Israel News

With the Rockets, A Loss of Tourist Dollars

2014-07-24 11:18:20 mshapiro

JERUSALEM — There was a time in the not so distant past when a visitor to Jerusalem’s high-end outdoor Mamilla Mall just outside the Old City’s Jaffa Gate would strain to hear Israel’s native language of Hebrew. Among the throngs of people perusing the jewelry stores, fashion houses and art galleries during the height of the summer tourist season would be visitors from North and South America, Europe and Asia.

But on Wednesday night, such tourists were nowhere to be found and the thoroughfare lined by Rolex, the Gap and upscale restaurants was reduced to the equivalent of a municipal mall found in a dust-strewn Israeli town like Beit She’an or Kiryat Malachi. There were still people, but they were locals.

And they weren’t spending.

“We’re hurting,” surmised Esther Berdugo, 60, standing outside the Israel Antiquities store she’s worked at for seven years, her back leaning against the ubiquitous Jerusalem stone that lines buildings new and ancient here in the Israeli capital. “We feel it. We feel it in the stores. There are no tourists, just Israelis.”

She pointed to the Rimon Café across the street to prove her point.

“People over there used to stand in line to wait for a table, it was so busy,” she said.

At 8:30 that night, just a handful of people patronized the restaurant. Most of them sipped coffee.

Over at the A & F Brands Factory Store, one of the first storefronts people encounter when they walk through the mall’s entrance facing the pricey David Citadel hotel, clerk Dan Levi, 23, walked among the retailer’s displays of button-down shirts and designer jeans. No one else was in the store.

“In July and August, we get 20,000 people per day walking through Mamilla,” he said. “Since the war began, it’s 6,000. And we depend on the business during the summer to carry us through the winter season.”

As Israel entered its 17th day of fighting its Operation Protective Edge against Hamas – the economic realities of decreased tourism notwithstanding — life continued more or less as before. Air raid sirens hadn’t been heard here for several days; cars and buses still moved along such central thoroughfares as King David and King George streets; pedestrians still clogged the small sidewalks along Agrippas Street leading to the famed Mahane Yehuda market.

But beneath the surface were the worries and concerns of shopkeepers like Berdugo, who realize that with each additional day of fighting in Gaza, Israel’s economy gets more and more isolated. When asked what she felt about the planeload of North American immigrants who arrived in the country just a day before, Berdugo’s face lit up. Like many Israelis, she spoke effusively of how important it was for foreign Jews to cast their lot with Israel.

“I am inspired,” she said. “The Jewish people are one. This is very important. But even more so, they’ve come because they truly love the land.”

But press further, and some locals can’t help but calling the new arrivals “crazy” for giving up easy lives in places like the United States for a life of hardship in a dangerous part of the world.

Yoel Cohen, former chairman of the School of Communication at Ariel University and author of God, Jews and the Media, explained the dichotomy in Israeli attitudes as part of how they view the Diaspora Jewish community in general.

“Overall, there’s not a great deal of interest among Israelis in the Diaspora, and that gets expression in the extent to which the Israeli media covers the Diaspora,” he said. “The interest is mainly unidirectional, such that Jewish newspaper editors are interested in what happens here … but the Israeli media fails to cover the Diaspora in an important way.”

The lack of interest only goes so far, however, and in times of existential crisis or when anti-Semitic attacks threaten Jews abroad, said Cohen, Israeli attitudes reflect more of an identification with a united global Jewish community.

That sense of shared identity goes both ways, said Rabbi Jacob Blumenthal of Shaare Torah in Gaithersburg. Wrapping up a four-week visit to the Jewish state, Blumenthal said that witnessing war from the perspective of a non-tourist — he took part in a rabbinical conference run by the Shalom Hartman Institute in Jerusalem — has strengthened his sense of Jewish identity.

“I’m still trying to process everything and decide what it’s all really about,” he said of the ongoing conflict. “But it’s deepened my sense of Jewish peoplehood.

“It’s striking that in my program of 27 rabbis, nobody went home [when the fighting started]. Everybody stayed,” he continued. “So on the one hand, yes, people decided this might not be the best place to take a vacation, but I’ve seen lots of people stay.”

And while he experienced firsthand what fleeing to a bomb shelter is like when air raid sirens sounded in Jerusalem weeks ago, a recent trip to the war-torn community of Sderot just a mile from the Gaza Strip afforded Blumenthal the “opportunity,” he said, of witnessing just how “normal” life in Israel is during a war.

“There’s a tremendous pride and strength [among Israelis], a sense that we’re not going anywhere,” the rabbi said of locals in Sderot. “And throughout my time in Israel, I feel incredibly protected, as long as you follow directives. It’s a strange feeling to hear a siren while on a bus. You pull over like every other car, you crouch down and you protect your head. Then the siren is over, you wait a couple of minutes and everything starts up again like nothing happened.”

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FAA Lifts Ban on Israel Flights

2014-07-24 10:37:12 mshapiro

delta1Late on Wednesday, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) lifted its ban on flights by American carriers in and out of Israel.

The FAA “worked with its U.S. government counterparts to assess the security situation in Israel and carefully reviewed both significant new information and measures the Government of Israel is taking to mitigate potential risks to civil aviation,” said a press release issued by the agency. “The FAA’s primary mission and interest are the protection of people traveling on U.S. airlines. The agency will continue to closely monitor the very fluid situation around Ben Gurion Airport and will take additional actions, as necessary.”

Earlier, Texas Senator Ted Cruz (R), blasted the agency in a strongly worded press release and blamed the Obama administration, the State Department and Secretary of State John Kerry for motivating Tuesday’s decision by the FAA to issue a Notice to Airmen (NOTAM) halting flights by U.S. carriers in and out of Israel’s Ben Gurion International Airport in Tel Aviv.

The FAA’s decision came just as Kerry traveled to the region to try to broker a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas.

“The facts suggest that President Obama has just used a federal regulatory agency to launch an economic boycott on Israel, in order to try to force our ally to comply with his foreign-policy demands,” Cruz’s statement read.

On Wednesday, the FAA extended its ban for an additional 24 hours, saying that it will continue to monitor the situation and work closely with the Israeli government to resolve concerns as quickly as possible, according to an agency press release.

In his statement, Cruz implied that the FAA, a regulatory agency, colluded with the administration to ground Israel bound flights for political purposes.

“Obviously, no one wants to place civilian travelers in harm’s way, and the recent downing of Malaysian Airways flight 17 by pro-Russian militants in Ukraine is a stark reminder of the dangers posed by regional unrest,” wrote Cruz. “But security concerns in Israel are hardly breaking news, and given the exceptional challenge Israel faces, Ben Gurion has rightly earned the reputation as one of the safest airports in the world due to the aggressive security measures implemented by the Israeli government.

“Given that some 2,000 rockets have been fired into Israel over the last six weeks, many of them at Tel Aviv, it seems curious to choose yesterday at noon to announce a flight ban, especially as the Obama Administration had to be aware of the punitive nature of this action,” Cruz stressed.

The State Department pushed back against Cruz’s assertions later in the day.

“It’s ridiculous and offensive, quite frankly,” said State Department deputy spokeswoman Marie Harf, during her daily press briefing. “The FAA takes its responsibility very seriously. I will speak for them in that case. They make these decisions based solely on the security and safety of American citizens. For anyone to suggest otherwise is just ridiculous.”

Not according to Abraham Sion, former president of the board of directors of Israel Tourist Industries and chair of the Center for Law and Mass Media at Israel’s Ariel University.

“What the U.S. is trying to do is teach Israel a lesson. [The ban] has nothing to do with safety, but is designed to convince Israel to reach a ceasefire,” said Sion.

When pressed for an explanation, he backtracked, but only slightly, saying “it was 80-90 percent a political decision. Public safety [was] a minor consideration.”

Yet, in an interview by with Israel’s Channel 2, Israel’s Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz agreed that safety could not have been the motivation for the FAA’s decision.

“There is no reason for the American companies to stop their flights and give a prize to terror,” Katz said.

Israel is still open for business, wrote Haim Gutin, Israel’s Ministry of Tourism’s commissioner for North and South America, in a press release.

“Please know that life in Israel, and tourism to Israel, goes on and we welcome all visitors in peace. Some 75,000 tourists are in the country, and their travel arrangements are proceeding as planned. We foresee the current conflict ending soon – and that all will return speedily to normal.”

Shortly after the FAA issued its ban, former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, hopped an El Al flight to Israel to demonstrate his disapproval of the order and show solidarity.

“Ben Gurion Airport is the best protected airport in the world. It was an overreaction to halt U.S. flights here,” Bloomberg tweeted.

Bloomberg1 bloomberg2

The FAA’s flight prohibition applies only to U.S. carriers, yet a number of international airlines have followed suit, despite no such ban by the European Aviation Safety Agency.

Other international airlines which have grounded flights to Israel include Scandinavian Airlines; Korean Air; Royal Jordanian; Alitalia; Swiss Air; Air Canada; and Poland’s state airline, LOT.

El Al is still continuing its flights to and from Israel and has announced no intention to do otherwise.

Additional reporting by Editor-in-Chief Joshua Runyan.

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Ground Incursion Hits Home

2014-07-24 10:03:25 lbridwell
072514_israel

Jordan Low, a 2013 Beth Tfiloh graduate, was hospitalized for smoke
inhalation after helping his unit escape a burning building in Gaza.
(Provided)

The human cost of Israel’s ground incursion in the Gaza Strip hit close to home in the United States this week, with a Beth Tfiloh graduate hospitalized and Jewish communities in Los Angeles and South Texas losing members in the fighting.

Among the wounded was Baltimore native Jordan Low, a 2013 graduate of the Beth Tfiloh Dahan Community School, who was hospitalized for smoke inhalation after helping his company escape from a burning building.

According to the Israel Defense Forces, 25 soldiers have been killed since July 17 as of publication. On Monday morning, five IDF soldiers were in serious or critical condition, 15 were in stable condition, and 40 were seeking treatment for injuries, according to Israeli newspaper Haaretz. The Palestinian death toll had reached 565 by press time Monday since the launch of Operation Protective Edge, according to Gaza health officials.

In Baltimore, the Beth Tfiloh community has rallied behind Low with phone calls, prayers and volunteers to visit him, according to Zipora Schorr, the Beth Tfiloh Dahan Community School’s director of education.

“He was quite the hero according to his dad,” Schorr said. “Until everyone escaped from this burning building that was hit by Hamas, he held the ladder until every single guy got out safely, which is why he was so affected by the fumes.”

Jeffrey Low, Jordan’s father, was flying out to see Jordan with his younger son, Josh, 15, on Monday evening. Low spoke to his son’s doctor Monday morning, who said his blood pressure and other health indicators were good.

Jordan Low’s company, Golani Brigade’s Unit 51, was searching for arms on the second story of a Hamas building in Northern Gaza when Hamas fired two rockets at the building and it burst into flames, Low said. All 15 soldiers, four of whom received serious injuries, were airlifted to a Tel Aviv hospital, he said.

“Jordan going into the IDF … I couldn’t be more proud of him,” Low said. “He’s in Israel and doesn’t have to be there. Being a chayal boded [lone soldier] is highly coveted, and I think those things show the kind of young man Jordan is.”

Two American soldiers and members of the Golani Brigade, Max Steinberg, 24, of Beersheba and Los Angeles, and Sean Carmeli, 21, of Raanana and South Padre Island, Texas, were killed Sunday. They were among 13 Israeli soldiers killed in heavy fighting in Gaza City’s Shujaiya neighborhood.

Israel’s stated objectives in the ground invasion are to bring a sustained cessation to missile fire from Gaza and to root out the infrastructure that Hamas has used to build up its weapons cache.

“Operation Protective Edge will continue until it reaches its goal,” read a July 17 statement from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that announced the invasion, “restoring quiet to Israel’s citizens for a prolonged period, while inflicting a significant blow to the infrastructures of Hamas and the other terrorist organizations.”

The Israeli ground invasion of Gaza — its first since 2009 — aims to destroy Hamas’ underground weapons stores and its network of tunnels in Gaza, which it uses to transport arms and personnel. The invasion started after a week and a half of Hamas missiles and Israeli airstrikes, along with failed efforts to reach a cease-fire.

President Obama told Secretary of State John Kerry to push for an “immediate cessation of hostilities” in the Gaza Strip.

“As I’ve said many times, Israel has a right to defend itself against rocket and tunnel attacks from Hamas,” Obama said Monday in a brief news appearance as Kerry headed to Egypt to attempt to broker a cease-fire.

“And as a result of its operations, Israel has already done significant damage to Hamas’s terrorist infrastructure in Gaza. I’ve also said, however, that we have serious concerns about the rising number of Palestinian civilian deaths and the loss of Israeli lives. And that is why it now has to be our focus and the focus of the international community to bring about a cease-fire that ends the fighting and that can stop the deaths of innocent civilians, both in Gaza and in Israel.”

Obama said he wanted a return to the truce with Hamas brokered in November 2012, but Hamas has rejected such a return. Hamas has added demands including internationally monitored border crossings, prisoner releases and Israel staying out of Hamas-Palestinian Authority unity talks.

On Monday, Israeli troops killed 10 terrorists who infiltrated Israel through a tunnel from northern Gaza.

The terrorists emerged from the tunnel Monday morning into Southern Israel between two kibbutzes near the border with Gaza, the IDF reported. The IDF said its radar captured the infiltration.

One cell of infiltrators was struck by Israeli airstrikes, the IDF said, and a second cell was killed in a gunfight with Israeli troops.

Residents of the two kibbutzes, Erez and Nir Am, and some surrounding southern Israeli towns were ordered to remain in their homes with the doors locked for several hours on Monday morning as the IDF searched for more possible infiltrators.

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Senators Pledge Support for Israel in Wake of Ground Operation

2014-07-24 10:00:16 lbridwell
An Israel Defense Forces artillery corps fires shells at Gaza on July 18 after Israeli forces began a ground invasion into northern Gaza. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

An Israel Defense Forces artillery corps fires shells at Gaza on July 18 after Israeli forces began a ground invasion into northern Gaza.
(Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Hours after Israel Defense Forces began their ground operation in the Gaza Strip on July 17, Republican Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) spoke on the Senate floor to express their support of Israel and its operation, while denouncing the Palestinian Authority’s unity government and the moral equivalency drawn by those critical of Israel’s actions.

Graham noted that moments before his speech, the Senate unanimously passed a bipartisan resolution (S. Res. 498) expressing the Senate’s opinion that Israel has the right to defend itself in the face of rocket attacks from Hamas terrorists, calling for Hamas to end the attacks and calling on the Palestinian Authority and President Mahmoud Abbas to dissolve the Palestinian unity government and condemn Hamas’ attacks on Israel. The resolution also sailed through the Senate Foreign Relations committee Wednesday without objection or amendment.

The senator called the resolution symbolic, being passed on the day that Israel began its ground operation.

“The Senate does not see a moral equivalency here,” said Graham. “As Prime Minister [Benjamin] Netanyahu said, Israel uses missiles — helped in collaboration with the United States to produce the technology called Iron Dome — to defend civilians. Hamas uses civilians to cover their missile program, making human shields of their own people. That says really all you need to know.”

Graham also gave a stern warning to the Palestinian people about the prospects of peace if they do not dissolve the unity government and condemn Hamas’ actions.

“To the Palestinians who have formed a unity government: You need to break away from Hamas,” he said. “There will never be peace until you marginalize the terrorist organization called Hamas, until you reject what they stand for and the way they have behaved.”

“How can you obtain peace when one of the members of the Palestinian government, Hamas, has fired thousands of rockets, caring less where they fall?” continued Graham. “They could care less if it falls on a kindergarten or a military base. They just care to kill Israelis.”

After leaving the Senate floor, Graham told Washington Jewish Week that he was surprised it has taken Israel so long to begin a ground operation when asked to reflect on the news.

“They’ve done everything they could to de-escalate this, but Hamas is a terrorist organization that has fired thousands of rockets, and they could care less where they land. Eventually you have to do this,” he said. “You can only do so much from the air, you’ve got to go take ground back from the enemy. This is what the Middle East is like, and [to] those who are pushing Israel to withdraw from Palestinian territory without security being in place, I hope you’ve learned the lesson from Gaza.”

Rubio followed Graham on the floor, covering everything from the relationship between the United States and Israel to moral equivalency being drawn between Israel and Hamas by critics and the administration’s policies — which he believes are driving a wedge between the two allies. These policies include the failed U.S.-brokered Israel-Palestine peace talks and the Iran nuclear negotiations.

“Now as American policymakers, you ask, ‘What is our interest in this?’” Rubio said. “And I think it begins with a unique relationship that exists between the United States and Israel. It is the only vibrant democracy in that part of the world. Its alliance to the United States is unquestionable not just in international forums, but all over this planet. Israel is consistently on America’s side, time and again, in every one of our challenges.”

That, Rubio said, was the political reason, whereas there is also a moral reason, which is the “right of the Jewish people to have a country that they can live in peacefully” and that Jews will never again face a time where they have nowhere to go.

While saying that he did not want to insert partisanship into the issue, Rubio took a jab at the Obama administration for, as he later told Washington Jewish Week, “putting daylight” between the United States and Israel in the perception of some in the region.

“I am concerned about the position this administration is taking,” said Rubio. “I was concerned about the amount of pressure that the secretary of state was placing on the Israelis to enter into a negotiation — a negotiation with the Palestinian Authority that didn’t have the authority or the power to reach a peace agreement that they could possibly enforce, much less deliver on.”

“I think it’s safe to say that the relationship between the Israeli government has never been worse toward an American president for more than two decades,” said Rubio.

Following his speech, Rubio added that he believes Israel should do whatever is necessary to “convince Hamas that the price they pay is too high for what they’re conducting or to wipe out their capability to hit Israel” and that he believes Israel will perform the operation with “great restraint” as “everything Israel does.”

The passing of the resolution — and the senators’ remarks — came only hours after the Israeli prime minister gave the go-ahead to send ground troops into Gaza after a 10-day air operation failed to diminish the Hamas rocket barrage. Another stated objective, according to a press release from the prime minister’s office, is to destroy smuggling tunnels.

Earlier Thursday, prior to the ground operation, U.S. House of Representatives Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) also addressed Congress’ support for Israel during his weekly news conference.

“I think we must send a clear, unified and public message,” Boehner said. “Israel is our friend, and Israel’s enemies are our enemies.”


dshapiro@washingtonjewishweek.com

JNS.org contributed to this story.

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Ground Incursion Hits Home

2014-07-22 11:13:23 mshapiro
Jordan Low, a 2013 Beth Tfiloh graduate, was hospitalized for smoke  inhalation after helping his unit escape a burning building in Gaza.

Jordan Low, a 2013 Beth Tfiloh graduate, was hospitalized for smoke inhalation after helping his unit escape a burning building in Gaza.

The human cost of Israel’s ground incursion in the Gaza Strip hit close to home in the United States this week, with a Beth Tfiloh graduate hospitalized and Jewish communities in Los Angeles and South Texas losing members in the fighting.

Among the wounded was Baltimore native Jordan Low, a 2013 graduate of the Beth Tfiloh Dahan Community School, who was hospitalized for smoke inhalation after helping his company escape from a burning building.

According to the Israel Defense Forces, 25 soldiers have been killed since July 17 as of publication. On Monday morning, five IDF soldiers were in serious or critical condition, 15 were in stable condition, and 40 were seeking treatment for injuries, according to Israeli newspaper Haaretz. The Palestinian death toll had reached 565 by press time Monday since the launch of Operation Protective Edge, according to Gaza health officials.

In Baltimore, the Beth Tfiloh community has rallied behind Low with phone calls, prayers and volunteers to visit him, according to Zipora Schorr, the Beth Tfiloh Dahan Community School’s director of education.

“He was quite the hero according to his dad,” Schorr said. “Until everyone escaped from this burning building that was hit by Hamas, he held the ladder until every single guy got out safely, which is why he was so affected by the fumes.”

Jeffrey Low, Jordan’s father, was flying out to see Jordan with his younger son, Josh, 15, on Monday evening. Low spoke to his son’s doctor Monday morning, who said his blood pressure and other health indicators were good.

Jordan Low’s company, Golani Brigade’s Unit 51, was searching for arms on the second story of a Hamas building in Northern Gaza when Hamas fired two rockets at the building and it burst into flames, Low said. All 15 soldiers, four of whom received serious injuries, were airlifted to a Tel Aviv hospital, he said.

“Jordan going into the IDF … I couldn’t be more proud of him,” Low said. “He’s in Israel and doesn’t have to be there. Being a chayal boded [lone soldier] is highly coveted, and I think those things show the kind of young man Jordan is.”

Two American soldiers and members of the Golani Brigade, Max Steinberg, 24, of Beersheba and Los Angeles, and Sean Carmeli, 21, of Raanana and South Padre Island, Texas, were killed Sunday. They were among 13 Israeli soldiers killed in heavy fighting in Gaza City’s Shujaiya neighborhood.

Israel’s stated objectives in the ground invasion are to bring a sustained cessation to missile fire from Gaza and to root out the infrastructure that Hamas has used to build up its weapons cache.

“Operation Protective Edge will continue until it reaches its goal,” read a July 17 statement from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that announced the invasion, “restoring quiet to Israel’s citizens for a prolonged period, while inflicting a significant blow to the infrastructures of Hamas and the other terrorist organizations.”

The Israeli ground invasion of Gaza — its first since 2009 — aims to destroy Hamas’ underground weapons stores and its network of tunnels in Gaza, which it uses to transport arms and personnel. The invasion started after a week and a half of Hamas missiles and Israeli airstrikes, along with failed efforts to reach a cease-fire.

President Obama told Secretary of State John Kerry to push for an “immediate cessation of hostilities” in the Gaza Strip.

“As I’ve said many times, Israel has a right to defend itself against rocket and tunnel attacks from Hamas,” Obama said Monday in a brief news appearance as Kerry headed to Egypt to attempt to broker a cease-fire.

“And as a result of its operations, Israel has already done significant damage to Hamas’s terrorist infrastructure in Gaza. I’ve also said, however, that we have serious concerns about the rising number of Palestinian civilian deaths and the loss of Israeli lives. And that is why it now has to be our focus and the focus of the international community to bring about a cease-fire that ends the fighting and that can stop the deaths of innocent civilians, both in Gaza and in Israel.”

Obama said he wanted a return to the truce with Hamas brokered in November 2012, but Hamas has rejected such a return. Hamas has added demands including internationally monitored border crossings, prisoner releases and Israel staying out of Hamas-Palestinian Authority unity talks.

On Monday, Israeli troops killed 10 terrorists who infiltrated Israel through a tunnel from northern Gaza.

The terrorists emerged from the tunnel Monday morning into Southern Israel between two kibbutzes near the border with Gaza, the IDF reported. The IDF said its radar captured the infiltration.

One cell of infiltrators was struck by Israeli airstrikes, the IDF said, and a second cell was killed in a gunfight with Israeli troops.

Residents of the two kibbutzes, Erez and Nir Am, and some surrounding southern Israeli towns were ordered to remain in their homes with the doors locked for several hours on Monday morning as the IDF searched for more possible infiltrators.

JTA contributed to this report.

Jordan Low, a 2013 Beth Tfiloh graduate, was hospitalized for smoke 
inhalation after helping his unit escape a burning building in Gaza.
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