News Digest — 4/30/20

Trump Sends Congratulations To Rivlin For Independence Day

President Reuven Rivlin received a letter at the start of Israel’s 72nd Independence Day from President of the United States Donald Trump, which read in full:

Dear President Rivlin:

The United States of America proudly joins you in commemorating the 72nd anniversary of Israel’s Independence.

It gives me tremendous pride that the United States was the first country to recognize the newly re-established Jewish State in 1948.

Exactly seven decades to the day after Prime Minister Ben-Gurion announced Israel’s independence, Israel and the United States shared another historic moment when the United States opened its embassy in Israel’s capital city, Jerusalem.  This achievement has been one of many significant actions by my Administration to rebuild the U.S.-Israel relationship.  This special relationship is built on our deeply-rooted shared values.  Israel is one of America’s closest partners, and I look forward to continuing the productive U.S.-Israel relationship in the coming year.

This Independence Day is occurring as the world struggles to confront the challenges presented by Covid-19, and I want to commend our continuing close collaboration to protect our people and defeat the pandemic together.


Donald J. Trump



Independence Day Curfew Ends As Israel Moves Toward Easing More Restrictions 

A nationwide curfew ended Wednesday evening (29th) as Israel’s 72nd Independence Day came to a close, with further restrictions aimed at halting the spread of the coronavirus set to be eased in the coming days.

At 8 p.m., grocery stores and other businesses required to close over the holiday, were allowed to reopen, and a ban on intercity travel expired.

While Israelis could return to their pre-Memorial and Independence Day routines Wednesday evening (29th), the planned lifting of further restrictions in the coming days could move Israel closer to full reopening.

Most stores will be allowed to reopen, though leisure venues and eateries will continue to remain closed, as will shops in malls, with the exception of supermarkets and pharmacies.

Beginning Sunday (5/3), some students will return to school, though final approval depends on the findings of research on infection rates among children that will be presented to government ministers later this week.

Tentative approval has also been given for the opening of guest houses and some hotels next week; open-air markets could also be given permission to reopen.

Playgrounds will remain shut and only those living approximately 300 feet from parks or public beaches will be allowed to visit them

Religious events will continue to be limited in size and must be held outside.

Last week, the Health Ministry defined new parameters on which to base its decisions regarding the easing or tightening of restrictions on the public and on the economy amid widespread criticism of a confused decision-making process.

These include the number of new daily sick remaining below 300 and the number of seriously ill also staying under that number.



Shin Bet Can Keep Tracking Coronavirus Patients, Knesset Committee Rules

The Knesset Intelligence and Secret Services Subcommittee on Thursday (30th) approved an extension of Shin Bet surveillance and tracking of coronavirus patients until Tuesday (5th).

The five-day extension was less than the week requested by the Ministry of Health and can be extended further if the Knesset moves to preserve new powers for the Shin Bet in legislation.

The decision comes on the heels of a Supreme Court order, mandating that the government suspend the program until the Knesset passes legislation granting these specific surveillance powers to the Shin Bet, Israel’s internal security service.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will hold a hearing on this issue on Sunday (5/3).

At the end of Thursday’s (30th) hearing, MK Gabi Ashkenazi, chairman of the committee, decided to approve the government’s request only until Tuesday (5/5), referencing the Supreme Court order.

“If on Sunday (5/3), the government decides it is not moving forward with legislation, then the decision will expire.  If the government wants to continue the program and pursue legislation, it will come to us on Tuesday (5/5) and we will decide how long to extend it,” said Ashkenazi.

“I recommend increasing the epidemiological investigations and tests, as we understand that there is a risk, but we will have to live with this coronavirus routine for the coming year, and therefore it is important to increase the investigations and explore other technological alternatives.”

The Ministry of Health’s Head of Public Health Services, Professor Sigal Sadetsky, spoke during Thursday’s (30th) hearing in favor of Shin Bet tracking.  “It is quite clear to us that without the use of this tool, we will lose a lot of quarantines and a lot of patients,” she said.  “We need this information in order to open the economy.”

In a High Court ruling last Sunday (26th), Supreme Court Justice Esther Hayut said, “We must not let the exceptional circumstances we are dealing with these days put us on a slippery slope in terms of normalizing the use of intrusive and exceptional means.”

The court ruled that as of April 30, “The Shin Bet cannot continue to manage the coronavirus outbreak through the mechanism set forth in Section 7 (b) (6) of the Shin Bet Law.  If the state wishes to continue to utilize the means currently used by the Shin Bet, it must act to legitimize such action in legislation.”

“If a legislative proceeding is initiated, the validity of the extension decision may be continued for an additional short period, not exceeding a few weeks, to enable the completion of this coronavirus procedure.”



Israel Land Lease At Tzofar Under Jordanian Peace Deal Ends Thursday

Israeli farmers from Moshav Tzofar are scheduled to hold a small ceremony on Thursday afternoon (30th) to mark the end of a 25-year land lease from neighboring Jordan that had been set under the terms of the 1994 peace deal between the two countries.

Members of IDF Division 80 and farmers from Tzofar are set to take part in the ceremony that will be held in accordance with COVID-19 restrictions.

Under an annex in the 1994 peace deal with Israel, a 25-year arrangement was reached in which land at Naharayim and Tzofar, which had been set to be returned to Jordan, remained in Israeli hands.

It was expected that after 25 years, the Hashemite Kingdom would extend the arrangement.

But in the light of strained relations between Israel and Jordan, the Hashemite Kingdom ended the arrangement last year.

Jewish-owned land, which Israeli farmers retained access to at what is known as the Island of Peace, was handed over to Jordan in November.

A special arrangement was made for farmers at Moshav Tzofar who had been leasing Jordanian land, to retain it until spring so they could harvest their pepper crops they had sown in the 1,100 dunams.

The end of the land lease comes as tensions have increased with Jordan over Israeli plans to annex West Bank Jewish settlements as early as July.

Jordan has opposed the move, which some speculate could destabilize the Hashemite rule.

Jordan Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi has discussed the issue with his counterparts in Jordan and leaders in Russia, Germany, Japan and France.



With Bees On Decline, Mechanical Pollination May Be Solution

A mechanical hum replaced the buzzing of bees in one Israeli community this season as farmers, concerned over the global drop in bee populations, tried out a new method of pollinating their crops.

Through an almond orchard in the area of Tel Arad in a desert plain in southern Israel, a tractor pulled a mast equipped with about a dozen small cannons that fired precise shots of pollen at the trees, enabling them to fertilize.

The job is usually done by natural pollinators – most often bees – but there has been a drastic fall in bee numbers around the world, largely due to intensive agriculture, the use of pesticides, and climate change.

Most crops rely on pollination, so the trend has worried groups like the UN Food and Agriculture Organization as it looks to fight hunger in the growing human population.

“We see a crisis in 15 years where we don’t have enough insects in the world to actually do pollination and most of our vitamins and fruits will be gone,” said Eylam Ran, CEO of Edete Precision Technologies for Agriculture.

This company says its artificial pollinator can augment the labors of  – and eventually replace – bees.  Its system mirrors the work of the honey bees, beginning with a mechanical harvest of pollen from flowers and ending with a targeted distribution using LIDAR sensors, the same technology used in some self-driving cars.

Edete has been working on a small-scale trial in several orchards in Israel and Australia and has agreements to do the same in the United States.