News Digest — 2/23/23

Rocket Barrage Targets Southern Israel, IDF Attacks In Gaza

Sirens were sounded early Thursday morning (23rd) at approximately 4 a.m. local time, in Ashkelon, Sderot and other communities located near Israel’s border with the Gaza Strip.

The IDF said that six rockets were fired from the Gaza Strip toward Israeli territory.  Five rockets were intercepted by the IDF Aerial Defense Array, one rocket fell in an open area.

In retaliation for the rocket fire, IDF jets struck a weapons manufacturing site belonging to the Hamas terrorist organization, located in the central Gaza Strip.

In parallel, a military compound belonging to the Hamas terror organization in the northern Gaza Strip which also was used as a naval weapons storage warehouse was struck.  The IDF Spokesperson’s Unit said, “The compound is located adjacent to a mosque, medical center, school, hotel and police station. This serves as further evidence as to how much the Hamas terrorist organization exploits the civilian population of the Gaza Strip by deliberately placing its assets in the heart of civilian areas.”  

“This strike significantly harms the capabilities and prevents further weapon acquisition capabilities of the Hamas terrorist organization in the Gaza Strip and specifically in the maritime zone.  The IDF holds the Hamas terrorist organization responsible for all terrorist activity emanating from the Gaza Strip and it will face the consequences of the security violations against Israel,” the IDF statement said.

The siren sounded hours after Israel’s counterterrorism operation in Shechem (Nablus), in which IDF soldiers eliminated 10 terrorists, some of whom planned to carry out an attack in the coming days.

Hamas vowed to retaliate for the operation.  The spokesman for the military arm of the organization said, “The patience of the resistance in Gaza is running out.”

A senior Israeli military official added that “if the wanted persons had surrendered, the incident could have ended quickly in Shechem.  Those who were injured or killed were armed terrorists who fired at the forces.



Israel Remains On Alert Along Gaza Border Following Heavy Clashes In Samaria

Israel remains on alert along the Gaza border amid concerns that Hamas will escalate tensions from heavy clashes between Israeli security forces and Palestinian terror groups in Shechem (Nablus) on Wednesday (22nd).

The Israel Defense Forces confirmed that soldiers entered Shechem looking to arrest Husam Isleem and Muhammed al-Junaidi, who barricaded themselves inside a house.

Residents of the city were called to join the fighting in social media messages and announcements from local mosques.  Footage posted on social media included the sounds of explosions and gunfire.

The Palestinian Authority claimed that 10 people, including Isleem and Junaidi, were killed, and 90 more were injured in the violence.  Six terrorists were in serious condition.

Palestinian media reports from Gaza say that Hamas is under unprecedented pressure from other armed groups to respond to the violence.  A Hamas spokesman denounced what he called Israeli “aggression against our people” but stopped short of threatening to fire rockets.

Senior military officials said that Israel is prepared to respond to Gaza and any attacks from the Strip.

Isleem, who was affiliated with the Lion’s Den terror group, and Junaidi who was affiliated with Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ), have been linked to a terror cell responsible for killing IDF Staff-Sgt. Ido Baruch.  The 21-year-old soldier was killed in a drive-by shooting in northern Samaria in October.

Other Palestinians who Israeli security forces identified as killed included Muhammad Abu Bakr, a leader of the PIJ-aligned al-Quds Brigades, Musab Awais, a leader of another terror group known as the Balata Brigade, Muhammad a-Fatah of PIJ and Walid Dahil of the Lion’s Den.

A military spokesperson said no Israeli personnel were injured.

In an ongoing sweep against terror in Judea and Samaria, the Israel Defense Forces have thwarted 500 terror attacks and arrested more than 2,500 suspects.  Operation Wave Breaker was launched following a surge of Palestinian terror attacks in the spring of 2022 which killed 19 people.



Israeli Police Warns It Needs Hundreds More Officers Ahead Of Tense Ramadan

Israel Police are suffering from a severe manpower shortage which will affect its ability to respond to violence during the month of Ramadan this year, warned police chief Kobi Shabtai at a meeting of the Knesset National Security Committee on Wednesday (22nd).

Shabtai noted that the tensions of Ramadan come as the police are also dealing with securing large protests around the country, a rise in terrorist attacks, car accidents and an increase in murders throughout the state.

“In every incident, they expect us to be in all places even before the incident happens and with the deployment and stretching out of police forces, we are now facing serious difficulties in providing a response to the standard and criteria that we think the citizens of Israel deserve to receive,” said Shabtai, noting that in Jerusalem, for example, the police need another 500 officers.

The police chief called for a pay raise for police officers and an improvement in working conditions in order to aid in recruiting the needed officers.

Shabtai explained that, in terms of mixed cities, where Jews, Arabs, and Christians live together the police are in a better place than they were in 2021, but are still not where they need to be and they need more equipment and manpower.

The chief of Police noted that he is working to expand the “Safe City” project which includes installing sensors and cameras to help police predict disturbances and start handling them as soon as they start, but that they still need a larger budget in order to purchase and install the needed technology.

Shabtai reiterated that while technology is important, the main issue is manpower.  “We don’t have enough police in some places.  In Guardian of the Walls we were caught short with the number of police officers we had.  Our situation has improved a bit in some of the places, but in order to provide security for the citizens of the State of Israel we need many more officers on the streets.”

The police and emergency services are planning to conduct a nationwide exercise next week which will last seven days to check the readiness of the forces throughout the country.  The police are also recruiting reserve Border Police companies to reinforce security forces during the month of Ramadan.

Sigal Bar Tzvi, the head of the Policing, Security and Community Division of Israel Police, explained to the committee that police learned from the events that led up to and took place during “Operation Guardian of the Walls in 2021 and are “more prepared, organized equipped and trained” for this year.

The Muslim month of Ramadan begins on March 22nd and ends on April 21.



Dubai-Based Rabbi Has Tefillin Straps Cut By Jordan Airport Security

On Monday (20th), Moshe Haliwa, a UK-born rabbi who leads a small community in the UAE, was on his way home to Dubai through the Queen Alia International Airport in Jordan, when he was stopped by security.  His tefillin were obtained and then the leather straps were cut off with scissors.

“The security guard opened my bag and saw my two pairs of tefillin,” Haliwa told The Jerusalem Post.  “I explained that they were religious artifacts, but they didn’t speak English very well. I explained they were all made of leather.”  The security guard called some colleagues.

“They claimed they never saw something like this,” Haliwa said.  “I felt as though I was their entertainment.”

After they asked how it was used, Haliwa wrapped the tefillin around his arm and put the second box on his head.  “I put them on in front of them.  The senior official came and said ‘you can’t take this with you.’”

Haliwa shared with the Post that since he isn’t Israeli but British, “I’m polite and didn’t want to create drama” – I explained to them that Jews and Arabs are cousins.  But the head of security said that the straps or the ‘ropes’ are dangerous and that I should put them in my suitcase.”  Haliwa was traveling only with hand luggage.

“I was in tears and upset.  I said at one point ‘if it’s a danger, let’s take the straps off and I’ll take the boxes,’ but he wouldn’t hear of it.’”

The police were called eventually, but since Haliwa didn’t want to go to a Jordanian jail, he walked off into the Duty-Free area – without his tefillin.

Since he had a few hours to spare, he identified a woman from airport security who connected him with the manager of the airport police.  “They were more sympathetic ,” he said of the security guards he met later on.   

He showed them what tefillin is on Google.  “I said it is leather and parchment of Torah, just like your Koran.  They reassured me they would do everything they could.”

Yet the compromise was that he could take the boxes of tefillin without the leather straps.

“They took scissors and cut it all off,” he said.  “I thought of Nazis cutting the beards and sidelocks of Jews during the Holocaust.  At least they gave me back the parchment boxes themselves.”



Synagogue And Shops In New Hampshire City Vandalized With Swastikas

Officials in New Hampshire are investigating after a synagogue and shops in Portsmouth were defaced with swastikas spray-painted by a man seen on video.

The vandalism in downtown Portsmouth took place early Tuesday morning (21st), according to Forbes.

Police in the city and the New Hampshire Department of Justice Civil Rights Unit have opened an investigation into the incidents. At least 10 swastikas and other extremist messages were found spray-painted in red on a synagogue and other local businesses, authorities said.  The synagogue was identified as Conservative congregation Temple Israel by NH Public Radio.

The incident took place at approximately 2:30 a.m. on Tuesday (21st), the New Hampshire Attorney General’s office said in a statement denouncing the graffiti.

The statement referred to the vandalism as “hateful and threatening criminal activity” that it said was “motivated by racial or religious intolerance.”

New Hampshire Governor Chris Sununu (R-NH) condemned the incident in a Twitter post, in which he said he had been in contact with Attorney General John Formella.

“State, local, and federal authorities will work closely in investigating  this matter.  Hatred, bigotry, and anti-Semitism will not be tolerated in New Hampshire,” he wrote.

Formella also decried the incident in a statement: “This type of hateful and threatening criminal activity, motivated by racial or religious intolerance, particularly at places of worship, has no place in New Hampshire and will not be tolerated.”

Police were examining surveillance camera footage that showed a suspect in a red Maine sweatshirt and a facemark, spray-painting, WMUR reported.

“It’s very disturbing, and it’s very reminiscent of things that we saw in Nazi Germany prior to the Holocaust,” said Temple Israel’s spiritual leader Kaya Stern-Kaufman.

She told the news outlet that Temple Israel is the only synagogue in the Seacoast Region of the state and is home to 300 families.

“It’s a larger issue than antisemitism, but certainly, it’s a big part of it,” Stern-Kaufman said.

A similar incident occurred in October 2022 in the city of Laconia, New Hampshire in which multiple areas of the city were defaced with swastikas by antisemitic vandals the Friday before Rosh Hashanah and then a second time later in the week.