News Digest — 12/27/22

Quarter-Million Visit Western Wall During Hanukkah

Tens of thousands visited the Western Wall Plaza during Hanukkah and for the central candle-lighting ceremonies that took place throughout the holiday, among them many tourists, families from around Israel and others.

The peak was Monday (26th), the eighth day of Hanukkah, a day of special prayer, so tens of thousands came to the Western Wall to pray personally. 

The Western Wall Heritage Foundation said: “This year was one of the busiest Hanukkahs we’ve had in years.  It was exciting to see the Jewish nation making efforts, even in the cold and rainy days, to go up to Jerusalem and to the Western Wall.  This is the time to say thank you at the site closest to where the miracle happened.”

The eight-day festival of Hanukkah began on Sunday evening (18th) and ended Monday evening (26th). 



Israel’s Knesset Votes To Amend Basic Law, Clearing The Path For Deri, Smotrich

Israel’s parliament (the Knesset) early Tuesday (27th) gave final approval to an amendment to Basic Law saying: The Government clears the path for Shas leader Aryeh Deri and religious Zionism head Bezalel Smotrich to assume ministerial positions in the new government set to be sworn in this Thursday (29th).

Two bills were combined into one amendment which passed the second and third readings in the plenum.  Amendment 11 required a special majority of 61 members and secured 63 votes in favor in the final reading.

The new law allows Smotrich to serve as a minister within the Defense Ministry, which would give the far-right politician more control over policies in the West Bank, a territory that the Israeli government refers to by its biblical name of Judea and Samaria.

Smotrich and Deri are expected to rotate the finance ministerial role in the coalition of incoming prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu.  Before taking on the finance minister role, Deri is expected to hold the interior and health portfolios.

Current Defense Minister Benny Gantz was critical of allowing Smotrich to oversee settlement and security policies in the West Bank, warning that the “dismantling of the chain of command” would “harm the functioning of our security system.”



Israel Prevents Suicide Bombing Attack; Bomb Caught Before Detonation

The Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) announced on Monday (26th) that it prevented a massive terrorist bombing attack and suicide bombings slated to occur within Israel.

It said it arrested a number of terror suspects in the West Bank and uncovered a number of operatives in the Gaza Strip.

The terror cell, the agency said, was busted and its plans thwarted on December 14, with those involved undergoing interrogations in recent weeks.  The agency said the bomb had been built, was ready for use and was seized before it could be detonated.

The suspects arrested were part of the West Bank’s “Resistance Committees” and Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, with influence and planning from Gaza terrorist operatives.  The bomb was similar to the one that was used in the attack on a bus stop in Jerusalem last month that killed two people.

There were multiple rounds of breakthroughs in the case, with several waves of arrests, including uncovering operatives, their handlers and explosive materials designated for a bombing within Israel, said the Shin Bet.

Leading terrorists in the plot included Ahmad Fathi Omar Hiaj from Jabalya in Gaza, a known explosives expert, as well as Maha Ladawi of Netzirat, who helped create the infrastructure needed to carry out the plot.

Additional Gazans from Rafah who were involved included: Jihad Ahmad, Tzabari Muhammad Tzabari Aram and Iman Yusef Halil Zakut.

Besides intelligence work revealing the identities of the Gazans who were involved, the Shin Bet arrested West Bank terror operatives, including Yunis Uda from the al-Ras village near Tulkarm, Ahmad Tajer Jaradaat of Jenin and Kis al-Shaiv from Kabatiya.

The Shin Bet said, “the actions that were carried out and that thwarted the planned attacks are part of a continuous campaign that the Shin Bet, the IDF and the police have been undertaking together to prevent terror in Israel using a diverse range of tools and tactics.” 

Further, the agency flagged the deep involvement of Gazan operatives in directing the West Bank terrorists, saying it holds Hamas responsible for the planned terror attack.

Prime Minister Yair Lapid praised the Shin Bet adding, “the war against terrorism and terrorist infrastructure continues everyday on every front – the security forces will continue to act at all times to cut off all attempts to harm us.”

The year 2022 has been one of the deadliest periods for both sides, with over 100 Palestinians and dozens of Israelis killed.

The IDF and Israeli intelligence have been in an almost constant fight with terrorists in the West Bank since March, with periodic times of calm in between repeated waves of terror.



The Death Of Christianity In Bethlehem – Raymond Ibrahim

In January, a large group of masked men carrying sticks and iron bars attacked Christian brothers Daoud and Daher Nassar on their farm near Bethlehem.  The Palestinian courts have been working to confiscate the farm that has been owned by the family since the Ottoman Empire.  In April, Palestinian evangelical pastor Johnny Shahwan was arrested by Palestinian Authority Security forces on charges of “promoting normalization with Israel.”

According to Rabbi Pesach Wolicki, Director for the Center of Jewish-Christian Understanding and Cooperation, “Christians have been under attack in Bethlehem for many, many years.  There have been bombings.  There are near-constant physical attacks against Christians. They’ve continued on a regular basis  – ever since the Palestinian Authority took over.”

Kamal Tarazi, a Christian man who fled from Hamas-controlled Gaza in 2007, said, “The moment they [Hamas] took control, they started persecuting us, ruining our churches and forcing Christians to convert to Islam.”

“The attacks by Muslims on Christians are often ignored by the international community and media, who seem to speak out only when they can find a way to blame Israel,” wrote Muslim journalist Khaled Abu Toameh.

“Another disturbing situation is that the leaders of the Christian community in the West Bank are reluctant to hold the Palestinian Authority and their Muslim neighbors responsible for the attacks.  They are afraid of retribution and prefer to toe the official line of holding Israel solely responsible for the misery of the Christian minority.”



Will European Countries Vote To Deny Christianity’s  Roots In The Holy Land? – Amb. Dror Eydar 

One of the 15-20 anti-Israel resolutions voted on at the UN every year states that Israel violates the human rights of the Palestinians on al-Haram al-Sharif, the Noble Sanctuary, which is the Muslim term for the Temple Mount.  Incredibly, the English term “Temple Mount” does not appear.  The Palestinians insist on this in order not to affiliate the Mount with the presence of the Jewish Temple.

Every year, Israeli ambassadors debate with the foreign ministries of European countries to get the English name included in the resolution.  As Israel’s Ambassador, I asked my Italian interlocutor, “If there are no Jewish roots on the Temple Mount, where did Jesus preach?  On the moon?”

By not insisting on the inclusion of the term Temple Mount, “the Europeans for all intents and purposes are voting to deny the Christian world’s roots in the Holy Land.  That is not the way a civilization that wishes to live behaves.”

Both the U.S. and Europe constantly repeat their belief in the two-state solution.  But the Palestinians have erased the second part of the phrase, which is “Two States for Two peoples.”  To this day, the Palestinian Authority (and Hamas) do not recognize Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people.



Mount Hermon Sees First Snow As Israeli Weather Turns Wintery

The first snow on Mount Hermon fell on Sunday night (25th) as Israel’s weather turned wintery over the weekend with cold temperatures and storms.

Rain arrived from Israel’s north to the Negev on Monday (26th).  The forecast warned of flooding along Israel’s coastline and in the lowlands, as well as flooding rivers in Israel’s East and South.

The upper level of Mount Hermon was covered in a layer of snow, and the site reported temperatures of 31.2 degrees Fahrenheit while the lower level remained just above freezing.

Due to the conditions, a number of hiking trails around the country remain closed, including the Arbel trails, trails in the Gamla nature reserve, the Snake Path at Masada, and the trails in EnGedi.         

Tuesday (27th) is forecasted to be cloudy with rain in Israel’s center with a slight rise in temperatures.

Temperatures are expected to drop again towards the weekend.