News Digest — 3/22/24

Israel Bolsters Security During Purim Holiday

An official in the Israel Police force said on Thursday (21st) that during the upcoming Purim holiday, and the Muslim holy month of Ramadan there will be an increased presence of security forces across the country, with an emphasis on Jerusalem.

“We are coming into challenging days with the potential for escalation,” the official said, although he confirmed there were no specific reports of planned attacks.

“We are at a particularly high level of alert, deploying thousands of officers to maintain order and secure the Purim festivities and Ramadan prayers with a focus on Jerusalem and the Temple Mount and the protests this weekend,” said the senior official.

“The combination of the threats of war, terror, and safety risks like crowd pressure is especially complex,” the official added. “There is also a need for the public’s cooperation to heed guidelines and report anything suspicious.”

Security officials said the police plan to have forces or volunteers near central synagogues, trained to identify threats and neutralize incidents.  Beyond the synagogues, “The aim is to have armed individuals in every synagogue, among worshipers, who know how to use firearms according to the rules of engagement outlined in the law,” they said.

Approximately 3,000 officers will spread out on Friday (22nd) across the capital.  The police will particularly operate at the Jerusalem perimeter crossings, in the eastern part of the city and the alleys of the Old City.  The comprehensive security array will intensify, and police activity will increase on traffic routes.

As far as Purim, the holiday begins Saturday (23rd) at sundown and ends Sunday evening the (24th).  Although there will be a Purim parade Monday (25th), in Jerusalem, hostage families have asked that the parade music be toned down sound-wise and be called “Purim United.” 



Palestinian Flag Flown Over Mordechai And Esther’s Shrine In Iran

When Chief Rabbi of Iran, Yehuda Gerami arrived Thursday (21st), as he does every year on the Fast of Esther and Purim, to pray at the Tomb of Mordechai and Esther in Hamedan, he discovered that the Palestinian flag had been raised there.

In recent months, because of the war in Gaza, the holiest site of Judaism in the country has also been the victim of arson attacks.

The Tomb of Mordechai and Esther is, according to tradition, the burial place of the Jewish Mordechai and Esther mentioned in the Book of Esther.  The site has served as a pilgrimage site for Jews from ancient times.

In a rare interview with a Haredi outlet in 2022, Rabbi Gerami said that there was no danger to Iranian Judaism and that Iranians have enormous respect for Jews.  He added that Jews in Iran stay out of politics and that the treatment by authorities was also good.

At the time of the Iranian Revolution in 1979, there were roughly 80,000 Jews living in Iran while today their numbers are between 5-8,000.  Most of the Jews who left Iran moved either to Israel or the United States.

According to the Iran International website in February, Iran compels Jews and minorities to honor the Islamic Revolution.



 IDF Spokesperson: We Captured Significant Hamas Leaders In Shifa

IDF Spokesperson Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari addressed the press on Thursday (21st) and noted that the IDF’s operation in the Shifa Hospital in Gaza was the largest since the war began.

“This operation had the largest concentration of terrorists arrested since the war began – 650. Many of them in Shifa surrendered to our forces – it is a difficult blow to the Islamic Jihad,” Hagari stated.

He noted that “during the past day, we entered the Qatari building in Shifa, this time terrorists were hiding there.  Shayetet 13 commandos raided the building, our soldiers eliminated the terrorists, and arrested very important senior operatives.  We still cannot publish their identities but they hold important intelligence.  The Hamas senior operatives understand the aims of the operation very well.”

He recounted how terrorists hid among the patients of the hospital in an attempt to save themselves.  “There are terrorists who decided to take cover near the emergency room.  We are evacuating the patients from the Shifa emergency room so that all the patients and doctors will be safe.  We are continuing to call terrorists who are in the building to surrender.  Those who surrender will stay alive, whoever doesn’t- we will go in to fight them until we kill them.”

“There will be more fighting here – there will be several more days in this operation,” Hagari concluded.



Mass Prayer Services Held In Jerusalem And Tel Aviv For Hostages’ Release

Tens Of Thousands Of Jews gathered in the Western Wall Plaza in the Old City of Jerusalem Thursday (21st), to mark the end of Ta’anit Esther, the traditional fast before the Purim Festival, and to pray for the safety of israeli soldiers and the safe release of Israeli captives in the Gaza Strip.

Rabbi Shmuel Rabinovitch, chief rabbi of the Western Wall Plaza, led attendees in the recitation of Psalms prior to the prayer service.

Worshipers then recited  the “Shema Yisrael” (“Hear O Israel’) prayer, in what was billed as the largest mass recital of the prayer on record.

The event included families of hostages held in the Gaza Strip, with Yigal Sarusi, whose son, 27-year-old Almog Sarusi is being held captive in Gaza, leading a prayer for the captives.

Haim Jelin, a resident of Kibbutz Be’eri and survivor of the October 7th invasion also took part in the event, leading part of a recital of Psalms.

Parallel gatherings of Jews around the world were held while the Western Wall event was live-streamed online.  A smaller gathering was held Thursday (21st) in Tel Aviv, organized by the Masorti Foundation for Conservative Judaism.

Dozens took part in the event which was held in Hostages Square and also included prayers  on behalf of the Israeli captives in the Gaza Strip.  Yarden Gonen, the sister of Romi Gonen, one of the hostages in Gaza, was among those in attendance.



‘Israel Is Right To Defend Itself:’ Lebanese Doctor Called To Make Peace With Israel

The imminent war between Israel and Hezbollah creates ripple effects within Lebanese society and its inner discourse.  The Jerusalem Post reached out to two Lebanese anti-war activists, Dr. Ghassan Boudiab and A., who make efforts to promote peace between the ancient people from the two sides of the border, on and offline.

The interviews have been translated and edited for content:

My name is Dr. Ghassan Boudiab, and I want to convey a message of peace from the land of the Cedars to the Israeli people.

After 75 years of meaningless clashes between Lebanon and Israel, it is time to think about a different approach.Time to consider what the late brave Begin and Sadat said in Camp David under US patronage: ‘no more war, no more bloodshed, no more tears.’

Because why would I even need to fight Israel?  Why wouldn’t I do business with Israel or enjoy the fact that I’m a neighbor of Israel?  Why do we need to pay tribute to the IRGC and the terrorist Mullahs of Tehran?

How many Lebanese must die for Iran?  And why must I be a tool at the hand of Ali Khamenei?

Why should Lebanese blood be shed for the project of the Neo Nazis of the Mullah regime?  Why must we deal with a foreign agenda that takes all Lebanese as hostages?  This is not our cause or national interest.

As a free Lebanese, I don’t want that.  I want peace and extend my hand starkly to the other side of the border, hoping to be met by a like-minded hand.

We need a partner from the other side of the border to build peace for tomorrow, for the era following the eradication and defeat of terrorists.

Israel has the full right to defend its citizens and enjoy peaceful and safe borders.  Nothing justifies the terror attack of October 7 nor the crazy meaningless adventure that Hassan Nasrallah and his partner – the head of amal movement (Nabih Berni) are leading Lebanon towards.   

If Lebanon were attacked by the same massacre – what would be the answer of the Lebanese? I am not seeking to justify the unnecessary death of civilians. But mustn’t Israel have a right to defend itself from such evil?

Having our beloved country bombed is saddening, but living as a hostage of terrorist political Shi’ism led by the so-called Islamic Republic, which in turn occupies Iran, is in and of itself a big challenge.  We cannot co-exist with political Shi’ism, which aligns only with what the Faqih, the ‘sage leader’ in Tehran, wants.  They say openly that Hezbollah is Iran.  Yet Hezbollah is a terrorist organization taking Lebanon hostage.

Israel is smart enough to know that no peace can be signed with one Lebanese sect.  It must be signed between nations and people.  The collapse of May 17,1983 is a historic example.  But also the recent Maritime agreement, which didn’t pass either through the Lebanese Parliament nor through the Knesset, was a bad example.  We need peace between states, not sects.  Peace between two states under the patronage of the United States along with other Arab leaders.  

Our founding fathers in Lebanon were not promoters of Political Shi’ism.  They were Maronite and Druze, like Prince Fakhr Eddin II.  The Druze-Maronite social contract established the big Lebanon state.  The relations between Lebanon and Israel go back even before there were the modern states of Lebanon and Israel, to the time of the Phoenicians and King Solomon, who brought Lebanese cedars to build the Temple, and to King Heram and others.  This glorious past has nothing to do with the terrorist regime which holds our country hostage.

What prevents you from coming to Junieh or me from driving to Tel Aviv?  Why do I need to fight with you?  This doesn’t make any sense.  What makes sense is permanent peace and diplomacy among the people.  We are fighting a common enemy – the so-called ‘Islamic’ regime occupying Iran and its terrorist proxies.

Israel doesn’t have to be alert every 2-3 years just because Khamenei wants to cause trouble and reserve a seat at the table of Negotiations with the US administration.  I don’t want my borders to be a cause for any threats.  I want tourism projects in Naqoura between Israel and Lebanon companies.  I want my children to visit the sacred shrine of Jethro in Hattin.  Israel is a diverse state.  Why can’t I go visit the Tomb of Christ or Al-Aqsa Mosque?  Why should anyone need to build a whole ideology based on hatred and murder?  Why should anyone be celebrating the murder of people who were partying?  Only Fascism ot Nazism would celebrate this.

I’m ready to work with whoever is ready to sustain a future built on love, economic relations and national interests, rather than hatred.  I am a neighbor of Israel, I have national interests, and peace is my national interest.

You will surely find people who will call us Zionist spies or traitors.  I don’t care, I’m doing this for the future of the Lebanese people and the Jewish people.  I don’t want an ideology of hate, 75 years is too much.  Endless war is too much. 

It’s time to give peace a chance.  To think about unity and diversity, to declare that peace; just like war requires brave people and strong minds.  We are not in the 1960s.  This is 2024.  The whole concept of trying to create useless borders is a joke.  Can they really ban me from talking to you?

Every single drop of blood and atom of soil is precious.  As a Lebanese national my national interest is to have the best relations with our neighbors.  We don’t have time for war; we have time for peace, prosperity and technology.

The 1,000-mile journey starts with one step, and somebody needs to start this process.

Let’s light a small candle, instead of cursing the darkness.

Dr. Ghassan Boudiab is the director of Demokratia Center for Research and Strategic Studies in DC., and is a professor of Science of religions, specializing in faith-based extremism, from the Chouf region in Lebanon.



New Poll: 71% Of Palestinians Support October 7 Attack On Israel  – Khalil Shikaki

71% of Palestinians say Hamas’ decision to launch the October 7 offensive was correct, according to a poll conducted on March 5-10, 2024, by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research in the West Bank and Gaza.  64% blame Israel for the suffering of Gazans in the current war while 7% blame Hamas.

94% think Israel has committed war crimes during the current war, while 5% think Hamas also committed such crimes.  80% say they did not see videos, shown by international news outlets, of acts committed by Hamas against Israeli civilians, such as the killing of women and children in their homes.  93% said Hamas did not commit these atrocities.

Overall, 64% believe Hamas will win the war.  In Gaza, 56% believe this, up from 50% in December.  In the West Bank, 69% believe this, down from 83% in December.   On the day after the war, 59% say Hamas will be in control of Gaza.

49% believe Hamas is the most deserving to lead the Palestinian people today, while 17% believe that Fatah under the leadership of Abbas is more deserving; 29% believe both are unworthy.  46% believe that armed struggle is the best means of achieving Palestinian goals (51% in the West Bank and 39% in Gaza).  59% oppose a return to Palestinian-Israeli peace negotiations.  (PSR-PA)



Canada Should Be Ashamed Of Its “Arms Embargo” On Israel – Editorial

Canadian Foreign Minister Melanie Joly announced Tuesday (19th) that Ottawa will halt arms sales to Israel.  It surely came as a sorely needed piece of good news to Hamas leaders, who can look at this decision as evidence that if they hold out just a little bit longer, then the world will condemn Israel and seek to tie the Jewish state’s hands behind its back.

Canada’s decision also must bring joy to terrorist organizations worldwide searching for a winning strategy.  If they see that through the cruel use of Palestinian human shields, Hamas can survive and murder more Jews and Israeli innocents, then they could be saying to themselves, “This is a great game plan, and if it works for Hamas, it can work for us.”

The military equipment that Canada sells Israel – $21 million in 2022 – is not going to determine the course of this war.  The Canadian government has confused the aggressor with the victim and lost sight of who is responsible for the horrible and undeniable suffering taking place inside Gaza.

Israeli Foreign Minister Yisrael Katz said: “It is unfortunate that the Canadian government is taking a step that undermines Israel’s right to self-defense against the Hamas murderers who have committed terrible crimes against humanity and against innocent Israeli citizens, including the elderly, women, and children.”  History “will judge the Canadian government’s current move harshly.”  He is correct.  (Jerusalem Post)