. The public comments provide some insight into their view of the future of the Middle East. With the Syrian regime conducting a major offensive in the south and the US deeply involved in eastern Syria, while Israel demands the Iranians leave, this was a central topic of concern in Helsinki.

Trump went first with a discussion of Israel. According to a transcript published by NPR he said, “we’ve worked with Israel long and hard for many years.” He pointed out that the US has never been closer to Israel than it is today. “President Putin also is helping Israel and we both spoke with [Prime Minister Benjamin] Bibi Netanyahu and they would like to do certain things with respect to Syria, having to do with the safety of Israel.” He spoke as “we,” which apparently indicated Moscow and Washington both working with Israel and “Israel working with us.” He continued, “I think they’re working with Israel is a great thing and creating safety for Israel is something bother President Putin and I would like to see very much.”

Putin argued that Russia was helping to “crush terrorists in the southwest of Syria.” He mentioned the 1974 ceasefire lines on the Golan. “This will bring peace to Golan heights and bring a more peaceful relationship between Syria and Israel and also to provide security for the state of Israel.” He said that he paid “special attention” to the issue when sitting with Trump.

The two also discussed the future of Syria. Trump claimed that the US military was successfully coordinating with Russia in Syria.

“Our militaries do get along very well,” he said. Putin said that Russia was working to establish peace and reconciliation. “Russia and the United States apparently can act proactively and take leadership on this issue.” He emphasized the coordination between the US and Russian militaries in Syria helped avoid “dangerous incidents and unintentional collisions.”

Putin elaborated that the crucial issue now was relating to refugees in Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan. “If we help them, the migratory pressure upon the European states will drop.” He mentioned that Russia was working closely with Turkey and Iran, “so that we will be able to maximize our fighting change together for ultimate success in the issue of Syria.”

Putin shrugged off a question about the “ball” being in Russia’s court in terms of deciding what’s next in Syria. He said he would hand the ball to Trump, and made a joke about the World Cup. Trump agreed that humanitarian concerns were a key for the people of Syria.

On Iran, Putin said that the Iranian nuclear deal had helped ensure the peaceful nature of the Iranian nuclear program.” Trump emphasized the need to pressure Iran and “stop its campaign of violence throughout the area, throughout the Middle East.” The US President then said that the US would not allow Iran to benefit from the defeat of ISIS.  Trump claimed ISIS had been defeated 99%. He said Russia was helping.

So what was said and unsaid? Both Putin and Trump appeared to understand and to some extent support Israel’s concerns regarding Syria. They were keyed in to Jerusalem’s policy, which has included airstrikes on Iranian threats in Syria over the last six years. The use of the word “us” and “we” to describe Israel’s relationship with Moscow and Washington points to an unprecedented level of understanding between Jerusalem and the two world powers. Probably never before have Moscow and Washington been closer in terms of listening to Israel’s concerns. The fact that both Washington and Moscow have their own agendas in Syria, neither of which always mesh with Israel’s agenda was left unsaid. The fact is that Russia cannot remove Iran from Syria, which is Israel’s main goal. Washington also has not committed to a mission to rollback Iran in Syria, still concentrating resources on defeating ISIS.

Putin sees Iran as an important player in the region and not as an adversary. He would like to work more closely with Turkey as well. Trump meanwhile is adamantly opposed to Iran. Here the two leaders expressed differences. Putin was noticeably tight lipped about his views of Tehran’s policies. This could point to growing daylight between Moscow and Iran but it more likely points to Putin’s tendency towards generalization that allows Russia more room to maneuver. The US prefers clearly stated goals, while Russia prefers the veneer of discussion international law, while the opaque nature of Moscow’s actual policy relating to Iran in places like Syria.

Overall the meeting between the two leaders was weak on substance. Prior to the summit some in Israel had pushed stories about Russia agreeing some sort of concept where Iran leaves Syria when the conflict is done. But after Netanyahu’s meeting with Putin and then after Trump’s meeting it is clear that there will be no clear comment about Iran’s future role in Syria, or about Israel’s continued opposition to any Iranian forces remaining.



PA protests Tisha B’Av event in Jerusalem

The PA “foreign ministry” issued a statement denouncing the intention to hold a Tisha B’Av march around the walls of the Old City, a tradition that the “Women in Green” organization has been carrying out for 24 years.

In its statement, the PA said that this was a “provocative step” aimed at “realizing sovereignty over Jerusalem, the eternal capital of Israel, and uniting the city as the capital of Israel, under the auspices and with participation of a number of Israeli public figures.”

“This march is a continuation of the radical policy prevailing in the political arena in Israel and among the settlers, especially since Trump’s ominous statement about Jerusalem, the transfer of the American embassy to the city, the ongoing Judaization of the holy city and its separation from its Palestinian surroundings.” According to the statement, the move “prevents the establishment of a viable Palestinian state, sovereign and territorial, with East Jerusalem as its capital.”

The PA called on the international community “to act immediately to defend what remains of its credibility, to implement the relevant UN resolutions and to take measures to force the State of Israel to comply with international law and the international desire for peace.”

“The fact that Israel is not obligated to account for its aggressive and provocative conduct encourages it to continue to commit further violations and crimes and to continue the violent isolation of occupied Jerusalem and its holy places,” the statement said.

Women in Green said in response: “The Tisha B’Av march is meant to strengthen our sovereignty in the eternal city of Jerusalem, the capital of Israel, and we thank the President of the United States, Donald Trump, for supporting this trend. We are proud that this march is another step in the moves to thwart the establishment of a Palestinian terror state in the heart of the country, as they themselves claim. The steps for sovereignty in Jerusalem are part of the overall process on which we are working to apply Israel’s sovereignty over Judea and Samaria.”



Flaming balloon from Gaza lands in preschool near children at play

A balloon from Gaza carrying flaming materials landed in the yard of a preschool in an Israeli community near the border Tuesday as children played outside. A teacher managed to get the children inside and there were no injuries.

“We went out to the yard with the kids in the afternoon to play,” teacher Batsheva Baruchi told Channel 10 news. “After five minutes something burning and smoking fell on us from the sky. I immediately understood it was an incendiary balloon.”

Baruchi said she and other workers at the school in the Sdot Negev Regional Council herded the children into a safe room. “We were saved,” she said. “What if it had fallen next to one of the children?”

Police sappers were called to the scene. No damage was caused by the balloon.

While most kites and balloons flown into Israel in recent weeks have carried incendiary devices meant to burn Israeli fields and property, some have been attached to makeshift bombs.

Shortly before the incident an Israeli drone conducted an airstrike near a group of Palestinians launching incendiary balloons into Israeli territory from the northern Gaza Strip, injuring two of them, according to the Hamas-linked Shehab news outlet.

The military confirmed that one of its aircraft carried out the strike.

Earlier in the day, a suspected incendiary device attached to a balloon landed on the grounds of an elementary school in the Eshkol Regional Council. The school was closed for summer vacation, so no kids were nearby when the balloon landed.

Recent months have seen daily arson attacks from Gaza with incendiary kites and balloons that have burned thousands of acres of Israeli forests, farmland and brush. Some 2,500 acres of nature reserves and national parks have been destroyed.

Following a significant flare-up in violence over the weekend and continued airborne arson attacks, Israel severely limited the movement of goods into the Gaza Strip through the Kerem Shalom Crossing starting Tuesday and has threatened further action if the stream of kites and balloons does not stop.

Saturday saw some 200 rockets and mortar shells launched at Israel as the IDF carried out wide-ranging raids against terror targets across Gaza.

On Sunday, the IDF’s 162nd Armored Division launched an exercise simulating a war in the Gaza Strip, including the capture of Gaza City, which the military said was planned in advance and was not related to the weekend’s exchange of fire.


Kids learn to look people in the eye at new Israel Museum exhibit

“Eye to I,” a new exhibit at the Israel Museum, offers young museum visitors an interactive look at relationships and various ways to look people in the eye, so to speak.

The Youth Wing exhibit, which opened June 27 and will continue through next April, casts an eye on a skill set that’s particularly important in the era of texting and technology, said curator Shir Meller-Yamaguchi.

“Looking at people eye-to-eye is a special experience and is important for creating connections and for understanding one another,” said Meller-Yamaguchi. “Art allows us to reflect on our relationships and emphasize what is really important.”

The two floors of the exhibit are structured to represent the different kinds and stages of relationships, said Meller-Yamaguchi. There is a darker, slightly ominous bottom level that represents encounters with strangers, and a lighter, more colorful upper floor showing what happens when people connect deeply with one another.

The exhibit begins with a section called “Face-to-Face” and a piece by Scottish artist Gordon Douglas, with phrases splashed across a white wall, creating an opening to talk about social encounters of different kinds.

Further along the gallery is “Current Destination” by Noa Yekutieli, with side-by-side images of two embraces. The first is a silhouette formed by the image of Syrian refugees crowded on a boat seeking safety. In the second piece, arms are shown, folded in a long embrace. The figures in the two artworks are identical but alternate between black and white, conveying that sometimes people need a hug and at other times are able to offer one.

The show follows with a “Read My Face” gallery, concerning facial expressions and the use of virtual emotions such as emojis,

“In the digital age you can hide your feelings by sending a smiley face, but real feelings aren’t so simple,” said Meller-Yamaguchi.

Upstairs, viewers move into the “Close and Far” section, which illustrates how relationships are constantly being tested and moving together and apart.

A piece by Einat Amir allows the audience to become part of the artwork, with soundproof booths where participants enter in pairs and are instructed to answer increasingly personal questions. The lighting gradually becomes warmer as the questions become increasingly personal.

“It asks questions that we normally don’t ask,” said Meller-Yamaguchi. “One father said that he never had conversations like that with his daughter before.”

In “Together or Alone,” artists explore relationships with family members, which aren’t always as close as we think despite shared living quarters.

Artist Daniel Landau designed a single living room that combines the home environments of two families, one Arab and one Jewish, groups that often remain separated despite living next to one another.

Through a virtual-reality component, viewers can see within the real homes of both families and meet their members, deepening their understanding of possible encounters in today’s world.



Israel’s Evogene to develop insect-resistant cotton with Brazilian seed-grower

Israel’s Evogene Ltd., a plant genomics company that uses gene modification to improve crop quality and productivity, has reached an accord with Brazil’s Instituto Mato-grossense do Algodão (IMAmt), a developer and marketer of cotton seeds, to work together on the development of insect-resistant seeds.

As part of the accord, Evogene will identify genes that are effective against the cotton boll weevil and the fall armyworm, Evogene said in a filing to the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange on Tuesday. IMAmt will validate the findings in its lab, and if they are found to be correct, the parties will enter negotiations for a commercial license agreement, the statement said.

Cotton is among the most significant commodity crops. Global production is estimated at $30 billion, with Brazil being the fourth-largest producer of cotton in the world, the filing said.

The cotton boll weevil and the fall armyworm are among the most devastating pests threatening the cotton industry. It is estimated that the former, which feeds on cottons buds and flowers, inflicts annual costs of $468 million in Brazil alone, with insecticides being only marginally effective.

The fall armyworm can cause significant damage to crops including rice, sorghum, millet, sugarcane, vegetable crops and cotton, the filing said.

As part of the agreement, Evogene will screen its extensive insecticidal gene database and select genes that can resist the two pests. IMAmt will validate these genes in the lab against the target pests, the statement said.

“When visiting Evogene, we saw great potential for a collaboration between our two companies,” Alvaro Lourenco Ortolan Salles, IMAmt director, said in the filing. “We are confident that together we will be able to respond to the various challenges that tropical agriculture imposes on us.”

Arnon Heyman, VP Evogene and general manager of the Ag-Seeds division, said there is “increased interest” in the company’s unique genetic database, and it could be “leveraged for targeting additional insects.”

Making the next generation of insect-resistant seeds has been identified by Rehovot, Israel-based Evogene as one of its main growth engines.

The company applies mathematical algorithms to plant biology to seek out genes that make seeds more resistant, enabling farmers to produce higher-yielding crops for a world that is being forced to produce more with less resources, as populations grow and the quantity of arable land declines.