News Digest — 3/22/21

Israeli Police To Deploy 20,000 Officers On Election Day

Israeli Police said Sunday (21st) that they will deploy some 20,000 officers across 13,000 polling stations throughout the country, Election Day, March 23.

The police said they will also deploy 15 special teams, including undercover, at hundreds of polling stations where unusual events have been recorded in the past.  The teams will be tasked with preventing “any attempts to harm the election’s integrity.”

In addition, about 3,500 police officers equipped with body cameras will patrol the areas around polling stations.  Some officers will be equipped with tablet computers, which will enable them to verify the identity of the voters.

“We will allow every citizen to go to the polls and vote safely,” said head of the Police Operations Division Assistant Commissioner, Shimon Nachmani.

“There will be undercover and regular forces, whose job will be to prevent any attempts to disrupt the elections.  Although the police currently have no information on attempts to disrupt the election, we are ready for any scenario.”

Among the polling stations that will be monitored by the police, will be those intended for coronavirus carriers and people in self-isolation, including stations located at Ben Gurion Airport and across some of the country’s stadiums.

The police added they have also made preparations on how to deal with hundreds of thousands of Israelis who are expected to take advantage of Election Day to visit the country’s nature reserves, parks, beaches and the consequent heavy traffic expected on the roads.

During the March 23 election, 6,578,084 Israelis will be able to exercise their right to vote.  This is an increase of 1.9% from the previous election.



New IDF Southern Command Head Takes Reins

On Sunday (21st), Maj.-Gen. Eliezer Toledano took the reins of the IDF’s Southern Command, replacing Maj.-Gen. Herzi Halevi, who completed approximately three years in the post.

Halevi is transitioning into his new position as Deputy Chief of the General Staff.

The IDF held the handover ceremony at the Southern Command Headquarters in Be’er Sheva, which was presided over by IDF Chief of the General Staff, Lt. Gen. Aviv Kochavi.

Members of the General Staff, the heads of local authorities and the Halevi and Toledano families were also present at the ceremony.

In his comments at the event, Kochavi referenced the impending International Criminal Court (ICC) probe of alleged “war crimes” committed by Israel, charges the IDF vehemently denies based on exhaustive investigations of the military’s conduct in the Gaza periphery and beyond.

“Until a year ago, nearly every day the Southern Command faced a wide range of threats and challenges posed by the terrorist armies in Gaza,” said Kochavi, continuing, “The pace and scale of such incidents has since subsided considerably.  This did not occur on its own, rather, thanks to a combination of military force and the implementation of civilian policy.  To you IDF soldiers and your commanders, past and present, I support your action, and stand with you in the face of any accusations.”

Kochavi added, “The values of the IDF and International Law were not only intended to prevent harm to noncombatants, but were intended to enable us to protect Israeli citizens as well.”

Halevi spoke after Kochavi, referencing “a new, updated ‘Southern Spirit’ plan” to confront “terrorist armies” operating on the edges of the Gaza envelope. 

Halevi concluded, “We are proud of our achievements and are committed to the development of the Gaza Strip envelope, and a safe and prosperous south, with proper governance in all civilian areas.”

Incoming commander Toledano also addressed the ceremony, stating, “I am responsible for border protection, for winning the war and for providing security, and a sense of security to the citizens of Israel in the Negev and the Arava.  We will do it together, with solid spirits, broad shoulders, straight backs and devotion in our eyes.”



Unprecedented Ruling Helps Palestinian Collaborators Sue PA For Torture

Hundreds of Palestinians who were tortured by the Palestinian Authority for collaborating with Israel could soon find it far easier to file lawsuits against it and seek compensation.  In an unprecedented ruling, the Jerusalem District Court ruled that such lawsuits will henceforth require a far less expensive court fee, similar to the fee for lawsuits seeking compensation for acts of terror.

Judge Miriam Ilany’s decision was issued within the framework of a class-action lawsuit filed by 60 Palestinian collaborators, represented by attorney Barak Kedem, who claim to have been beaten and abused in PA prison.

The attorneys representing the PA in the case, meanwhile, demanded that each plaintiff pay a court fee equaling 2.5% of the sought-after compensation sum, as per the requirement for any “regular” damage-claim seeking compensation.  In the case at hand, this equates to $75,740, half of which must be paid immediately upon the filing of the lawsuit.

Kedem, the lawyer representing the Palestinian plaintiffs, argued that the court must apply the legal clause whereby in punitive claims for acts of terror or violence, the plaintiff only has to pay a court fee of $350.

“The law can be interpreted as also applying to cases claiming torture and abuse, for the purpose of intimidating the Palestinian population not to collaborate with the State of Israel,” Ilany said in her ruling.

Kedem added: “The prosecution and the court adopted our position that equates the Palestinian collaborator community to Israeli victims of terror.  This is a significant contribution to building a unified front in the war on terror.” 



Greek Jews Condemn Vandalism Of New Mural Honoring Thessaloniki Jewish Holocaust Victims

The Jewish Community of Thessaloniki, “unequivocally condemned”  on Thursday (18th) the defacing of a recently unveiled mural that honors the Greek port city’s Jews and their extermination in Nazi death camps.

“It is unfortunate that a few days after its completion, strangers, who seem to be bothered by the willingness of the city to remember even the darkest pages of its history, vandalized a work that received positive comments both for its aesthetics and for the powerful message that it conveys on the need to preserve the memory and constantly remind ourselves of the events of the Holocaust,” the community said in a statement.

The mural stretched 38 yards long and over 7 yards high, and was created by the street artist Same84 to remember the tens of thousands of Thessaloniki Jews that were killed during the Holocaust, the Ekathimerini News website reported.

Inspired by wartime photographs, the mural was painted on a wall that had surrounded the city’s Jewish neighborhood.  Unknown vandals reportedly smeared the mural with black paint, and restoration efforts have already begun.

“Racism and anti-Semitism remains a serious problem and an open wound for our society.  It is obvious that we must always remain vigilant in order to fight – through the use of historical facts and education – any attempts to revive the ideologies that gave birth to the Holocaust, the nadir of humanity,” the Jewish community group added.

Thessaloniki’s once-thriving Jewish community of over 50,000 – many of whose ancestors had arrived as refugees from the Spanish Inquisition – was all but decimated by the Nazis, with only a few thousand surviving.

“We express our revulsion toward any action that insults the memory of the victims of Nazi atrocities.  Once again, we underscore the need to heap scorn on racism, hatred and fanaticism and to defend our moral principles,” said the Greek Ministry of Foreign Affairs.



New Christian Sites In Israel Ready To Open For Pilgrims

According to the Bible, Jesus and His disciples did a lot of walking.  Now pilgrims who want to walk in Jesus’ footsteps can do so on a new trail called the Emmaus Trail, which could be the road that Cleopas and another disciple walked on from Jerusalem to Emmaus after the death of Jesus.  According to the Gospel of Luke, as they walked they discussed the events that led to the crucifixion.  At some point Jesus, who had been resurrected, appeared to them but they didn’t recognize Him.  When they arrived at Emmaus, which today is part of Ayalon Park near Latrun, they invited Jesus to stay the night with them.  It was only then when they sat and ate together, that they recognized Him.

Pilgrims can walk the new 11-mile Emmaus Trail that now goes from the Saxum Visitor Center in Abu Ghosh, which has exhibits on Christianity, and ends at the monastery of Emmaus Nicopolis.  The whole walk will take five to six hours.  

The scenery is breathtaking with olive trees, almond trees and carpets of wildflowers.  Along the path there are several tombs carved out of large boulders, with stone benches inside where bodies would lie until only the bones were left – the bones would then be placed in an ossuary.

Part of the route is a 2,000-year-old Roman road that connected Jerusalem with Jaffa’s seaport.  The trail ends at the monastery of Emmaus Nicopolis, where there are extensive ruins of a Byzantine church.

“The Emmaus Trail is a pilgrim’s trail.  We don’t have this very much in Israel,” Henri Gourinard, a lecturer in historical geography, who wrote a guidebook for the trail, told The Jerusalem Post.

“There is the Gospel Trail in the Galilee, but the difference in the Emmaus Trail is that you can do it in half a day.  It’s a nice way to end a pilgrimage and to meditate before going back to your own country.”

Right now in Israel, of course, there are no Christian pilgrims, who in 2019 made up more than half of the country’s 4.55 million tourists, according to the Tourism Ministry,  But when they return, they will find new sites for them to visit, including a new wing of the Terra Sancta Museum in Jerusalem’s Old City.

When tourists do return to Israel, it won’t look like it did before, according to the Ministry, as there will be smaller groups that will want to be out in the open air more.  And it means that even for people who have been to Israel before, there will be new things for them to see.