Posts Tagged ‘Palestinians’

Israel turns 70 — “Benjamin Netanyahu is no longer a defender of Israeli democracy”

April 19, 2018

Israelis’ second-favorite choice for prime minister charges that the long-serving incumbent does not put the greater good of Israel ahead of his own political interests anymore

Something happened to him. Something changed. He’s not the same person that he was.

So says Yair Lapid, the country’s second most favored choice of prime minister, about the man he is determined to defeat: the seemingly perennial first choice, Benjamin Netanyahu.

Interviewed this week in a bustling Ramat Aviv cafe, Yesh Atid leader Lapid acknowledges helpfully that he’s not Netanyahu’s psychologist, but he ascribes that change to a combination of factors including the prime minister’s legal problems, the sheer length of his time in office, and the fact that the world is changing and he didn’t change fast enough with it.

Lapid insists that he’s not blind to Netanyahu’s many achievements, but ultimately, in his telling, what Israel is witnessing with Netanyahu now is the corrosive impact of a premier far too long in power. He can’t even think of another Western leader in office today who was first elected as far back as Netanyahu’s initial victory, in 1996. (Because there isn’t one, though it should be noted, of course, that Netanyahu was out of office for 10 of those 22 years, between 1999 and 2009.)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and finance minister Yair Lapid attend a signing ceremony for a new private port to be built in Ashdod, at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem on September 23, 2014. (Noam Revkin Fenton/FLASH90)

And while Lapid goes to considerable lengths to challenge Netanyahu’s persuasive assertion of Israel’s economic and foreign relations renaissance, and to highlight Netanyahu’s failures in tackling the threats posed by Iran, he says it is Israel’s domestic cohesion that is most threatened by the prime minister’s hold. What worries him most, as Israel turns 70 and he wonders how the country will fare in the years to come, is Israelis’ capacity “to work together towards a common good” — a critical factor in Israel’s survival and one he claims that Netanyahu cynically undermines by fueling division for narrow political gain.

Therefore, if elected prime minister, Lapid, 54, promises he’ll pass legislation mandating a two-term prime ministerial limit. And he’ll pass it early, he says, before he too succumbs to the typical Israeli prime ministerial delusion that the country’s very existence depends on him retaining the post, and that all means can be sacrificed to that end.

Under Netanyahu, Lapid asserts, the determination to retain power at all costs is coming to threaten Israel’s very democracy — with the courts, law enforcement and the media all under sustained attack. Asked what’s wrong with legislation, currently contemplated by Netanyahu, that would prevent the High Court from striking down Knesset legislation it finds to be undemocratic, he answers starkly, with a rather unhappy laugh: “Because if tomorrow the 66 members of the coalition vote through a law saying we’re hanging the other 54 opposition members of Knesset from a tree, who are we going to go to?”

Netanyahu and his government, he further charges, are exhibiting a “failure to understand politics as an ongoing process, in which sometimes you’re in power and sometimes you’re not, and that you have to protect the rights of the people who are not in power, including minorities.” Lapid’s most devastating critique? That Netanyahu is no longer a defender of Israeli democracy.

I’d have been happy to discuss these critiques, and a whole host of other issues, with the prime minister himself, needless to say. But the Prime Minister’s Office, as is its wont, did not respond to a request for an interview beyond acknowledging it. Netanyahu long since abandoned a tradition by which Israeli prime ministers made themselves available for multiple interviews by the Israeli media twice a year — around Passover/Independence Day and New Year. (Apart from a few brief minutes in China last year, the last time he spoke on the record to The Times of Israel was on the eve of the 2015 elections.)

And yet, the polls keep showing, this ostensibly dangerous Netanyahu is still far more popular than Lapid, and his coalition would triumph again if elections were called. Threat to democracy or not, it’s Netanyahu that Israelis plainly still want. Responds Lapid, determinedly, “Well, this is my job description — to convince them that I’m a better alternative.”

Lapid spoke in English. What follows is a transcript lightly edited for clarity and concision.

The Times of Israel: Here we are at that time of year again — the mourning and the celebration.

Yair Lapid: I wrote many years ago that this is the only country where the difference between the saddest day and the happiest day is only 60 seconds. We’ve debated whether or not to separate those two, but I think we’re better off with them touching each other.

The former enables the latter. It’s appropriate.

Yes.

How do you think we should be feeling on our 70th birthday? Obviously it’s an amazing achievement to have reached 70 in this toxic part of the world, and, moreover, to be thriving. But we also have lots of problems.

Lapid with his father Tommy in the 1980s. (photo credit: Moshe Sinai/Flash90)

Lapid with his father Tommy in the 1980s. (photo credit: Moshe Sinai/Flash90)

On anniversaries you tend to think on a bigger scale. I’m 54 years old. When my grandfather was 54, he was already dead — ashes in Mauthausen concentration camp. When my father was 54, in 1985, the country was in a healing process from the first Lebanon war; the startup nation was not invented yet. There was a fragility to Israel that you don’t feel now. We’re doing well.

I look at my son and I recognize that we live in an amazing country and I’m happy for him that he’s here. I should believe that when he turns 54, in 23 years from now, he’ll be living in a country that’s better than the one I’m living in. But, for the first time in my lifetime, I’m not convinced that Israel’s future is necessarily better than its present or past.

Because?

Because nobody’s taking care of it. Because we have a totally dysfunctional system and leadership which is not as obligated [as its predecessors] to doing the right thing even if it has political consequences. We were brought to the amazing place we are now by people who led us in the right way, and I don’t think we have those kind of leaders now.

It’s the system or the personalities?

They have to do with each other. The political system is totally unsuitable, not only to what this country needs, but also to the soul and spirit of the nation.

That sounds like the sour grapes complaint of somebody who’s not winning. The public, in every poll that we see — despite Netanyahu’s reversals on the deportations of migrants, the corruption cases, the strains with the Diaspora, etc., etc. — seems to like him more and more. Don’t we have the leadership and the system that the people want?

First of all, the incumbent always has the advantage until election day; only then do we know what the public really wants.

I disagree with Netanyahu; I’m not a member of Likud. But to be fair to Netanyahu, he’s done a lot of good things for the country as well. The only problem we have is that something happened to him.

I think we can agree that if we want democracy to defend us, we need to defend democracy as well. He doesn’t do this anymore, which is alarming. And it’s twice as bad, because he wasn’t like that in the past. This is something that’s happened in the last two or three years, because he’s been in office too long

I’ve known him for more than 20 years. I’ve served [as finance minister in 2013-14] in his government. [In the Channel 10 Independence Day television series on Israel’s leaders] you can see the moment when [first prime minister David] Ben-Gurion had been there too long. It’s the same with Netanyahu. He’s been there too long.

Something happened to him? What does that mean?

Something changed. I’m not his psychologist.

Like all politicians, he had his own agenda, but if it was him or the country, the country came first. It’s not like that anymore. If he feels — and he does — that the divisions in Israeli society serve him politically, he has no problem contributing to these divisions instead of seeing it as his duty to heal the wounds. And if he feels it serves him politically to have an open attack on the police, the Supreme Court, on all the institutions…

I think we can agree that if we want democracy to defend us, we need to defend democracy as well. He doesn’t do this anymore, which is alarming. And it’s twice as bad, because he wasn’t like that in the past. This is something that’s happened in the last two or three years, because he’s been in office too long.

Don’t all of our prime ministers become convinced over the years that if they are not prime minister, the country is in terrible peril?

Yes.

And therefore all means to that end? Is that what we’re seeing?

Yes and hence the term limits that some democracies have.

That’s what you would do here? You would change the system in that respect?

Yes. I introduced a bill in this Knesset for a two-term limit on the prime minister. And if I’m prime minister, this is something I would pass in the first three months. Because probably after three or four years, you’d also be in peril of convincing yourself [that only you can lead the country].

But the public, again, obviously likes him more than the alternatives.

Well, this is my job description — to convince them that I’m a better alternative.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (right) and finance minister Yair Lapid during a press conference speaking about the reform at Israel’s ports, in Jerusalem, on July 3, 2013. (Flash90)

I’m not part of this anti-Bibi camp that thinks that everything he ever did in his life was wrong. I don’t have that instinct. I come from a right-wing family. I already served in his government. I know his family. It’s just he’s been there for too long and he’s taking the country on the wrong course now.

You said you don’t think there’s the fragility that there was before for Israel. So we are at least more certain of existing? Are you sure that we’re through the worst period in terms of physical threats?

We had worse times. Think of the atmosphere in this country in May 1967, when my grandparents called my parents from abroad and told them, the least you can do is send the children to us. It was so obvious to everybody, five minutes before this unbelievable triumph, that the country was going to be destroyed.

We do face things that are alarming. The Iranians in Syria. Hezbollah, the biggest terror organization on earth, with 140,000 missiles and rockets aiming at us as we speak, and some of them precision-guided. But if you ask me what is the biggest fear, it relates to Israeli society and our ability to work together towards a common good.

On the eve of the 1973 war, there was no sense here of existential peril, but we were in existential peril. You don’t think we’re overly complacent now? What happens if a few weeks from now hundreds of thousands march on the border from Gaza, and Hezbollah opens up a second front, and who knows what goes on in the West Bank. Are we as capable as we think we are, of meeting any grave physical threats?

Yes, we are. The things you’re describing are alarming, but they’re not existential threats. An existential threat is five Arab armies moving toward our borders. There’ll be no such war.

Palestinian men wave their national flags as smoke billows from tires burned by Gazans at the Israel-Gaza border during a protest, east of Gaza City in the Gaza Strip, on April 6, 2018. (AFP Photo/Mahmud Hams)

We live in a time in which the differentiation between peacetime and wartime is opaque. We need to have good answers to 50,000 Palestinians marching on our border in Gaza, but it’s not an existential threat. Israel is mightier than any of our enemies, including Iran.

So you’re most concerned about social cohesion and the stability of our democracy?

And our ability to work together, and to make sure that our best and our brightest are here.

It could all be so different internally if only what?

Countries don’t work like that. Countries are big boats and turning them takes time. What we need is a different leadership, really making plans and working for the future of the country, not the future of the politicians. That’s why we [in Yesh Atid] put forward the 7 point plan for the future of this country. It’s sad. When we issued it, I was eager for debate. But there is no debate. I don’t want to be one of those people who blames the media for everything. But basically we couldn’t even get a real debate going about the economy in the age of the machines, about social gaps…

Netanyahu would argue that he’s tackling all of this. That under him the economy is thriving. And that our foreign relations are great.

It’s fine to argue as long as your claims are correct. Let’s take the two examples you gave.

Israel’s economy is doing very well: the startup nation was established due to two processes created by two different governments. The Likud government in the 1980s, that created the Office of the Chief Scientist. And a Labor government in the 1990s, that created what they call the initiative program — essentially governmental hedge funds for the high-tech industry. Nobody’s doing anything right now to create the next economy. We’re living now on the fuel of the decisions that were made 20 years ago.

On that horrible night that you probably remember, when they passed the penultimate budget and gave money to everyone — [United Torah Judaism’s Moshe] Gafni took 80 million shekels and [Likud MKs] Micky Zohar 40 million and Oren Hazan 10 million which he hasn’t used to this day because he doesn’t know how. They gave money to anybody, to any politician, to any coalition agreement, but by the end of the night, they had no money left, so they cut from something which has no political price, which was the chief scientist budget. The budget that is supposed to create the next economy. Innovation. The economic air that we breathe. This is the kind of irresponsibility that this government is demonstrating.

As for the other example you cited, here things are even worse because there is no foreign policy renaissance. You’re not going to print this, but I’m going to tell you anyway. You’re not going to print it because it’s long and it’s complex, but it’s interesting.

Try me.

In Israel’s foreign policy we have eight arenas: the United Sates, American Jews, the European Union, international establishments such as the UN, the Middle East, Russia, China, and what we’ll call the rest of the world. Aside from an arena and a half, we’re not doing better than we were, say, two years ago. We’re doing a lot worse. We’re doing well in the United States because Donald Trump was elected and is a devoted supporter of Israel and I couldn’t be happier about that. The [scheduled opening next month in Jerusalem of the US] embassy is the perfect present for Israel’s 70th anniversary.

But [Trump’s election] had nothing to do with Israeli policy. The Republican candidate who we did support, Mitt Romney in 2012, lost, and it was a huge mistake supporting him. The Republican candidate we didn’t support, Donald Trump, won.

So we’re doing better [as regards the US president].

US President Donald Trump (right) welcomes Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to the White House on March 5, 2018 in Washington,DC. (AFP PHOTO / Mandel NGAN)

We’re doing horribly within the Democratic Party, and with more conservative Republicans, and with American Jewry — with everything that is not the president. If you don’t believe me, look at the complete failure to convince the Americans to get involved in what is happening in Syria, Iran’s establishment [of its military] in Syria, which according to Netanyahu is the number one goal of our foreign policy.

As for the European Union, we just gave up. Apparently nobody cares about our biggest trading partner. We need the Europeans  — including to tackle the money trail of Hezbollah and other terrorist organizations. But we’ve decided to declare [EU foreign affairs chief] Frederica Mogherini an enemy, the European Union an anti-Semite. That does not constitute a policy for a country. What you do if you have a problem somewhere, is go and work to make it better. The same goes for the UN. I support leaving the UN Human Rights Council. But anything else [you have to work on it]. You don’t appoint a second or third class politician to be your ambassador to the United Nations. You make sure you have the best diplomat on earth there, fighting the fight.

Russia is ignoring our most urgent security needs over Syria. China in the next few years will become Iran’s biggest trading partner.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife Sara with Indian prime minister Narendra Modi as Netanyahu arrives in India on January 14, 2018. (Avi Ohayon/GPO)

In the rest of the world, where Netanyahu [ostensibly] did well, you have to distinguish between photo ops and policies. He got an unbelievable photo op in India and everybody was so impressed they missed the fact that a few weeks later [Prime Minister Narendra] Modi came from India to the Palestinian Authority, went to Arafat’s grave, and called him one of the greatest leaders ever. And Modi hosted [Iran’s President Hassan] Rouhani in India. It was unbelievable: The reception for Rouhani was a carbon copy of the one that Netanyahu had. But the deals they signed are ten times bigger, including for an Indian port inside Iran, meaning we’re being messed with again.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, right, and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, left, wave after a ceremonial reception at the Indian presidential palace, in New Delhi, India, Saturday, Feb. 17, 2018. (AP Photo/Manish Swarup)

And this is called a policy renaissance? There is no renaissance.

There is no one working on the economy. Or making an effort to minimize social gaps.

Having said all that, I’m not one of those leftists who thinks the country is terrible. The country is unbelievable. The army is fantastic. The people are the best. We live a good life.

Netanyahu would bitterly dispute that he is resting on the economic laurels of 20 years ago. For starters, he would stress Israel’s capacity in cyber, including to counter cyber threats, where we’re a world leader.

Well, that’s true. The IDF is at the heart of that.

It’s a good thing that Netanyahu focused on cyber when he did. It’s a very good thing that he was talking about Iran when nobody else wanted to. If he was the same person that he was then, I might have a weaker case

He’s done some good things. He started talking about cyber when nobody else was. But let’s not [try to claim credit that really goes to] the IDF. The IDF was the best army in the world in 1967. It was the army that almost broke, but then won, in 1973. It was the army that, in 1948, against all odds, created the country. This is not Benjamin Netanyahu’s doing. This is Ben-Gurion’s version of the iron wall: Part of the reason we won wars was that we were capable of maintaining our qualitative edge. The qualitative edge was always technological. Can you compare the cyber abilities we have to the fact that we built nuclear reactors here in this country in the 1950s? People had nothing to eat in the 1950s.

It’s a good thing that Netanyahu focused on cyber when he did. It’s a very good thing that he was talking about Iran when nobody else wanted to. If he was the same person that he was then, I might have a weaker case. But he isn’t. Unfortunately. For various reasons — including his legal problems, the fact that he’s been in office too long, and the fact that the world is changing and he wasn’t able to change fast enough with it. I can’t think of any other current democratic leader who was in power in 1996.

Do you think he’s a danger to democracy, that he’s destroying Israeli democracy, that he would destroy Israeli democracy to stay in power?

Israel’s democracy is strong and well established. But we are now the third generation from World War II. People don’t understand the risks and perils of not living in a democracy. So they want to live in a democracy, but they don’t want to pay the price.

Part of a strong, vital, vibrant democracy is change of leadership every now and then. The pendulum must move, and if somebody is trying to slow down or prevent the pendulum from moving by abusing his power of authority, then this is an undemocratic process

People tell themselves, I want to live in a democracy and I’m for a free press, but you can’t write everything, without understanding that the whole idea of a free press is that you can write everything. And they say, we want a strong Supreme Court, but they shouldn’t intervene in things they don’t understand. Without realizing that yes, the Supreme Court has to understand, but it is supposed to intervene. That is the purpose of the court. People say, yes, we should have a strong police force, but what’s wrong with the prime minister attacking the police? Well, there is something wrong with the prime minister attacking the police because if you don’t trust the police, who are you going to trust when the next intifada breaks out?

Part of a strong, vital, vibrant democracy is change of leadership every now and then. The pendulum must move, and if somebody is trying to slow down or prevent the pendulum from moving by abusing his power of authority, then this is an undemocratic process.

And that’s what you think is happening now?

We are seeing some of that now in Israel, yes.

And yet, when he attacks the police, he rises in the polls. Here’s a theory: Israelis hear you, and [Zionist Union leader] Avi Gabbay, and [Netanyahu’s former defense minister Moshe] Ya’alon, and others in the opposition, all telling us that it’s crisis time. That our leadership is bad for this country. But we don’t see you all as being so worried for this country as to put aside your egos and get together. If Moshe Ya’alon walked into Yesh Atid headquarters tomorrow, and said, Yair, I’m willing to be your number 2 because the hour is so critical, people might start to take it more seriously. Instead, we see all these dissenting egos who each warn that this is a terrible moment, but also all say that they have to be the one to oust the prime minister.

Yair Lapid (center), and Tzipi Livni (right), with Moshe Ya’alon (left) at a 2013 cabinet meeting. (photo credit: Emil Salman/Pool/Flash90)

You’re lumping two things together. You cannot get together with people with whom you have a very different ideological prism. I cannot unify with Labor because they’re on the left and I’m in the center. For the same reason, I cannot have a unified party with the Likud.

You would, surely, if the domestic crisis was severe enough. You would say, we have to put aside ideological differences over diplomacy and security, albeit temporarily, to save the country internally.

Well, then, it’s not on me, it’s on the voters. This is what happens in real life. The voters look around and say, who has got the best chance of winning and then they go there in the elections. Until then, it’s what we see now.

Secondly, all these moves [by politicians into the various parties], all these generals people are talking about — and I think these are good people and I want them in politics — everyone will make their decisions when we have an election date. (Lapid is referring to such potential politicians as former chiefs of staff Gabi Ashkenazi and Benny Gantz.) To maneuver just for the sake of maneuvering…

It’s premature?

Yes, but these things will happen.

What’s wrong with the argument made by Netanyahu about constraining the Supreme Court. People say, we voted in these politicians. They make the laws. Why is it unacceptable [for the government to advance the legislation it is considering] to say the Supreme Court should not intervene [to overturn laws passed by the Knesset]?

Because if tomorrow the 66 members of the coalition vote through a law saying we’re hanging the other 54 opposition members of Knesset from a tree, who are we going to go to? (Lapid laughs rather sadly.) The idea that democracy is only about the majority… When people talk about the tyranny of democracy, this is what they’re talking about. The entire idea of democracy is checks and balances.

Outgoing Supreme Court President, Miriam Naor (C-R), and incoming President Esther Hayut (C-L) at the Supreme Court during Naor’s last ruling and retirement ceremony, in Jerusalem, on October 26, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

But the problem with the bills that the government is discussing now is even greater because of the motive for the legislation. Why now? Netanyahu’s been prime minister on and off since 1996. Twenty-two years. Why now? Because of his legal problems, and [his belief] this will serve him when dealing with his legal problems.

When they ask me about the French bill [the notion that a prime minster would be immune from prosecution so long as he’s in office], I say, I’m willing to have that discussion when we have somebody [as prime minister] who is not under investigation.

The key difference is that France has term limits for its immune-from-prosecution president.

I would add, since they’re also discussing the British model [of the balance between parliament and the courts], that it also has to do with political culture. And besides (laughs), if they’re going to have the British model here, I want the queen as well.

So again, this is an attack on the rule of law, an attack for the wrong reasons, by the wrong people.

Do you think there is something systematic here when it comes to media? The most read Hebrew daily, Israel Hayom, has been largely working for Netanyahu; there was an effort to reorient Ynet and Yedioth; there was influence at Walla, the second biggest news site after Ynet, and all sorts of machinations relating to television news. Was this an effort by the prime minister to corral the media?

The prime minister is far too preoccupied with what is written or broadcast about him. When you’re prime minister, you’re supposed to be a little above all that. You know what? I get my fair share of attacks. And I cannot tell you I’m philosophical about it. But this is part of the democratic game. And saying I’m going to get involved in changing it, actively using the powers I have, is dangerous. Beyond that, this is all under investigation [in the corruption probes against the prime minister]. It’s for the state prosecution to decide.

Let’s go back to the Russians and the Syrians. What should be done differently? We seem to have been very robust in Syria. We’re even apparently directly confronting Iran in Syria. Why do you say this hasn’t been handled well?

There were two cornerstones in Israeli foreign policy. No nuclear agreement [that didn’t fully dismantle Iran’s rogue nuclear program], and no Iran in Syria. The prime minister or the government has failed in both. Regarding Russia, we were promised time after time that everything would be taken care of. Netanyahu was going back and forth to Sochi and to Moscow, and was very proud of the mechanism [for coordination between Jerusalem and Moscow] they had created, which is a good one. But it doesn’t seem like we are capable of convincing the Russians to take into consideration our part of the equation.

Which may not be the prime minister’s fault.

I don’t know if it’s his fault or not. This is his job. His job is to make sure the Russians understand. They have their own interests. We have our own interests. Friendship is nice, but basically it’s about interests. The Russians need to know that if their main goal is to stabilize Syria, they will not have a stabilized Syria so long as the Iranians are there because we will not let them. And for everyone who is saying now that Israel is pushing for military conflict, let us remember that we are ten years late — because Iran has been pushing for violent military conflict with us for a decade or so. So they use proxies. But is there anyone who doesn’t know that Hezbollah is an Iranian proxy, or that some of the terror attacks were premeditated in Iran?

A photo released by Iranian media reportedly shows the T-4 air base in central Syria after a missile barrage attributed to Israel on April 9, 2018. (Iranian media)

So yes, there’s going to be a conflict until they understand. There’s no point in red lines unless you stick by them. Apparently we were not successful in making the Russians understand that [for Israel, an Iranian military presence in Syria] is a red line. And that this will endanger Assad’s rule in the long term, that this will endanger the idea of a stabilized Syria.

Are you concerned that our elections could be manipulated via social media manipulation? I’m thinking Cambridge Analytica, Facebook and so on?

I have no doubt that there will be attempts to manipulate public opinion. There is always a certain amount of manipulation of public opinion, which is okay. But there is going to be foreign and not-foreign manipulation — with money.

Are you expecting to see your emails get hacked? That’s the kind of thing I’m asking you about.

Nothing would surprise me anymore. We monitor the social networks. Some of the stuff I saw about myself made my jaw drop. On the other hand, it was so obvious in France that they were trying to manipulate the election against Macron, and he went out and said to the French people, you know, somebody’s trying to manipulate you. And I think the Israeli people are at least as smart as the French, and we’ll make sure they understand what is going on and why it’s going on.

This government has convinced itself that it’s going to stay in power forever. And once you’ve said that to yourself, you have no reason to protect the rights of the opposition

All of a sudden every minister under the sun is advertising their work, and the work of their ministry, and the special events they’re holding, on the radio. It’s creating the sense that the minister is synonymous with the role, with the office, and therefore deepening this perception — because Netanyahu has been prime minister for so long — that they are the government and that nobody else is a credible alternative.

This is part of what we discussed before about the attrition of democracy. Why? Because part of living in a democratic society is the understanding, when you’re sitting in the Knesset, that sometimes you’re going to be in the coalition and sometimes you’re going to be in the opposition. So it makes sense that when you’re in the coalition, you’re going to make sure that at least some of the rights, or even the habits, that are protecting the opposition will be maintained, because it could be you [who needs them] in a year or two or three.

This government has convinced itself that it’s going to stay in power forever. And once you’ve said that to yourself, you have no reason to protect the rights of the opposition.

I’d like to see them, two years after, let’s imagine I’m prime minister. There is a coalition. They’re not in the coalition. And they have no Supreme Court to go to. They have to listen to our ministers all day long on the radio, glorifying themselves, using public money. And there’ll be no police to file complaints to, because the police would have been so weakened and frightened.

It’s that failure to understand politics as an ongoing process, in which sometimes you’re in power and sometimes you’re not, and that you have to protect the rights of the people who are not in power, including minorities.

Finally, respond to this government’s argument, this prime minister’s argument, that we’re the only people who can be trusted to run this country in this hostile region and this terrible era.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks at the opening of Israel’s 70th anniversary celebrations, at Mount Herzl in Jerusalem, April 18, 2017 (GPO screenshot)

I’m not in the business of answering them. This is what I’m telling the Israeli public: You can trust us. You can trust me. You can trust us more than them because they are not to be trusted anymore.

And yet, Israeli voters went into the polling booths in 2015 and evidently decided they trusted Netanyahu and those around him to keep their kids in the army alive. I think that was a key factor.

You know what? Part of what trained me for the prime ministership is what happened to me in 2015 [when Yesh Atid fell from 19 seats to 11]. Because in 2015 we [in Yesh Atid] fell on our faces and everyone was standing around us and staring at the corpse and saying, they will never climb out of there. We did. Hard work. Going from place to place. Making sure we’d sharpened our ideas, our abilities, from a very low point. Until you’ve really fallen hard and climbed back up, you’re not prepared. That fall is part of the reason I’m prepared now.

Yair Lapid and his wife Lihi Lapid vote in Tel Aviv in the general elections on March 17, 2015. (photo credit: courtesy)
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Five Palestinians injured by Israeli fire near Gaza border

April 18, 2018

© AFP | Palestinians burn tyres during clashes with Israeli security forces following a protest on the Israel-Gaza border in the northern Gaza Strip on April 6, 2018
GAZA CITY (PALESTINIAN TERRITORIES) (AFP) – Five Palestinians were injured by Israeli fire along the Gaza border Wednesday, the health ministry in the Palestinian enclave said, with tensions high over recent protests and clashes there.The five were injured by Israeli artillery fire east of Khan Yunis, the ministry said.

It said the men were on a base belonging to the military wing of Gaza’s Islamist rulers Hamas when they were struck.

The Israeli army confirmed it had fired on five Palestinians it said had approached the border.

In a statement, the army said at least one of the men was armed. It did not provide details on what type of fire its soldiers used.

The Gaza border has seen protests and clashes since March 30.

At least 34 Palestinians have been killed and hundreds wounded by Israeli fire since the protests began. There have been no Israeli casualties.

Israel says it only opens fire when necessary to stop damage to the fence, infiltrations and attempts at attacks.

Palestinians say protesters are being shot while posing no threat to soldiers, while the European Union and UN chief Antonio Guterres have called for an independent investigation.

Israel has rejected calls for an independent probe, saying its open-fire rules are necessary to defend the border.

Israel and Hamas have fought three wars since 2008 and the Gaza Strip has been under an Israeli blockade for more than a decade.

Saudi Arabia ready to send troops to Syria — Hopes for a Saudi-backed Islamic military coalition

April 18, 2018

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United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres and Saudi Arabia’s Foreign Minister Adel Al-Jubeir (Arab News photo)

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia is ready, willing and able to deploy troops in support of any US-led effort to stabilize Syria, Foreign Minister Adel Al-Jubeir reaffirmed on Tuesday.

“We are in discussions with the US, and have been since the beginning of the Syrian crisis, about sending forces into Syria,” Al-Jubeir said.

The Wall Street Journal reported on Monday that US President Donald Trump’s administration was seeking to assemble an Arab force, including troops from Saudi Arabia and the UAE, to help restore stability in Syria.

Saudi Arabia’s offer of help was “not new,” Al-Jubeir said at a press conference in Riyadh with UN secretary-general Antonio Guterres. “We made a proposal to the Obama administration that if the US were to send forces … then Saudi Arabia would consider along with other countries sending forces as part of this contingent.”

Riyadh has suggested that it could help counter-terrorism operations in some other theaters of conflict as part of a wider Muslim alliance. For example, a Saudi-backed Islamic military coalition will provide logistical, intelligence and training to a new West African counter-terrorism force, Al-Jubeir said in December.

Guterres told Arab News there was no military solution to the Syrian conflict. “It is crucial that Syrians find a solution, free of foreign domination,” he said.

On the issue of Palestine, Guterres said there should be a strong mutual commitment to a two-state solution. “There is no Plan B. We need to make sure that Palestinians have that right as well as the Israelis, and the two must live in stability.”

Commenting on the Yemen situation, Al-Jubeir said: “A political solution in Yemen is up to Houthis who have turned Yemen into a base for Iran. This is not a war desired by the Kingdom, but it was imposed on it. The only solution in Yemen is a political one. The reason for not reaching a resolution is the stubbornness of the Houthis because of Iran’s support.

“The Houthis have launched 119 Iranian missiles toward Saudi Arabia. The Houthis are using young children on their missions, laying siege to villages and not allowing aid to come in. They sell this aid to finance their war. Everything they are doing is terrorism.”

Meanwhile international investigators finally entered the Damascus suburb of Douma on Tuesday after days of delay and warnings by Western powers that crucial evidence related to a chemical gas attack had probably been removed.

More than 40 people died in the attack on April 7, and Western powers have blamed the Assad regime. In response, the US, France and Britain launched missile strikes on Saturday targeting the regime’s chemical weapons facilities.

The regime “would try its best to destroy any evidence that might show its involvement in the attack,” Yahya Al-Aridi, spokesman for the Syrian opposition, told Arab News.

“Immediately after the attack, we saw on television Russian soldiers and officers visiting the site. I don’t think the Russians would be happy if any evidence were found, especially when they called it fabrication in the UN Security Council. So they have a fundamental interest in destroying any sort of evidence.”

Missile strikes against the sources of the chemical weapons were not enough, he said. “Syrians are being killed not only by chemical weapons. They are being killed by phosphoric bombs, by rockets and airstrikes, and by displacement.”

The world seemed reluctant to call the regime a pariah and an outlaw, and finish the job, Al-Aridi said. “They are also denying the Syrian people any means to defend themselves.”

Arab News

http://www.arabnews.com/node/1286411/saudi-arabia

‘Jerusalem Summit’ confirms Arab world’s dedication to “Our Palestinian Brothers”

April 16, 2018

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Saudi Foreign Minister Adel Al-Jubeir said that naming this year’s Arab League Summit also as the “Jerusalem Summit” was due to the strong desire to promote the Palestinian cause, which was a central and fundamental issue for Arabs.

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Saudi Foreign Minister Adel Al-Jubeir

In a joint press conference with Arab League Secretary-General Ahmed Aboul-Gheit following the conclusion of the summit, Jubeir said: “The Arab and Islamic countries feel the need to highlight this issue in light of the urgent need to help the Palestinians to obtain their legitimate rights, foremost of which is the establishment of their independent state with Jerusalem as its capital.”

Jubeir said that the Palestinian people have suffered the longest conflict in the region, which has led into the displacement of millions. He emphasized the need for Palestinians to have their own state, with East Jerusalem as its capital, so that they can live a decent life and build their country, adding that Arab and Islamic nations feel the pain of their Palestinian brothers.

“There is a desire to highlight the issue on the agenda of the Arab League and in the mind of the Arab and Islamic world, and in light of the conflicts and crises witnessed by the Arab world, we must not forget that it is the fundamental issue,” Jubeir said, and added that Saudi Arabia’s position was permanent and firm on the Palestinian issue and remained supportive on the peace initiative announced in 2002.

In response to the US decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, he said: “We have declared our clear position to the United States that East Jerusalem is the capital of the State of Palestine and that no decision should be taken that violates this balance in this region.”

However, Jubeir reaffirmed Saudi Arabia’s “close relations” with the US.

“We have a strategic relationship and are stronger now. As friends, we continue dialogue and understanding on matters that we disagree with the administration of US President Donald Trump and this administration has also been positive in seeking help and reaching a dialogue on this matter.”

The foreign minister pointed out Saudi Arabia’s support to Palestine and contributions to achieving a decent life for the Palestinian people and enabling the Palestinian government to strengthen its economy.

During the 29th Arab League summit, Saudi Arabia’s King Salman announced that the Kingdom will donate $150 million to the Endowment Support Program in Jerusalem and $50 million to support the UNRWA program.

Meanwhile, Jubeir said that the Arab summit supported the operation and the military strike carried out by the United States in cooperation with Britain and France on Syrian regime sites that carried out attacks against unarmed Syrian civilians through the use of weapons containing poison gas banned internationally.

He stressed the position of the Member States of the League of Arab States and the belief that stability in Syria would only be achieved through a peaceful solution based on the Geneva Declaration, Security Council resolution 2254 and the Riyadh II Conference of the Syrian opposition held in November last year.

Arab News

http://www.arabnews.com/node/1285451/middle-east

Palestinians in Gaza Fly Firebomb-laden Kites Into Israel, Sparking Several Fires

April 16, 2018

Four such kites have been found recently in the vicinity of fires near the border fence, but none have caused injuries

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A kite with a molotov cocktail attached to it is released near the border with Gaza.

A kite with a molotov cocktail attached to it is released near the border with Gaza. IDF Spokesman’s Unit

Gaza Palestinians have begun flying kites with Molotov cocktails attached to them over the border fence into Israeli territory. Officials from the Eshkol region adjacent to the border informed residents on Sunday that the firebombs had caused several fires but had not caused injuries.

In the first incident last Wednesday, a blaze was put out in the vicinity of Kibbutz Be’eri, where fire investigators found a burnt kite.

Two days later, on Friday, the Israeli army reported that demonstrators on the Gazan side of the border fence had attempted to fly a kite with a Molotov cocktail attached to it into Israeli territory. The kite fell to the ground in the Gaza Strip and caused no injuries.

On Saturday, a kite string was found in the vicinity of another fire near Kibbutz Be’eri. That was followed on Sunday by a kite in the colors of the Palestinian flag that fire investigators found at a blaze near Kibbutz Kissufim.

The Eshkol Regional Council’s statement said the army, with the support of firefighters, is on heightened alert along the border and is prepared to deal with any future incidents. “The public is asked to be alert and to report any unusual fire incident,” the council said.

The Israeli army spokesman’s office said on Sunday that three kites with Molotov cocktails attached to them have been located, and that two of them started fires near the border fence.

In recent weeks, tens of thousands of Palestinians in the Gaza Strip have participated in demonstrations at several locations along the Israeli border fence.

Thirty-four Palestinians have been killed by Israeli army weapons fired near the border fence and more than 1,000 have been wounded by live weapons fire.

In last Friday’s protests, one Palestinian was killed and more than 230 wounded.

Arab Leaders Meet in Saudi Arabia, Vow to find Solutions in Syria and Increase Pressue on Iran

April 15, 2018

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Arab foreign ministers meet ahead of the national leaders of Arab nations, in Saudi Arabia

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RIYADH: Leaders of the 22-nation Arab League, who will meet in the Saudi city of Dhahran on Sunday, are expected to stress continuity in their efforts to find a solution to the Syrian conflict. It follows airstrikes by the US, UK and France against the Assad regime on Saturday. The leaders are likely to seek Arab and international support to increase pressure on the regime to find a solution to the conflict.

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Their push for a tough stand against Iran is expected to dominate the Arab League Summit as regional tensions grow over the wars in Syria and Yemen.

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The fate of Jerusalem will also be on the agenda as the US prepares to move its embassy there from Tel Aviv after declaring it Israel’s capital.

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“All key regional issues are on the agenda, with Syria, Yemen and Palestine at the top,” Ali Al-Kayed, Jordanian ambassador to Saudi Arabia, told Arab News.

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Dr. Ibrahim Al-Qayid, founding member of the National Society for Human Rights (NSHR), said Saturday’s airstrikes are “largely welcomed by Western and Arab nations, which condemn (the regime’s) crimes against humanity by repeatedly using chemical weapons against civilians.”

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He added: “There is an urgent need to defuse the crisis in Syria, where more than half of the population has either fled the country or become homeless.”

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He asked: “Should the world sit and watch as an arrogant ruler (Syrian President Bashar Assad) commits genocide in his own country?”

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Al-Qayid urged Arab leaders to take “stern and decisive action” to resolve the conflict once and for all.

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He commended the US, UK and France for Saturday’s attack, saying when a ruthless regime commits war crimes, the international community has the right to take action and save innocent civilians.

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Arab leaders and heads of delegations started arriving in Dhahran on Saturday to take part in the summit, SPA reported.

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They were received by Prince Saud bin Naif bin Abdulaziz, governor of Eastern Region; Prince Ahmed bin Fahad bin Salman, deputy governor, Ahmed Aboul-Gheit, secretary general of the Arab League, and a number of officials.
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Iran’s interference

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Thursday’s preparatory meeting of Arab foreign ministers said there could be “no peace and security in the region as long as Iran continues to interfere in the domestic affairs of Arab states.”

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The meeting was led by Saudi Foreign Minister Adel Al-Jubeir, who received the Arab League’s rotating chairmanship from his Jordanian counterpart Ayman Safadi in the presence of the secretary-general.

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Addressing the meeting, Aboul-Gheit said the decline of Arab influence on the situation in Syria had led to the “domination of foreign powers” there, paving the way for the country’s eventual disintegration. “The crisis in Syria can only be resolved through a political solution,” he added.

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Saudi Arabia is likely to seek Arab support to pile the pressure on Iran, an analyst told AFP.

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“Saudi Arabia is going to push for a much harsher stance on Iran — not necessarily on the nuclear dossier per se, but on Iranian influence in the Arab countries, particularly Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Yemen,” said Karim Bitar of the Paris-based Institute of International and Strategic Affairs.

http://www.arabnews.com/node/1284906/saudi-arabia

Israel destroys another Palestinian infiltration tunnel from Gaza

April 15, 2018

AFP

© POOL/AFP | A picture taken with a fisheye lens on January 18, 2018 from the Israeli side of the border with the Gaza Strip shows a tunnel that Israel says was dug by the Islamic Jihad group leading from the Palestinian enclave into Israel
JERUSALEM (AFP) – Israel’s army said Sunday it had destroyed a Hamas tunnel crossing from the Gaza Strip into its territory after more than two weeks of tension along the border of the Palestinian enclave.

Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman said it was the longest and deepest Gazan tunnel discovered by Israel.

The tunnel crossed into Israeli territory by several metres (yards) but did not yet have an exit point, military spokesman Jonathan Conricus told journalists.

It connected to several others within the Gaza Strip and could have been used for attacks,

Israel destroyed the tunnel — which it said connected to several others within Gaza and could have been used for attacks — by filling it with material to make it inoperative

“We filled the tunnel with material that renders it useless for a very long period of time,” Conricus said. Explosives were not used.

“According to our early assessments, this tunnel reaches kilometres, several kilometres, into the Gaza Strip.”

The tunnel came from the area of Jabaliya in the northern Gaza Strip and was being dug in the direction of the Nahal Oz community in Israel, he said.

It was the fifth Gazan tunnel destroyed by Israel in recent months, Conricus said. Israel destroyed it over the course of the weekend.

The operation comes after protests along the Gaza border since March 30 that have led to clashes in which Israeli forces have killed 34 Palestinians and wounded hundreds of others.

Israel alleges Hamas is seeking to use the protests as cover to carry out violence and said the tunnel destroyed could have been used for that purpose, saying it comes from near an area where demonstrators have gathered.

Israel has faced criticism over its use of live fire along the Gaza border since March 30, while the European Union and UN chief Antonio Guterres have called for an independent investigation.

The military says its soldiers act to stop attacks, damage to the fence and infiltration bids, and says there have been attempts at all three.

Conricus said Israel had been monitoring the construction of the tunnel for some time.

He said Hamas, which runs the Gaza Strip, began building it after the 2014 war between Israel and Palestinian militants in Gaza, including Hamas.

Israel has fought three wars with the Islamist movement Hamas since 2008, and the group has used tunnels to carry out attacks in the past.

Gaza has been under an Israeli blockade for more than a decade, while its border with Egypt has also remained largely closed in recent years.

Israel has also been building an underground wall around the Gaza Strip to stop tunnel infiltrations.

Syria Attack Is a Win for Assad and Reveals True Intentions of Western Powers Behind It

April 15, 2018

The coalition hasn’t learned that a Western strike on an Arab capital will never bring its citizens into the streets to celebration, no matter how despotic the leader

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A poster of Syrian President Bashar al Assad is seen as a woman watches while buses carrying freed hostages and rebels who were evacuated from the rebel-held city of Douma arrive at Wafideen camp in Damascus, Syria April 8, 201
A poster of Syrian President Bashar al Assad is seen as a woman watches while buses carrying freed hostages and rebels who were evacuated from the rebel-held city of Douma, Syria April 8, 201REUTERS/Omar Sanadiki

Syrian President Bashar Assad has already scored another victory in the battle for the hearts and minds of his own people and the support of the entire Arab world. In this context, the strike by the United States, Britain and France on military installations in Syriawas more a failure of the ad-hoc coalition led by U.S. President Donald Trump than Assad’s victory.

The coalition hasn’t learned that a Western strike on an Arab capital will never bring its citizens into the streets to celebrate or turn public support in their favor, no matter how despotic the leader. Indeed, even the Assad regime’s most bitter enemies found it hard to cheer for the Western airstrikes. It’s important to make a clear distinction between the positions of a few countries’ leaders, including the Gulf states, and the overall consciousness of citizens of the Muslim and Arab world.

 ■ Trump chose not to threaten Assad’s rule. The question is what Putin will do | Amos Harel ■ Strikes can’t hide fact the world has abandoned the Syrian people | Anshel Pfeffer >>

Syria’s public diplomacy machine did not need to work hard when it came to the attack on Damascus and one of its suburbs by the three powers. It immediately earned the sobriquet “the trilateral aggression,” familiar to all Arab ears as the name given to the military response of France, Israel and Britain in 1956 to Egypt’s then-President Gamal Abdel Nasser’s nationalization of the Suez Canal. The steadfastness of the Egyptian nation, together with the support of the Soviet Union, gave Nasser an enormous political victory that made him popular throughout the Arab world and in many states in Latin American and Asia. The narrative then was clear: a victory for Arab nationalism against the colonialist-imperialist powers that inspired nations struggling for freedom and political and economic independence.

The scenario this time is completely different. Assad, a despot who inherited the regime from his father and has carried out unforgivable crimes against his own people, is very far from Nasser in every way. No one who supports democracy and human rights can side with his actions. But while his motives are clear – Assad will do whatever it takes to maintain his power – those of U.S. President Donald Trump, French President Emmanuel Macron and British Prime Minister Theresa May are not entirely obvious.

While they pride themselves on their defense of human rights and universal values, the West does nothing to stop the ongoing slaughter in Yemen. Trump continues to extend unqualified support for Israel’s conduct toward the Palestinian people, and his two partners make do with laconic statements of censure. The events along the Israel-Gaza Strip border in the past two weeks did not elicit so much as a call for restraint from them, and oddly enough, Trump envoy Jason Greenblatt chose to lecture the Palestinians. If the goal is to defend human rights, then attention should also be paid to the regimes in Saudi Arabia and the rest of the Gulf states, which are no less totalitarian than the one in Damascus.

The blood of the Syrian people is no different from that of the Yemenis or the Palestinians. The behavior of the Western leaders at this masked ball has once again been revealed for the double game that it is, in accordance with the map of interests that serves them. Anyone who seeks a more just and rational world must first address the oldest issue in the Middle East, the need to give the Palestinians an independent state.

In Syria and in most Arab states, including ones that oppose the Assad regime, it is clear that the U.S.-led strike will not significantly change the balance of power. It’s doubtful that it will contribute to a new political agreement that will express the genuine aspirations of the Syrian people. At the end of the day, it was only a show of power. If the West genuinely cared about the Syrian nation’s welfare, its leaders would support the national democratic opposition in the country, which envisions a modern, democratic state that provides freedom and liberty to all its citizens.

But Trump and his partners care about their interests and those of their wealthy allies in the Gulf, not about the Syrian people. The position they have taken now will not result in the establishment of a free and democratic state in the Middle East that will challenge the existing regimes, and perhaps Israel as well.

https://www.haaretz.com/middle-east-news/syria/.premium-syria-attack-is-a-win-for-assad-and-reveals-west-s-true-intentions-1.5996116

Haaretz

Four Palestinian militants dead in Gaza blast — accidental detonation of weapons or explosives used in attacks against Israel

April 15, 2018

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A Palestinian man looks at the scene of an explosion in the southern Gaza Strip, April 14, 2018. REUTERS/Ibraheem Abu MustafaREUTERS

GAZA (REUTERS) – THE Palestinian Islamic Jihad militant group said four of its members were killed in an apparent accidental blast in the Gaza Strip on Saturday.

The group said in a statement that it was “mourning its fighters who were martyred during preparations”.

It usually employs those terms to refer to casualties caused by the accidental detonation of weapons or explosives used in attacks against Israel.

The Gaza Health Ministry confirmed four fatalities in the incident. Medics at the scene in the Rafah area said the explosion was caused by Israel. But an Israeli military spokesman said the army was not involved.

“Contrary to reports currently circulating I can tell you that the IDF (Israel Defence Forces) is not aware of any IDF fire in the area surrounding Rafah,” the spokesman said.

Violence has flared in the Gaza Strip since March 30, when Palestinians began protests along the border area with Israel.

Israeli troops have shot dead 31 Gaza Palestinians and wounded hundreds since the protests began, drawing international criticism of their lethal tactics.

The border area remained largely quiet on Saturday.

Protesters have set up tented camps near the frontier as a protest dubbed “The Great March of Return” – evoking a longtime call for refugees to regain ancestral homes in what is now Israel – moved into its third week.

Israel has declared a no-go zone close to the Gaza border fence.

Israel withdrew its troops and settlers from Gaza in 2005. The Palestinian enclave is ruled by the Islamist Hamas movement, designated by Israel and the West as a terrorist group.

Citing security concerns, Israel maintains a naval blockade of the coastal territory, keeping tight restrictions on the movement of Palestinians and goods across the frontier.

Egypt, battling an Islamist insurgency in neighboring Sinai, keeps its border with Gaza largely closed.

(Reporting by Nidal al-Mughrabi; writing by Maayan Lubell; editing by Angus MacSwan)

Gaza Protests: Reports of 163 Palestinians Wounded by Israeli Military Fire

April 13, 2018

Israeli army says ‘violent rioters and terrorists’ throwing firebombs along Gaza border in third week of demonstrations ■ Protesters: Marches meant to be ‘nonviolent resistance’

 

Palestinians take cover from tear gas smoke during clashes with Israeli security forces near border fence with Israel, east of Gaza City in the central Gaza Strip on April 13, 2018.
Several thousand Gazans gathered for a third consecutive Friday of mass protests along the border with Israel after violence in which Israeli forces have killed 33 Palestinians and wounded hundreds of others. / AFP PHOTO / MAHMUD HAMS
Palestinians take cover from tear gas smoke during clashes with Israeli security forces near border fence with Israel, east of Gaza City in the central Gaza Strip on April 13, 2018. Several thousand GMAHMUD HAMS/AFP

Reports in Gaza say 163 Palestinians were hurt by live Israeli fire as over 10,000 protested along the border with the Strip on Friday, burning tires and Israeli flags. The army says live rounds were fired.

According to the Israeli army, there are five different sites along the border where protests are taking place. Palestinians in Gaza say of the 163 hurt, one is in critical condition. They also noted that the number of protesters was lower than last week – though they believe that more people may join later in the day.

Gaza protests map.
Haaretz

According to the army, numerous attempts to destroy obstacles erected by the army were made in the past hours. They also said that a number of attacks were attempted, with explosives and firebombs thrown at the border, as well as gunfire.

Later on Friday, the IDF said attempts were made to breach and cross the border fence. An explosive charge was thrown in the Karni area, and Molotov cocktails were thrown at the border. A kite with a Molotov cocktail was sent towards the Israeli side of the border, but it fell on the side of Gaza, and no one was hurt.

The army reiterated it is opening fire only according to its protocols and will not allow anyone to harm Israel’s “defense infrastructures,” calling demonstrators “violent rioters and terrorists.”

>> The Koran according to the Israeli army: A good Palestinian woman stays away from protests

skip – Palestinians: Smoke grenade fired a medical tent, ten medics suffer smoke inhalation

Palestinians: Smoke grenade fired a medical tent, ten medics suffer smoke inhalation – דלג

Palestinians: Smoke grenade fired a medical tent, ten medics suffer smoke inhalation

Palestinians claimed that a smoke grenade was fired at a medical tent, causing ten medics to suffer from smoke inhalation. According to the Gaza Health Ministry, 163 Palestinians were wounded by live rounds. One of the wounded was in serious condition. Twelve others were wounded by rubber-tipped bullets.

Israel braced for a third round of mass demonstrations in the Gaza Strip, amid reports in Gaza that some demonstrators were preparing firebombs for what they termed “Molotov Day,” a reference to so-called molotov cocktails.

The demonstrations’ organizers, however, denounced that idea, stressing that the protests are meant to be “nonviolent resistance.”

The kite with a Molotov cocktail that was sent over the Gaza border on April 13, 2018.
The kite with a Molotov cocktail that was meant to fly over the Gaza border on April 13, 2018.

One organizer told Haaretz that “Israel is trying in every way to pin the marches on Hamas and it’s very convenient for them if this action becomes violent on the Palestinian side, and that’s why we won’t allow it.”

He charged that Israel’s airstrikes on Hamas positions over the past week show that Israel is trying to draw the Palestinians, and especially Hamas, into a full-on confrontation.

>> Marching in Gaza, my brother risks death – to feel free | Opinion

The organizers said they expect thousands of Palestinians to participate in Friday’s marches near the Israeli border. They considered last Friday’s protest a big success, and therefore decided that each week should feature a “special activity that would attract widespread media coverage and international interest,” one said.

As this Friday’s theme, organizers plan to have the demonstrators burn Israeli flags and wave Palestinian ones.

Army braces for violence

Due to both the demonstrations in Gaza and the tension in the north, Israel Defense Forces Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot has cut short his trip to Poland, where he was participating in the annual March of the Living. He had decided to cut the trip short before he left and even considered not going at all, because of the situation in Syria. Ultimately, however, he decided to go but return a day early.

On the Gazan front, the IDF has used both sticks and carrots over the past week to persuade Hamas to stop the violent attacks that have accompanied the Palestinian demonstrations.

If Hamas doesn’t stop the violence, the army warned, Israel will retaliate by attacking Hamas positions deep inside Gaza. But it also offered an economic carrot in the form of expanding the zone in which Gazan fisherman are allowed to fish – a decision that was hardly self-evident given that just last week, the state indicted a Gaza resident for planning attacks on Israeli naval vessels together with several co-conspirators.

The IDF expects this Friday’s demonstration to attract roughly the same number of people as last Friday’s, but hopes that it will be less violent on both sides. It has stressed that it won’t tolerate continued violent demonstrations in Gaza at a time when tensions are running high in the north.

Overall, almost 1,300 Palestinians were shot and wounded by Israeli soldiers over the past couple of weeks of mass protests on the Gaza-Israel border, according to a computerized count by the Gaza Health Ministry. An additional 1,554 Gazans have been treated for tear gas inhalation or injuries by rubber-coated steel pellets.

In addition, 33 Palestinians have been killed during this period, including 26 in border demonstrations.