News Digest — 4/14/20

Israel To Go Into Another Passover Lockdown Over Coronavirus

Israelis will endure another full lockdown in the final days of Passover in an effort to stop people from congregating amid the coronavirus outbreak, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced Monday night (13th).

The lockdown will begin at 5 p.m. Tuesday (14th) and last until Thursday (16th) at 5 a.m., covering the end of Passover on Wednesday (15th) but not the Mimouna celebrations traditionally held by Jews of North African origin the day following Passover.

During this time, Israelis will not be allowed to leave their cities and communities, although shops will be open. 

The Health Ministry had apparently advised Netanyahu to impose the lockdown to 6 a.m., Sunday (19th), to include the Mimouna celebrations.  

“Mimouna has become a national holiday but this year it has to be different – you have to celebrate in the bosom of your family.  I am reminding you that there is to be no extended family gatherings in parks,” said Netanyahu.

“You are asked to hold limited family celebrations with those in your homes, as we did the first night of Passover,” added the prime minister.

The Israeli government imposed a lockdown last week at the start of the Jewish holiday which included a full curfew on Seder night, that also prohibited Israelis from venturing outside their cities or communities.

Municipal inspectors have also been authorized by Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan to enforce and impose fines on those who are violating the Health Ministry directives.



Israel Poll Shows Surge In Likud Support To 40 Seats

A public opinion poll released Monday (13th) by Israel’s Channel 12 news showed a surge in support for the Likud Party of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

The poll conducted by the Midgam company showed that if elections had been held now Likud would have won 40 seats in the 120-seat Knesset, Israel’s parliament, a gain of four from their present 36 seats.  The Blue and White Party of opposition leader Benny Gantz would win only 19 seats compared to their current 33.

The poll results showed that should Netanyahu keep the trend going, he could theoretically have a 64-seat right-wing coalition.

The last time Likud managed to get 40 seats in the Knesset was in the 1988 elections under Yitzhak Shamir.

The results of the March 2 elections were inconclusive with neither Gantz nor Netanyahu able to cobble together enough partners to get a majority of at least 61 seats.

On Monday, both Netanyahu and Gantz said they were trying to iron out the final details for a coalition and were given an extension in a last-ditch effort to avoid forcing Israelis back to the ballot box during the pandemic, for the fourth election in a little over a year.

The Channel 12 poll also asked if people were satisfied with how the government has dealt with the coronavirus crisis.  Over 64% expressed satisfaction, but along party lines, with 77% of right-wing supporters satisfied while 52% of left-wing supporters saying they were not satisfied.



Guarding The Israeli Border In Times Of Coronavirus

While hundreds of troops from the IDF’s Paratroopers Brigade are busy caring for coronavirus patients, hundreds more of their fellow servicemen are guarding Israel’s border with Gaza.

Though Hamas has closed schools, mosques and wedding halls and banned large street gatherings in the Strip, it has not imposed a total lockdown to curb the virus.  The World Health Organization (WHO) has warned that Gaza’s healthcare system would not be able to deal with an outbreak of the deadly disease in the densely populated enclave, home to nearly 2 million people.

“As an army which protects the country, we are prepared for all scenarios.  There are always discussions about what would happen if Gazans come to the border looking for medical care, on all levels of command,” Company Commander of the 202nd Paratroopers Battalion, Maj. Naor Shem-Tov, told The Jerusalem Post.

“Troops will not open fire on women and children but at the end of the day we won’t give Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) an opportunity to take advantage and carry out attacks like they have done during the riots we saw at the fence during the Great Return Marches,” he said.

As fear over the continued spread of the coronavirus continues to grow in the blockaded enclave where 13 people have been diagnosed with the virus, Shem-Tov told the Post that the military is also prepared for the resumption of rocket fire towards southern Israel.

In late March, a projectile was fired from the Strip and landed in an open field near Sderot, leading the Israeli Air Force to strike Hamas targets in retaliation.  The projectile broke a month-long lull in violence.

IDF troops have been kept on base away from family for the past month and a half in an attempt to prevent the coronavirus from spreading and to ensure continued training and operations.  And while there have been several incidents of troops being documented breaking the regulations imposed by the Health Ministry and the Chief of Staff, most soldiers under the current unique circumstances are complying with the orders.

While they may be far from family, soldiers understand that by being on base, they are safer than being home where they could get sick or infect others.  Troops also continue to work in a “capsule system” where soldiers work in two or three self-contained shifts where they do not physically interact with each other.

“Troops are very motivated and understand the situation.  Some are very concerned about friends and family who might be in quarantine or sick.  But they are learning more, training more and getting stronger,” Shem-Tov said, adding that by remaining on base “It has kept them healthy.”

But while the regulations have kept the troops on base, that doesn’t stop residents of southern Israel from sending over messages of support.    

“The ties between troops and residents of the south are very tight, but because of the coronavirus we keep our distance from them.  We can’t even get Shabbat cakes from them,” Shem-Tov said, adding that “instead of food, residents sent over videos for troops for the Passover holiday and Shabbat.  It warms the heart even if we can’t physically touch. It’s love from afar.”



After Decades Of Sinking Water Levels, Sea Of Galilee Is Almost Full

A ray of light is shining upon the Holy Land’s main source of freshwater for the first time in 28 years.

After rising again over the weekend, the Sea of Galilee (Lake KInneret) is only 7.8 inches away from reaching maximum capacity, Israel’s N12 news site reports.

After years of drought causing dangerously low water levels, Israel’s main source of freshwater has risen dramatically following two seasons of significant rainfalls.  It has reached a point where a dam may be opened to release excess water.

“In just two years, the Kinneret Lake has risen by more than 18 feet,” said Dr. Amir Givati, director of flood modeling at the company ClimaCell.

“The Kinneret will continue to rise in the coming days and  by the beginning of May the level is expected to stabilize for the first time since February 1992 at the top of the red line, which means a full lake.

Israel relies heavily on the Kinneret for freshwater, from which 30 percent of the country’s potable water is supplied.  Israel’s food supply relies heavily on the agriculture, fisheries, and dairy farms that are sustained by the 167-square-kilometer lake.

In addition, the Kinneret is a prime tourist attraction and religious site.

Given the shrinking freshwater supplies, the Israel Water Authority has increasingly looked to the Mediterranean Sea as a water source by means of desalination.



Synagogue Torched In Northern Russia

A synagogue in northern Russia was severely damaged in a fire that the local Jewish community said was caused by arsonists.

The fire consumed the entrance hall of the Northern Star Jewish community center and synagogue in Arkhangelsk, the Russian Jewish Congress wrote.  No one was hurt in the fire.

Anatoly Obermeister, who heads the Russian Jewish Congress’ Northern Region said in a statement that the arson Sunday (13th) was the third assault on the communal property since 2015.

“At about 3:40 a.m., a perpetrator threw tires over the fence, then climbed over, quickly moved the tires closer to the building, doused them with a flammable liquid and set them on fire.  Firefighters arrived about 15 minutes later, when the facade was already blazing,” said the report, which was based on security camera footage.

The report did not say if the perpetrator was identified.  

The building targeted in the attack was inaugurated in 2018.  Boasting three stories and a synagogue with 500 seats, it took four years to construct and cost nearly $3 million raised from private donors.

Northern Star is Russia’s northernmost Jewish institution.  Arkhangelsk is located approximately 750 miles north of Moscow.

In April 2015, unidentified persons fired air rifles at the building while it was under construction.  Anti-Semitic graffiti was sprayed on it during the same year, and in 2016 a firebomb was hurled at the construction site.