Friday, December 25, 2020

From Ian:

‘We Do Not Live in Fear’: Israeli Women Encourage Running in Memory of Esther Horgen
Israelis woke up on Monday to the horrible news that the lifeless body of 52-year-old Esther Horgen, a mother-of-six from the community of Tel Menashe in Samaria, was found at around 2 am in a forest near her home after she went for a power walk on Sunday afternoon and never returned. Her husband, Benjamin, alerted security officials when she didn’t make it back.

On Thursday, JNS reported that Israel’s Shin Bet security service arrested a Palestinian suspect from the Jenin area in connection with the murder. Details of the investigation remain under a gag order.

Police are trying to assess whether the incident was a nationalistically motivated terror attack. The Samaria Regional Council said the murder was without a doubt an act of terror, saying Horgen’s skull had been crushed with police believing the weapon to have been a rock.

Friends and family gathered in Tel Menashe on Tuesday to pay their final respects to Horgen before she was laid to rest.

Ora Oziel, a neighbor and close friend, told JNS that her family and the Horgens shared a Shabbat meal together last Friday night, just 48 hours before Esther went on her ill-fated jog. She said that Esther, who was a life coach, marriage counselor and specialist in Jewish psychology, “was full of life.”

“She loved the beauty of nature and of human beings, both on their inside and outside,” added Oziel.
Thousands march to honor Israeli woman murdered in suspected terror attack
Thousands of people took part in a march on Friday in memory of an Israeli woman murdered in a suspected terror attack while out on a run earlier this week in the Reihan forest near her home in the West Bank settlement of Tal Menashe.

The march took place in the forest where Esther Horgen, 52, a mother of six, was killed on Sunday. Her body was found in the early hours of Monday, having apparently been violently murdered. Horgen had gone out for an afternoon run and did not return, whereupon her husband, Benjamin, notified the police.

Samaria Regional Council Chairman Yossi Dagan called on Friday for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to greenlight new housing construction in the settlement as a response to the murder.

“We call on the prime minister to announce on Sunday that construction in Tal Menashe will be doubled as a Zionist response to the killing. We will not stop marching,” Dagan was quoted by Ynet as saying at the gathering.

IDF troops map house of suspected murderer of Esther Horgen
IDF soldiers entered the Palestinian village of Tura early Friday in order to map the house of the terrorist suspected of murdering Esther Horgen, the IDF Spokesperson's Unit reported.

The process of mapping the house was done in order to examine the possibility of demolishing the house, in case the suspected killer is found guilty.

Horgen, a woman in her 50s, was found dead on Monday in the Reihan Forest, close to her home in the settlement of Tal Menashe, after she had been out jogging.

Horgen’s body was found on the side of a path in the forest and showed signs of violence, including to her head. Her family reported her missing on Sunday. She is survived by her husband, Benyamin, and six children. Her youngest child celebrated his bar mitzvah three months ago.

A suspect in the murder of Horgen, who was killed in the northern West Bank in an alleged terrorist attack, was arrested in a joint operation by the Police, the IDF, and the Border Police on Thursday.

On Thursday, at around noon, intelligence units found that the suspect was staying at his mother’s house in the village of Toura, near Jenin. The Yamam (Israel Police National Counter Terrorism Unit) then arrived at the scene and with assistance from intelligence drones, the suspect was located on a rooftop and was later apprehended. He was taken questioning by the Shin Bet.

'Recognizing Jerusalem as Israel's capital caused an explosion – of peace'
Like in a good Hollywood thriller, hints about the end appeared in the first scene.

"My first experiences was the trip with President Trump to Saudi Arabia, and from there to Israel at the start of the administration's term. As a Jew visiting Saudi Arabia for the first time, it was very exciting for me," US President Donald Trump's advisor on international affairs Avi Berkowitz recalls.

"From Saudi Arabia, we flew straight to Israel – it was the first time that a flight like that had taken place publicly, even if it was a government flight. I remember taking pictures of the flight route from the plane. Already then, it showed us that things didn't have to stay the way they had been. The privilege I had later on of working on the Abraham Accords proved that," Berkowitz says.

Four years later, not only are Israeli flights crossing Saudi air space daily, but this week Berkowitz and his boss Jared Kushner, Trump's son-in-law and advisor, inaugurated a new flight route between Israel and another Arab country – Morocco. On Monday, they met in Israel with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Alternate Prime Minister Benny Gantz, and Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi. The next day, they flew to Rabat with a high-ranking Israeli delegation led by National Security Council head Meir Ben-Shabbat. Ben-Shabbat, the son of Moroccan immigrants, greeting King Mohammad VI with a blessing reserved for kings: "Blessed is the One Who has given of His glory to human beings."

Later, Ben-Shabbat gave a moving speech in the local language. "Like me, many second and third-generation Moroccans in Israel remain loyal to their ancestors' heritage. Many traditions born here in Morocco are upheld in many homes in Israel. Moroccan Jewry has left its mark on Israeli society. Relations between us and the royal family are the base on which peace will be built," he said.

Ben-Shabbat repeated the speech in Hebrew. Kushner and Berkowitz, even if they didn't understand every word, didn't need any translation. It was another high point of the Middle East peace process.

Although no one said so explicitly, and even though – as Berkowitz put it – the peace process team is working "until the last second," there is a sense that something is coming to a close.

Berkowitz, only 32, and Kushner – architect of the regional peace and not yet 40 – have done in the last four years what hasn't happened in the last 26. Because they are Trump's people, the international peace camp can't allow a good word to be said about them, but Israel knew to give the team the respect it deserved.
Biden Meddles with Donald Trump's Middle East Legacy at his Peril
It is worth remembering that, when President Trump took office, the region was still reeling from the dire consequences of former US President Barack Obama's inept and naive handling of the region.

By early January 2017, when Mr Trump took office, Iran was squandering the tens of billions of dollars it received for signing the nuclear deal, which Mr Obama had helped broker in 2015, on expanding its malign influence across the landscape of the Middle East.

Mr Trump's Middle East legacy... completely redefined the landscape of the region from the chaos and conflict that prevailed when Mr Obama left office. Nowadays, the momentum in the region is moving towards peace, not conflict....

[T]he challenge for the incoming Biden administration now will be to see how it can pursue a different foreign policy agenda without jeopardising the very significant achievements that have been accomplished during Mr Trump's tenure.

Certainly, if the incoming Biden administration makes any serious attempt to undermine Mr Trump's legacy in the Middle East, it will do so at its peril.
Obama’s Failure, Biden’s New Team, and the Future of the Israeli-Palestinian Divide
Barack Obama’s fourth memoir incurs on Jewish history by giving it the title A Promised Land, promised as in plighted, stolen from Lord Balfour. During his actual presidency, Obama’s main incursions on the Promised Land involved the unresolved status of the Palestinians as a plausible obstacle to his pursuit of regional peace with Iran. To this end, he targeted Israel’s West Bank settlements, which he and his Secretary of State John Kerry imprinted on the Democratic mind as the obstacle to Israeli-Palestinian peace. You could recognize this imprint during the 2020 Democratic primaries, as even the relatively moderate Pete Buttigieg (who will now be safely ensconced taking care of the country’s traffic) talking to Ben Rhodes at J Street’s annual conclave of good intentionalists, described Israel as the “friend” who was making bad choices over West Bank settlements; the friend whom America had to steer right. This was the logic, or not logic, of the post-Obama Democratic mind.

But, on the ground in the Promised Land, there was a glitch to the administration’s certainties when it came to Israel: the Palestinians had not ever put forward a serious proposal — even, in fact, a non-serious proposal — that had fine points which would invite at least the weighing of Palestinian intentions. Of course, it would have been better, smoother if the Israelis could have sat down with the Palestinians and ironed out a permanent territorial and civil accommodation. Indeed, in the early years after the Six Day War, the Israelis proposed solutions that would have, with truly minor adjustments, set the cartography almost as it was before the fighting. But after more than half a century maps are no longer static and the political actors have changed or disappeared. Yasser Arafat is dead and Mahmoud Abbas is playing bagatelle with himself. Hectoring the Israelis for moving rightward, as an actually vicious Kerry under Obama’s orders had done — most egregiously at the UN in 2016 — will not bring Palestine to vibrant life.

Now Obama’s presidency is four years past and he won’t be giving parts of any Middle East turf away to anyone, although there were many from his administration who were readying under a new Democratic president’s command to carve up the Holy Land this way and that. But the incoming president is not Obama and certainly not Buttigieg. It is Joe Biden, a traditional Democrat who is a fan of Israel and who, in my view, doesn’t want Obama’s idealists to bring their biases or beliefs — there is no real difference — to the region.

Primary among these idealist contenders were Susan Rice, John Kerry, and Samantha Power. Rice couldn’t have cared less about Israel… and that in the deepest sense. A fighter, she would have had a tough time getting senatorial approval in any case. Instead, she will be in charge of the economy if the left and the right will allow her.
Experts Predict What Israel Can Expect From New Administration
As Israel prepares for the incoming US administration under the leadership of President-elect Joe Biden, questions abound in Israel over what his priorities will be and what his foreign policy will look like, especially regarding Iran and the Palestinian issue.

To that end, the Jerusalem Institute for Strategy and Security (JISS) led an online symposium together with B’nai B’rith International featuring experts debating what Israel can expect.

Former US Ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro said Biden’s priorities will be focused on resolving the coronavirus pandemic, improving the economy, dealing with racial issues and addressing climate change.

“This doesn’t mean that foreign policy is going to be ignored,” he said, going on to list Biden’s likely foreign-policy priorities. They include revitalizing key traditional American alliances, particularly with NATO and in Asia; restoring American leadership in multilateral arenas such as the United Nations, the World Health Organization and the Paris Climate Accord; and dealing with the challenge of a strategic rivalry with China and an aggressive Russia.

Iran, according to Shapiro, does not make it into the immediate top tier of concerns for the Biden administration.

Shapiro expected that the Iran issue is where “we will see some significant difference” between Biden’s approach and that of US President Donald Trump.

While Israel’s leadership believes that Iran can be pressured through sanctions to abandon its quest for nuclear weapons, Shapiro seemed to offer only two options that exist: the risk of war or the risk of a nuclear arms race.
Media Freedom NGOs and Jewish Groups Express Outrage at Release of Daniel Pearl’s Killers
Media organizations and Jewish groups were among those reacting furiously on Thursday to the decision of a Pakistani court to immediately release four men accused of orchestrating the 2002 kidnapping and murder of American journalist Daniel Pearl.

Pearl, a 38-year-old Wall Street Journal reporter, was investigating Islamist militants in Karachi after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the United States when he was seized by terrorists connected to Al Qaeda.

His gruesome death by beheading was captured on video, and included Pearl saying the words, “My father is Jewish, my mother is Jewish, I am Jewish,” moments before he was killed.

The France-based organization Reporters Without Borders (RSF) denounced the Pakistani court’s decision on Twitter for symbolizing “the impunity of crimes against journalists.”

Separately, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) — another leading media freedom NGO — tweeted that the release of British-born Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh, who masterminded Pearl’s abduction and killing, would increase “the threats facing journalists in Pakistan.”
Is the ICC corrupted by China?
"...The International Criminal Court (ICC) rejected to open an investigation into the mounting allegations of genocide against the Uighur Muslims in China, meaning the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has a free rein to continue what it deems "re-education" camps – for now.

Beijing, like the United States, is not a signatory to the Rome Statute, which founded the ICC in 2002. The court was intended to be the world's first permanent international criminal legal structure to endorse the rule of law, ensure human rights protection, and punish the most abhorrent international crimes.

Yet activists had carefully been compiling evidence about acts of genocide, including classified Chinese government cables detailing a sweeping surveillance system and extrajudicial detention – much to Beijing's chagrin...

The case put forth was based on operations against the Uighurs residing in Tajikistan and Cambodia, both of which are ICC members. Furthermore, a collective of more than 60 parliamentarians from more than a dozen countries also added their gravitas to the appeal, sending a letter to prosecutor Fatou Bensouda requesting that the international legal body 'play its part in ensuring that the perpetrators of the most egregious human rights abuses are held accountable and prevented from acting with impunity.'

However, the office of ICC prosecutor Bensouda stated last week the 'precondition for the exercise of the court's territorial jurisdiction did not appear to be met with respect to the majority of the crimes alleged' since they appear 'to have been committed solely by nationals of China within the territory of China, a State which is not a party to the Statute.'

But for some analysts, the argument doesn't hold weight – raising questions over a broader influence of China in the international community and throughout the United Nations, of which The Hague, Netherlands, is affiliated with but functions independently.

Genesis Prize gives award to 10 Israeli firms helping combat COVID-19
The Genesis Prize Foundation on Thursday announced the winners of a competition among Israeli high-tech and biotechnology firms that are behind “the most promising innovations” in Israel to fight the COVID-19 pandemic.

The announcement took place at the President’s Residence during a small, socially distanced ceremony, which also celebrated Natan Sharansky, who funded the competition. Hundreds of invitees from around the world joined the event by video, the organizers of the competition said.

Sharansky was chosen the 7th Genesis Prize laureate in December 2019 and directed his $1 million award to organizations fighting the coronavirus. Part of Sharansky’s award was used to fund a competition for Israeli biotech and high-tech companies developing innovative solutions in this battle.

The contest, launched in partnership with Start-up Nation Central, recognizes Israeli companies that achieved technological advances aimed at preventing, diagnosing, and treating the effects of COVID-19.

Hundreds of Israeli startups and other firms took part in the competition, of which 21 were shortlisted, with 10 winners announced after being vetted by a panel that included scientists, medical doctors and philanthropists.

Among the judges were philanthropist and SpaceIL founder Morris Kahn, Startup Nation Central head Eugene Kandel, and Dr. David Agus, a physician and the author of the New York Times bestseller “The End of Illness.”

After years of acrimony, Turkey’s Erdogan says he’d like better ties with Israel
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said he wished to improve ties with Israel, after long years of making repeated bellicose comments toward the Jewish state.

“Our relations with Israel on intelligence have not ceased anyway, they are still continuing,” Erdogan said during a press conference. “We have some difficulties with the people at the top.”

He stressed that Ankara “cannot accept the attitude of Israel towards the Palestinian lands,” and that “we differ from Israel in terms of our understanding of both justice and the territorial integrity of countries.”

But, he noted: “Otherwise, our heart desires that we can move our relations with them to a better point.”

Turkey, once a strong Muslim ally of Israel, has become a geopolitical foe under Erdogan. The Turkish leader, an ardent defender of the Palestinian cause and a fierce critic of Israel, has often engaged in diatribes against Israel, including most recently in September during an address to the United Nations General Assembly.

Still, Ankara has continued to maintain open ties with the Jewish state, including on tourism and trade.
Reports: Israeli airstrikes in Syria target pro-Iran weapons facilities, kill 6
Syrian state media said Israel carried out airstrikes in the central province of Hama early Friday morning.

Syria’s official news agency SANA said the attack occurred near the town of Masyaf and that the missiles were fired from Lebanese territory.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a pro-Syrian opposition organization, claimed the strikes hit positions of Iran-backed militias and killed at least six foreign paramilitaries. The claim could not be verified.

It said the strikes targeted the Iran-backed groups’ arms depots and facilities for manufacturing short-range missiles.

The Associated Press said Israeli jets flew very low over parts of Lebanon before the strikes, including over Beirut, frightening some of the city’s residents.

The Syrian Ministry of Defense issued a statement saying Israel “launched an aggression by directing a barrage of rockets” from the north of the Lebanese city of Tripoli toward the Masyaf area.

It said Syrian air defenses “confronted the enemy missiles and intercepted most of them.” Syrian war analysts generally dismiss the military’s regular claims of interceptions as false, empty boasts.

Syrian state TV aired footage purporting to show air defenses responding to the Israeli attack.

There was no comment from the Israel Defense Forces, which generally maintains a policy of ambiguity regarding its activities against Iran and its proxies in Syria, refusing to publicly acknowledge its actions.
The Real Reason for Hanan Ashrawi’s PLO Resignation
Journalist Daoud Kuttab, a close acquaintance of Ashrawi’s who is also of Christian descent, published an article on December 14 expressing his support for her. He stated that Ashrawi represents the Christian Palestinians who “are a fundamental part of the Palestinian national struggle.”

In the article, he backed her criticism of the decline of the PLO that is empty of all function and content — and her pointing to the need for a democratically-elected leadership representing the younger generation (13 million Palestinians) in the territories and the Palestinian diaspora.

There is nothing new in Kuttab’s article. In recent years, hundreds of such pieces were published by Palestinian journalists, academics, and politicians in the territories and around the world, reporting on the weakening of the PLO and on Abbas’ dictatorial control since 2005.

It appears that his article was mainly intended to express sympathy and support for his friend Ashrawi. Unfortunately, he chose to ignore the main reason for her resignation as cited by senior PLO officials: Abbas’ rejection of her demand to replace Erekat. Even in Palestinian politics, in the end, everything is personal.

Abbas made a strategic decision to no longer to attack Arab countries that choose to join the process of normalization with Israel. Accordingly, he instructed senior PA officials and the Fatah movement not to make media comments regarding Morocco’s normalization with Israel. However, Ashrawi, in a recent TV interview with a US network, sharply criticized Morocco’s decision and President Donald Trump’s recognition of Morocco’s sovereignty in the Western Sahara, saying it contradicted UN resolutions.

Her remarks provoked a great deal of anger in Morocco, and she was met with harsh criticism on social media.

Many Internet users called her remarks a “provocation.” Abdessamad Bencherif, director of al-Maghribia TV, wrote on his Facebook page: “Do you want to incite the Palestinian street against Morocco and mobilize the anger and rage against it? Does the Palestinian problem need it? You are wrong when you link the Western Sahara problem to the Palestinian problem, and you hurt the Moroccan people’s love for Palestine.”

One political activist wrote: “We will not accept your intervention in the internal affairs of Morocco; we will not interfere in the internal affairs of the Palestinians.”

It appears that we can expect sharp public criticism by Ashrawi of the PA and its head — criticism that she never voiced while holding positions in the PLO. This criticism may be justified, but it stems mainly from her personal anger against Abbas, who refused to appoint her as Erekat’s replacement.
Hamas panned for effort to ‘limit interactions with Christmas’ by Gaza’s Muslims
Hamas, the Islamist terror group that rules Gaza, is drawing criticism after an internal document was leaked in which it urges Islamic authorities to limit “interactions” by Muslims with Christmas.

A Hamas spokesman said the document, seen by some Gaza Christians saw as an insult to their faith, was an “administrative error.”

An administrative circular issued by Hamas’s Minister for Religious Affairs Abd al-Hadi Sa’id, the document proposes “preventing interaction with Christmas” through Islamic religious edicts and public campaigns in the media. It was leaked last weekend by the Palestinian news site Amad, a Cairo-based outlet affiliated with former Gaza security chief Mohammad Dahlan, and has been making waves ever since.

“This edict…threatens the social fabric and national unity,” Palestinian political analyst Omar Sha’aban wrote in a Facebook post.

Hamas, which avowedly seeks to destroy Israel, has been the de facto ruler of the Gaza Strip since 2007. The two-million-strong coastal enclave is overwhelmingly Muslim, but over 1,000 Christians live in the area as well. File: Palestinian Christians attend a Christmas tree lighting celebration in Gaza City, Tuesday, Dec. 3, 2019. (AP Photo/Hatem Moussa)

Senior officials in the Palestinian Authority — longtime rivals of Hamas — quickly seized on the document to claim that Hamas was attempting to impose a ban on Christmas celebrations in Gaza.

How Israel and the US combined media and military power to prevent war
The third week of December 2020 should go down in history as a lesson in how countries attempted to combine military power, technology and messaging through media to prevent conflict.

On the surface, this appears counterintuitive.

Over the last week US President Donald Trump has tweeted threats against Iran, IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kochavi has also warned Iran, and US and Israeli submarines were reported to be on their way to the vicinity of Iran.

For the average person watching the region, the conclusion is obvious: We are on the brink of war. However, the opposite may also be true: The actions taken in Washington and Jerusalem are meant to prevent conflict.

How all this came about is complex.

Iran-US relations have been marked by rising tensions over the last several years. Iran continues to try to challenge the US and seeks to remove US forces from Iraq. The Trump administration walked away from the Iran Deal in 2018 and has sought to use sanctions to isolate and impoverish the regime. It sought also to sanction Iranian allies and raise awareness about Iran’s trafficking of weapons to the Houthi rebels in Yemen and to Hezbollah in Lebanon. That has meant the US Navy intercepted several ships moving weapons to the Houthis, and the US even established the “petting zoo” in Washington to show off Iranian weapons such as ballistic missiles and drones that were used to attack Saudi Arabia.

Tensions grew in May 2019. Iranian-backed Iraqi militias began to fire rockets at US forces in Iraq and also at Saudi Arabia. Iran mined ships in the Gulf of Oman. It threatened to close the Strait of Hormuz, and has continued to show off new missiles, a military satellite, drones and naval weapons. It also keeps “sinking” a mock-up of a US carrier and harassing US ships in the Persian Gulf. In September 2019 Iran used drones and cruise missiles to attack Saudi Arabia.

In Iraq, Iran empowered the Hashd al-Shaabi, mostly Shia militias that are part of the Iraqi security forces, to strike at US facilities. A US contractor was killed in December 2019, and three US-led coalition members in March 2020.

The US carried out airstrikes in response. The Trump doctrine has stressed that the US will strike back if US soldiers are harmed. The US also killed IRGC Quds Force head Qasem Soleimani and Iraqi militia leader Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis.

We have lots of ideas, but we need more resources to be even more effective. Please donate today to help get the message out and to help defend Israel.

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