'13,000 West Bank housing units ready for construction'
By OR SCHWARTZ
Peace Now: At least 2,000 W. Bank units have foundations laid, ready to be built as freeze expires; 11,000 ready for construction without further gov't approval.
More than 13,000 settlement housing units in the West Bank are ready for construction once the building moratorium ends on September 26th and at least 2,000 are ready for immediate construction, according to a report by Peace Now released on Sunday.
According to the report, 2,066 units in the West Bank have either had construction permits approved or their ground works already laid.
Analysis: Aiming for a drama-free end to the freeze
Barak: Israel unlikely to extend current settlement curbs
Peace Now said that hundreds of additional units, whose foundations have not yet been built, are also ready for construction.
The group reported that at least another 11,000 housing units have had their building plans approved. According to Israeli law, settlers are allowed to construct the units in the without further approval by the government.
This translates into a total of 13,000 units which are ready for construction in the West Bank, even if the government implements an implicit building freeze and does not approve new construction in the future, without extending the moratorium. Of the 13,000 units, 5,000 are located east of the separation barrier in isolated settlements.
An additional 25,000 units are currently in the planning phase, having been approved in the past but require additional government approval to be valid.
The report comes after Samaria regional council head Gershon Mesika said on Sunday that if Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu announces an extension to the building freeze, it will be the end of his term in government.
Mesika said that Netanyahu is trying to emulate Sharon, but the nationalist camp will oust him and bring down his government.
Netanyahu said that the freeze may continue partially and some building would be allowed, in a cabinet meeting Sunday morning.
Diskin: Expect more terrorism with progress in talks
By HERB KEINON AND YAAKOV KATZ
Shin Bet chief tells cabinet that the quality of weaponry smuggled into the Gaza Strip has declined significantly since the assassination al-Mabhouh
The quality of weapons being smuggled into Gaza has declined significantly since January’s assassination of Hamas commander Mahmoud al-Mabhouh in Dubai, Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) chief Yuval Diskin told the cabinet on Sunday.
Mabhouh, who was reportedly responsible for smuggling Iranian arms into the Gaza Strip, was killed in a Dubai hotel room in January.
IDF foils attempted terror attack at Gaza border fence
Analysis: Was Mabhouh worth it?
Although Israel was widely blamed for the assassination, Jerusalem never claimed responsibility.
Meanwhile on Sunday, IDF troops foiled a supposed terrorist attack along the security fence in northern Gaza. The soldiers spotted a number of suspicious figures trying to fire a rocket-propelled grenade at the force deployed along the border. The soldiers shot the suspects, killing three.
Earlier on Sunday, the IDF detected a number of people who had also approached the security fence in the area, and fired several warning shots.
Despite the IDF assertion that the suspects were planning to fire an RPG at the soldiers, Palestinians claimed that the dead men were shepherds, with two identified as 91-yearold Ibrahim Abu Said and his grandson Ismail Abu Odeh, 21.
Diskin warned that the country is on the brink of a period of increased terrorism as Hamas and others try to torpedo the recently relaunched diplomatic process.
The gradual but continuous decline in terrorism in the West Bank over the past three years, and an accompanying decline in terrorism originating from Gaza over the last 18 months, is about to end, Diskin said, in the first security briefing he has given the full cabinet in more than a year.
Based on the recent attacks, as well as concrete intelligence information, Diskin said the threat of terrorism will increase in lockstep with the progress in the peace talks with the Palestinians.
Diskin said that since Hamas did not have an organized command center in Judea and Samaria, it was largely working through Hamas operatives inside Israeli jails, who were activating prisoners who recently returned to the West Bank.
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said this was one of the major concerns facing Israel in regard to a possible major prisoner swap for kidnapped soldier Gilad Schalit. The Shin Bet’s estimation, Netanyahu said, was that if the security prisoners were released back to the West Bank, they would carry out attacks both in Judea and Samaria and within the Green Line.
Diskin said it was almost certain that Hamas was responsible for recent rocket attacks from Sinai on Eilat and Aqaba, and that those responsible for the attacks most likely had exited Gaza through the smuggling tunnels into Sinai. While Hamas was interested in curbing attacks from Gaza, it had no such compunction regarding attacks originating from Sinai, he said.
The clashes along the Gaza border on Sunday came after a weekend marked by intensifying rocket fire into Israel. On Thursday, a Kassam rocket and a mortar shell hit in Israel, and in response the air force bombed a number of targets throughout the Strip.
Those targets included Hamas offices in Gaza City, a smuggling tunnel on the Sinai border and what was described as a “terror center” in the northern Strip.
On Friday, a number of Kassam rockets again struck Israel without causing damage. Two rockets hit a field near Sderot again on Sunday morning.
On Monday, three explosions were heard near a kibbutz in the Sha’ar Hanegev Regional Council, which borders Gaza, a local authority spokeswoman said.
No injuries or damage were reported.
The Color Red rocket-alert system was not activated. It was not immediately clear whether the explosions were caused by mortar shells or rockets.
Defense officials said the IDF was likely to continue its policy of responding to rocket attacks with pinpointed air strikes but would not raise the response to the level of a large ground operation inside Gaza.
“Now, with the peace talks starting, it is unlikely that the response will escalate,” one defense official said.
The officials said, however, that if the violence escalated, Israel would be forced to adjust its military response accordingly.
Diskin also said that there has been an increase in the number of tunnels being dug between Sinai and Gaza, and that these tunnels were not only meant to smuggle goods and weapons, but were also “attack tunnels” designed for kidnappings and attacks inside Israel.
He also said that, with the financial support and other assistance from Iran, Islamic Jihad was gaining strength inside the Gaza Strip.
Netanyahu said this underlined one of Israel’s key problems: When it gives up territory, that territory is taken over by Iranian allies, who then smuggle in weapons and use the territory as a base to attack Israel.
Regarding the Palestinian Authority security apparatus, Diskin said it was demonstrating a great deal of “motivation” and “determination” in preventing attacks, including arresting hundreds of Hamas activists.
Diskin said that the PA security apparatus was perhaps at the strongest point it has been in 16 years, thanks primarily to assistance coming from the US and the international community.
There was no longer any evidence of the “revolving door” policy that existed in the West Bank in the past, where the PA would report about arrests of Hamas activists, only to soon release, Diskin said.
Yaakov Lappin contributed to this report.
IDF Kills Two in Firefight with Gaza Terror Infiltrators
by Gil Ronen
An IDF force fired on terrorists who attempted to infiltrate into Israel from Gaza Sunday afternoon. Two Arabs were reportedly killed in the firefight between the IDF and the terrorists. According to initial reports, the two were terrorists, and a third member of the squad may have escaped. A report from another source said the IDF artillery fired at a target near Beit Hanoun, killing two and wounding three.
IDF sources said the terrorists were about to launch an RPG (rocket-propelled grenade) at the IDF.
Arab sources claimed that the two people killed were civilian bystanders: an aged shepherd and his grandson.
The incident occurred near Kibbutz Erez.
Terrorists tried to distract IDF forces on the border with Gaza by firing three mortars at Israel during the attempted infiltration.
Residents of the Shaar HaNegev local authority came under attack Sunday morning. Two missiles, possibly Kassam rockets, struck the area, but hurt no one and caused no damage. The explosions were heard in Be'er Sheva, as well, where an alarm sent residents scurrying for cover.
Four Kassam rockets were fired at the Negev during the holiday weekend: one on Wednesday, two on Thursday, and another Friday. No one was hurt and no damage was caused.
Local residents said the security situation in the region is deteriorating rapidly and is beginning to resemble the situation before Operation Cast Lead. They also accused the government and media of trying to downplay the severity of the situation so as not to jeopardize the diplomatic process with the Palestinian Authority. Two days from now, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, PA chief Mahmoud Abbas and US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton are scheduled to meet in Sinai for a round of negotiations.
Shin Bet head Yuval Diskin said Sunday that Hamas would escalate terror attacks
in order to trip up the talks between Israel and the PA.
Ground Zero Imam: I Do Not Support Hamas
by Elad Benari
Feisal Abdul Rauf, the imam who is at the center of plans to build an Islamic center and mosque near Ground Zero, said Sunday he does not support terror organizations, including Hamas.
According to a June report in the New York Post
, Rauf is a major donor
to the pro-Hamas Free Gaza movement, a movement that has been behind several attempts to break the Israeli sea embargo on Hamas, including the “Rachel Corrie” ship.
The report also said that Rauf is a member of the Perdana Global Peace Organization, a Malaysian based group which has donated $366,000 to Free Gaza.
However, in an interview Sunday on ABC's "This Week with Christiane Amanpour", Rauf denied that he supports Hamas: "I'm against terrorism…Whoever commits terrorist acts – I condemn. And Hamas has committed terrorist acts, including against its own people."
Rauf also said during the interview that the controversy surrounding the Ground Zero mosque was politically motivated. He blamed politicians such as Sarah Palin, who was the first public figure to get involved in the controversy, for causing the outrage surrounding the mosque. “What has happened is that..certain politicians decided that this project would be very useful for their political ambitions,” said Rauf.
He added that a result of the controversy, there are increased concerns among Muslims of a "growing Islamophobia in this country."
"We are Americans. We are doctors. We are investment bankers. We are taxi drivers. We are store keepers. We are lawyers. We are part of the fabric of America. And the way that America today treats its Muslims is being watched by over a billion Muslims worldwide," said Rauf.
On Saturday, Americans remembered the ninth anniversary
of the September 11th attacks in solemn ceremonies at each site. Meanwhile, the planned organized burning of Korans by Reverend Terry Jones at his Dove World Outreach Center in Gainesville, was cancelled as Reverend Jones instead flew to New York to participate in 9/11 ceremonies there.
Despite the cancellation of the Koran burning by Jones, several similar incidents took place: In Springfield, Tennessee, evangelical pastors Bob Old Danny Allen burned Koran books, while in New York an unidentified man ripped pages from a Koran and lit them near the proposed site of the Islamic centre. "If they can burn American flags, I can burn the Koran," he said.
Rauf told ABC that had he known the controversy that his proposed Islamic center would cause, he would not have proposed it; however, he also said that he would not consider moving the center to a different site, claiming that such a decision would increase terrorism.
"This will strengthen the radicals in the Muslim world, help their recruitment, this will put our people -- our soldiers, our troops, our embassies, our citizens -- under attack in the Muslim world and we (would) have expanded and fueled terrorism," he said.
A recent AP
report claimed that Hisham Elzanaty, one of the investors in the Ground Zero mosque, donated in 1999
to the Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development, a foundation whose assets were frozen in 2001 by the US government, following suspicions that it acted as a fundraiser for Hamas. In 2004, the foundation and some of its leaders were indicted on charges of supporting Hamas, and five were ultimately convicted.
A recent CNN poll found that 68 per cent of Americans oppose the Muslim center project in Ground Zero.
PA Man Suspect in U.S. Terror Weapons Plot
by Maayana Miskin
Twenty three-year-old Palestinian Authority man Abdalaziz Aziz Hamayel was charged this week for allegedly plotting to export stolen weapons from the United States to Judea and Samaria. Hamayel was arrested at Miami International Airport on August 29 after returning to the U.S. from Jordan.A second man, Cuban-American Yanny Aguila Urbay, was arrested last week.
The two have been charged with conspiring to possess stolen weapons, including bombs and machine guns. They allegedly attempted to purchase 300 stolen weapons from undercover police and FBI agents. Hamayel is charged with attempting to purchase grenades, remote-control detonators and explosives as well, with the plan of turning the weapons over to terrorists.
The FBI investigation into Hamayel's activities began in June 2009. Hamayel showed interest in purchasing weapons from an undercover officer. Shortly afterward, he left for Judea and Samaria, where he remained for over a year.
He had lived in Florida for several years, but according to Florida news agencies, he maintained “deep ties” to PA Arabs in Judea and Samaria.
Aguila, 24, has lived in Florida for several years as well. His girlfriend expressed shock at his arrest, telling local media that she had never heard of Hamayel. Aguila is accused of assisting in the plot by putting Hamayel in touch with a weapons dealer.
Survey: Israelis Grow More Religiously Observant
by Maayana Miskin
A special Central Bureau of Statistics (CBS) survey has found that more Israeli Jews are becoming increasingly religiously observant than the reverse. 21% of those surveyed said they are currently more religious than they were in the past, while 14% say they are less religious.
Five percent of respondents defined themselves as “chozrim b'teshuva,” a term often used to refer to those raised in non-religious households who choose to become religious as adults. Hareidi-religious respondents were most likely to define themselves as chozrim b'teshuva – a full 22% of them said they were chozrim b'teshuva, compared to 17% of the religious-Zionist community and 9% of the traditional-religious community.
The survey found that even those Jews who defined themselves as secular often observe religious customs. 82% of those calling themselves secular said they participate in a Passover seder every year, 67% said they light Chanukah candles every year, 29% light Sabbath candles every week, and 26% fast each year on Yom Kippur.
In addition, 17% recite kiddush on Friday night, 22% eat only food that is kosher for Passover on Passover, and 10% eat only kosher food for the entire year. 24% prayed in a synagogue on Rosh Hashanah or Yom Kippur last year.
Seventy two percent of Israeli Jews over the age of 20 were in synagogue at least once over the course of the past year, the survey found. Men were more likely than women to attend synagogue: 76% of male respondents had been in synagogue at least once in the past 12 months, compared to 68% of women.
US Report Criticizes Israel's Jewish Character
by Hillel Fendel
In its 2009 International Religious Freedoms Report
, the U.S. State Department accuses Israel of “governmental and legal discrimination against non-Jews and non-Orthodox streams of Judaism.” The JewishIsrael organization
, in its review of the document, calls it a “protracted denunciation against Israel’s Jewish character.”
The State Department report, released last week, analyzes religious freedoms in many countries of the world, and its section on Israel is entitled Israel and the Occupied Territories; the text explains that “Occupied Territories” includes “areas subject to the jurisdiction of the Palestinian Authority.”
JewishIsrael is an interactive internet portal that “provides a platform for ongoing monitoring and pro-active responses to aggressive missionary campaigns now targeting Jews for conversion in the Jewish State.”
“A disproportionate amount of the report,” JewishIsrael notes, “is dedicated to depicting Torah traditions and Orthodox Judaism as oppressive, and to reporting on Israel’s ‘growing’ but ‘harassed’ community of apostate Jews and Christian missionaries.”
The report emphasizes, “Proselytizing is legal in the country and missionaries of all religious groups are allowed to proselytize all citizens.” It then criticizes Israeli “society” by reporting, “Society's attitudes toward missionary activities and conversion generally were negative. Most Jews were opposed to missionary activity directed at Jews and some were hostile to Jewish converts to Christianity.” Though this sentence merely describes the natural attitude of Jews living in the Jewish State after centuries of religious persecution, the implication is one of criticism.
The report notes that 56 percent of the public describes itself as traditional or religious, and that most of the remainder also “observe some Jewish traditions.” Despite this, it also includes the following statements of criticism:
Critical of Western Wall Prayers
- “The Government implements some policies based on Orthodox Jewish interpretations of religious law which thereby discriminates against citizens adhering to other religious groups.”
- “The Orthodox Jewish establishment also determines who is buried in Jewish state cemeteries, limiting this right to individuals considered Jewish by Orthodox standards.”
- “Jews in most professions were prohibited from working on the Sabbath unless granted a special permit by the Ministry of Industry, Trade, and Labor.”
- “In order to marry in government-recognized ceremonies, Jews had to undergo marriage counseling administered by the Orthodox religious authorities.”
- “The Interior Ministry distinguishes between Jews and non-Jews on identification cards by printing the birth date of Jews in Hebrew letters according to the Jewish calendar while listing that of others according to the Gregorian calendar.”
The report is critical of prayer customs at the Western Wall, second in Jewish sanctity only to the Temple Mount just above it. The report states:“Governmental authorities prohibit mixed gender prayer services at religious sites in deference to the belief of most Orthodox Jews that such services violate the precepts of Judaism. At the Western Wall, the holiest site in Judaism , men and women must use separate areas to visit and pray. Women also are not allowed to conduct prayers at the Western Wall while wearing prayer shawls, which are typically worn by Jewish men, and are not permitted to read from Torah scrolls.”
The report quoted that Jerusalem Institute of Justice (JIJ) as “alleg that the Interior Ministry refused to process immigration applications from persons entitled to citizenship under the Law of Return if it was determined such persons held Christian or Messianic Jewish religious beliefs.”
According to the State Department, the JIJ filed a petition to Israel’s High Court in May of this year on behalf of three Messianic Jews whose application for immigration was blocked by the Ministry of Interior. They cited an April 2008 High Court ruling according to which a person eligible to immigrate under the Law of Return could not be denied immigration rights on the basis of his identification as a Messianic Jew. “The case was ongoing at the end of the reporting period,” the report noted.
Noting that “most Jews were opposed to missionary activity directed at Jews,” the report still had this to say about grass-roots counter-missionary efforts in Israel:
“The Messianic Jewish and Jehovah's Witnesses communities, among others, accused groups such as Yad L'Achim and Lev L'Achim, and Jewish religious organizations opposed to missionary activity, of harassing and occasionally assaulting their members. According to Yad L'Achim's annual report for 2008, quoted in the newspaper Yom L'Yom
, the organization ‘saved 174 souls from the clutches of the mission" during the year.’ The organization's semi-clandestine Counter-Missionary Department, headed by Rabbi Alex Artovski, also claimed to have dozens of informants and infiltrators in the Government and in Christian or Messianic Jewish congregations, enabling the organization to force the closure of 18 religious meeting places and expel 12 ‘top-ranking’ missionaries from the country during 2008.”
Agudath Israel: Israel is True to Its Foundational Ideal
Agudath Israel of America stated, “Criticism of Israel for being true to its foundational ideal is ill-conceived.” The organization issued the following statement in response to the report: “Much of the criticism of Israel in the is misplaced. The United States is rightly proud of its tradition as a republic that embraces no official religion. But numerous other countries, with equal pride, define themselves as Muslim or Christian. One country was created as a Jewish state. Israel’s choice of timeless Jewish tradition in the public realm and with regard to issues of personal status requires no apology. Criticism of Israel for being true to its foundational ideal is ill-conceived.”
For its part, the JewishIsrael organization concludes that the State Department’s report is a “clear case of Judeo-Christian tolerance and values becoming tyranny. In a sort of ‘clash of civilizations,’ Jewish heritage and tradition has been pitted against American-style Freedom of Religion and Democracy. The bitter irony is that it was Orthodox Jew Michael Horowitz of the Hudson Institute who in the mid-1990’s, teamed up with evangelicals and spearheaded the Congressional International Religious Freedoms Act of 1998 which would result in the current State Department reports which are now challenging Israel’s right to be a Jewish nation. That this law and subsequent reports would be used to defend missionary activity in Israel, promote ‘messianic’ Christianity as Judaism, and pressure Israel into withdrawing counter-missionary legislation, was written on the wall early on, and in a number of publications.”