News Digest — 7/21/22

IDF Chief Pays Tribute To Morocco’s Jewish Community

Israeli army Chief of Staff Major General Aviv Kochavi visited the Jewish community in the old city of Marrakech on Wednesday (20th) as part of the second day of his visit to the north African country, a Moroccan official said.

Kochavi also visited the city’s Jewish cemetery and Al-Azama Synagogue.

During his visit, he spoke with members of the Jewish community, some of whom immigrated to Israel and fought in the Yom Kippur War before returning to live in Morocco.

The military leader thanked the community members for their contribution to the Jewish people in Israel and the Diaspora.

“Morocco is an ally of Israel.  [The Jewish community] is an example of a deep relationship between our peoples and a special bond based on a common heritage,” he said.

“I am proud and delighted to meet you, the Moroccan Jewish community…your part in your fight for the State of Israel, and today you are working here for the Jewish community and to deepen ties with Israel.”

Kochavi, also the head of the Israeli army’s Research Department, visited the Moroccan Air Force Base Ben Guerir, where he met its commander, Colonel Major Hassan Mahwar, with whom he discussed several security issues.

During the visit, the military leaders explored the potential of cooperation between the two nations’ air forces.  Kochavi’s trip to Morocco reflects the reciprocal desire to accelerate military and security cooperation with Israel, and in the region.



Iran Reiterates Fatwa Against Nuclear Weapons Following Advisor’s Comments

After a senior security advisor confirmed that Iran has the ability to build atomic weapons, officials in Tehran sought to assure the world that a religious edict against nuclear arms still stands.

“In regard to the topic of weapons of mass destruction, we have the fatwa, or religious ruling, by Iran’s supreme leader that prohibits the manufacture of such weapons,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Nasser Kanani said.

“It seems that there has been no change in the view and position of the Islamic Republic of Iran” regarding the nuclear policy, Kanani told reporters.

“Iran’s nuclear capabilities are great, but, as it has been mentioned many times, Iran’s nuclear technology is completely peaceful and under continued monitoring of the UN’s International Atomic Energy Agency,” he insisted.

Tehran claims that a religious edict made orally by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei in 2003 is proof that Iran’s nuclear program is only for peaceful purposes.

Critics note that the edict was not committed to writing, and nobody has actually seen it.  They also point out that Khamenei or other religious leaders have the authority to modify or cancel the fatwa as circumstances change.

The Foreign Ministry’s statement comes on the heels of comments made on Sunday (17th) by Kamal Kharazi, a security advisor to Khamenei.

Interviewed by Al Jazeera’s Arabic channel, Kharazi said, “It is no secret that we have the technical capabilities to manufacture a nuclear bomb, but we have made no decision to do so.”

Kharazi, who heads Iran’s Strategic Council on Foreign Relations, added, “In a few days, we were able to enrich uranium up to 60 percent, and we can easily produce 90 percent enriched uranium.”

Iran’s uranium stocks are at 60 percent purity – far higher than the 3.67% necessary for a civilian peaceful nuclear program.  A nuclear weapon requires uranium enriched to 90% purity.  It’s widely believed that Iran could finish enriching enough uranium to produce an atomic bomb in about four weeks.

No country maintaining a purely peaceful nuclear program has ever enriched uranium to the degree that Iran has.



Israel Offering Free Public Transportation To People Over 75

Israel is continuing in its efforts to make life easier for its older population.  As of August 1, public transportation in Israel, including local and national buses and trains, will be completely free for people over the age of 75.  Even the Haifa cable car will be free.

People in that age group will simply need to have their national “Rav Kav” public transportation cards updated by presenting proof of age.

According to the Central Bureau of Statistics, more than 450,000 citizens over the age of 75 live in Israel, of whom 58% are women and 42% are men.  The leading cities with the highest number of senior citizens are Jerusalem (89,000), Tel Aviv (70,000) and Haifa (59,000).

Life expectancy in Israel is among the highest in the world, standing at 80.7 years for men and 84.8 years for women.

Minister of Transport and Road Safety, MK Merav Michaeli said of the move, “Israeli society owes a great debt to its veterans, to the founding generation.  I believe that a society that knows how to take care of its citizens and senior citizens is a society that knows how to give a future to its young men and women.”

Michaeli added that free public transportation will help to lower the cost of living for the elderly in Israel.



Poll: Growing Minority In Gulf Countries Approve Of Informal Ties With Israelis

A new poll from the Washington Institute found that although more members of the Gulf region disapprove of the US-brokered Abraham Accords than before, there are growing sentiments toward allowing informal contact with Israelis.

In countries where the Abraham Accords were initially unpopular, those attitudes have hardened.  For example, those who see the accords as “very negative” in Lebanon increased from 41% in November 2020 to 66% in March 2022.

Of the Arab populations interviewed, the least likely to express a negative viewpoint of the Abraham Accords were the Palestinians.  When asked in June 2022, almost half (48%) of those living in east Jerusalem saw the Abraham Accords in at least a somewhat positive light.

Only 39% of Gazans expressed a negative opinion of the Abraham Accords.

While more than two-thirds of citizens in Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE view the Abraham Accords unfavorably, the idea of ties with Israel is becoming increasingly popular in Gulf countries.  Forty percent of Saudis now agree that informal business or sports ties with Israelis should be allowed.

Allowing such ties with Israelis remained at 85% in Egypt and 87% in Jordan, despite long standing official relations.  A resounding 94% of Kuwaitis and 93% of Lebanese surveyed disagreed with the idea of ties with Israelis.

However, a majority of Palestinians express openness to some form of contact with Israelis, with 60% of those in the West Bank, 62% of Gazans and 84% of those in east Jerusalem agreeing that Palestinians should engage in direct personal contacts and dialogue with Israelis, in order to help advocate a “peaceful solution” to the Israel-Palestinian conflict. 



Legal Coalition Urges ICC To Prosecute Abbas Over The Torture Of Palestinians

A global coalition of 25 legal organizations has called on the International Criminal Court (ICC) to prosecute Palestinian Authority Leader Mahmoud Abbas over the “widespread and systematic torture” of Palestinians, amid a probe by the UN Committee Against Torture, against the PA.

The Israel-based International Legal Forum (ILF) said the Palestinian Authority was also liable for the ongoing captivity in Gaza of four Israelis on the basis of its admission into the Rome Statute, the ICC’s founding treaty, in 2015.

The bodies of IDF soldiers Hadar Goldin and Oron Shaul, as well as two civilians with a history of mental health issues, Avera Mengistu and Hisham al-Sayed, are being held by the Hamas terror group in Gaza. 

Acts of torture against Palestinians, including political dissidents, women, minors, members of the LGBTQ community and alleged “collaborators” with Israel, include violent beatings, arbitrary detention, solitary confinement, inhumane prison conditions, harassment, forced confessions and summary executions.

“It is long past time that the Palestinian Authority be held accountable for their ongoing and systematic torture of the Palestinian people,” human rights attorney and ILF CEO Arsen Ostrovsky told local news media.

“These are egregious and indisputable violations of international law, which the ICC ought to investigate and prosecute accordingly,” he added.

The PA is signatory to the UN Convention Against Torture.  Even though all 174 signatories are subject to review by the Committee Against Torture (CAT) every four years, this week’s session marked the first time the PA has come under scrutiny.  

Ziad Hab al-Reeh, commander of the PA’s Preventive Security Service, headed a delegation of 17 senior PA officials at the panel review session on Monday (18th) and Tuesday (19th).  Hab al-Reeh, a longtime Fatah activist, was accused of being responsible for the torture and subsequent death of PA critic Nizar Banat.

Ostrovsky noted the absurdity in sending Hab al-Reeh to defend the PA at CAT.  “Hab al-Reeh, both in his current role and as former head of the Palestinian intelligence service, has oversight over the PA’s “infrastructure of torture” Ostrovsky said.

“This is like sending Jack the Ripper as your Chief Counsel,” he quipped.

The ILF’s submission to the ICC comes on the heels of a visit to the region by Joe Biden, where the U.S. president touted almost $1 billion in aid to the Palestinians.

“One has to ask the question, therefore, are U.S. tax dollars now also going towards underwriting torture practices carried out by the Palestinian Authority?” Ostrovsky told local news media.



Second Temple-Era Ritual Bath Unearthed While Building Western Wall Elevator

Israeli archeologists unearthed a ritual bath (mikveh) dating back to the late Second Temple period near the Temple Mount complex in Jerusalem while installing an elevator to provide handicap access, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem’s Institute of Archeology said on Thursday (14th).    

The team, led by Michal Haber and Dr. Oren Gutfeld, also discovered a Roman-era pool and a Byzantine lamp.

 The ritual bath was discovered cut inside the bedrock of a private 1st-century villa.  It featured a vaulted ceiling and masonry typical of the Herodian period, and is likely to have been used by a priestly family.

The villa is located atop a cliff in the “Upper city” – a term used by historian Josephus Flavius to describe the area of Herod’s City which housed Jerusalem elites.

“While several other ritual baths have been unearthed in the area, the importance of this particular discovery stems from its striking proximity to the Temple Mount – raising the question of who lived in this grand villa on the eve of the city’s destruction.  It may well have been a priestly family,” Haber said.

Excavations began in February, when plans to build wheelchair access to the Western Wall were approved.

The Israel Antiquities Authority said it will preserve the site by incorporating it into the elevator complex.

The elevator excavations unearthed additional artifacts spanning the Second Temple, Roman-Byzantine, and Ottoman periods, including a network of plastered pools and channels.

Among the finds were a water cistern holding the remains of dozens of pots, many of which were intact, a section of the “Lower Aqueduct” that transported water from Solomon’s Pools near Bethlehem all the way to the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, and an industrial pool built by soldiers of Rome’s Tenth Legion who were stationed in Jerusalem in 130 CE.

Jerusalem Affairs Minister Zeev Elkin, who inaugurated the Western Wall Elevator Project, called the discoveries “truly exciting.”

They provide proof of a continuous Jewish presence in Jerusalem for millennia.  Under my leadership, Israel’s Ministry of Jerusalem Affairs and Heritage will continue to preserve and develop Jerusalem’s rich Jewish past and transform the capital into a modern, innovative city,” he said.

According to Gutfeld, the sheer number of water channels, cisterns, and pools discovered in the area reflects the role played by Jerusalem’s water supply throughout the ages.”