News Digest — 1/19/22

Golan Covered In White As Jerusalem Braces For First Snow In Years

Residents of the Golan Heights in northern Israel woke up Wednesday (19th) to a thick layer of snow covering the ground, with snow also expected in the higher peaks of central Israel, including possibly Jerusalem.

Emergency, rescue and medical services were gearing up for a major storm that is set to last through Thursday (20th).

Police said major roads in the Golan have been closed to traffic while schools in the area remained shut due to weather conditions.

The snow began on the highest peaks early Wednesday (19th) and spread to the rest of the plateau, with some falling on the Galilee highlands.

On Mount Hermon, the highest point in the country, 6 inches of snow fell at the lower levels while on the summit 10 inches of snow accumulated.  Due to the weather, the site’s ski center was closed.

Temperatures are expected to drop during the course of the day across the country.  Flood warnings were issued in coastal and other low-lying areas.

Heavy rainfall, accompanied by thunderstorms will continue along the coastal plain until Thursday (20th).

Torrential downpours on Sunday (16th) resulted in several areas being flooded, with some people requiring rescue from stranded vehicles and an entire neighborhood in Lod cut off by water.

The temperature in Jerusalem on Wednesday (19th) is expected to be 34 degrees Fahrenheit and in Tel Aviv 48.

The Water Authority said the water level in the Sea of Galilee had risen by 1.5 centimeters since Tuesday (18th) and now stands at 209.56 meters below sea level, 76 centimeters below full capacity (30 inches).

Israel’s central mountainous region, including Jerusalem, gets snowfall once every few years.

In 2013, a major blizzard knocked out power in several neighborhoods after blanketing the city with one foot of snow.  That same storm hit higher elevations south of the city with up to three feet of snow, and was deemed a once-in-a-century event.

However, eastern Mediterranean weather is fickle, and predictions of winter wonderlands often do not pan out.



PM Offers ‘Security And Intelligence Support’ In Wake Of Iran-Backed Attack In UAE

Israel has offered security and intelligence support to the United Arab Emirates (UAE) against further drone attacks after a deadly strike by Yemen’s Iran-aligned Houthi group, according to a letter released on Tuesday (18th) by Israel’s Prime Minister, Naftali Bennett.

Three people were killed and six wounded on Monday (17th) when three tanker trucks exploded in Abu Dhabi, the UAE capital.  A Houthi military spokesman said the group fired “a large number” of drones and five ballistic missiles in the attack.

On Twitter Prime Minister Naftali Bennett condemned what he described as a “terrorist drone attack.”  His spokesman attached a copy of a condolence letter he sent on Monday (17th) to the UAE’s de facto leader, Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan.

“We stand ready to offer you security and intelligence support in order to help you protect your citizens from similar attacks,” Bennett wrote.  “I have ordered the Israeli security establishment to provide their counterparts in the UAE with any assistance, should you be interested.”

The UAE, along with Bahrain, signed US-brokered normalization agreements with Israel at the White House in 2020.  The two Gulf nations and Israel share common concerns about Iran and its allied forces in the region.

“Israel is committed to working closely with you in the ongoing battle against extremist forces in the region, and we will continue to partner with you to defeat our common enemies,” Bennett said in his message to Sheikh Mohammed.

Bennett and Sheikh Mohammed held talks in Abu Dhabi in December, the first-ever public meeting between the two men,



PA Blames Hamas For Gaza Floods

A Palestinian Authority cabinet member is taking flak after blaming Hamas for flooding in the Gaza Strip, The Jerusalem Post reported on Tuesday (18th).

PA Minister for Local Government Majdi al-Saleh leveled his criticism during an interview on PA-run Voice of Palestine radio.

“Hamas bears responsibility for the tragedy that took place in the Gaza Strip in the past two days,” Saleh said.  “The de facto [Hamas] government must pay to the municipalities and fund their projects instead of spending the money on other channels, which are often underground.”

According to the Post, Saleh’s remarks reflected criticism of Hamas, which has diverted money earmarked for infrastructure towards its network of tunnels along Gaza’s borders with Israel and Egypt.

Hamas frequently blames Israel for Gaza’s chronic winter floods, claiming Israel opens up dams in the south of the country, but according to the Post, Palestinians on social media are ridiculing that claim, since there are no dams in southern Israel.

Other Palestinians say Gaza infrastructure is shoddy because of Israeli restrictions on construction material such as cement, gravel and steel bars.  Israel restricts construction materials because Hamas has diverted them to build terror tunnels.  

In response to Saleh, Hamas spokesman Abdel Latif Qanou said “[These] irresponsible statements are devoid of national and humanitarian sense and serve only the narrative of the occupation.”

Qanou added, “It would have been better had Saleh assumed his responsibilities toward the Gaza Strip and its residents instead of endorsing Israel’s talking points.”

According to Hebrew media reports, Gazans were also angry with Hamas for keeping schools open and forcing children to venture out into flooded streets.

“I don’t understand how the school principal sends the students outside in such weather when the streets are flooded, first-and second-grade children, no less” said one parent.

The Post noted that Saleh’s remarks come as Fatah and Hamas leaders are due to meet in Algeria where President Abdelmajid Tebboune is due to host national reconciliation talks this week.



77 Hungarian Holocaust Survivors Honored In 77th Anniversary Of Liberation

The Association of Hungarian Jewish Communities (EMH) marked the 77th anniversary of the liberation of the Budapest Ghetto on Tuesday (18th) by broadcasting stories from 77 holocaust survivors on their website.

Beginning on Monday (17th) and running for 77 consecutive hours, testimonies from survivors such as Klara Andorne Molar and Maria Szilagyi played on their new website with a new video released every hour.

“After we were tossed out of the train to Auschwitz, we tried to grab our luggage, but we were told not to bring anything, that they would bring everything to us,” recalled Molnar.  “The procession started and we saw the line separate in two different directions.  It later became clear that those who were on the right were taken to the gas chambers, and those who survived were taken to the other side.”

The videos featured on the website were part of interviews with survivors that were conducted by Hungarian director Andras Suranyi and commissioned by the Hungarian Holocaust Research and Education Center.

“Each year on January 18 we remember the liberation of the Budapest Ghetto, and pay our respects to the memory of hundreds of thousands of Hungarian Jewish victims who perished in the Holocaust,” said EMH Chief Rabbi Shlomo Koves.  “Sadly, as the number of survivors decline, it is incumbent upon us to preserve both the memories and the lessons for future generations, which makes these joint remembrances with survivors even more important.”

70,000 Hungarian Jews were forced into the Hungarian ghetto during the Holocaust.  In just a little over a month of the ghetto’s existence, the residents of the Budapest Ghetto faced inhumane conditions, overcrowding, food shortages, and other calamities, which claimed countless lives.  Thousands of unburied bodies were found inside the ghetto after its liberation on January 18, 1945.

After the liberation, we tried to find out about the fate of other family members,” Szilagyi said.  “It was then that we learned that my grandparents and my father’s family had almost all perished in Auschwitz.”



87 Afghan Refugees Rescued By IsraAid Finally Meet Their Rescuers

The 87 Afghan refugees rescued by Israel-based humanitarian organization “IsraAid” in August finally got the opportunity to meet the humanitarian workers who arranged their rescue on Monday (17th) as they prepare to begin the process of applying for resettlement in Canada.

They were among the 2,221,828 new Afghan refugees who were registered in Iran, Pakistan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan by the end of 2021 – amid the Taliban’s violent takeover of the country in August after US troops ceased operations in Afghanistan and pulled out troops and diplomatic staff.

The 87 refugees – among them judges, journalists, TV personalities, cyclists, human rights activists, family members of Afghan diplomats, artists, law enforcement officers, scientists and others – are part of a larger group that was  rescued from the beleaguered country in October in an effort led by the Israeli humanitarian agency NGO.  They have been sheltering in a resort near Albania’s capital city of Tirana as they await approval to begin the process of migrating to Canada.

Alexander Machkevitch, honorary president of the Euro-Asian Jewish Congress and EAJC chairman Aaron G. Frenkel – who were instrumental in the rescue effort – visited the refugees and congratulated them on moving to the next stage of the Canada asylum process, which marked the first time they got to face their rescuers.

“It was an honor to help these people escape from Afghanistan – and an honor to save their lives.” Machkevitch said in an emotional statement.

“I have a deep connection to those who seek asylum because of my parents’ story,” he said.  “My father was born in Lithuania, and my mother who was born in Belarus, were evacuated to Kyrgyzstan in 1941 when their home was occupied by the Nazis.  As Jews they faced the threat of death.  I am here today because they were rescued.”

The refugee group, supported by IsraAid, recently opened a community school at the refugee center housing the Afghan refugees, teaching English, French, vocational skills, photography and more to adults and children of all ages.

From the moment this group of refugees left Afghanistan till now, IsraAid’s primary focus has been ensuring that they have everything they need to embark on the difficult journey of building new lives for themselves,” IsraAid CEO Yotam Polizer said.

“Witnessing first-hand how this group has built a thriving community in Albania, supported by IsraAid’s team, has been very humbling,” he said.

“We would like to express our sincere gratitude to our partners and supporters in this ongoing process, and we hope that before long, the group will be granted final approval to travel to Canada for long-term resettlement.”