News Digest — 3/21/23

Knesset Approves Law Canceling Expulsion From Northern Samaria In Second, Third Readings

The Knesset on Monday night (20th) approved the law canceling the disengagement in northern Samaria in its second and third readings.

The law was approved by a majority of 31-18.  It was approved in its first reading a week ago and returned to the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, which prepared it for Monday night’s (20th) second and third readings.

The bill states that the prohibition on entering and staying in areas of northern Samaria, which was imposed during the 2005 Disengagement from Gaza and northern Samaria, will be lifted.  The law will regulate the status of the students of the Homesh Yeshiva and will allow the residents of Homesh and Sa-Nur to reside there in an orderly manner.

The law does not apply to the territory of the Gaza Strip.

Minister Orit Strock welcomed the approval of the bill and said, “This is a great day for the State of Israel.  It’s not just that we are not going back to Homesh and rebuilding the towns, but we are changing the movement, we are moving forward – and not backward.  We are blessed to have this moment.”

Mk Yuli Edelstein, who is one of the initiators of the bill, said, “17 years of attempts, an uncompromising fight and a strong belief in the rightness of the path came together to one moment when the Knesset plenum voted in favor of canceling the Disengagement Law.  The State of Israel tonight began its recovery process from the disaster of the expulsion.  History has shown and continues to show us that whenever we give up parts of our homeland, we will receive increasing terrorism.  It is a clear and well-known equation, with results that never change.  This is the first and significant step towards a real repair and establishment of Israel in the territories of the homeland that belong to it.”

MK Ze’ev Elkin welcomed the advancement of the bill, noting that it is a coming of a full circle for him.

“The most direct circle is related to the fact that I, together with Minister Orit Strock, were the first two members of Knesset who submitted this bill several terms ago.  Now, the law is reaching the moment of approval.  This is an important law that fixes the very great injustice of the Disengagement Plan,” Elkin said.

National Unity chairman Benny Gantz made clear during the debate on the law that he would oppose the bill.

“I think it is wrong to go back there.  We must remember that, alongside the fact that we are in favor of settlement, we also cannot ignore our need to find a way to live alongside Palestinians who are in the area,” Gantz said.



Israel Warns Passover Travelers Of Iranian Plots To Harm Them Abroad

Iran will continue its attempts to harm Israelis around the world, especially in the Middle East  and eastern Mediterranean, the National Security Council (NSC) warned on Monday (20th).

In its guidance for Israeli travelers ahead of the Passover holiday, the NSC emphasized that Iran and its proxies present a particular threat in countries neighboring Iran, including the United Arab Emirates, Georgia, Azerbaijan, Turkey and Bahrain.

Cyprus and Greece, popular holiday destinations for Israelis, are also countries where Iran is likely to target Jews and Israelis according to the assessment.

The NSC did not warn against travel to these destinations, but instead called on Israelis “to be aware, and to act responsibly in accordance with the level of danger in the country being visited.”

The NSC lists Muslim partners Turkey, the UAE, Bahrain, and Egypt as Level 3 threats, meaning that all non-essential travel should be avoided.

Iranian plots have been foiled in several of these countries over the past year.  In November last year, Georgian security officials foiled an attempt by a Pakistani citizen to murder an Israeli in Georgia on orders from an Iranian operative.

In July, Turkish forces foiled an attempt by Iranian agents to kill Israelis in Istanbul, arresting three men.

The news came a month after the Mossad spy agency and its local counterparts managed to thwart three Iranian attacks targeting Israeli civilians in Istanbul.  Iran denied the allegations.

Also in June, security forces in Thailand were reportedly successful in preventing an Iranian agent from establishing a terror cell in the country and potentially carrying out attacks against Israelis.

There have also been warnings by Israeli officials about Iranian terrorist infrastructure in Western Europe.  Ahead of the high holidays last year, security officials said that several Iranian attempts to attack dissidents had been uncovered in Europe, indicating the regime has infrastructure and personnel in place that could  be directed against Israelis.

Iran and Israel have been engaged in a decades-long shadow war across the Middle East and beyond.  

“In the past, attempts by Iranian terror operatives to establish contact (using a business cover/disguise) with Israeli citizens, in Israel and abroad, has continued,” a 2023 report read, “in order to extract them and carry out an attack or to kidnap them.”

The NSC also warned that Sunni jhadist groups like Islamic State and al-Qaeda have been increasing calls lately to strike Jews and Israelis around the world.

Tens of thousands of Israelis head to Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula over the Passover holiday every year.  The report warned them to remain in recognized tourist areas secured by Egyptian forces.

Passover begins on Wednesday evening April 5 and runs through Thursday evening April 13.

The NSC also pointed out that the Muslim holy month of Ramadan coincides with Passover this year: “Unusual security incidents across Judea and Samaria, Jerusalem (and the Temple Mount) could, as in the past, influence heightened motivation to carry out attacks against Israelis abroad.”  

Ramadan begins Wednesday, March 22nd.



Tel Aviv Terror Attack Victim Dies Of His Wounds

The 32-year-old victim of the Tel Aviv Dizengoff terror attack 12 days ago, has died of his wounds, Tel Aviv’s Ichilov Hospital reported on Monday afternoon (20th).

“We hoped and prayed.  But, unfortunately, Or Eshkar, who was injured in the terror attack in Tel Aviv, succumbed to his wounds,” said Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in a statement.  “It’s heartbreaking.  I extend my condolences to his family and friends.  May his memory be a blessing.”

Israel’s President Isaac Herzog wrote on Twitter: “My heart is torn by the death of Or Eshkar, who was fatally wounded in the terror attack at Dizengoff.  A few days ago, I spoke with this brave mother and together with all of the people of Israel I prayed for his recovery.  I send condolences to his family and his loved ones during this difficult time.  May his memory be a blessing.”

According to the Tel Aviv district police commander, one terrorist was killed after the attack, while the search for other possible terrorists continued through the night.

Early reports and footage indicated there were two terrorists with guns.

The victim, Or Eshkar, was critically wounded in the shooting and after intensive surgeries, his condition initially stabilized.

Despite this, his condition deteriorated again and he passed away earlier in the day on Monday (20th).

A statement added that Eshkar’s family has chosen to donate his organs.



Professor’s Academic Antisemitism Isn’t Helping Palestinians Like Me – Bassem Eid

→ With the Palestinian people, our whole identity is often assumed to be bound up with the anti-Western, violent ideology promulgated by Yasser Arafat and his proteges.  George Washington University professor Lara Sheehi is just the latest example of this violent misrepresentation, which gives my people a bad name.  On her now-deleted Twitter account, she frequently showed her hateful bias against Israelis and repeatedly condoned violence against them.

→ This past semester, she used her mandatory diversity course to spread such dangerous views and actively discriminated against Jewish students in her class.  When the students complained to school authorities, Sheehi counter-claimed that the students were exhibiting “Islamophobia” against her.

→ Sheehi also verbally attacked a student for speaking about terrorist attacks in Israel, which have killed civilians, including American citizens.  Her claim was that the student’s using the phrase “terrorist attack,” invoked Islamophobia, even though the student never mentioned Palestinians, Arabs, or Muslims.

→ Sheehi and her fellow antisemitic haters do not speak for me or for the many Palestinians who desire peace and coexistence with our neighbor, Israel.  Hatred and radicalism harm Palestinians and do nothing to advance our cause.  Sheehi’s actions do not and should not represent the Palestinian people, the good men and women I know who respect our neighbors and wish for an end to these endless cycles of violence.

→ We see how peace, economic opportunity, and cooperation benefit both Palestinians and Israelis, just as the normalization of political and economic cooperation with Israel has brought tremendous advantages to countries such as the United Arab Emirates.  This is what most Palestinians want, too.

→ Violent, hateful rhetoric rejecting the aspirations and experiences of Israelis may get headlines, but it does not represent the majority of Palestinians, who know that peace is the path to a better life for ourselves and our children.  When radical actors preach hate and violence, it inevitably leads to violent incidents that only worsen matters and trap us in an escalating cycle.

The writer is a Palestinian political analyst and human rights pioneer.



Greece Commemorates 80th Anniversary Of Deportations To Auschwitz

Greece on Sunday (19th) commemorated the 80th anniversary of the first deportation of Greek Jews to Auschwitz-Birkenau in Thessaloniki, AFP reported.

Holding white balloons captioned “Never Again,” around a thousand people of all ages marched to the old railway station of Thessaloniki, where the deportations began on March 15, 1943.  Many people left flowers on the train tracks.

Some 46,000 Thessaloniki Jews were transported to Auschwitz-Birkenau between March and August 1943, said the president of the Jewish community in Thessaloniki, David Saltiel.

Just 1,950 returned, he said.

“The community lost 97 percent of its members, around 50,000 people,” Saltiel said, noting that Jews made up a fifth of Thessaloniki’s population at the time.

Greek President Katerina Sakellaropoulou, European Commission Vice-President Margaritis Schinas and Thessaloniki  Mayor Konstantinos Zervas were among the officials at the ceremony.

The American ambassador to Greece George Tsunis and Science and Technology Minister Ofir Akunis also attended.

Thessaloniki had a thriving 50,000-strong Jewish community before World War II but only around 1,000 Jews remain today.  About 96 percent of the city’s 50,000 Jews were murdered in Nazi camps.

Among the over 77,000 Jews living in Greece before World War II, more than 86 percent perished during the Holocaust. 

Today the country’s community numbers around 5,000 according to the Jewish museum in Athens.

Zervas said work has begun on a Holocaust museum to honor the memory of those who died in the Nazi camps.

In 2017, the Jewish community of Thessaloniki got the go-ahead to build the museum, funded in part by Germany.  The project to remember Greek Jews murdered by the Nazi regime was first announced three years earlier by then-Thessaloniki Mayor Yannis Boutaris.

Greece has gradually begun honoring its Jewish community after formalizing relations with Israel in 1990.



Water Scarcity In The Middle East Brings Israel And Arab Neighbors Together – Trey Yingst

The Atlantic Council’s N-7 Initiative hosted a conference last week in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) aimed at promoting cooperation between Israel and the Arab world while finding solutions to water scarcity and food insecurity.  Representatives from 10 Muslim majority countries, Israel and the U.S. were present.

Former U.S.  Ambassador to Israel Daniel B. Shapiro, Director of the N-7, said, “What is notable about the N-7 conference is that despite…tensions, participants from Israel and some ten Arab states were not just willing, but eager to come to Abu Dhabi to meet.”

Shapiro said participants have shown interest in employing Israeli water technology across the Middle East at scale, which could address food insecurity.