News Digest — 10/20/21

Report: Israel Working To Double Population Of Jordan Valley

The Ministry of Construction is formulating a plan to double the number of Israelis living in the Jordan Valley, the newspaper Israel Hayom reports.

The draft will be submitted to the government only after the approval of the state budget in the Knesset, but before the end of the work year in 2021.  Included in the cause are members of the Prime Minister’s Office, the Minister of Finance and the Interior, headed by Avigdor Lieberman and Ayelet Shaked.

The Jordan Valley is currently home to about 1,500 Israeli families – most of them in small areas that in some cases suffer from an aging population.  The goal of the government program will be to double the number of families to 3,000 within four years.  The government will set aside a sum of NIS 90 million, which will be deployed throughout the period to implement the planning.  Budgets will be directed to strengthen both physical and social infrastructure in the various areas.

In addition, for those who purchase land, the State Treasury will finance the costs of developing the land in construction there.

It should be emphasized that the plan in question does not propose the establishment of new settlements, but rather the expansion of existing ones. “There is no shortage of settlements, but it is necessary to expand the existing ones, both to prevent their aging and decaying and also because it will supply more housing solutions in light of high apartment prices,” an expert source explained in detail.

Those surrounding Environmental Minister Ze’ev Elkin, who initiated the plan, estimate that it will not cause national or political difficulties, as there is a broad national agreement on the importance of the Jordan Valley.  Also, promoting the program does not require the approval of the political echelon because it implements programs that have been approved in the past and have not yet been put in place.

“The Jordan Valley, like the Golan Heights and other areas along the eastern strip of Israel, is a region of strategic importance, vital to the security of the state and its future, and is an integral part of the Zionist vision,” Elkin noted.

In his view, “After the plan to double settlement in the Golan, now comes the Jordan Valley’s turn, which is also the consensus.  We will help settle there as we have not done for many years and work to double the population, along with strengthening, upgrading and building necessary infrastructure.”



Palestinians Spar With Israeli Police Outside Jerusalem’s Old City

On Tuesday (19th), Palestinians clashed with Israeli police at a popular gathering place just outside Jerusalem’s Old City as thousands celebrated a Muslim Holiday, a repeat of violence earlier this year that eventually led to the 11-day Gaza war in May.

Israeli police said Palestinians hurled rocks at police and public buses near the Damascus Gate leading into the Old City.  It said 11 suspects were arrested.

Earlier, thousands of Palestinians had marched along the Old City walls and paused at the gate, where a scout band played the Palestinian national anthem.  Tens of thousands prayed at the nearby Al-Aqsa mosque in honor of the Prophet Muhammad’s birthday.

Palestinians said the Israeli police moved to restrict the annual gathering in and around Damascus Gate in what they said was a provocation.

A few dozen youths began shouting at police and throwing water bottles, after which police fired stun grenades.  

Over the last two weeks, sporadic fights have broken out at Damascus Gate between Palestinians and Israelis, and between Palestinians and the police.



IDF Orders Road Closures Near Gaza Border Amid Attack Fears

The Israeli military on Tuesday (19th) blocked several sites and roads in Israeli communities near the Gaza Strip border due to fears of an attack from the Palestinian enclave.

The IDF’s Spokesperson’s Unit said that “the entrance to the Black Arrow Monument, Givat HaPa’amon, Givat Nizmit, the Garden of the Fallen and the Lone Rider Hill are all blocked.”

The decision was made after a “situational assessment” and at this stage, no special guidelines have been issued for communities near the fence.

The decision to limit travel in the area was made in the wake of ongoing negotiations with the Hamas terror group, and the Israeli government’s decision not to abide by the group’s demand to allow the Qatari grant to make its way into the enclave in full.

The military added that the decision stems from a general assessment of the security situation, and not from a concrete warning of a terrorist attack.

Residents, meanwhile, are allowed to continue operating as usual, including farmers working in agricultural fields near the border fence, mainly due to the heavy IDF presence in the area.

The decision came a day after a rocket alert siren blared in Sderot and the Hof Ashkelon Regional Council, which the military later said was a false alarm.

The Gaza Strip has remained relatively calm in the five months after the May war between Israel and Hamas.

This despite the killing of a Palestinian man in September, who was shot by IDF soldiers after he was suspiciously digging near the fence – as well as the riots on the perimeter a little over a month ago, in which an IDF soldier was killed by a Hamas militant.   



Report: Israel To Bolster Measures To Counter Iran

Israel has allocated $1.5 billion to bolster its capabilities to undermine Iran’s nuclear facilities, Channel 12 News reported on Monday (18th).

The funds – about $1 billion in this year’s budget and over $500 million in next year’s budget – will go towards aircraft, intelligence gathering, and dedicated armaments that can enable a potential strike.

The intelligence gathering could include satellites, according to the report.

The Islamic Republic insists that its nuclear efforts are strictly for civilian and peaceful purposes, but Israeli intelligence – shared with world powers and the International Atomic Energy Agency – shows that Tehran has and continues to maintain a nuclear military program.  Israel deems the latter an existential threat and has stated that it will not allow Iran to become a nuclear threshold state.

Iran’s violations of the 2015 nuclear deal – have rendered it hollow.  In 2018 then-US President Donald Trump pulled out of the deal.  President Joe Biden has stated that he seeks to formulate a new deal with Iran, before devising a “Plan-B.”

While Israel is planning a possible military option to counter Iran’s nuclear ambitions, world powers are working to bring the Islamic Republic back to the negotiating table in Vienna to revive the 2015 nuclear accord.

The talks have been stalled since June when hardliner Ebrahim Raisi was elected president of Iran, but in recent days there have been conflicting reports that the negotiations could possibly resume next week.

However the European Union on Monday (18th) denied that any meeting had been scheduled so far.



Denver Jewish School Vandalized With Swastikas

Denver police are looking into two incidents of anti-Semitic property damage to see if there is a connection, KDRV TV reported.

Over the weekend the Denver Academy of Torah was vandalized with swastikas and George Washington High School was defaced with anti-Semitic and racist graffiti.

The two schools are less than a mile from each other.

So far, police have not discovered any evidence linking the two incidents.  However, both acts were committed over the same two-day period, with the high school hit on Saturday night (16th) and the Jewish school targeted on Sunday evening (17th).

By Monday afternoon (18th) the high school had been able to remove all the hateful graffiti.  But Denver Academy of Torah staff said that offensive words and swastikas were still visible on the school’s campus.

“All of it was widely dispersed on the sides of the building and on bleachers,” Scott Levin, director of the Anti-Defamation League’s Mountain States chapter, told the news outlet. 

Police said that an individual or a group of individuals also threw rocks that shattered windows of the Jewish school and caused damage to an electrical box.

The ADL added that a witness encountered an individual breaking glass near the Jewish school close to the time the vandalism occurred.

Levin said that the witness stated that “the person referred to Jews in a very disparaging way.”

Denver police said that both incidents are currently being looked into by their Bias-Motivated Crimes squad.