Posts Tagged ‘Gaza’

Palestinians Teach the World About Resistance in Struggle Against Israel, U.S.

January 18, 2019

On a cold winter’s night earlier this month, a convoy of 10 Israeli armored jeeps drove into the heart of the West Bank city of Ramallah and parked in front of the Palestinian police headquarters.

Soldiers fanned out, searching nearby shops for security cameras after a pair of recent shooting attacks against Israelis in the occupied territory. The raid attracted dozens of stone-throwing Palestinians, and the Israelis responded with tear gas and rubber bullets.

It was the latest in a series of Israeli raids into urban areas that the Palestinians say undermine their own US-trained security forces. Those forces have been coordinating operations with Israel in the West Bank for years but ties have frayed as the peace process ground to a halt.

Palestinians evacuate an injured protester during clashes with Israeli forces over the weekend of january 12-13, 2019, along the Gaza border with Israel. (AFP)

“This humiliates the Palestinian Authority,” said Zakariya Musleh, head of Palestinian military intelligence. “It’s a clear message from the occupying power that we are not a partner for peace.”

The Palestinian Authority has faced mounting protests over the security coordination as the Trump administration pursues policies seen by critics as obliterating whatever chance remains for a two-state solution, from recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital to cutting off economic aid to the Palestinians.

And yet the security coordination with Israel has endured for more than a decade, through one crisis after another, including three wars in Gaza and clashes at Jerusalem’s holiest site.

This is in part because the Palestinian Authority and Israel have a shared enemy in the Hamas militant group, which drove Palestinian security forces from Gaza in a week of street clashes in 2007, less than two years after Israel withdrew from the territory.

A Palestinian protester uses a slingshot to hurl stones at Israeli forces across the border fence, during clashes following a demonstration along the border with Israel east of Gaza City on January 11, 2019. (Mahmud Hams/AFP)

A Palestinian protester uses a slingshot to hurl stones at Israeli forces across the border fence, during clashes following a demonstration along the border with Israel east of Gaza City on January 11, 2019. (Mahmud Hams/AFP)

The Israeli military declined to comment on the recent raids or the security cooperation.

Alon Eviatar, a retired Israeli colonel who served in the Palestinian territories for nearly three decades, said Israel is aware of the political pressure the Palestinian Authority faces. He said Israeli forces only launch their own West Bank raids in “sensitive cases” when they need to quickly apprehend an assailant or act on highly classified intelligence.

“The Israeli side was afraid (of) a real escalation in the West Bank, especially in Ramallah,” he said, referring to last month’s shootings, in which gunmen killed two Israeli soldiers at a West Bank bus stop and wounded seven Israelis outside a settlement, including a pregnant woman whose baby later died. Israeli forces killed one of the suspected gunmen in December and arrested the other earlier this month. Both were found north of Ramallah.

A Palestinian carries an injured youth as he runs with others from tear gas fumes during clashes with Israeli forces during a demonstration along the border with Israel east of Gaza City on January 11, 2019. (Mahmud Hams/AFP)

Palestinian security forces will face another setback at the end of January, when the US is required to cut off its financial assistance because of a law known as the Anti-Terrorism Cooperation Act that was passed with bipartisan support last year.

Under the law, the Palestinian Authority would be disqualified from receiving any US aid unless it agrees to pay court judgments of up to hundreds of millions of dollars on behalf of American victims of Palestinian attacks. The deadline for accepting that condition is Jan. 31. The administration and some pro-Israel members of Congress have been looking for ways to preserve the aid, but it’s unlikely a fix will be found until after the shutdown ends.

Palestinian protesters run through tear gas fumes during clashes with Israeli forces following a demonstration along the border with Israel east of Gaza City on January 11, 2019

Palestinian protesters run through tear gas fumes during clashes with Israeli forces following a demonstration along the border with Israel east of Gaza City on January 11, 2019 AFP

The court settlements far exceed the aid itself, which totaled $61 million last year. The US has provided more than $850 million to support the Palestinian security forces since 2007, when it ramped up assistance after Hamas seized Gaza.

Nabil Shaath, an adviser to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, said the looming cuts should be of more concern to the United States and Israel than to the Palestinians.

“They want that security support,” he said. “The most unpopular thing we are doing now here is security coordination with the Israelis. Believe me, that’s not the way to put pressure on us.”

The US aid is mainly spent on training and equipment, and salaries will not be affected. Israel is believed to support the US assistance, but the prime minister’s office declined to comment on the looming cuts.

As unpopular as the security coordination is, no one expects it to end anytime soon. The Palestine Liberation Organization’s mini-parliament called for ending security coordination with Israel last year, the latest in a long line of heated statements and empty threats.

Abbas has always been staunchly opposed to violence. Cutting ties with Israel would presumably lead to the collapse of the Palestinian Authority. Israeli forces are deployed across the occupied West Bank, at military bases and checkpoints between and around nearly every Palestinian town and city.

The funding and training of Palestinian security forces was historically seen as part of the process of building an independent state. But there have been no meaningful peace talks in a decade, and the Palestinians cut all contacts with the Trump administration when it recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, effectively siding with Israel on one of the most divisive issues in the decades-old conflict.

These days, Abbas relies on the security forces to preserve his increasingly unpopular rule. The security forces have helped keep a tight lid on Hamas in the West Bank, where they have been accused of human rights abuses. They have also used force to break up protests against Abbas’ policies.

Alaa Lahlouh, a former Palestinian officer who now researches security issues at the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research, says the security coordination is deeply unpopular, but that authorities maintain it for political and personal reasons.

“The Palestinian Authority believes the security cooperation with Israel and the United States will enhance its role as a political partner,” he said, adding that they also cooperate for personal reasons. Israel grants special movement privileges to senior Palestinian officials, allowing them to avoid crowded checkpoints.

The raids in Ramallah meanwhile cause “huge damage,” Lahlouh said. “It shows the (Palestinian Authority) is useless in the face of Israel and only powerful when it comes to confronting its own people.”

Associated Press


Gaza teen dies of wounds from Israeli fire during protest

January 14, 2019

The Gaza Health Ministry says a 14-year-old Palestinian who was shot by Israeli forces during mass protests along the perimeter fence over the weekend has died of his wounds.

Palestinians evacuate an injured protester during clashes with Israeli forces over the weekend along the Gaza border with Israel. (AFP)

The ministry’s statement says Abdelraouf Salhah was shot in the head during the protest last Friday. A 43-year-old female activist was also killed, and two dozen Palestinians were wounded.

Hamas has been orchestrating weekly mass protests along the perimeter fence since last March to protest an Israeli and Egyptian blockade imposed on Gaza when the militant group seized power in 2007. At least 187 Palestinians have been killed since the protests began, and thousands of Palestinians have been wounded. An Israeli soldier was also killed.

Israel says it’s protecting its border from infiltrators who could carry out attacks.

After Israeli strikes, Hamas warns ‘escalation won’t bring security’

January 13, 2019

Weekend attacks from Gaza, including a rocket fired on south, prompt bombing of ‘underground structures’ in northern Strip

A Palestinian protester uses a slingshot to hurl stones at Israeli forces across the border fence, during clashes following a demonstration along the border with Israel east of Gaza City on January 11, 2019. (Mahmud Hams/AFP)

A Palestinian protester uses a slingshot to hurl stones at Israeli forces across the border fence, during clashes following a demonstration along the border with Israel east of Gaza City on January 11, 2019. (Mahmud Hams/AFP)

After Israel struck two targets in northern Gaza on Saturday night, the Hamas terror group, which rules the territory, warned the Jewish state against a “dangerous escalation.”

“The continued acts of folly by the occupation against the peace protesters” along the border fence, “[Israel’s] intentional killing of the protesters, and the fire at Hamas targets are a dangerous escalation, playing with fire, that won’t bring security to the enemy and its settlers,” Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum said in a statement.

Image result for Fawzi Barhoum, photos, hamas

Fawzi Barhoum

Israel “will suffer the consequences,” he warned.

The Israeli military carried out the airstrikes in response to an earlier rocket launch into Israeli territory, capping a weekend that saw deadly violence along the Gaza border.

“IDF fighter jets targeted two of Hamas’ underground structures in the Gaza Strip,” the Israel Defense Forces said in a statement. “We will continue operating to defend Israeli civilians.”

Two targets in Gaza City were hit by the Israeli strikes, but no one was harmed, security sources in Gaza said.

Hamas is believed to have a large network of tunnels crisscrossing the Strip and running close to, or under, the frontier with Israel.

The military holds Hamas, which controls Gaza, responsible for any attacks emanating from the Strip.

A Palestinian carries an injured youth as he runs with others from tear gas fumes during clashes with Israeli forces during a demonstration along the border with Israel east of Gaza City on January 11, 2019. (Mahmud Hams/AFP)

The rocket that prompted the airstrikes landed in an open field, the IDF said. There were no reports of damage or injuries.

Tamir Idan, mayor of the Sdot Negev Regional Council, called on the government to respond more harshly to rocket launches from Gaza.

On Friday, some 13,000 Palestinians participated in demonstrations along the fence, with some throwing rocks, firebombs and grenades at Israeli troops, burning tires and trying to breach the security fence. Israeli soldiers responded with tear gas and, in some cases, live fire, the army said.

A Palestinian woman was killed during the mass riot, Gaza’s Hamas-run health ministry said, as the terror group threatened renewed violence over fresh quarrels with Israel and the Palestinian Authority.

The ministry identified the woman as Amal Tramsi, 43, saying she was the third woman to die in some nine months of clashes.

The air force attacked two Hamas posts in northern Gaza later Friday in response to that violence, the Israel Defense Forces said.

At least 15 other Palestinians were injured by Israeli fire during the border riots, one of them reportedly a journalist hurt when an ambulance was struck, the Gaza ministry said.

An Israeli soldier was lightly injured by a rock, the IDF said.

The Israeli army had braced for an outbreak of renewed violence along the Gaza border as tensions escalated between Jerusalem and the Hamas terror group as well as between the Palestinian Authority and Hamas.

The Egyptian military sent a senior delegation to the Palestinian enclave on Thursday, led by deputy chief of the Egyptian General Intelligence Services Ayman Badia, in an effort to negotiate a settlement on some of the issues and prevent an escalation.


The delegation left Gaza on Friday afternoon and traveled to Ramallah in the West Bank for talks with the PA.

Avigdor Liberman

In recent days, Hamas has ramped up its threats of renewed violence along the Gaza border after Israel halted the transfer of $15 million of Qatari funds to the terror group after an exchange of fire earlier this week. The funds are part of a series of six $15 million deposits Israel is allowing Qatar to deliver to Hamas to compensate for funds the PA has stopped transferring to Gaza in a bid to prevent the collapse of the Gazan economy. The funds are meant ostensibly to pay the group’s civilian workers, though some Israeli officials — including former defense minister Avigdor Liberman — maintain the money will be used for Hamas’s terrorist activities.

Palestinian security forces loyal to Hamas stand guard at the Rafah border crossing, in the Southern Gaza Strip on January 8, 2019. (Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90)

Palestinian sources in Gaza this week reported that Hamas is planning to renew incendiary balloon attacks, along with the offensive tactics implemented in the weeks preceding the Qatari cash injection.

A week ago, Hamas officials met with the heads of the “kite unit,” as well as leaders of the group’s so-called “tire unit” and a unit that carries out a variety of operations close to the border under the cover of darkness, such as demonstrations and attempts to damage the fence.

At that meeting, the unit heads received a new budget to prepare for the next round of violence.

Adding to the tensions in Gaza, Hamas and the Palestinian Authority have stepped up their ongoing fight for power. This week the PA took the dramatic step of pulling its men from the Rafah border crossing with Egypt, effectively closing it, saying that Hamas had been intimidating and harassing their officials.

Palestinian President Mahmud Abbas plans anti-Hamas measures as split widens

January 13, 2019

The decade-long Palestinian split looks set to deepen in the coming months, with president Mahmud Abbas poised to take multiple measures against Gaza to squeeze its Islamist rulers Hamas.

The moves raise concerns of more suffering for Gaza’s two million residents, already under an Israeli blockade and facing severe electricity shortages, while a cornered Hamas could renew violence against Israel.

Analysts say the measures will also widen the gap between Hamas-run Gaza and the occupied West Bank, where Abbas’s government has limited self-rule.

Palestinian security forces loyal to Hamas (R) prepare to take control of Gaza's Rafah border crossing with Egypt on January 7, 2019 as Palestinian Authority personnel (L) pull out on orders from president Mahmud Abbas

Palestinian security forces loyal to Hamas (R) prepare to take control of Gaza’s Rafah border crossing with Egypt on January 7, 2019 as Palestinian Authority personnel (L) pull out on orders from president Mahmud Abbas AFP/File

Hamas and Abbas’s secular Fatah party have been at loggerheads since the Islamists seized control of Gaza from Abbas’s forces in a near civil war in 2007, a year after sweepinging parliamentary elections.

Hamas has since fought three bloody wars with Israel and fears of a fourth remain.

Multiple reconciliation attempts between the Palestinian factions have failed but Egypt thought it had made a breakthrough in late 2017 when the two sides agreed to eventually share power.

As part of that agreement Hamas withdrew from border crossings between Gaza and Egypt and Israel, allowing the Fatah-dominated Palestinian Authority to return and the Egyptian border to be reopened regularly.

The reconciliation agreement has since collapsed acrimoniously.

On Sunday, the PA announced it would withdraw from the Egyptian border crossing, creating a dilemma for Cairo about whether to leave it open with Hamas in control.

So far they have indicated they will.

Senior officials close to Abbas say he is looking for other measures to punish Hamas.

– ‘Very important decisions’ –

Among these could be removing staff from the crossings between Israel and Gaza — making it hard for the Jewish state to allow anything into the territory without dealing directly with Hamas, which it and many other countries label a terrorist organisation.

They could also include cutting salaries to families of Hamas prisoners or rescinding Palestinian passports for Hamas employees.

Abbas has also pledged to dissolve the Hamas-dominated Palestinian parliament, which though it hasn’t met since the 2007 split is still nominally the basis for new laws.

“Very important decisions against Hamas are being discussed,” a senior official said on condition of anonymity.

It follows a series of arrests of those affiliated with Fatah in Gaza, according to Abbas allies.

The official said the PA spent around $100 million per month in Gaza, including for electricity subsidies, and was looking to cut back significantly.

“Those that want to rule Gaza must bear the responsibility of governing it,” the official said.

Azzam al-Ahmad, a senior Abbas ally and negotiator of the 2017 reconciliation agreement, told AFP “the leadership is considering a number of measures”.

Senior Hamas official Bassem Naim said the Islamists had seen similar threats before.

“Any type of sanctions such as electricity, preventing medicine, closing the border or cutting the salaries are intended to blackmail residents into rising against Hamas and they fail,” he told AFP.

“This is the most that Abbas can do.”

– ‘Short-term thinking? –

The Palestinians have faced stark challenges over the past two years, with US President Donald Trump leading what he has called the most pro-Israel administration in the country’s history.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s right-wing government has meanwhile continued to expand settlements in the West Bank.

Abbas?s government froze contacts with the Trump administration after it recognised the disputed city of Jerusalem as Israel?s capital in December 2017.

The deepening split between the two factions weakens their ability to respond to such pressure, said Hugh Lovatt of the European Council on Foreign Relations think-tank.

He said the PA withdrawal from the border crossings was part of a “package of measures designed to try and squeeze Hamas.”

“It is not irreversible but it is certainly a very negative step. This is short-term thinking triumphing longer-term strategy.”

Nadia Hijab, president of the Al-Shabaka Palestinian think-tank, said the infighting prevented a united front against Israeli policies.

“Palestinians fear that this latest move will cement the division and lead to a complete break between Gaza and the West Bank, something Israel has been pushing,” she said.

Both sides were “playing politics with people’s lives instead of taking on Israel’s 50-year-plus occupation,” she said.

At least 241 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli fire in Gaza since mass protests along the border began in March 2018. Two Israeli soldiers have been killed.

The protests had calmed in recent months after Hamas and Israel struck an agreement that saw Qatari aid allowed into the territory.

This week, it was reported that Israel had blocked a third tranche of Qatari funding, which could lead to increased tensions.

“If the Israelis do block the money, then I think it is almost a certainty you will see Hamas increasing the tension on the border,” Lovatt said.


Gaza rocket fired at Israel: army

January 12, 2019

Palestinian militants in the Gaza Strip fired a rocket at Israel late Saturday, Israel’s army said, as tensions rose after another day of violent border clashes.

A statement from the army said that “one launch was identified from the Gaza Strip towards Israel”, without providing further details.

The rocket comes a day after a Gaza woman was shot dead by Israeli forces during weekly protests and clashes along the Gaza border.

The health ministry named her as Amal al-Taramsi, 43, saying she was the third woman to die in months of clashes that have seen at least 241 Palestinians killed.

Another 25 Palestinians were wounded along the Israeli border in Friday’s violence.

Palestinian protesters run through tear gas fumes during clashes with Israeli forces following a demonstration along the border with Israel east of Gaza City on January 11, 2019

Palestinian protesters run through tear gas fumes during clashes with Israeli forces following a demonstration along the border with Israel east of Gaza City on January 11, 2019 AFP

The Israeli army said that around 13,000 Palestinians had gathered in multiple sites along the border.

“The rioters have burned tyres and hurled blocks, explosive devices and grenades towards (Israeli) troops and at the Gaza Strip security fence,” an army statement read.

The army also struck two positions belonging to Gaza’s Islamist rulers Hamas on Friday, it said.

At least once a week since March, Palestinians have taken part in often violent protests with backing from Hamas.

Most of the Palestinians killed were shot in weekly clashes, but others have been hit by tank fire or airstrikes.

Protests have calmed in recent months amid an informal truce between Israel and Hamas.

Under the unwritten agreement, Israel has allowed Qatar to provide money and fuel to Hamas’s government in Gaza in exchange for relative calm.

An expected delivery of new funds by Qatar did not arrive this week, sparking speculation Israel was holding it up.

On Monday, a rocket fired from Gaza hit Israel, prompting the Jewish state to carry out a series of air strikes against Hamas targets in the Palestinian enclave.


Israel Against Iran: The Long Military Campaign Between Wars

January 12, 2019

An interview with Lt. Gen. Gadi Eisenkot, Israel’s chief of staff.

By Bret Stephens

Opinion Columnist

Image result for Gadi Eisenkot in 2014. Credit Gili Yaari/NurPhoto, via Getty Images

Gadi Eisenkot in 2014. Credit Gili Yaari/NurPhoto, via Getty Images

TEL AVIV — “We struck thousands of targets without claiming responsibility or asking for credit.”

So says Gadi Eisenkot about the Jewish state’s undeclared and unfinished military campaign against Iran and its proxies in Syria and Lebanon. For his final interview as chief of staff of the Israel Defense Forces before he retires next week, the general has decided to claim responsibility and take at least some of the credit.

Eisenkot’s central intellectual contribution in fighting that campaign is the concept of “the campaign between wars” — the idea that continuous, kinetic efforts to degrade the enemy’s capabilities both lengthens the time between wars and improves the chances of winning them when they come. He also believes that Israel needed to focus its efforts on its deadliest enemy, Iran, as opposed to secondary foes such as Hamas in Gaza.

“When you fight for many years against a weak enemy,” he says, “it also weakens you.”

This thinking is what led Eisenkot to become the first Israeli general to take Iran head on, in addition to fighting its proxies in Lebanon and elsewhere. And it’s how he succeeded in humbling, at least for the now, Qassim Suleimani, the wily commander of Iran’s elite Quds Force, which has spearheaded Tehran’s ambitions to make itself a regional hegemon.

Related image


“We operated under a certain threshold until two-and-a-half years ago,” Eisenkot explains, referring to Israel’s initial policy of mainly striking weapons shipments destined for Hezbollah in Lebanon. “And then we noticed a significant change in Iran’s strategy. Their vision was to have significant influence in Syria by building a force of up to 100,000 Shiite fighters from Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iraq. They built intelligence bases and an air force base within each Syrian air base. And they brought civilians in order to indoctrinate them.”

By 2016, Eisenkot estimates, Suleimani had deployed 3,000 of his men in Syria, along with 8,000 Hezbollah fighters and another 11,000 foreign Shiite troops. The Iranian funds flowing toward the effort amounted to $16 billion over seven years. Israel had long said it would not tolerate an Iranian presence on its border, but at that point Syria had become a place in which other countries’ declaratory red lines seemed easily erased.

Image result for erdogan, putin, Rouhani, pictures, al Jazeera

Rouhani, Putin and Erdogan met in the Russian city of Sochi last November [Mikhail Metzel/Reuters]

In January 2017 Eisenkot obtained the government’s unanimous consent for a change in the rules of the game. Israeli attacks became near-daily events. In 2018 alone, the air force dropped a staggering 2,000 bombs. That May, Suleimani attempted to retaliate by launching “more than 30 rockets toward Israel” (at least 10 more than what has been previously reported). None reached its target. Israeli responded with a furious assault that hit 80 separate Iranian military and Assad regime targets in Syria.

Why did Suleimani — the subtle, determined architect of Iran’s largely successful efforts to entrench itself in Iraq, Yemen, Gaza and Lebanon — miscalculate? Eisenkot suggests a combination of overconfidence, based on Iran’s success in rescuing Assad’s regime from collapse, and underestimation of Israel’s determination to stop him, based on the West’s history of shrinking in the face of Tehran’s provocations.

“His error was choosing a playground where he is relatively weak,” he says. “We have complete intelligence superiority in this area. We enjoy complete aerial superiority. We have strong deterrence and we have the justification to act.”

“The force we faced over the last two years was a determined force,” he adds a little scornfully, “but not very impressive in its capabilities.”

Image result for Hassan Nasrallah, pictures

Hassan Nasrallah

Eisenkot seems to feel similarly about Hezbollah and its longtime leader, Hassan Nasrallah. The group had devised a three-pronged strategy to invade and conquer (even if briefly) at least a part of Israel’s northern Galilee: building factories in Lebanon that could produce precision-guided missiles, excavating attack tunnels under the Israeli border and setting up a second front on the Syrian side of the Golan Heights.

So far, the plan has failed. The factories were publicly exposed and the tunnels destroyed. Israel continues to attack Hezbollah positions on the Golan, most recently last month against an intelligence position in the village of Tel el Qudne (also previously unreported).

“I can say with confidence that as we speak Hezbollah does not possess accurate [missile] capabilities except for small and negligible ones,” he says. “They were hoping to have hundreds of missiles in the mid- and long-range.”

That means Hezbollah is unlikely to soon start another war with Israel. Suleimani has pulled his forces back from the border with Israel and withdrawn some altogether. The resumption of U.S. sanctions has also put a squeeze on Iran’s ability to finance its regional adventures. Israel also thought it had won a reprieve of sorts when John Bolton indicated the U.S. would not quickly withdraw from Syria, thereby obstructing Iran’s efforts to build a land bridge to Damascus, though that reversal seems to have been reversed yet again.

Iran may now turn elsewhere. “As we push them in Syria,” Eisenkot says, “they transfer their efforts to Iraq,” where the U.S. still has thousands of troops. Thanks to Gadi Eisenkot, at least we know the Iranians aren’t invincible.

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Bret L. Stephens has been an Opinion columnist with The Times since April 2017. He won a Pulitzer Prize for commentary at The Wall Street Journal in 2013 and was previously editor in chief of The Jerusalem Post. @BretStephensNYT  Facebook

A version of this article appears in print on , on Page A19 of the New York edition with the headline: The Man Who Humbled Suleimani.

Will backing anti-BDS bills be a liability for 2020 Democratic hopefuls?

January 10, 2019

There are at least seven Senate Democrats eyeing a presidential run. Only two support the Israel Anti-Boycott Act, and just one is willing to cosponsor it

WASHINGTON — April 14, 2016. The day Democratic Party officials might have realized something was brewing on the American left. In the middle of a fiery primary debate between former secretary of state Hillary Clinton and Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, the two were asked about the 2014 Gazan conflict, also known as Operation Protective Edge.

Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., and Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., listen as Dr. Christine Blasey Ford testifies during the Senate Judiciary Committee on September 27, 2018. (Tom Williams/Pool Photo via AP)

Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., and Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., listen as Dr. Christine Blasey Ford testifies during the Senate Judiciary Committee on September 27, 2018. (Tom Williams/Pool Photo via AP)

Clinton defended Israel, which she said did not invite Hamas’ relentless rocket attacks. She further excoriated the terror organization, which she said had squandered an opportunity to rebuild Gaza. For this blazing defense of the Jewish state, she received mild applause.

Jewish maverick politician Sanders, meanwhile, castigated Israel for what he deemed its excessive use of force during the 51-day offensive.

“We had in the Gaza area some 10,000 civilians who were wounded and some 1,5000 that were killed. If you’re asking not just me but countries all over the world, was that was a disproportionate attack, the answer is yes, I believe it was,” Sanders said, to uproarious applause. “In the long run,” he continued, “if we are ever going to bring peace to that region, which has seen so much hatred and so much war, we are going to have to treat the Palestinian people with respect and dignity.” That line brought down the house.

According to long-time member of the Democratic National Committee James Zogby, the founder and president of the Arab American Institute, that moment sent a message to Democrats. “I think Sanders discovered at the Brooklyn debate that there is a constituency that wants to hear about this,” Zogby recently told The Times of Israel.

Democratic presidential candidates Sen. Bernie Sanders, right, and Hillary Clinton speak during the CNN Democratic Presidential Primary Debate at the Brooklyn Navy Yard on Thursday, April 14, 2016 in New York (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

Today in the Senate, most of the party’s leading 2020 prospective candidates seem to want to avoid creating a vulnerability with the pro-Palestinian constituency Zogby described.

While two new Democratic members of the new Congress — Michigan’s Rashida Tlaib and Minnesota’s Ilhan Omar — support the contentious anti-occupation Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign, the party at large still appears to be steadfastly against it. Efforts to use government legislation to target the BDS movement’s adherents, however, are much more controversial.

Image result for Rashida Tlaib, pictures

Freshman Democrat Rashida Tlaib

The vast majority of the Democratic senators eyeing a 2020 bid have, as of this writing, either opposed or refused to support the Israel Anti-Boycott Act, legislation that would criminalize boycotting the Jewish state.

Likewise, there was a fierce left-wing resistance to the Combatting BDS Act, a second piece of legislation on the issue which would grant federal protection to states that pass anti-BDS laws. Florida Senator Marco Rubio sought to push it through as the first Senate bill introduced under the new Congress, but the Senate voted it down for further consideration Tuesday.

Sanders, who claimed the Combatting BDS Act would trample free speech rights, called the proposal “absurd.” The liberal Middle East advocacy group J Street also put out a blistering statement on the Rubio bill. “‘Not a single Democrat should vote to enable this farce,” it said.

Democratic 2020 hopefuls keeping their distance

The Israel Anti-Boycott Act is widely supported by Republicans: In the Senate alone, 43 of the 50 GOP senators (86 percent) in the last Congress co-sponsored it, versus just 15 of their 44 Democratic counterparts (34%).

Yet a close look at the list at the Democrats who co-sponsored that legislation is more noteworthy for which names are missing than those included: Ohio’s Sherrod Brown, New York’s Kirsten Gillibrand, California’s Kamala Harris, Minnesota’s Amy Klobuchar, Massachusetts’s Elizabeth Warren and Sanders did not sponsor the legislation.

(Gillibrand was an original sponsor but withdrew after facing a backlash from progressive constituents. Brown supports the legislation — he helped revise an amended version — but his name is conspicuously absent as a co-sponsor.)

A number of those senators who are preparing a 2020 presidential bid have been vociferous opponents of the the Israel Anti-Boycott Act. Sanders recently urged his colleagues to not include the legislation in an appropriations bill, while Warren announced her opposition to it in 2017.

In this photo from January 29, 2017 US Democratic Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts speaks to people gathered at Copley Square in Boston, Massachusetts. (Ryan McBride/AFP)

“I do not support the boycott, I think the boycott is wrong,” Warren said. But, she added, “I think outlawing protected free speech activity violates our basic constitutional rights.”

Sanders and Gillibrand have echoed the same sentiment, opposing the bill on the grounds that it restricts the speech rights of Americans expressing a political viewpoint. Others, such as Harris and Klobuchar, have stayed quiet on the measure.

The only Democratic senators considering a 2020 run who was willing to sponsor the Israel Anti-Boycott Act is New Jersey’s Cory Booker, who said that changes made to the bill last spring to address speech concerns were sufficient.

In March, lawmakers revised the text to make clear that Americans could not be imprisoned for participating in Israel boycotts, and that criticism of the Jewish state could not be grounds for opening an investigation against any individual.

“Initial concerns that this bill unintentionally infringed on individuals’ First Amendment rights have now been addressed by changes agreed upon earlier this year,” Booker told Jewish Insider in November 2018. “I feel confident that those modifications safeguard Americans’ constitutional right to free speech.”

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), for its part, said the law would still be unconstitutional despite those changes.

The bill “suffers from the same fundamental flaw as the original draft by criminalizing participation in constitutionally protected boycotts,” ACLU staff attorney Brian Hauss said. “In fact, the bill’s sponsors openly admit that it was designed for this purpose.”

Other potential candidates who are not in the Senate, including former vice president Joe Biden and Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, have not yet been forced to take a position. They may only ever have to if they run and are asked by a niche audience, Zogby said.

James Zogby speaking at the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C., October 2012. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

The Israel Anti-Boycott Act is being intensely opposed by J Street and the ACLU, both of which argue that the measure, if implemented, would unconstitutionally wield the power of the state to suppress a political movement.

Advocates for the Israel Anti-Boycott Act’s, including its author, Senator Ben Cardin, claim that it’s an anti-discrimination effort meant to prevent Israeli individuals and businesses from being victimized because of their national origin.

But with a growing contingency of the left more sympathetic to the Palestinian cause, in tandem with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s unequivocal alignment with US President Donald Trump, supporting the Israel Anti-Boycott Act could become a minor fault line between Booker and Brown and the other contenders who oppose the bill in the 2020 Democratic primary.

A split on the left

The legislation has been “alarming and deeply unpopular” with Democratic activists, liberal pundits and advocacy groups, said Logan Bayroff, J Street’s director of communications.

But the Israel Anti-Boycott Act started to gain more attention last month, when lawmakers tried to slip it into a last-minute spending bill. It may yet gain more attention if Cardin and others are successful at including it in a spending package to reopen the government.

“It’s one thing to try to quietly pass legislation, smuggling it into a much larger appropriations fight,” Bayroff recently told The Times of Israel. “It’s something else entirely to have to really own and defend that kind of legislation on the national political stage when trying to appeal to Democratic voters.

“I don’t think you’re going to see many, if any, Democratic candidates standing behind legislation that is so strongly opposed by the ACLU and which has the real possibility of infringing on free-speech rights,” Bayroff said.

The Israel Anti-Boycott Act does have some supporters on the left. The Jewish Democratic Council of America, an advocacy organization, has urged its passage.

The group’s executive director, Halie Soifer, told The Times of Israel she doesn’t think the bill will inflame Democrats in 2020.

Halie Soifer heads the Jewish Democratic Council of America. (Courtesy of JDCA)

“I don’t think that this will be a determining issue in the 2020 election,” Soifer said. “I think this will continue to be a component of the platform where the Democratic Party comes out against BDS. I don’t see any shifts within the party on this issue.”

Nevertheless, opposing the Israel Anti-Boycott Act is largely seen, according to multiple Democratic operatives, as an effective way to win over progressives who feel that Palestinian voices have been historically marginalized in American politics.

“No one is going to go to Iowa and stump on this, but it will become an issue when they are asked about it,” said Zogby, who was a Sanders supporter in 2016. “Are there going to be some Democratic candidates who say there’s some votes out there with young people and with black and Latino voters and others for talking truthfully about this issue? I think there will be.”

The extent to which Israeli-Palestinian issues will be litigated in 2020 is unknown, but one thing that progressive activists feel sure about is that Democrats are not going to want to be bogged down in a primary fight by supporting the Israel Anti-Boycott Act.

“It’s hard to say what will or will not be an issue in the primary,” said Bayroff of J Street. “But I do think that presidential contenders on the Democratic side are going to try to distance themselves from this legislation.”


Israeli Air Force jets and helicopters hit Gaza targets after rocket fired into Israel

January 7, 2019

Iron Dome intercepts projectile aimed at southern city of Ashkelon, no injuries or damage reported; latest round of violence sparked by explosive device flown into Israel

Illustrative: Smoke rises from an explosion caused by an Israeli airstrike on Gaza City, on October 27, 2018. (AP Photo/Adel Hana)

Illustrative: Smoke rises from an explosion caused by an Israeli airstrike on Gaza City, on October 27, 2018. (AP Photo/Adel Hana)

The Israeli Air Force Struck several targets in the Gaza Strip before dawn on Monday, after terrorists in the Gaza Strip fired a rocket into Israel, which was intercepted by the Iron Dome system.

“Air force fighter jets and helicopters attacked several terror targets at a Hamas training camp in the northern Gaza Strip,” the Israel Defense Forces said, noting the attack was in response to the rocket fired into Israel.

“The IDF holds Hamas responsible for all that takes place in the Gaza Strip,” the army said.

Palestinian media reported that Israeli helicopters attacked at least one Hamas training site near Beit Lahia in northern Gaza.

Earlier, warning sirens blared in the southern city of Ashkelon and the nearby Hof Ashkelon region after 3 a.m. The IDF said it identified a single launch from Gaza, which was intercepted by Iron Dome.

Residents reported hearing loud explosions, apparently from the interception.

A police bomb disposal robot carries away a drone-shaped device from the Gaza Strip, borne by dozens of helium balloons, which landed in a carrot field in southern Israel on January 6 ,2019. (Israel Police)

The rocket launch came hours after the Israeli Air Force struck two Hamas positions in the eastern Gaza Strip in response to an explosive device that was flown into southern Israel earlier in the day, the army said.

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Israeli Air Force AH-64 Apache helicopter

On Sunday morning, a bomb was flown into Israel using a large cluster of balloons and a model drone. The explosive device landed in a carrot field in the Sdot Negev region of southern Israel shortly before noon.

In retaliation for the cross-border attack from Gaza, Israeli military helicopters attacked two observation posts east of Khan Younis that are controlled by the coastal enclave’s Hamas rulers, the Israel Defense Forces said.

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Hamas’s leader in Gaza, Yahya Sinwar, center, chants slogans with protesters — File Photo

“IDF attack helicopters struck two military positions belonging to the Hamas terrorist group in the Gaza Strip in response to the balloon-borne explosive device, which was launched by a model drone,” the army said.

In addition to the posts near Khan Younis, Palestinian media reported that the IDF had attacked targets near Jabalia, in northern Gaza, and in the Zeitoun area of Gaza City, in the central Strip. The IDF refused to comment on those reports.

The military did not say who it believed flew the bomb into southern Israel, but said it held Hamas responsible as the rulers of Gaza.

An IDF strike on Gaza, November 2018.

Hatem Moussa/AP

“The IDF will continue to act in defense of the citizens of Israel and against terrorism from the Strip,” the army said.

The name of a Gazan engineering college was printed on the side of the model drone.

Police said the explosive device attached to the model drone and the balloons exploded as a bomb disposal robot examined it. The drone lookalike was then carried away.

“No injuries were caused; the investigation continues,” police said.

It was not immediately clear how the device made it across the border without being shot down by the IDF.

The police reiterated calls to Israelis to contact law enforcement if they see suspicious objects.

The discovery came after a week-long lull in airborne arson attempts from  Gaza.

Gaza protesters have launched hundreds of incendiary kites and balloons into Israel over the past nine months, sparking fires that have destroyed forests, burned crops, and killed livestock. Thousands of acres of land have been burned, causing millions of shekels in damages, according to Israeli officials. Some balloons have also carried improvised explosive devices.


Gaza fishermen come under Israeli fire — Palestinian media

January 5, 2019

IDF looking into report, as well as claim that farmers east of Khan Younis were fired upon; no reported casualties

Illustrative: Palestinian fishermen, as seen in boats at the port of Gaza City, May 13, 2015 (Aaed  Tayeh/Flash90)

Illustrative: Palestinian fishermen, as seen in boats at the port of Gaza City, May 13, 2015 (Aaed Tayeh/Flash90)

Palestinian fishing boats were fired upon by Israeli army forces in the southern Gaza Strip Saturday morning, Palestinian media reported.

There were also reports of Palestinian farmers east of Khan Younis, in the central Strip, coming under fire.

An Israeli military spokesman said he was looking into the reports.

There were no reports of casualties in either incident.

The IDF often fires warning shots at Gaza boats that sail beyond permitted fishing zones. Israel maintains a naval blockade of the Gaza Strip, saying it is necessary to prevent terror groups from rearming and launching attacks.

On Friday some 10,000 Palestinians took part in violent protests along the Gaza border, burning tires and hurling rocks and explosive devices at IDF soldiers.

The army said it foiled two attempts to breach the border fence and responded to the demonstrators with tear gas and live fire in accordance with rules of engagement.

Palestinian protesters try to climb the border fence with Israel during clashes following a demonstration along the border east of Gaza City on January 4, 2019. (Said Khatib/AFP)

Photos showed several youths trying to climb over the fence.

The Hamas-run health ministry in Gaza said 15 protesters were injured by live fire in clashes with Israeli security forces along the border. It also said five medics were hurt, all hit by gas canisters.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks with Honduras President Juan Orlando Hernandez during a meeting in Brasilia, Brazil, January 1, 2019.


Friday’s protests were held at various locations along the border under the banner of Hamas’s ongoing “March of Return” demonstrations.

Since March, Palestinians have been holding weekly “March of Return” protests on the border, which Israel has accused Gaza’s Hamas rulers of using to carry out attacks on troops and attempt to breach the security fence. Hamas, an Islamist terror group, seeks to destroy Israel.

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Hamas’s leader in Gaza, Yahya Sinwar, center, chants slogans with protesters — File Photo

Israel has demanded an end to the violent demonstrations along the border in any ceasefire agreement.


Fatah says Hamas arrests members in Gaza ahead of rally

December 31, 2018

Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas’s Fatah party said Monday that its rival Hamas had carried out widespread arrests of its members in the Gaza Strip ahead of a rally marking the anniversary of the movement’s founding.

Hamas denied the accusation, with a spokesman for the enclave’s interior ministry saying 38 people had been held for questioning over concerns that opposing Fatah factions in Gaza would clash at the rally set for later in the day.

All had been released, said spokesman Iyad al-Bozum.

Fatah supporters hold up a portrait of late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat during a rally in Gaza City on December 31, 2017

Fatah supporters hold up a portrait of late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat during a rally in Gaza City on December 31, 2017.  AFP/File

Fatah and Hamas remain deeply divided and Abbas, based in the occupied West Bank, has sought to increase pressure on the Islamist movement in recent days.

“More than 500 of our members and sons have been arrested since last night by Hamas security forces in Gaza,” Atef Abu Saif, a spokesman for Fatah in the Gaza Strip, said in a statement.

Saif said the arrests were an attempt by Hamas to disrupt activities to mark Fatah’s 54th anniversary.

But there were also concerns over tensions between Fatah factions loyal to Abbas and his exiled rival Mohammed Dahlan, who is from Gaza and has a significant base of support there.

Repeated attempts to reconcile Fatah and Hamas have failed. A list of issues have kept them apart, including Hamas’s refusal to disarm its military wing.

Abbas moved earlier this month to dissolve the Hamas-controlled Palestinian parliament, which has not met since 2007, when the Islamist seized control of the Gaza Strip.

While the parliament has been largely defunct, Palestinian law allows for its speaker to act as interim president should 83-year-old Abbas die in office.

Abbas’s move came after the Palestinian Constitutional Court in Ramallah issued a ruling to dissolve the parliament and hold elections within six months.

Hamas has said it rejects the move by a court created by Abbas “to legitimise his arbitrary decisions”.

Hamas won the last parliamentary elections in 2006 in a landslide, resulting in an electoral dispute with Fatah.

The Islamists seized control of the Gaza Strip the following year, and the split between them and Abbas’s Fatah has persisted.

Abbas has sought to pressure Hamas through other measures, including reducing salaries in Gaza, which is under an Israeli blockade.

Abbas’s term was meant to expire in 2009, but he has remained in office in the absence of elections.