Hezbollah’s Indefinite Presence in Syria

By: Sirwan Kajjo; Gatestone Institute – gatestoneinstitute.org

  • After more than seven years of fighting alongside the Assad regime in Syria, the Iran-backed terrorist group Hezbollah is highly unlikely to make an easy exit from the war-torn territory, no matter what supposed agreements are reached or promises made.
  • Hezbollah fighters are now in control of much of Syria’s border with Lebanon. In fact, the Shi’ite terrorist group is in charge of controlling the Lebanese side of the border, despite the presence of the Lebanese military, which is weak.
  • With no end in sight to Syria’s seven-year war, Hezbollah will undoubtedly continue its military expansion, causing more instability in an already volatile region.

After weeks of shuttle diplomacy allegedly carried out by Russia and Israel, Iranian forces and allied militias — including the so-called “military wing” of the Lebanon-based organization Hezbollah, all of which has been designated as a terrorist group by the US — reportedly began to withdraw from parts of southern Syria, near Israel’s border. According to other reports, however, many Hezbollah fighters, disguised as members of the Syrian army, have simply remained on their bases to escape being targeted by the Israel Air Force. Since the start of the Syrian civil war in 2011, Israel’s air force has carried out sporadic strikes against Iranian and Hezbollah bases and convoys across its neighbor on the north. After more than seven years of fighting alongside the Assad regime in Syria, the Iran-backed terrorist group Hezbollah is highly unlikely to make an easy exit from the war-torn territory, no matter what supposed agreements are reached or promises made.

In a televised speech on “Quds Day” — which Iran has marked every year since the Islamic Revolution in 1979 — Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah addressed his supporters as follows:

“We are in Syria because we should be there. The Syrian leadership has asked us to be present there based on developments in the ground…. Gulf states and Israel must know that we will be happy when we return our men to Lebanon… we will be happy and we will feel victorious to complete our mission. So what keeps us in Syria is our duty and the Syrian leadership, but at the same time I would like to tell you even if the entire world decided to remove us from Syria, we will not leave.”

Nor does it seem that the Syrian regime is in a rush to tell Hezbollah to leave the country. In a recent interview with an Iranian state-run news channel, Syrian President Bashar Assad said, “Hezbollah is an essential element in this war — the battle is long and the need for these military forces will continue for a long time.”

Having helped defeat anti-regime rebel forces in the suburbs of Homs, Aleppo and Damascus, Hezbollah fighters are now in control of much of Syria’s border with Lebanon. In fact, the Shi’ite terrorist group is in charge of controlling the Lebanese side of the border, despite the presence of the Lebanese military, which is weak. The areas in which Hezbollah operates are of great importance to the group, which uses the mountainous terrain as a route to transport military equipment between Syria and Lebanon. So entrenched is Hezbollah in that region that it has managed to build multiple military bases within a small radius.

With those fronts of Lebanon and southern Syria already secured, Hezbollah fighters increasingly have moved to the oil-rich province of Deir Ezzor in eastern Syria to aid the Syrian military in its battle against Islamic State (ISIS) terrorists. Meanwhile, Hezbollah and other Iranian-backed militias – such as the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) — are largely in control of strategic areas along Syria’s border with Iraq.

Not far from those frontiers, the U.S.-led coalition has been aiding Kurdish-led forces to push out ISIS from other parts of Deir Ezzor. The months-long campaign has liberated large strategic areas from ISIS. More than once, however, these two anti-ISIS campaigns have come head to head in Deir Ezzor, leaving the U.S. with no choice but to defend its local partners.

Once ISIS is completely defeated in these areas, Hezbollah and other Iranian-backed groups could be better positioned to wage attacks on U.S. interests there and elsewhere in Syria.

With no end in sight to Syria’s seven-year war, Hezbollah will undoubtedly continue its military expansion, causing more instability in an already volatile region.

Hezbollah soldiers on parade. (Image source: VOA video screenshot/Wikimedia Commons)

 

As German Neo-Nazi Trial Ends, Families Demand More Answers

By: Frank Jordans; apnews.com

MUNICH (AP) — Families of the people killed by a neo-Nazi group that sought to terrorize migrants in Germany called Tuesday for an investigation to continue even as the trial of group’s only known surviving member and four supporters draws to a close this week.

Campaigners and lawyers for the relatives claim there is compelling evidence the National Socialist Underground — suspected of 10 killings and at least two bomb attacks — had a wider network of supporters than authorities have acknowledged, including paid informants for German security services.

The NSU operated in secret for almost 14 years before two of its three core members died in an apparent murder-suicide in 2011.

The crimes that authorities would attribute to them sent shockwaves through German society at a time when many believed the country was slowly accepting its migrant population. The case has gained additional significance with the rise of the far-right Alternative for Germany party in recent years.

The party has taken a strong anti-immigration line, railing against refugees and questioning whether even second- and third-generation immigrants truly belong in German society.

After the deaths of the three National Socialist Underground members, a claim of responsibility subsequently mailed to media by Beate Zschaepe, now on trial in Munich, exposed myriad mistakes by investigators.

They long had ruled out a far-right motive for the slayings and instead suspected the victims of being involved in organized crime, prompting accusations of institutional racism from human rights groups .

Of the 10 people killed by the NSU between 2000 and 2007, eight were men of Turkish origin, one man was Greek and the tenth was a German policewoman.

Barbara John, the government’s ombudswoman for the victims and their families, said the trial was an attempt by authorities to atone for their “blindness.”

“The terrible acts could have been avoided,” John told The Associated Press, “if the relevant authorities had assessed the crimes better and with less prejudice.”

“This is true also for the shameful suspicion that the families were somehow involved in the crimes,” she said.

Gamze Kubasik, whose father, Mehmet Kubasik, was shot dead in his convenience stall in the western city of Dortmund on April 4, 2006, said the initial police accusations leveled at the victims remained painful.

“The NSU killed my father. The investigators took his honor,” she said.

Kubasik told reporters that relatives of NSU victims had hoped for “100 percent clarity” when the trial began five years ago.

“Now there’s a big hole inside of me,” she said.

Among the key questions families had hoped the trial would reveal was why their relatives were targeted, said Abdulkerim Simsek, son of Enver Simsek, who died two days after being shot at his flower stall in Nuremberg on Sept. 9, 2000.

“Why did the killers choose my father,” Simsek said. “I can’t and won’t believe that it was chance.”

Lawyers representing the families as plaintiffs in court, as allowed under German law, say the wide geographical distribution of the victims suggests the NSU received information from local contacts in the cities where the killings were carried out.

Zschaepe refused to answer any questions from the families’ lawyers during the trial.

After the NSU was exposed, a string of mistakes by Germany’s many federal and state-level security agencies also came to light, including the fact that paid informants with codenames such as “Primus,” ″Piatto” and “Corelli” were close to the group for years.

In one case, an employee of the country’s domestic intelligence agency was inside an internet cafe when the owner was gunned down, but claimed not to have seen or heard anything problematic.

Chancellor Angela Merkel publicly apologized to the victims and their families in 2012, pledging that authorities would “do everything to investigate the murders, uncover those who helped and back them, and ensure the perpetrators get their just punishment.”

“Some people clearly didn’t heed Merkel’s words,” said Winfried Ridder, who led the German domestic intelligence agency’s work on the far-left Red Army Faction for over a decade.

Ridder, who is now retired, told the AP that the practice of paying informants who are themselves neo-Nazis meant German security services had done more to protect their sources than to track down the NSU.

“The intelligence agencies should be on trial, too,” he said.

Sebastian Scharmer, a lawyer for the Kubasik family, accused federal prosecutors of dragging their feet in the investigation, thereby allowing “crude conspiracy theories” to flourish.

A spokeswoman for the Federal Prosecutors Office, Frauke Koehler, said nine suspects remain under investigation, but it’s unclear whether any of them will be charged.

Scharmer said he feared a group like the NSU could strike again, despite the life sentence Zschaepe could receive Wednesday and the deaths of her two alleged accomplices, Uwe Boehnhardt and Uwe Mundlos.

“It could happen again at any moment, if it’s not already happening,” he said.

New ‘Light-Eating’ Protein Discovered in the Sea of Galilee

By: Shandria Sutton; Science Magazine-sciencemag.org

In their quest to find “light-eating” proteins, cellular components that help plants and microbes harvest light from the sun, a team of scientists has stumbled upon the first new kind in nearly 50 years—at the bottom of the Sea of Galilee. The unexpected discovery could help researchers better understand how microbes sense light, and it could power new kinds of light-based research and data storage techniques.

Many organisms use light-sensitive proteins to gather the sun’s energy and help them survive. Some use chlorophyll to convert sunlight during photosynthesis and others use rhodopsins, proteins that bind to a form of vitamin A called retinal to capture light. The best known rhodopsin is embedded in the rod cells of our eyes, where it helps us see in the dark. But another form of rhodopsin helps small organisms, such as algae and bacteria, absorb light to make chemical energy.

Researchers were searching for the second type of rhodopsin when they collected DNA samples from the Sea of Galilee in Israel. They returned to their lab and screened the DNA for genes that coded for the light-reacting proteins. When they added retinal to Escherichia coli bacteria hosting the DNA, it turned purple—a sign that rhodopsins might be present (above). When they tested the DNA further, they discovered a completely new light-eating protein, a type of rhodopsin they named heliorhodopsin, the team reported last month in Nature.

Scientists don’t know much about how heliorhodopsin works. Its DNA is similar to the rhodopsin that creates chemical energy. But because it takes so long to finish its light-conversion cycle, the researchers suspect that—similar to the rhodopsin in our eyes—it is a light-sensing protein. What they know for sure: The new protein seems to be everywhere, in bacteria, algae, archaea, and even viruses in the soil and in every major body of water on Earth. This new protein family is even found in bacteria and other microorganisms that were never known to sense light until now.

The light-sensing protein could lead to applications in everything from data storage to optogenetics, which allows scientists to manipulate genetically modified nerve cells with light. But first, scientists must answer many questions about the protein’s fundamentals.

 

Major BDS Groups Have Ties to Palestinian Terrorist Organizations, Ministry Says

By: Ariel Kahana – Israel Hayom; israelhayom.com

Strategic Affairs Ministry names 42 anti-Israel groups affiliated with ‎Hamas, Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, says they ‎receive their orders from Palestinian Authority ‎• Minister: Terrorist groups, BDS movement have never been ‎closer.

 

The BDS movement comprises over 300 organizations worldwide, report says | Illustration: Reuters

The Strategic Affairs Ministry on Tuesday named 42 major anti-‎Israel organizations as having clear ties to Palestinian terrorist ‎groups.‎

According to the ministry’s data, these groups – part of a network ‎of 300 boycott, divestment and sanctions organizations operating ‎worldwide – have traceable ties to Hamas and the Popular Front ‎for the Liberation of Palestine, and receive their orders directly from the ‎Palestinian Authority.

This network is directed by the BDS National Committee, which is headed ‎by the co-founder of the global BDS movement Omar Barghouti, who holds ‎permanent Israeli residency status and lives in the northern city of ‎Acre.‎

The Strategic Affairs Ministry, tasked by the Diplomatic-Security Cabinet ‎with heading ‎Israel’s efforts to counter the BDS movement and its efforts to ‎delegitimize Israel, has spent the past two years mapping what it ‎calls the “network of hatred.” ‎

The ministry’s data shows that not only do Hamas and the PLFP ‎support BDS activists in theory, their operatives take an active part ‎in BDS initiatives. ‎

The report names, for example, the Al-Haq human rights ‎organization, Defense for Children International – Palestine, and the Al-‎Dameer Association for Human Rights as being headed by former ‎PFLP operatives. ‎

Al-Haq is chaired by Shawan Jabarin, of Ramallah, who served 13 ‎years in an Israeli prison for being a member of the PLFP’s military ‎wing. ‎Jabarin is a leading figure in the BDS movement’s lawfare campaign ‎against Israel, especially its attempts to pursue legal action against ‎Israeli officials in the International Criminal Court in The Hague. ‎

Other examples include groups such as the Palestinian Return ‎Center, which the ministry says promotes Hamas interests in ‎Europe; and members of the U.K.-based Palestine Solidarity ‎Campaign and Friends of Al-Aqsa group, which the ministry says have neem with Hamas ‎leader Ismail Haniyeh, participated in the 2010 Navi Marmara ‎flotilla that sought to breach the maritime blockade on the Gaza ‎Strip, and have recently held a demonstration outside the British ‎Prime Minister’s Office in support of Hamas so-called “March of ‎Return” or Gaza border riot campaign.‎

Speaking at the biennial GC4I conference in Jerusalem Wednesday, ‎attended by the directors of over 150 pro-Israeli groups, as well as ‎Jewish community heads and activists from around the world ‎dedicated to fighting the BDS movement, Strategic Affairs Minister ‎Gilad Erdan said much of the anti-Israel group’s momentum is ‎fuel by the Palestinian Authority.‎

Ramallah is a longtime proponent of anti-Israel boycotts and the ‎National Palestinian Council has officially endorsed the BDS ‎movement during its annual meeting in May.‎

‎”We have seen the attempts led by senior Palestinian Authority ‎officials to suspend Israel from FIFA and to promote various ‎‎’blacklists‘ at the U.N. Human Rights Council. These campaigns ‎have all been widely promoted by the network of hatred exposed ‎by the Strategic Affairs Ministry,” he said. ‎

Erdan noted that leading world powers such as the United States, ‎Britain, Germany, France, Canada and others, were turning their ‎backs on the BDS movement, adding that in recent years, 25 states ‎in the U.S. have passed laws foiling BDS activities after their anti-‎Semitic and discriminatory nature was exposed. ‎

Erdan further said that the ministry has identified a new BDS trend – calling for trade embargos against the Jewish state, especially ‎with respect to its military industries, saying that BDS activists were ‎lobbying among parliamentarians worldwide to boycott Israeli ‎defense contractors. ‎

‎”Terrorist organizations and the BDS movement have never been ‎closer, ideologically and operationally. I will continue to lead a ‎counterattack against the perpetrators of the anti-Semitic hate ‎campaign emanating from Gaza and Ramallah.”‎

 

Jeremy Corbyn Says a UK Labour-Led Government Would Quickly Recognize a Palestinian State

Jewish Telegraphic Agency; jta.org

Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn in London, Dec. 14, 2017. (Daniel Leavl-Olivas/Pool/Getty Images)

(JTA) — British Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn, who is under fire for having anti-Israel views allegedly born out of anti-Semitism, said in a tweet that a Labour-led government would recognize Palestine as a state.

Corbyn made his remarks Saturday on Twitter during a tour of camps in Jordan for Syrian and Palestinian refugees as part of his first international trip outside of Europe since becoming Labour leader in 2015.

“Today I’ll visit the Al-Baqa’a refugee camp which was first created in 1968, where 100,000 Palestinians live,” he tweeted. “The next Labour government will recognise Palestine as a state as one step towards a genuine two-state solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict.”

On Friday during a tour of Zaatari, Jordan’s largest camp for Syrian refugees, Corbyn criticized the administration of President Donald Trump for recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and called moving the U.S. Embassy there a “catastrophic mistake.”

He also said: “I think there has to be a recognition of the rights of the Palestinian people to their own state which we as a Labour Party said we would recognize in government as a full state as part of the United Nations.” A Palestinian state would be recognized “very early on” under a Labour government, he said.

Jewish groups have accused Corbyn, a hard-left politician, of tolerating and at times encouraging expressions of anti-Semitism disguised as anti-Zionism or anti-capitalism by thousands of supporters who joined the party under him.

The party has kicked out some members caught engaging in anti-Semitic rhetoric. But under Corbyn, who in 2009 called Hamas and Hezbollah his “friends” whom he said he was “honored” to host in Parliament, Labour has also readmitted or refrained from punishing others who made statements perceived as anti-Semitic.

 

Telling People What They Don’t Know

Despite five years of ‘on the job training,’ nothing could have prepared Christian Broadcasting Network director Erin Zimmerman for her latest project.

By: Noa Amouyal; Jerusalem Post – jpost.com

"To Life", Israeli documentary by Erin Zimmerman, June 19, 2018.
“To Life”, Israeli documentary by Erin Zimmerman, June 19, 2018. . (photo credit: Courtesy)

Two years ago, Erin Zimmerman found herself far from home in war-torn Kurdistan hearing a harrowing story of how innocent people were subjected to the worst kind of evil.

It was there that Zimmerman heard a Kurdish man recount his experience saving kidnapped women who were held captive by ISIS.

“I just heard terrible stories,” Zimmerman recalled. “When I sat down and interviewed Abdullah he told us stories that were so bad, my translator had to leave to take a cigarette break.”

Poster for the documentary film 'To Life' (Courtesy)
Poster for the documentary film ‘To Life’ (Courtesy)

Those stories and more were featured in her latest documentary for the Christian Broadcasting Network: To Life, How Israeli Volunteers are Changing the World. Released in time for Israeli’s 70th Independence Day last May, the film showcases five of the country’s organizations that are helping repair the world.

While each organization helps people in distress, not all stories were as somber and disturbing as the ones she heard in Kurdistan – the story of IsraAID, for example, is inspirational and shows how good can triumph over evil.  Off the shores of Lesbos, Greece, IsraAID volunteers healed and cared for not only strangers – but people who would be considered an enemy under any other circumstances.

That’s because the volunteers were Israeli – Christian, Jewish and Muslim – who were all united in one singular mission: to be a light unto the nations and lead by example.

“The doctors were almost all female. They got along so well and did way more than what was expected of them. If you see these girls, they were taking time to hug and comfort people,” Zimmerman said. “One of the doctors told me, ‘70 years ago, this was us. We were on a boat trying to come home and nobody would help us. So it’s our responsibility to help others.’”

Whether it be a beleaguered refugee in Greece or a Palestinian child in need of a heart transplant, the lives of the people being helped are forever transformed. For Zimmerman, it caused some introspection on her part as well.

“It shines a light on your life. [Filming the movie] made me stop and say, ‘Wow. This is pure love,’” she marveled. “If you are an Israeli, you’re technically at war with Syria and they are the enemy.”

However, the tenacity, courage and kindness of the volunteers allowed them overlook that and see these people for who they were: scared humans in desperate need for help.

Rather than focusing on an Israel engulfed in conflict, To Life tells the untold story of Israel as the beacon of innovation and humanitarian aid. It is a story not often told in the press today.

“There is not so much positive press about Israel. My boss [CBN CEO Gordon Robertson] and I have similar ideas but a different motivation. He’s very focused on combating the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions Movement, but my thought process isn’t that intricate. It’s more, ‘This is a great story, let’s tell it.’”

“I was really impressed by the people I met and captured on camera. It made me feel really small, i saw these great things but then I went home to comfort at night,” she said. “I met so many millennials doing amazing things and nobody told them to.”

Although Zimmerman was at the helm of three other CBN movies prior to this one, her career in directing is a rather recent one. After spending 20 years in television production, Robertson encouraged her to try her hand at directing CBN’s first movie, Made in Israel. That film, which was made for television, was so well-received that requests were made for it to be available on DVD.
Now Zimmerman directs roughly one movie every two years for the network. However, she still feels that she has much to learn and often relies on other members of the crew to steer her in the right direction.

“I’ve had a lot of on-the-job training. I’ve done a lot of reading on the Internet, learned from coworkers and my excellent production company here in Israel. If you want to succeed, hire people smarter than you,” she joked.

“I always like to tell people what they don’t know,” Zimmerman said of her film making philosophy. “With To Life, you see Israelis doing amazing work. We’ve tried to figure out why and ask questions why they do it and we get these wonderful answers. ‘We’re supposed to be.’ Or ‘God made us this way.’ From secular and religious alike, it’s amazing to hear.”

 

5 Must-Know Facts about Prince William’s Historic Visit to Israel

By: Josephin Dolsten; Jewish Telegraphic Agency – jta.org

The royal family, with Prince William in the center alongside his wife, Catherine, and their two children, in London during the Trooping the Colour, this year marking the queen’s 90th birthday, June 11, 2016. (Ben A. Pruchnie/Getty Images)

(JTA) — Prince William will soon embark on a historic visit to Israel. During the trip, which also includes stops in Jordan and the West Bank, Britain’s Duke of Cambridge will visit important sites in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv and meet with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Reuven Rivlin.

William is set to arrive Monday in Israel on a trip that is sure to be closely watched by the British and Israeli media, as well as fans of the royal family around the world, even though he will not be accompanied by his wife, Duchess Catherine of Cambridge.

Ahead of the trip, JTA compiled some interesting facts relevant to the royal visit.

William’s visit to Israel is not the first by the royal family.

In March, some media outlets reported that the visit would be the first by a member of the royal family. That is not the case, though William’s visit is being billed as the first official one. Prince Phillip, William’s grandfather, visited the country in 1994 for a ceremony honoring his mother, Princess Alice, for her sheltering of a Jewish family during World War II (more on that later). Phillip accepted the Righteous Among the Nations award on behalf of his late mother and planted a maple tree in her memory at Yad Vashem. Prince Charles, William’s father, visited Israel to attend the funerals of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin in 1995 and President Shimon Peres in 2016.

His schedule is already stirring up conflict.

Though Israeli leaders were quick to praise Prince William after the trip announcement in March, everyone wasn’t as happy upon the release of the official schedule, which listed Jerusalem as being in the “Occupied Palestinian Territories.” Zeev Elkin, the Israeli Cabinet member in charge of Jerusalem and a mayoral hopeful for the city, calledon William’s staff to correct the itinerary.

“United Jerusalem has been the capital of Israel for 3,000 years and no distortion in the tour itinerary can change that reality,” Elkin said in a statement that also was posted Monday on Facebook. “I expect the prince’s people to correct the distortion.”

Prince William and wife Catherine show their newborn son at St Mary’s Hospital in London, April 23, 2018. (Chris Jackson/Getty Images)

William will visit his great-grandmother’s grave on the Mount of Olives.

Princess Alice of Battenberg has a special connection to the Jewish people. Alice, who was married to Prince Andrew of Greece, helped shelter three members of the family of a late Greek-Jewish politician in her palace in Athens during World War II. The Gestapo was suspicious of Alice, even questioning her, but the princess, who was deaf, pretended not to understand their questions. Alice later became a nun.

Before her death in 1969, she said she wanted to be buried at the Convent of Saint Mary Magdalene on the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem, near where one of her aunts, Grand Duchess Elizabeth Fyodorovna, was laid to rest. Her wish wasn’t immediately realized; Alice was buried initially at Windsor Castle. However, in 1988, her remains were transferred to Jerusalem. In 1993, the Yad Vashem Holocaust museum in Israel namedher a Righteous Among the Nations for her war-era bravery.

Prince William will stay at the historic King David Hotel.

Opened in 1931, the King David has played a pivotal role in Israel’s history. The hotel has hosted royalty and heads of state, including King George II of Greece, who set up his government there in 1942 when the Nazis occupied his country. During the British Mandate, the hotel’s southern wing was turned into British administrative and military headquarters. In 1946, the hotel was the target of a bombing by the Irgun Zionist paramilitary group that killed 91, including 15 Jews. Two years later the hotel became a Jewish stronghold, as Israel declared its independence.

There’s a tattoo parlor in Jerusalem’s Old City where several royals are said to have been inked.

If William has any desire to get a tattoo, Razzouk seems like the obvious choice. King Edward VII, King George V and Prince Albert are all said to have been inked there with Jerusalem crosses. The shop, run by the Razzouk family for some 500 years in the Christian Quarter, is popular among visitors to the city. The family uses wooden block stamps, some of them hundreds of years old, to stamp religious symbols onto the skin before the tattooing process begins. Tattoo artist Wassim Razzouk offered to do the tattoo should William be interested, telling Haaretz “it would be a great honor.”

 

Fiery ‘Terror Kites’ Shake Residents in Southern Israel, but not Their Resolve to Stay Put

By: Sam Sokol; Jewish Telegraphic Agency, jta.org

A firefighter extinguishing a blaze in the Beeri Forest on the Israeli border with Gaza, where flaming kites sent from Gaza have caused thousands of shekels of damage, June 11, 2018. (Sam Sokol)

NAHAL OZ, Israel (JTA) — Dani Ben David fiddles with his radio, switching between it and his cellphone as he drives through the Beeri Forest, a nature reserve located on the border of Israel and the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip.

As his Jeep jolts over the dirt road, he quickly and calmly jumps between multiple conversations, coordinating efforts to extinguish the multiple fires that have sprung up across his territory. As regional director for the Western Negev for Keren Kayemeth LeIsrael-Jewish National Fund, Ben David is responsible for maintaining the forest’s tens of thousands of acres in the face of Palestinian efforts to torch them and the surrounding farmland.

Since April, more than 450 open-air fires have been set along the border region by kites and balloons carrying incendiary materials launched from Gaza. Flying aimlessly over the kibbutzim, they have turned large swatches of what was once an oasis of green in a dry and dusty south into a charred landscape.

Many of those kites have landed in the wheat fields of farmers, causing millions of shekels in damage to the local agricultural sector as well as in the area’s vast nature reserves.

“Look over there,” Ben David says, pointing to a pillar of smoke in the distance. His finger sweeps across the horizon, noting the locations of several other fires in the distance. “We see three, four, five fires. There are eight fires now.”

“It’s like this every day,” he continues, describing how more than 4,000 dunams, or nearly 490 acres, have already gone up in smoke over the past two months. “It’s doing great damage to the forest, to the plants and animals. Everything here is burned. We don’t really see a solution, either from the government or the army, against this kite terror.”

Ben David says KKL-JNF employs 12-13 private firefighters who are responsible for the forest, a number bolstered by volunteers from local communities and Israel’s overstretched Fire and Rescue Services.

“If we had 10 more it would be good, but we don’t have 10 more,” he says. “We are doing what we can. You extinguish one and you move on to the next one.”

Rafi Babiyan, security officer for the Sdot Negev Regional Council, holding a kite and incendiary devices that landed in Israeli fields near the Gaza border, June 11, 2018. (Sam Sokol)

At another site nearby, a tractor puts out the flames by driving over them followed by a man carrying a hose attached to a small water tank on his back. It’s siren blaring, a firetruck pulls up and a regular-duty firefighter gets out and starts spraying a flaming clump of trees.

Over the course of less than an hour, Ben David visits more than five fires, one of which blazes alongside a small one-lane road, completely obscuring visibility.

“At the end of the day, we are succeeding at extinguishing everything,” he says, but adding it would help if he had access to firefighting planes. Ben David explains that such aircraft are prohibited from taking part in the battle due to the proximity to the Gaza border.

“These kites aren’t toys, they’re weapons,” he says. “If the IDF or government will understand that, I hope they will do something.”

In nearby Nahal Oz, Yael Lachyani walks along pointing out the damage done to her kibbutz’s farmlands. She points to a small patch of burnt ground on which small shoots are already beginning beginning to sprout. Lachyani, the agricultural collective’s spokeswoman, says that on the festival of Shavuot each year, a small ceremony is held here for the community’s children, but this year it was set ablaze only hours before the gathering.

“We put out the fire and held the ceremony anyway. We are proud that we didn’t let them destroy our holiday,” she says, noting that 600 dunams, or almost 150 acres, have already gone up in flames.

“We try to be optimistic. It’s all about resilience,” Lachyani says. “We don’t complain. We don’t let them run our lives. You burn and we plant. Our morale is high. There is something about tragedy that connects you more to the people you live with.”

While acknowledging that the damage has only been to vegetation, she says it is only a matter of time until someone gets hurt in the community of fewer than 500 residents next to the border fence. The Israel Defense Forces and the government have not responded to the fires in the same way in which they act in the wake of a rocket attack, she says, and this “sends a message” to Hamas.

Lachyani says that despite the rocket attacks and fires, Nahal Oz is thriving, with residency at capacity, in part due to the “new secular Zionism of living wherever it’s necessary and wherever it’s meaningful.” But while the community has grown since the last flare-up with Hamas in 2014, it does not mean the residents are totally sanguine about the situation.

“We are thriving under fire … for the moment,” she says, complaining of the feeling that “no one cares.” Citing Regional Cooperation Minister Tzachi Hanegbi’s statement that he was “not excited by the kite terrorism” — that is, that people shouldn’t overreact to what he called a “pathetic” enemy — Lachyani asserts that the “government isn’t doing anything.”

Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman has pledged to strike back in response to the kites “when it is convenient for us.” The army is testing two types of drones for use against the kites as “part of a comprehensive response, which includes cooperation with firefighting forces and the activity of combat forces on the ground,” an IDF spokesman told JTA.

According to police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld, bomb disposal experts have responded not only to to kites dragging alcohol-soaked rags but also explosive devices, “which is a much more serious threat to both soldiers and civilians.”

“Every day we have at least 30 firefighters with 10 fire engines to deal only with fires near the fence,” Israel Fire and Rescue Services spokesman Yoram Levy says. “In order to respond quickly we opened five temporary stations in kibbutzim. We have a volunteer unit at Kfar Aza with a fire truck and equipment, and we are about to establish two more units. When we receive intelligence that there might be mass demonstrations [like last Friday], we are reinforcing our staff as needed.”

Levy says the fire service has used airplanes twice, near Kibbutz Or Haner and Kibbutz Karmia, after receiving permission from the Israeli Air Force.

One resident of Nahal Oz sees the attacks as an opportunity to give something back. Only weeks before the fires started, Raymond Reijnen immigrated to the kibbutz with family from Rotterdam in the Netherlands. A 16-year veteran of his city’s fire brigade, Reijnen — a tall, thin blond with tattooed arms — saw no future in Europe and decided to make aliyah so his children could grow up in a Jewish state.

Assigned to the kibbutz dairy, where he tends cows, Reijnen threw himself into agricultural work and learning Hebrew. Teams of firefighters from across the country have converged on the south, taking shifts on duty before returning to their home cities. Nevertheless, each kibbutz maintains its own volunteer team and Reijnen joined the one at Nahal Oz immediately.

Raymond Reijnen, who moved to Israel from Holland just weeks before arsonists began floating incendiary kites over the Gaza border, joined the fire-fighting team on his kibbutz, Nahal Oz. (Sam Sokol)

He says he felt good that he could “give something back to the kibbutz with my skills as a firefighter. I can pay them back for all the things they do for me here. I was kind of useless for the kibbutz and I’m not used to that.”

Kibbutz Saad, located three miles away, has had to deal with far fewer fires than Nahal Oz, and the fields that burned were already harvested, says Buki Bart, a member of the kibbutz administration. While expressing frustration, Bart says he understands that “everybody is doing the best that he can” and that the damage thus far has been minor enough that he doesn’t feel he has to report every small fire to the kibbutz members. Residents have come under fire for years, he says, especially during the last three wars in Gaza.

According to Adi Meiri, a spokeswoman for the Shaar Hanegev Regional Council, whose territory includes Sderot, extinguishing the fires is not the only struggle for residents of the region. While the state has pledged reparations for farmers who have lost crops, local representatives also have been pushing hard for additional payments for those forced to harvest early, losing part of the value of their produce, as well as for those who have lost agricultural equipment.

Aside from the financial side, Meiri says the constant fires have caused stress for residents, especially children, many of whom are receiving help from psychologists at a local “resilience center.” She describes how she has gone to great lengths to shield her own children from the reality of the past two months.

Picking up on Meiri’s theme, council head Alon Schuster told JTA that it is important that the IDF, when attacking targets in the Gaza Strip, announce that the strikes are in part in retaliation for the kites. He says “it is important for the internal psychological resilience of our residents.”

The authorities have been somewhat slow “to assimilate, to integrate, the reality” of what is happening, Schuster says.

“They are concentrating now on the threat of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians entering into Israel to sabotage or kidnap people, and they underestimate the threat of fire,” he says.

While many residents have called for increased strikes against Hamas, others believe that only an improvement in conditions in Gaza will bring true peace.

“We have been relatively lucky,” Adele Raemer of Nirim says. “It hurts to see the land being ravaged by fires — the same land that those who are doing it claim to love, claim to be theirs.

“I’m hoping to hear that the government will make decisions today that will alleviate the impossible conditions in Gaza and enable the Gazans to have some hope. People who have nothing to live for only have reasons to die for.”

 

US Lawmakers Introduce Bill to End Palestinians Teaching Hate in Schools

Jewish News Syndicate; jns.org

CEO of IMPACT-se Marcus Sheff said Palestinian textbooks hinder the development of a peaceful future for their children and hopes that the new legislation will mark the beginning of a change in education for the Palestinians.

In September 2011, a teacher leads one of the first classes of the new academic year at a Gaza-based school supported by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA). Credit: U.N. Photo/Shareef Sarhan.
In September 2011, a teacher leads one of the first classes of the new academic year at a Gaza-based school supported by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA). Credit: U.N. Photo/Shareef Sarhan.

 U.S. lawmakers introduced new legislation last week aimed at holding the Palestinians accountable incitement in their school curriculum by increasing transparency on foreign aid.

The Palestinian Authority Educational Curriculum Transparency Act, which was introduced by Reps. David Young (R-Iowa), Josh Gottheimer (D-N.J.), Peter Roskam (R-Ill.) and Brad Sherman (D-Calif.) on June 7, requires the U.S. Secretary of State to submit annual reports reviewing the educational material used in schools in the West Bank and Gaza run by the Palestinian Authority and UNRWA, the United Nation’s Palestinian-refugee agency.

The legislation seeks to determine whether U.S. foreign assistance is being used, directly or indirectly, to fund dissemination of such material by the P.A. and UNWRA.

The Jerusalem-based IMPACT-se, a research institute that analyzes educational materials that participated in crafting the bill, hopes the legislation will lead to a more peaceful future for Palestinians.

“Congressman Young’s vision in initiating and introducing this bill is timely, remarkable and potentially extremely significant in offering young Palestinians a peaceful vision for the future,” Marcus Sheff, CEO of IMPACT-se, said in a statement.

IMPACT-se, which has worked with European lawmakers to pass similar legislation to prevent aid from the European Union to the P.A. from being used to teach hate, also previously worked with Sen. Todd Young’s (R-Ind.) office to challenge UNRWA’s use of P.A. textbooks that radicalize Palestinian children.

Sheff said Palestinian textbooks hinder the development of a peaceful future for their children and hopes that the new legislation will mark the beginning of a change in education for the Palestinians.

“Ultimately, these textbooks are a major impediment to the possibility of peace,” said Sheff. “They deny young Palestinians the chance of a violence-free and peaceful future, and perpetuate eternal war. We look forward to the swift passage of the bill through the U.S. Congress.”

 

Islam’s Erasure of Christianity

By: Raymond Ibrahim; raymondibrahim.com

A recent article titled “Passages from the Bible discovered behind Qur’an manuscript” is a reminder that for centuries Islam has been literally and figuratively erasing Christianity.

The report tells of how an eighth century Koran was found to be written over a Christian book, possibly the Bible: “French scholar Dr Eléonore Cellard … noticed that, appearing faintly behind the Arabic script, were Coptic letters. She contacted Christie’s [an auction house], and they managed to identify the Coptic text as coming from the Old Testament’s Book of Deuteronomy—part of the Torah and the Christian Old Testament.”

What this means, and how Western scholars understand it, are two different things:  “This is a very important discovery for the history of the Qur’an and early Islam,” said Cellard.  “We have here a witness of cultural interactions between different religious communities.”   Christie’s specialist Romain Pingannaud concurs: “It shows the contact between communities in the first centuries of Islam.”

What is euphemistically referred to as “cultural interactions between different religious communities” and “the contact between communities in the first centuries of Islam” is a reference to the near cultural annihilation of Coptic Christian civilization by Islam on the former’s own homeland.  The closest the report gets to this simple fact is by saying:

Christie’s… believes that the manuscript is likely to have been produced in Egypt, which was home to the Coptic community, at the time of the Arab conquest. It said that the fragments “resonate with the historical reality of religious communities in the Near East and as such are an invaluable survival from the earliest centuries of Islam.”

For an accurate glimpse of this “historical reality,” one need only turn to John of Nikiu, a Coptic bishop and eyewitness of the seventh century Muslim invasion of his Egyptian homeland.  He recounts atrocity after atrocity perpetrated by the Muslims against the indigenous Christians, simply because the Muslim invaders deemed “the servants of Christ as enemies of Allah.”  His chronicle is so riddled with bloodshed that John simply concludes, “But let us now say no more, for it is impossible to describe the horrors the Muslims committed…”

Once the conquest was over, the “rightly guided caliphs”—Muhammad’s relatives and companions—forced the “milk camels [Egypt’s Christian population] to yield more milk” by squeezing them dry of their wealth and resources, write the Arab chroniclers.  Apocalyptic scenes permeate contemporary accounts concerning these times of wholesale extortion followed by starvation: “the dead were cast out into the streets and market-places, like fish which the water throws up on the land, because they found none to bury them; and some of the people devoured human flesh” from starvation, writes the chronicler Severus Ibn al-Muqaffa (d.987).

In short, and to quote nineteen century historian Alfred Butler, “that they [Egyptian Christians] abhorred the religion of Islam is proved by every page of their history.”

The Islamic takeover and financial bleeding of Egypt (documented in my new book, Sword and Scimitar) was always accompanied by a war on Egypt’s Christian heritage and nearly snuffed it out (as it did in other formerly Christian lands, from North Africa to Anatolia).[1] In the eleventh century, Fatimid caliph Hakim bi-amr Allah ordered the destruction of 30,000 churches, including Christendom’s most sacred church, that of the Sepulchre in Jerusalem.  Saladin, who overthrew the Fatimids, ordered mud smeared on Egypt’s churches, and their crosses broken off.  Then came nearly three centuries under the Mamluks, who were even more repressive than their predecessors.  Under their reign, Coptic ceased to be a living language, as the punishment for speaking it included the severing of one’s tongue.

Such is the “cultural interactions between different religious communities” that the scholars are fascinated over.

Erasing a Coptic language Bible and supplanting it with the Arabic Koran is a reminder of Islam’s enforced erasure of all Christian vestiges in Christianity’s ancient heartlands.   The more entrenched Islam became in Egypt, the more Coptic culture—from its language to its churches—slowly disappeared, or was rendered invisible through a number of edicts (commonly known as the Conditions of Omar).

Even the already circulating Christian coins that the caliphate appropriated had their crosses effaced so as not to resemble crosses.   Islam’s erasure of Christianity in its own homelands continues to this day, including in its war on churches, and in even more subtle ways—such as literally erasing Christianity from the history books.

Yet Christie’s specialist Romain Pingannaud’s claims that the recent eighth century Koran find is “quite extraordinary…  It’s fascinating, particularly because it’s the only example where you have an Arabic text on top of a non-Arabic text. And what’s even more fascinating is it is on top of passages from the Old Testament.”  The report elaborates by saying that such books (palimpsests) are “extremely rare … with only a handful having been previously recorded, none of which were copied above a Christian text.”

Erasing Christian books of their scriptures and supplanting them with the Arabic Koran was actually par for the course.  Dario Fernandez-Morera writes that one celebrated Muslim cleric held “that the sacred books of the defeated Christians must be burned to make them ‘disappear’—unless one can erase their content completely so one can then sell the blank pages to make a profit.  But if one cannot sell these erased pages, they must be burned” (The Myth of the Andalusian Paradise, 41).

Happily, and as this recent discovery of a Christian text under the Arabic Koran suggests, sooner or later, everything will be uncovered—including the eyes of Western people to Islam’s past and present.

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[1] As Alfred Butler explained “[T]he burdens of the Christians grew heavier in proportion as their numbers lessened [that is, the more Christians converted to Islam, the more the burdens on the remaining few grew]. The wonder, therefore, is not that so many Copts yielded to the current which bore them with sweeping force over to Islam, but that so great a multitude of Christians stood firmly against the stream, nor have all the storms of thirteen centuries moved their faith from the rock of its foundation.”