News Digest — 5/18/23

High Alert For Jerusalem Day Flag March; Iran Inciting Terrorism Against Marchers

Police Commissioner Yaakov Shabtai warned Wednesday night (17th) ahead of the Flag March scheduled to take place Thursday (18th) in Jerusalem, that “terrorist elements motivated by Iran, through Hezbollah, Hamas and Islamic Jihad, are sowing false information on social networks about the route of the Flag March – and their purpose is to create wild incitement to terrorism against the thousands of Israelis who will mark Jerusalem Day with a series of events.” 

The commissioner noted that thousands of police officers and security guards will be deployed Thursday (18th) in Jerusalem as part of a high alert in the capital.

“The route of the march has been held for decades, and it will not change,” Shabtai added.  

The commander of the Jerusalem District, Superintendent Doron Turgeman, also said that inciting images against the participants have been posted on social media.  “Incitement on social media is increasing using lies, intimidation and slogans that have no basis in reality.  The Flag March route, it should be emphasized, is not planned to go through the Temple Mount at all – but through the Damascus Gate of the Old City of Jerusalem,” he said.



Netanyahu: Israel Continues To Ensure Security, Prosperity In Jerusalem

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addressed the nation on Wednesday (17th) in honor of Jerusalem Day which falls on Friday (19th) but will be celebrated on Thursday (18th) so as to avoid its clash with Shabbat.

Netanyahu began by noting the Jewish people’s constant celebration of Jerusalem.

“On Jerusalem Day, we once again place Jerusalem at the top of our joy,” he said.  “But the truth is, we do it every day, every year, and actually among our people, we do it for future years.  ‘To next year in Jerusalem.’ “

The quote is common in Jewish culture.  It is said at the end of Seder night on Passover to mark the end of the evening, and some communities sing it to mark the end of Yom Kippur.  The tradition was started long before Israel was established, as an expression of the Jewish desire to return to the people’s homeland, but it continues to this day even with an established nation and Jewish Jerusalem.

Israel continues to develop and defend Jerusalem.

“Well, we’re back in our land,” Netanyahu added.  “In the middle of the 19th Century, there was already a Jewish majority in Jerusalem, and of course, it took another century until we returned and established our nation with Jerusalem as our official capital city.  It took another 19 years until that fateful day in 1967. We released Jerusalem and reunited it.”

Netanyahu said that Israel is committed to continuing to protect Jerusalem and ensuring that it continues to prosper.

“We are doing so, even with all the threats around us –  recently in Operation Shield and Arrow, and all the time.  The threats don’t necessarily stop, but our ability to deal with our enemies and hold them back and promise our security both in Jerusalem and the rest of the country is a constant struggle.  Together we can do it.”

“This is also a day to celebrate our return to our eternal capital that has been ours for more than 3,000 years,” he added.  “There’s no such thing anywhere else in the world, but it exists here in our world, in the center of our world, Jerusalem.”



56 Years Since Jerusalem Reunification: Jewish Majority Shrinking

Jerusalem’s Jewish majority continues to shrink despite a high birth rate in the haredi section, according to data released by Israel’s Central Bureau of Statistics.

The figures were released Wednesday (17th) ahead of the 56th anniversary of the reunification of the Israeli capital city.

According to the CBS, as of the end of 2021, there were a total of 966,200 residents, including 576, 600 Jews or 59.7% of the total population, 375,600 Arabs (38.9%) of the total – of which 362,600 are Muslims and 12,900 are Christians – along with 3,500 non-Arab Christians (0.4%), and 10,500 residents without religious classification (1.1%).

Since the data was collected at the end of 2021, it is estimated that the city’s population has increased by tens of thousands of people and is now close to one million.

The haredi community makes up around 48% of the Jewish population in Jerusalem, and approximately 29% of the overall population in the city.

Of the 322,800 Jews ages 20 and above living in Jerusalem, 19% identified as secular (62,400), 25% as traditional (81,800), 20% as religious (65,600) and 35% are haredi (113,100).

In 2021, the median age among Jerusalem residents was 24.2, compared to 30.1 for the country as a whole.  Moreover, Jerusalem is characterized by a high proportion of children, with kids under 14 making up 33% of the city’s total population.

During the academic year 2021-2022 there were 183,000 students enrolled in Jewish schools in Jerusalem.

Jerusalem is the top destination for new immigrants, with 3,700 immigrants moving there in 2021, accounting for approximately 14% of all new immigrants to Israel.

Jerusalem was also the leading destination for foreign students in 2022, with 34% of all tourist accommodations in Israel registered in the city.



FM Eli Cohen Optimistic That 3 More Embassies Will Open In Jerusalem

Foreign Minister Eli Cohen on Wednesday (17th) hosted ambassadors from the four countries that moved their embassies to Jerusalem, in a special ceremony celebrating Jerusalem Day and 75 years of independence.  Representatives from the United States, Guatemala, Honduras and Kosovo were at the event.

Speaking to i24News at the event, Cohen said that he is “optimistic” that three more moves are on the way.

Several countries have mulled the idea of following in the steps of the US in moving their diplomatic missions, but few followed through.

Last year, Suriname’s Foreign Minister, Albert Ramchand Ramdin, announced that the South African country would open an embassy in Israel’s capital city.  However, the move was later reversed due to budgetary reasons.

In February, Papua New Guinea’s Foreign Minister Justin Tkachenko informed Cohen of his country’s intention to open an embassy in Jerusalem.

In March it was reported that Hungary would relocate its embassy to Jerusalem.  Hungarian President Katalin Novak later said that no decision had yet been made on the issue.

Sweden’s Deputy Prime Minister Ebba Busch hinted at her intention to move the country’s embassy to Jerusalem this week, in a post which she wrote “next year in Jerusalem.”  She even commented on Swedish politics having been “characterized by an unbalanced and almost hostile attitude towards Israel,” and said, “I say it loud and clear – those days are over.”



In Blow To Abbas’ Fatah, Hamas Wins University Elections In Nablus

A Hamas-affiliated list on Tuesday (16th) won the election for the student council at An-Najah University in Nablus in what is seen by Palestinians as a major blow to the ruling Fatah faction headed by Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas.

It was the second victory by a Hamas-affiliated group in student elections at a West Bank university in the past year.

In May 2022, supporters of Hamas at Bir Zeit University, north of Ramallah, scored a landslide victory by winning 28 of the student council’s 51 seats, as opposed to 18 for their rivals in Fatah.  The next elections at Bir Zeit University are scheduled to take place next week amid expectations that the Hamas-affiliated list, Islamic Bloc, is slated to win again.

In the past year, Nablus saw the emergence of a number of armed groups such as Lion’s Den, Balata Battalion and Nablus Battalion.  Some Palestinians in the city have criticized the PA for failing to order its security forces to confront Israeli troops during counterterrorism operations that resulted in the killing and arrest of scores of gunmen.

In September 2022, the city witnessed clashes between PA security forces and gunmen after the Palestinian security forces arrested top Hamas member Musab Shtayyeh, who is also wanted by Israel.  Shtayyeh remains in custody despite promises by the PA to release him.

According to the results of Tuesday’s (16th) elections at An-Najah University, the Palestinian Islamic Bloc, which is affiliated with Hamas, won 40 seats of the student council’s 81 seats.

The Fatah-affiliated list, The Martyrs’ Bloc, came in second with 38 seats.  A third list belonging to the PLO’s Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) got only three seats.

The victory of the Hamas-affiliated list in Tuesday’s elections came despite unprecedented efforts and campaigns by Fatah leaders and activists in Nablus over the past few weeks.  Senior Fatah officials, including the faction’s deputy chairman, Mahmoud al-Aloul, and the PA governor of Nablus, Ibrahim Ramadan, held several rallies in the city to urge students to vote for the Fatah-affiliated list.

The victory of the Hamas-affiliated list in Tuesday’s (16th) student council elections came as a surprise to Fatah leaders in Nablus, a long-time traditional stronghold of the faction. 

A veteran Fatah activist who was previously associated with the faction’s armed wing, al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, said the Fatah defeat was a “severe blow” to Mahmoud al-Aloul, who is considered a potential successor to Abbas.

Hamas leaders welcomed the results of the An-Najah University elections and said they are an indication that most Palestinians support the “path of resistance” against Israel.



Greek-Israel Military Relations Increase With New Training Aircraft

Israel and Greece continued to elevate their military relations on Wednesday (17th) with Jerusalem delivering two critical M-346 advanced training aircraft at a special event involving top Greek security officials, IDF Air Force chief Maj. Gen Tomer Bar, top Israeli Defense Ministry officials and officials from Elbit Systems.

Elbit Systems has been contracted by Greece both to provide virtual avionics for the M-346 aircraft as well as to undertake the creation of an International Flight Training Center at 120 ATW Kalamata in Greece.

The two M-346s, the first batch of what will eventually be 10 such aircraft, will be the backbone of modern training aircraft for the Greek Air Force.

Present at the 120 ATW Kalamata ceremony from the Greek side were Greek Minister of Defense Nikos Panagiotopoulos, Greek Chief of the General Staff of the National Defense General Konstantinos Floros, Greek Air Force Chief Lt.-Gen. Themistoklis Bourolias and other top officials.

From the Israeli side in attendance were Bar, the head of SIBAT, the iMoD International Defense Cooperation Directorate, Brig.-Gen. Yair Kulas, Rani Kril, executive vice president of international marketing and business development and Yoram Shmuely, general manager of Elbit Aerospace Systems.

Elbit Systems’ integrated virtual avionics “simulate combat and flight scenarios in order to bring the training experience of the pilots to the highest level.  The M-346 aircraft are expected to fly thousands of hours per year,” said the company’s statement.

Further, the statement said that the M-346, manufactured by Leonardo, “is a twin-engine, tandem-seat aircraft with fully digital flight controls and avionics.  It is equipped with a fly-by-wire control system and has an interface with Head-Up Displays.  The training system features integrated onboard technology that simulates tactical training and is completed by the Ground Based Training System that optimizes fleet and simulator management.  The handling of the M-346 is similar to that of next-generation combat aircraft maximizing the flight training of pilots.”

The joint international Flight Training Center was launched in 2021.  During a recent visit to Greece, Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant praised the project, saying that “The International Education Center at the Kalamata airbase is an excellent example” of the growing defense ties between Israel and Greece.

Gallant also discussed other aspects of increased intelligence sharing and security cooperation between Israel and Greece against Iran, following a failed attempt by Iranian terrorists to kill Jews in Greece.