News Digest — 2/1/24

Prime Minister Netanyahu: We Are Working On Hostage Deal, But Not At Any Cost

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday evening (1/31) released a video in which he made a statement regarding the talks to reach a deal for the release of the hostages in Gaza.

“There’s a lot of noise in the media about the efforts to get more hostages released, so I want to make it clear.  We are working on another plan for the release of our hostages, but I stress: Not at any cost,” Netanyahu said.

He added, “I have red lines, among them: We will not end the war, we will not remove the IDF from the Strip, and we will not release thousands of terrorists.”

“We are constantly working to free our hostages and to achieve the other goals of the war: The elimination of Hamas and the promise that Gaza will no longer pose a threat.  We are working on all three together and we will not give up on any of them,” Netanyahu said.

Earlier on Wednesday, (1/31) Netanyahu met with representatives of 18 families of hostages, for a highly charged meeting, in which he pledged to promote a deal, regardless of coalition considerations Channel 12 reported.

According to the report, the families demanded that the Prime Minister accept a deal even at the expense of dismantling his coalition.

The Prime Minister replied to them: “If there is a deal that is good for Israel, for the return of the hostages and the realization of the goals of the war – I will do it…But if I think that the situation endangers Israel’s security or does not achieve the goals that we want – I won’t do it.”

The families also asked Netanyahu that the additional deal would not be done in stages like last time.

The Prime Minister did not go into details and said that “the return of the hostages must be carried out in stages, as part of any deal.”



Not Just Israel: Soldiers Reveal Hamas Plans For Eiffel Tower To President

During a meeting on Wednesday (1/31) with reservists from the Yiftah Brigade, President Isaac Herzog was presented with a picture found in Gaza showing the Eiffel Tower with a minaret replacing the top of the tower.

Herzog and his wife Michal met with the reservists who were returning from fighting in Gaza as part of the process of preparation for returning to routine civilian life.

The brigade has been primarily operating in the Issa neighborhood in western Gaza and the Shejaiya refugee camp.  They have been targeting underground tunnels and other terror infrastructure in those neighborhoods.

The fighters expressed their feelings to the president about returning home as well as the concerns of their families.

One of the reservists presented Herzog with a poster that he found inside a residence in Shejaiya showing the Eiffel Tower with the spire of a minaret and, at the end, below it, a description explaining how Hamas will reach every home and every house.  He also gave him another war document, which presents the broad intentions of Hamas.

The president called on employers and educational staff to be understanding and compassionate with returning soldiers, saying, “This is a process, there is no one moment you are a soldier and another moment you are a citizen returning to normal – it is a process.”

Herzog also expressed concern for the mental health of returning soldiers, asking them “to talk, to express their feelings, express and tell about their pains, traumas, worries and concerns.”  There has been a growing interest in helping the mental health of returning soldiers and providing them with an understanding and considerate environment to return to.

Herzog ended his discussion by thanking the reservists, “I want to say thank you for the fighting, the heroism, and the defense of the homeland, and I also thank the spouses and the children, the parents and the whole family.”



‘Piece Of Paradise In The Rubble:’ Soldiers Find Jewish Graves In Gaza

IDF soldiers on Wednesday (1/31) found a well-preserved cemetery near the town of Al-Mawasi in Gaza in which dozens of graves belonging to World War I veterans were located.  Patrolling the area, some of the troops noticed several of the graves were decorated with a Star of David , marking the resting spot of Jewish soldiers who fought in the British Army over a century ago.

Photos uploaded by the soldiers to the X (formerly Twitter) social media platform, featuring the Israeli flag next to the graves, went viral, with one of the posts even receiving over 3.5 million views.  Some claimed that this was evidence that Hamas also preserves Jewish graves, but an inquiry into the matter by the soldiers disproved the claims.

“The facility is maintained by the UK via local authorities in the Gaza Strip,” Lt. Col. Oren, the commander of the 74th Battalion, told Ynet.  “It’s really a special place, finding a spot that seems like a piece of paradise, with it being green and untouched amid the rubble.  It suffered some damage in the battles, but it can be restored.  We noticed the Star of David seen on the graves with names like Goldreich.  After a few days, we returned to the site and prayed in front of the graves after many years,” he recounted.

Lt. Col. Oren added that the location was never settled by Israel in the past.  According to him, the British developed the site and even renovated some of the graves.  “We found about seven Jewish graves out of hundreds.  We photographed the names and the brief descriptions of the battle in which they fell.  It was an emotional moment.”

“I told myself, this wasn’t only our battle.  We’re fighting here because they did the same over a century ago,” he said.  Lt. Col. Oren described how his forces engaged in battles against Hamas terrorists who fired RPG missiles at them only 100 meters away from the location of the cemetery.  

“We located a Hamas factory for manufacturing weapons and ammunition next to the cemetery.  We don’t know whether terror tunnels are beneath the cemetery because we did not want to violate its sanctity.  We found that Hamas built tunnels below other cemeteries.  We were amazed to find such a sacred place in this cursed area.”



Auschwitz Survivor Decries Rise Of Anti-Semitism, Far-Right In Germany

BERLIN – A Jewish survivor of the Auschwitz death camp told Germany’s parliament Wednesday (1/31) that she is appalled by the rising strength of the far-right in the country and increasing anti-Semitism in the wake of the October 7 Hamas attack that triggered the war in the Gaza Strip.

Eva Szepesi, 91, who was born in Hungary and liberated from Auschwitz at age 12 in January 1945, spoke at the parliament’s annual memorial event for victims of the Holocaust.  She shared her memories of Nazi persecution and addressed concerns about the current situation in Germany.

“I would like not just for murdered Jews to be remembered on memorial days but also for living ones to be remembered in daily life.  They need protection now,” Szepesi told lawmakers.

Germany saw a significant increase in anti-Jewish incidents following the attack on Israel.  Szepesi said some of her readings at schools were called off for security reasons shortly after October 7, and her most recent events took place under police protection.

“The Shoah (Holocaust) did not begin with Auschwitz.  It began with words, it began with society staying silent and looking away,” she said.  “It pains me when schoolchildren are again afraid of going to school just because they are Jews; it pains me when my great-grandchildren still have to be protected by police with machine guns just because they are Jews.”

Szepesi also decried the strengthening of the far-right in Germany, where recent national polls showed the far-right Alternative for Germany (AID) party in second place with support of around 20%.

“It appalls me that right-wing extremist parties are again being voted for,” Szepesi said.  “They must not become so strong that our democracy is endangered.”

Meanwhile, Hundreds of thousands of German citizens attended protests against the far-right this month. 

“It’s great that so many people have taken to the streets in recent weeks to demonstrate against right-wing extremists,” Szepesi told parliament.  “But I would like these demonstrators also to object loudly among their acquaintances and at the workplace where and when inhumane and anti-Semitic comments are made.”



Israel Is The Frontline In The Battle For Freedom – Dr. Fiamma Nirenstein

On Oct. 7, Israel did not only suffer the deadliest anti-Semitic attack since the Holocaust, but Jews worldwide must now contend with an army of genocidal lies, ignorance, defamation and denial.  The peak of this horrific eruption of racism was the blood libel that the once-noble South Africa brought before the International Court of Justice, falsely accusing Israel of genocide,

It was a bitter irony to see Israel in the dock rather than Hamas, which committed a genuinely genocidal assault that it documented with bloodthirsty pride.  Those who target the Jewish people always have the ultimate ambition of destroying liberal democracy and the Judeo-Christian values on which it is built.

The legacy inherited from Nazism has now been witnessed by some who themselves survived the Nazis’ crimes.  Gina Semetrich was 91.  Originally from Czechoslovakia, she emerged from the Holocaust to rebuild her life and family in Kissufim, a kibbutz near the border with Gaza.  On Oct. 7, she was beaten and murdered by Hamas Nazis.

Sara Jackson, 99, another survivor of the Holocaust, barricaded herself in her home at Kibbutz Sa’ad, just as she had done during a pogrom in Poland decades ago.  She helped shelter three boys who had managed to escape the Nova Festival, where 360 innocents were massacred.

We must courageously face what is happening.  We must accept that Israel has no choice but to end this war by destroying the new ISIS on its border with a victory on the most difficult battlefield imaginable.  “Never again” means understanding that Israel is now the frontline in the battle for freedom and for life itself.  And it is fighting for all of us.

The writer, a fellow at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, served as vice president of the Committee on Foreign Affairs in the Italian Chamber of Deputies.



Abolish The UN’s Palestinian Refugee Agency – Bret Stephens

• UNRWA employees were involved in the Hamas massacre of Oct. 7 and Israeli intelligence estimates that 1,200 of UNRWA’s 12,000 employees in Gaza have links to Hamas or Palestinian Islamic Jihad.

• But the fundamental problem isn’t that UNRWA is infested with terrorists and their sympathizers.  It’s that UNRWA may be the only agency in the UN system whose central purpose is to perpetuate grievance and conflict.  It should be abolished.

• The UN has two agencies dedicated to the plight of refugees.  One, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, is responsible for nearly all the world’s 30 million refugees, with a mandate to help them resettle in third countries if they can’t go home.  The other is UNRWA.  No other group except for Palestinians gets its own permanent agency.

• Why?  In part, because neighboring Arab countries refused to fully absorb Palestinian refugees.  The changing borders and independence movements of the postwar era produced millions of refugees, including 800,000 Jews who were kicked out of Arab countries that had been their home for centuries.  Nearly all the world’s refugees found new lives in new countries – except for Palestinians.

• The Palestinians have been kept as perpetual refugees as a means of both delegitimizing Israel and preserving the irredentist fantasy that someday their descendants will “return” through the elimination of the Jewish state.  UNRWA’s very existence keeps this hope alive.

• Palestinians should be citizens of the countries in which they live – just as some two million Arabs are in Israel.  The Israeli-Palestinian conflict can’t be solved so long as millions of Palestinians have been turned into the world’s only permanent refugees.  By doing that, UNRWA makes itself an obstacle to peace.