News Digest — 4/30/21

Tragedy In Israel: 44 Dead And Over 150 Injured

At least 44 people died and over 150 were injured, many of them critically, when people stampeded at the annual Lag B’ Omer pilgrimage in northern Israel, Thursday night (29th).

The largest mass event in Israel since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic suddenly turned into one of the country’s greatest disasters.  An estimated 100,000-200,000 people were crowded at Mt. Meron in the northern Galilee area when some may have slipped backwards, starting a domino effect and causing people to flee in panic.

Magen David Adom EMTs and paramedics are treating 103 injured of which 44 are in critical condition and were evacuated to hospitals, 18 in serious condition, 2 in moderate condition and 39 in mild condition,” said Nadav Natzner, a spokesman for the national emergency ambulance service.

The IDF said it brought in Israel Air Force helicopters and its air rescue unit to evacuate the wounded to hospitals around the country, with soldiers from the Homefront Command and medical teams from the north of the country responding to the scene.

“This is one of the worst tragedies that I have ever experienced.  I have not seen anything like this since I entered the field of emergency medicine back in 2000,” said United Hatzalah vice president Lazar Hyman.

A United Hatzalah official said dozens of medical teams performed CPR on the victims who were crushed, while others treated more than 100 people who were injured with varying degrees of severity.

“A heavy disaster on Mount Meron.  We all pray for the recovery of the injured,” tweeted Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

“The Ministry of Health and I have been following the terrible Meron disaster since nightfall,” tweeted Health Minister Yuli Edelstein.  “Hospitals and rescue organizations are doing sacred work to care for the injured.  Our hearts go out to the families of those killed at this difficult time.”

The crowds of mostly ultra-Orthodox Jews were making the annual pilgrimage to Israel’s Mount Meron to be near the gravesite of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai.

Many mark Lag B’ Omer by visiting Bar Yochai’s gravesite as well as by kindling bonfires that symbolize the spiritual light brought into the world through his work known as the Zohar, eventually compiled in Spain some 1,000 years later.

In Washington, White House National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan sent the first American response.  

“Our hearts go out to the people of Israel tonight following the terrible tragedy at Mount Meron.  We offer condolences to the families and friends who lost loved ones in this disaster, and wish a full and swift recovery to those injured,” Sullivan tweeted.



‘Our Warplanes Can Reach Iran,’ Israeli Minister Warns Amid Nuclear Talks

JERUSALEM – An Israeli cabinet minister sharpened his country’s warnings against what it would deem a bad new nuclear deal between Iran and world powers, saying a war with Tehran would be sure to follow.

As Joe Biden explores a possible US return to the 2015 deal to contain Iran’s nuclear program that his predecessor Donald Trump abandoned, Israel has stepped up calls for more sweeping curbs to be imposed on sensitive Iranian technologies and projects.

Iran, which this week resumed indirect talks with US envoys in Vienna on reversing its retaliatory violations of the deal in exchange for the removal of sanctions reimposed by Trump, has ruled out any further limitations on Iranian actions.

Reiterating Israel’s position that it does not consider itself bound by their diplomacy, Intelligence Minister Eli Cohen said: “A bad deal will send the region spiraling into war.”

“Anyone seeking short-term benefits should be mindful of the longer-term consequences,” he told Reuters.

“Israel will not allow Iran to attain nuclear arms.  Iran has no immunity anywhere.  Our planes can reach anywhere.  Our planes can reach everywhere in the Middle East – and certainly Iran.”

Cohen said that in addition to denying Iran the means of enriching uranium and developing ballistic missiles, world powers should make it stop “destabilizing other countries” and funding militants.

The Vienna talks have been overshadowed by what appeared to be mutual sabotage attacks on Israeli and Iranian ships, as well as an explosion at Iran’s Natanz enrichment plant that Tehran blamed on Israel.

Cohen, in keeping with Israeli policy, declined to comment.

Israel sent senior delegates to Washington this week to discuss Iran with US counterparts.  The White House said the allies agreed on the “significant threat” posed by Iran’s regional behavior.

The Israeli ambassador to the United States, Gilad Erdan, said the Biden administration would consult with Israel about any new nuclear deal – the prospects for which he deemed “hazy.”

“We assess, to our regret, that the Iranians will refuse such a discussion,” he told Israel’s public radio station Kan, alluding to Iran’s insistence on restoring the original deal, which Trump called too limited in scope and duration.

“But if it emerges that we were mistaken, and the Americans succeed in securing a discussion of a different, better deal, we will certainly be part of that discussion – we made that clear to the US administration, of course.”



President Rivlin Thanks Macron For Pursuing Amendment After Halimi Trial Debacle

Israeli President Reuven Rivlin sent a letter to French President Emmanuel Macron regarding the decision that the accused in the murder of Sarah Halimi, is unfit to stand trial.

In the letter, he wrote, “I heard with sorrow of the decision of the French Supreme Court to confirm the decision of the lower courts that the accused in the anti-Semitic, brutal and terrible murder of Sarah Halimi is unfit to stand trial.”

“I appreciate your ethical and legal position and your determination to introduce an amendment to the criminal code.  Your quick and clear response sends a clear message to the family of the victim and to France as a whole, that the law as it currently stands is deficient, and that deficiency has allowed a despicable murderer to evade justice and punishment,” he added.

“The facts of the case are accepted: Dr. Sarah Halimi was a victim of a despicable murder by a cruel murderer because she was Jewish, and everything must be done to send a clear message that there will not be any tolerance of sick and despicable anti-Semitism and attacks on Jews because of their ethnicity and religion,” Rivlin said.



Abbas Shoots Himself In The Foot – Prof. Eyal Zisser

In January of this year, Palestinian Authority Leader Mahmoud Abbas, who has held office without elections for two decades, declared elections for the PA parliament and presidency, slated for May 22 and July 31 respectively.

Now barely three months removed since that ambitious declaration, Abbas is looking for a way out of the predicament he created and now appears on the verge of canceling them altogether.

For Abbas, the declaration itself was most important.  It’s entirely possible he never had any intention of ever following through, and that he simply sought to present himself to the new Biden administration as a proponent of democracy and to push Israel into a corner by painting it as a serial obstructor of Palestinian efforts to hold democratic elections.

It took Abbas only a few short days to realize he had opened a Pandora’s Box, as his enemies rushed to exploit the election process inside and outside the PLO.  Thus, a move intended to strengthen Abbas and hurt Israel quickly emerged as a lethal threat to his political career.  Indeed, aside from his sworn enemy, Hamas, his other political enemies from within the Fatah movement also moved quickly to submit their candidacies, namely Marwan Barghouti, who is currently serving a life sentence in an Israeli prison, and Mohammed Dahlan, who currently resides in the United Arab Emirates.

It’s no surprise that Abbas has looked for an excuse to dial back the decision.  As per usual, he will pin the blame on Israel.  Indeed, he recently said that if Israel prohibits east Jerusalem residents from voting, he will cancel the elections.  It’s safe to assume that if Israel bends over and allows them to vote, Abbas will find another excuse.

It’s unclear what Abbas achieved from his election ploy.  But for the 85-year-old leader, who can count his political future in months, not years, even buying a few more days or weeks is a lifetime.  What is clear is that this election fiasco has set the general outline for the looming succession battle once he’s gone – an epic within the PLO and even within Fatah that threatens to tear this movement to pieces.  Hamas, for its part, has only to sit by and watch while its dirty work is done by others.



‘There’s No Such Thing As Occupied Palestinian Land’ Legalist Says

Dr. Jacques Gauthier is a Canadian lawyer and international law expert on the San Remo Conference, during which the legal infrastructure for the Jewish state was laid in 1920.

Gauthier, whose life’s work has been devoted to proving the legitimacy of the Jewish claim to Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria under international law, says the question of the legitimacy of the settlement enterprise – and the legal basis of Israel’s very existence – is one of crucial importance.

He believes that for Israel and the Jewish people, it is imperative not to lose sight of what was theirs in the past.

Over the past two decades, the legal arena has become rife with propaganda by left-wing organizations, giving way to the rise of a new term: Lawfare – “the misuse of legal systems and principles against, with aim to delegitimizing the adversary, wasting their time and money, or winning a public relations victory.”

In this reality, the question is simple, Gauthier says: Are Jews living in east Jerusalem, or as settlers in Judea and Samaria, or in Hebron, or even within the Green Line, legal residents?  Do they own land and property that are not actually theirs?

Israel’s critics, he explained, claim that Jews should be barred from living in certain areas in the country, so the question of justice and sovereignty is crucial because if the right granted over the entire territory exists within the framework of international law – then the Jews are not in breach of the law.

According to Gauthier, Israel lacks sufficient understanding and recognition of the historical right of the State of Israel as a Jewish state.

“If you do not know your rights, you also do not know how they are working against you,” he said, adding that while the concept of “occupation” is not necessarily wrong, “the fact that your sovereignty is subject to conditions of occupation doesn’t mean that you have lost your rights.”

Gauthier said in conclusion, “I oppose the phrase ‘occupied Palestinian territory.’”