News Digest — 7/13/20

100 Legal Scholars Say Israel’s Sovereignty Plan Squares With International Law

The International Legal Forum (ILF) asserted Israel’s territorial rights and sovereignty over Judea and Samaria in a letter signed by over 100 legal scholars from around the world and sent to Israel’s political and legal leadership last week.

The letter came in response to a rival letter published on the blog, Opinio Juris, and signed by over 200 legal scholars in June, warning of international violence and criminal prosecutions should the government of Israel implement its proposal to apply sovereignty to part of Judea and Samaria.

The ILF letter said, “Contrary to the claim of the open letter, the sovereign status of the West Bank has long been contested.”

“Alongside the school of thought that holds that a ‘State of Palestine’ holds sovereignty over the territory of the West Bank, or that a Palestinian right of self-determination gives the Palestinian people the legal equivalent of territorial sovereignty, there is also the school of thought that contends that Israel has lawful sovereignty to the West Bank.

The ILF said that “it is illegitimate and intellectually dishonest to predetermine the lawfulness of a policy by simply ignoring one side’s claims.

The letter also urged legal scholars “not to contribute to the politicization and weaponization of international law.” 

Among the letter’s signatories were Dr. Cynthia Day Wallace, former Senior Adviser to the Executive Secretary of the UN Economic Commission for Europe; Dr. Matthijs Halberstam, Cardozo School of Law of Yeshiva University; Nicholas Rostow, senior research scholar at Yale Law School; and Daniel Serota, Queen’s Counsel, UK.

According to the ILF website, the organization is “a nonprofit, proactive legal hub, centralizing efforts of lawyers, organizations and activists worldwide, in the fight to promote justice, peace, and equality in Israel and the Middle East.”

Yifa Segal, director of the ILF, said, “The legal war against Israel is strategic and threatens to bring devastating consequences.  We combine the best minds around the world to fight this war together.”



Report: Hamas Commander Flees Gaza In Israeli Boat ‘With Classified Materials’

According to a report from within Gaza cited by Israel’s Channel 12, a senior Hamas commander recently escaped the Strip, with a laptop containing “classified materials.”

The Channel 12 report added that the individual is suspected of collaborating with Israel and referred to him as the second senior Hamas operative suspected of cooperating with Israel in recent days.

The report cited an Arabic news agency called Amad, which referred to the escaped Hamas official as the head of the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades’ naval commando unit.  Amad reported that the commander left the Gaza Strip in an Israeli boat, carrying cash and surveillance technology, including the laptop.

In the wake of this incident, Hamas reportedly embarked on a wave of arrests, snatching up dozens of suspects and seizing $500,000 in cash, in addition to communications equipment.  The investigation appears to point to the potential existence of other senior Hamas commanders involved in espionage activities with Israel.

The Channel 12 report also discussed another Hamas operative accused of collaborating with Israel, dubbed “Mahmoud,” who allegedly played a leading role in Hamas’ communications networks and in training terrorists in their use.

The source quoted in the Amad report claimed “Mahmoud” began his relationship with Israeli operatives over a decade ago, with his role recently exposed due to a botched currency hand-off with his brother, who was detained by the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades.

The report from Gaza on Saturday (11th) arrived about a week after an article in a Hezbollah-linked newspaper in Lebanon called Al-Ahbar claimed that Hamas had discovered a “plot by Israeli intelligence services” to strike Hamas targets in the Gaza Strip.



Lebanese Christian Cleric Criticizes Hezbollah, Allies Over Crisis

Lebanon’s top Christian cleric stepped up criticism of the Iran-backed Shi’ite group Hezbollah and its allies without naming them on Sunday (12th), saying the Lebanese rejected being isolated from their allies and driven into decline.

Lebanon is suffering a financial meltdown which marks the biggest threat to its stability since the 1975-90 civil war.

For his second sermon in a row, Maronite Patriarch Bechara Boutros Al-Rai stressed the importance of Lebanon’s neutrality, implicitly criticizing the heavily-armed Hezbollah over its support for Iran in conflicts with Sunni-led Arab states.

Rai carries weight as the head of the Maronite church, the Christian community from which the president must be drawn in a sectarian system of government.

His latest sermons have been seen to mark a shift to a more critical stance against the policies of both Hezbollah and its ally President Michel Aoun, as both back the government of Prime Minister Hassan Diab.

“The intervention was seen as a shift in Al-Rai’s policies away from supporting the president and more into criticizing the political position of the country, regionally, and internationally,” Mohanad Hage Ali of the Carnegie Middle East Center said.

Al-Rai in a copy of one sermon sent by mail, said Lebanese “rejected any … parliamentary majority messing with the constitution … and Lebanon’s model of civilization, which isolates it from its brothers and friends …  and causes it to move from abundance to want, from prosperity to decline.”

Lebanon’s crisis is rooted in decades of state corruption and bad governance by the sectarian ruling elite.

Hezbollah’s opponents say that the group shoulders the blame, as its alliance with Iran has led Gulf Arab states that once supported Lebanon to keep their distance, closing off an important source of aid.



Is ‘Al Aqsa’ Next? Turkey’s President Doubles Down On Hagia Sophia Decision

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan brushed off international criticism about the decision to transform the iconic Hagia Sophia museum into a mosque on Saturday (11th), calling the matter an issue of Turkey exercising its “sovereign rights.”

Giving a speech at a virtual conference, Erdogan slammed world leaders who oppose the move, saying, “Those who do not take a step against Islamophobia in their own countries … attack Turkey’s will to use its sovereign rights.”

Built 1,500 years ago as an Orthodox Christian cathedral, the UNESCO World Heritage site was repurposed as a mosque in 1453 after the Ottomans seized control of Constantinople (Istanbul today).  Hagia Sophia has been a museum, open to people of all faiths, since 1934.

Turkey’s high court recently overturned the 1934 decision that turned Hagia Sophia into a museum, and Erdogan declared that Muslim prayers would resume at the site on July 24.

The announcement has drawn international criticism.  Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Grushko told Interfax News Agency that he was disappointed by the decision.

“Yes the cathedral is on Turkey’s territory, but it is without question everybody’s heritage,” he said.

“It is a blow to global Christianity … For us, Hagia Sophia remains a cathedral dedicated to the Savior,” said Bishop Hilarion, Head of the Russian Orthodox Church’s public relations, to Russia’s Rossiya24 News channel.

According to a transcript on the Turkish president’s official website, Erdogan linked Hagia Sophia becoming again a mosque to the “liberation of the Al-Aqsa mosque” in a Friday (10th) speech.

“The resurrection of Hagia Sophia ignites the fire of hope in Muslim hearts and the hearts of all those oppressed, wronged, downtrodden and exploited,” said Erdogan. 

Al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem, is under Jordanian control, and before the corona pandemic, tens of thousands of Muslim worshippers visited the mosque annually.

Erdogan has long-championed the Palestinian cause and has been an extreme critic of Israel.  In recent years Turkey’s religious and political authorities have been making increasingly adversarial statements about Israel, vowing, in June, to mobilize the “Islamic community” against Israel’s annexation plans.

Linking the major change at Hagia Sophia to Jerusalem illustrates that Ankara’s ambitions are far larger than just reasserting Islamic prayers at the historic mosque and church in Istanbul; it is part of a larger Islamic agenda for the region.

Turkey’s ruling AK Party is rooted in the Muslim Brotherhood and Turkey is a close ally of Hamas in Gaza.  Hamas is also rooted in the Muslim Brotherhood.  This strategy by Turkey seeks more influence across the region with like-minded groups and countries, such as Qatar and Libya.

Turkey is seeking to supplant Saudi Arabia and other countries in the region, such as Egypt and Jordan, as the main determiner of what is “Islamic.”

This means Ankara’s leadership believes that its changes to Hagia Sophia is only one step to a larger religious militarist agenda in the Middle East.

One day, Turkey might even aim its sights at Jerusalem.  The speech about Hagia Sophia clearly indicated this is on the agenda for the future.

Meanwhile, the Al-Aqsa mosque sits atop the Temple Mount, the Jews holiest site – the place where the former Jewish Temples once stood.

It is not the holiest site for Muslims, but the third, after Mecca and Medina.



Germany: Dozens Of Jewish Graves Destroyed In Ancient Cemetery In Worms

The Jewish community in Germany is in shock after unknown individuals recently vandalized and desecrated dozens of gravestones in the ancient Jewish cemetery in the city of Worms, leaving many of the grave markers shattered.

Thousands of Jewish worshipers visit the Jewish cemetery every year, considered one of the oldest in Europe.  Among the desecrated tombs was also the burial place of  the Maharam of Rothenburg who served as one of the chief Ashkenazi rabbis in the Middle Ages (1220-1293).

Rabbi Menachem Margolin, Chairman of the European Jewish Association, and the Rabbinical Center of Europe, condemned the ongoing rise of anti-Semitism across the continent.

“There is no doubt that the corona crisis has brought with it a sharp rise in anti-Semitic discourse on the Internet, and now that most of the closures have been lifted, we unfortunately see how the toxic discourse on social media is turning into physical attacks on Jewish institutions and symbols.  “We expect the German government to act swiftly not only to renovate the cemetery but to formally declare the acceptance of the comprehensive program to combat anti-Semitism that we initiated, which includes a substantial change in the curriculum in the state education system.”

Rabbi Joseph Havlin, the head of the Frankfurt Court near Worms, expressed shock at the desecration of the cemetery, noting: “We are witnessing, and not for the first time, desecration of German cemeteries alongside a disturbing rise in anti-Semitism in the entire public sphere.  We call on the German government to declare an uncompromising fight against anti-Semitism to ensure that such acts do not repeat.”