News Digest — 12/15/22

IDF Exposes Hamas, Islamic Jihad Rocket Launch Sites Near Gaza Schools

Near the school, which is used by UNRWA as a shelter during emergencies, is a Hamas rocket launch site, according to the IDF.

In addition, the IDF stated that “prior to Operation Guardian of the Walls, the school’s principal, Mehammed Abu Oun, maintained contact with an operative in the Hamas rocket array, Jalal Abu Aoun,” who the IDF said was managing the firing of rockets from the site.

Hamas stationed a second rocket launch site near the Khalil Al Nobani school in the Zeitoun neighborhood of Gaza City, said the IDF.

No additional information was provided regarding the firing of rockets from that location.

Finally, the IDF said that “terrorist organizations stationed rocket launch sites near the Al-Furqan elementary school” which is also located in the Zeitoun neighborhood of Gaza City.

It said that “terrorist organizations launched rockets from the sites near the school throughout Operations Guardian of the Walls and Breaking Dawn, thereby endangering the lives of the students and residents of the Gaza Strip.”

Concerning Operation Breaking Dawn, which was fought strictly between the IDF and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad,  suggests that this third site might have been used more by the PIJ though this would still involve Hamas, since it rules Gaza, and encourages Islamic Jihad by looking the other way.

Next, the IDF said that over 1,000 innocent students attend these schools that Hamas and Islamic Jihad use for terrorist activities.

“The cynical exploitation of schools proves once again that the terrorist organizations consciously choose to endanger Gazan civilians, and uses them as ‘human shields’ for the benefit of their terrorist agendas,” concluded the IDF.



Hamas: ‘This Is The Gun Of Hadar Goldin’

The Hamas terror organization celebrated the 35th anniversary of its founding with a large event in Gaza City Wednesday (14th).

During the event, the Tavor rifle which Hamas claimed belonged to IDF Lieutenant Hadar Goldin was displayed along with its serial number.

Goldin was killed during Operation Protective Edge when Hamas forces violated a humanitarian cease-fire.  Hamas has held his body in Gaza for over eight years in violation of International Law.

Also at the event, a tape was played with a rare statement by the head of the Hamas military branch, Mohammed Deif, in which he said: “peace be upon you all the holy people, the wounded, the prisoners and the deported.  We pledge to continue on your path until we meet G-d.  The foreigners in our country and their founding fathers, at the height of their tyranny and devotion to the malicious idea of Zionism, failed to annihilate us, our people and erase our identity.  All the flags unite and all the fronts unite for one great, noble and holy goal, which is the liberation of Palestine.”

The leader of Hamas in the Gaza Strip, Yahya Sinwar, stated that there were negotiations for the deal of prisoners who were arrested because of the election campaigns in Israel.

“We are giving the occupation a limited period of time to complete a prisoner deal.  Then we will close the POW case forever, and we will find a way to release our prisoners.  Our demands were clear, that the prisoners and captives, chief among them, Nasser Abu Hamid and Walid Daqa, be released in exchange for Avera Mengistu and Hisham al-Sayed.”



Israel Praises Decision To Remove Iran From UN Women’s Commission

Prime Minister Yair Lapid praised a United Nations decision on Wednesday (14th) to remove Iran from a women’s commission over policies it deemed contrary to the rights of women and girls.

The move was proposed by the United States after Tehran’s brutal crackdown on protests sparked by the death of a young woman, Mahsa Amini, in Morality Police custody.

“Iran’s killing of Mahsa Amini and its blatant violations of women’s rights disqualify it from being a member of a committee that deals with women’s rights,” Lapid said in a statement.

The vote to remove Iran from the Commission on the Status of Women for the remainder of its 2022-2026 term was 29-8 with 16 abstentions, in the 54-member council.

Russia opposed the resolution and said before the vote that it wanted an opinion from UN legal experts on whether the Economic and Social Council was legally able to oust Iran.

The resolution expresses “serious concern” over Iran’s actions since September “to continuously undermine and increasingly suppress the human rights of women and girls, including the right to freedom of expression and opinion, often with the use of excessive force, by administering policies flagrantly contrary to the human rights of women and girls and to the mandate of the Commission on the Status of Women, as well as through the use of lethal force resulting in the deaths of peaceful protesters, including women and girls.”

Established in 1946, the Commission on the Status of Women plays a leading role in promoting women’s rights, documenting the reality of women’s lives around the world and shaping global standards to empower women and achieve gender equality.

Its members from all regions of the world are elected for four-year terms by the UN Economic and Social Council.  Iran was elected from the Asian region.



Bethlehem Welcomes Back Christmas Visitors As Post-Pandemic Tourism Soars

Business is bouncing back in Bethlehem after two years in the doldrums during the coronavirus pandemic, lifting spirits in the traditional birthplace of Jesus ahead of the Christmas holiday.

Streets are bustling with tour groups.  Hotels are fully booked, and months of daily Palestinian-Israeli fighting appears to be having little effect on the vital tourism ministry.

Elias Arja, head of the Bethlehem Hotel Association, said that tourists are hungry to visit the Holy Land’s religious sites after suffering through lockdowns and travel restrictions in recent years.  He expects the rebound to continue into next year.

“We expect that 2023 will be booming and business will be excellent because the whole world, and Christian religious tourists, especially, want to return to the Holy Land,” said Arja, who owns the Bethlehem Hotel.

On a recent day, dozens of groups from virtually every continent posed for pictures in front of the Church of the Nativity, supposedly built on the grotto where Christians believe Jesus was born.  A giant Christmas tree sparkled in the adjacent Manger Square, and tourists packed into shops to buy olive wood crosses and other souvenirs.

Christmas is normally the peak season for tourism in Bethlehem, located just a few miles from Jerusalem.  In pre-pandemic times, thousands of pilgrims and tourists from around the world came to celebrate.

But those numbers plummeted during the pandemic.  Although tourism hasn’t fully recovered, the hordes of visitors are a welcome improvement and encouraging sign.

“The city had become a city of ghosts,” said Saliba Nissan, standing next to a manger scene about 4 feet wide inside the Bethlehem New Store, the olive wood factory he co-owns with his brother.  The shop was filled with Americans on a bus tour.

The Israeli Tourism Ministry is expecting some 120,000 Christian tourists during the week of Christmas.  That compares to the all-time high of about 150,000 visitors in 2019, but is far better than last year, when the country’s skies were closed to most international visitors.  As it has done in the past, the ministry plans to offer special shuttle buses between Jerusalem and Bethlehem on Christmas Eve to help visitors go back and forth.

“God willing, we will go back this year to where things were before the coronavirus, and be even better,” said Bethlehem’s mayor, Hanna Hanania.

He said about 15,000 people attended the recent lighting of Bethlehem’s Christmas tree, and that international delegations, artists and singers are all expected to participate in celebrations this year.

“Recovery has begun significantly,” he said, “though recent violence and ever-present tensions always have some influence on tourism.”

Bassem Giacaman, the third-generation owner of the Blessing Gift Shop, founded in 1925 by his grandfather, said the pandemic was far more devastating to his business than violence and political tensions.

Covered in sawdust from carrying olive-wood figurines, jewelry and religious symbols, he said it will take him years to recover.  He once had 10 people working for him.  Today he employs half that number – sometimes less depending on demand.

“The political situation does affect, but nothing major,” Giacaman said.  “We’ve had it for 60-70 years, and it goes on for a month, then it stops, and tourists come back again.”



Israeli Farmers Fear Severe Wheat Crop Damage Amid Rainless December

It has been two weeks since Israeli farmers planted wheat seeds in their fields, but instead of waiting for the harvest, they are fearful that the rainless December, and the grim summer forecast for the rest of the winter, will result in significant damage to the crops.

“Some land parts need water by tomorrow, and some may hold on for another week, but in any case, the damage has already been done,” said Alon Shoshani, a veteran farmer from the north.

Across Israel, farmers grow about a million acres of wheat annually.  Shoshani himself has some 9,000 acres of land on which he grows wheat.  In total, northern Israel has over 35,000 acres allotted for wheat cultivation.  About a quarter of that land has no irrigation solutions, thus many seeds that have already sprouted will rot.

Shoshani has been a farmer for over 20 years, and lately, he is more and more concerned about the future of the industry.

“The seeding season begins at the end of November and we rely on the showers, which are late this year,” Shoshani said.  “The dryness already affects the plants and will affect the rest of their growth – we water the crops as much as we can to save them, but it will result in almost no profit due to the rising water prices.”

The Insurance Fund for Natural Risks in Agriculture said in response that most wheat fields in Israel have no infrastructure for irrigation, and the financial damage by the time December ends could total $581,000. However, no shortage of wheat is expected in Israel, since 90% of wheat is imported from abroad.

A climate expert, Dr. Amir Givati from the Department of Environmental Sciences at Tel Aviv University, says we have to understand the seasonal weather – as we know it is changing.

“Winter now starts late and ends early,” he said,  “We are not seeing any significant storm systems on the horizon at all, and that’s definitely worrying.”