The security cabinet unanimously approved establishing a new settlement Thursday night to house settlers evacuated from the illegal outpost of Amona. This is the first time in over 20 years that Israel has established a new West Bank settlement.
The Prime Minister's Office said in a statement that following the vote in the security cabinet, a telephone poll of all ministers who aren't part of that body will be conducted to give the decision final approval.
The decision to establish the new settlement, which will be located near the existing settlement of Shiloh, stems from a promise Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made to Amona residents several months ago. Though the Trump administration objects to establishing any new settlements, Netanyahu told the White House in advance that he intended to keep his promise, saying that politically speaking, it was impossible for him to renege on it.
At the security cabinet meeting, Netanyahu told the ministers that final approval has also been granted to market enough land for the construction of 2,000 homes in existing settlements. The Prime Minister's Office said these were the same homes whose planned construction Israel had announced two months ago, but the marketing of the land had been held up by technical problems at the Housing Ministry.
Netanyahu also told the ministers that some 900 dunams of land near the settlement of Eli, including the outposts of Adei Ad and Givat Haro'eh, have been declared state land. This declaration will enable housing to be built on this land in the future.
Both approval of the new settlement and Netanyahu's announcement of the other measures appear to be an effort to lay the groundwork for an impending decision to significantly restrain settlement construction in response to pressure from the Trump Administration.
A senior White House official told Haaretz that Netanyahu had committed to the creation of a new settlement and decided to market 2,000 homes in the settlements before President Trump directly expressed his concerns regarding further construction in the West Bank or his expectations of Israel on the issue.
According to the official, Netanyahu told the American government that he intends to stand by his committment to build a new settlement for the evacuees of Amona. However, the official said that Netanyahu was also planning to adopt a new policy on the settlements from here on out that would take Trump's concerns into account.
"President Trump has publicly and privately expressed his concerns regarding settlements," said the official. "As the Administration has made clear: while the existence of settlements is not in itself an impediment to peace, further unrestrained settlement activity does not help advance peace. The Israeli government has made clear that going forward, its intent is to adopt a policy regarding settlement activity that takes the President's concerns into consideration. The United States welcomes this.
"We will continue to work with Israelis and Palestinians, and other players in the region, to create a climate that is conducive to peace. We hope that the parties will take reasonable actions moving forward that create a climate that is conducive to peace."
Netanyahu also briefed the security cabinet on his talks with the administration over this issue.
A senior Israeli official said this was the first time the ministers had been briefed on the progress of negotiations with the White House over settlement construction since they began three weeks ago.
Throughout those three weeks, Netanyahu kept most of the ministers out of the loop about the content of the talks, which were conducted by his closest advisers. The only minister who was briefed was Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman, who had to know because the Civil Administration, which is responsible for planning and building in the settlements, is under his authority.
The senior official said that Jerusalem and Washington still have some unresolved disagreements over the proposed deal on settlement construction. The establishment of a new settlement for the evacuated Amona residents has been one of the major stumbling blocks in the talks. Netanyahu has said repeatedly in recent weeks that he remains committed to keeping his promise to build that settlement.
Last week, Netanyahu's advisors held four days of meetings in Washington with the U.S. envoy to the peace process, Jason Greenblatt, and his staff, but did not manage to reach an agreement. Nevertheless, a joint statement issued at the end of those talks said that Israel was willing in principle to rein in settlement construction in a way that would comply with President Donald Trump's desire to advance the peace process.
The new settlement will be constructed in the Mateh Binyamin Regional Council, according to the cabinet decision, and will take some time, given the fact that it imposes a series of tasks on several government ministries.
The decision also divers the defense minister authority to give instructions to relevant officials in the Civil Administration to begin the planning phase of construction, including the exact location of the settlement and to propose and approve layout plans. The jurisdiction of the new settlement will be decided and construction will begin on the ground only after these steps have been taken.
Until the construction of permanent structures in the new settlement, a temporary complex wll be placed at the site. The decision also charges the finance minister to give a budget proposal for the creation of the settlement.
Ahmed Tawil had just backed into a parking space in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Wadi Joz when a heated argument erupted between an Israeli police officer and a Palestinian truck driver parked just in front of him.
Judging from their loud tones and wild hand gestures, Tawil, a 26-year-old resident of East Jerusalem, sensed things could turn violent. Instinctively, he reached for his smartphone and tapped the video record button.
The two-minute clip quickly found its way onto social media and went viral. The footage shows the police officer head-butting the truck driver, slapping him and kneeing him in the groin before lunging at several other Palestinians as they tried to intervene. The police officer has since been suspended and placed under house arrest. But this wasn't the only video shot last week to spark an outcry over the behavior of Israeli security forces patrolling Palestinian areas.
Just a day before the incident in Wadi Joz, another viral clip, also shot by a citizen journalist, showed a terrified-looking Palestinian boy being led around a Hebron neighborhood by about a dozen Israeli soldiers who pulled him in and out of various homes. His mother later reported that Sufian Abu Hita, her 8-year-old son who had gone out to look for a missing toy, had been ordered to help the soldiers identify stone-throwers. The army insisted the soldiers were merely trying to help Sufian find his way home, though it later emerged that he didn't even live in that neighborhood.
B'Tselem video: Search for stone throwers, Hebron, March 2017 B'Tselem
Most of the footage in Hebron was shot by May Da'na, a Palestinian volunteer with B'Tselem, an Israeli organization that documents human rights violations in the occupied territories. According to Amit Gilutz, its spokesman, the video has since been viewed by millions around the world.
But that's nothing compared to the impact of another video shot by a B'Tselem volunteer last March, also in Hebron, that turned an Israeli sergeant from the town of Ramle into a household name. The clip featured Elor Azaria shooting and killing a Palestinian assailant lying wounded on the ground. The footage, shot by Imad Abu Shamsiyeh with his B'Tselem-donated camera, ultimately led to a conviction for Azaria, who was sentenced to 18 months in prison.
For Palestinians fighting the occupation, the camera has become the weapon of choice. "There is no better tool for nonviolent resistance," says Issa Amro, the coordinator and cofounder of the grass-roots movement Youth Against Settlements.
Volunteers in B'Tselem's camera project in the West Bank. Helen Yanovsky
Established five years ago, Youth Against Settlements has to date handed out cameras to 25 of its volunteers. "Not only are these cameras a great weapon for nonviolent resistance, but they also serve the purpose of protection," Amro says. "Our volunteers who walk around with them say they feel much safer because soldiers are less likely to start up with them."
B'Tselem's 200 lenses
Amro previously worked with B'Tselem, where he was a driving force behind its flagship camera project. Thanks to footage captured by these cameras, which later served as evidence in court, he says, many Palestinians accused of wrongdoing by Israeli security forces, himself included, avoided prison sentences.
"When you are a Palestinian living in a place like Hebron, you are considered by the Israelis to be guilty unless proven innocent," Amro says. "So for us, the cameras are not only a way to document events but also to protect ourselves when false complaints are made against us by Israeli soldiers."
Through its camera project launched 10 years ago, B'Tselem has distributed 200 cameras to citizen journalists in the occupied territories. As part of the project, the volunteers also attend special workshops.
With smartphones so widespread these days, cameras would seem to have outlived their time. Yet Gilutz is not convinced.
"First of all, the footage from a camera is much higher quality," he notes. "Besides that, we've found that when people use their smartphones to shoot video, they get distracted by phone calls and other things. When they're behind a camera, they're much more focused, and that's critical when undertaking this kind of documentation."
B'Tselem wasn't the first organization to come up with the idea of equipping ordinary Palestinians with cameras so that the conflict could be shown from an alternative vantage point. Foreign television crews based in Israel started handing out cameras as far back as the first intifada, which broke out in 1987.
"Way back then, the Palestinians understood how to win over public opinion and how essential it was to their success in the overall conflict. The Palestinians would smuggle out footage from areas defined by the army as closed military zones until the designation became almost meaningless," says MK Nachman Shai (Zionist Union), a former chief spokesman of the Israeli army.
"The practice gained momentum during the second intifada, and ever since, thanks to new technologies and the widespread availability of filming devices, the army operates today under the assumption that it is no longer possible to cover up things and maintain secrecy. Everything that happens today is out there in the open and reported on in real time."
Imad Abu Shamsiyeh, who filmed Sgt. Elor Azaria shooting an already wounded Palestinian assailant in March 2016.B'Tselem
Under such circumstances, Shai says, the army's ability to control and manipulate information about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has been dramatically curtailed "and has even totally disappeared."
"True, Israel still enjoys a technological advantage over the Palestinians, primarily in the field of cyber," he says, "but in the realm of public diplomacy, the Palestinians are successfully exploiting technology to narrow the gap that once existed between the small and meek and the big and strong."
Haaretz exclusive: Shooting of wounded Palestinian assailant – as seen from every angle
Fighting cameras with cameras
The widespread presence of cameras in the areas under Israeli occupation, Shai believes, induces restraint among the soldiers, many of whom fear ending up like Elor Azaria. At the same time, he notes, the army has begun to equip the soldiers with their own cameras so that when questions arise about the credibility of footage released by the other side, it can rely on its own clips.
"Very often, I hear Israeli soldiers warning each other to be careful when they see us with our cameras," says Amro, the Palestinian activist. "'Watch out,' they say, 'they're filming.'"
B'Tselem volunteers, says Gilutz, report that soldiers show more restraint when cameras are around. "I'm convinced the cameras are a deterrent, but this is really only speculation because we can't know what would happen if the cameras weren't there," he says.
In years past, the Israeli army often claimed that footage shot by human rights activists operating in the occupied territories was doctored. That is less the case in recent years, and as Gilutz notes, the military judges in the Azaria case relied heavily on the video shot by Abu Shamsiyeh.
B'Tselem videos are generally cut and edited, under the thinking that most viewers lack the patience to watch long clips. "But we always make the unedited version available as well for the benefit of those who want to compare," Gilutz adds.
Ta'ayush is one of several human rights groups active in the occupied territories that has made cameras basic fixtures of its daily work. "We basically don't go out to the field unless we have a camera with us," says Guy Butavia, a Jewish-Israeli volunteer with the group. Cameras were already in use when he began volunteering with Ta'ayush seven years ago, but today "it's much more organized and professional."
Still, the presence of cameras doesn't necessarily mean that Israeli security forces, or the settlers for that matter, will be on their best behavior, Butavia adds. "Sometimes, it's more like a red flag, and rather than calm them down, the cameras make them very edgy," he says.
Tehilla Shwartz Altschuler, a media scholar at the Israel Democracy Institute, acknowledges that the use of cameras by citizen journalists has played an important role in exposing human rights abuses and keeping the Israeli security forces on their toes. At the same time, she warns, there is also a downside to the growing reliance on them.
"It's important to look at the bigger picture here - not only at how they're used within the context of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict," she says. "As it becomes more and more common for people to aim cameras at one another, and we see it very often on the roads these days, we risk turning into a dictatorship run by snitchers."
Scientists have discovered evidence deep below the Dead Sea bed of severe droughts that took place 10,000 years ago and more than 100,000 years ago, according to a new report. They believe that their findings are a warning of what could happen in the region if climate change predictions come true.
The report, published this week in the journal Earth and Planetary Science Letters, is based on research by scientists in six countries, including Israel. It involved the extraction about six years ago of sediment cores from a depth of 450 meters under the Dead Sea bed (almost 1,150 meters from the lake's surface). Long salt cores were also extracted.
Long salt cores that were extracted from the Dead SeaBoaz Lazar
"The cores were sent to Germany for testing, and using radioactive methods we were able to date the period of each section of the core," said Prof. Mordechai Stein of the Geological Survey of Israel and the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, one of the leaders of the Dead Sea scientific drilling project. The researchers discovered that significant parts of the core are made of salt, which represent periods when the level of the Dead Sea dropped, and that reflects periods of drought in the Dead Sea drainage basin, Stein said.
"These are like time capsules. Chemical analysis allows us to analyze the changes that have taken pace in the sea," he added.
Analysis of the cores showed that in certain eras, ranging from 115,000 to 130,000 years ago, during the time known as the "last interglacial period" (the period between two ice ages), the level of the Dead Sea plummeted. This attests to previously undocumented severe and long-lasting droughts. During those periods, temperatures rose more than 4 degrees above the average in the 20th century. This is a spike similar to what is predicted due to climate change until the end of this century.
The Dead Sea level rose again when a colder, wetter period began, and declined once more after another drought 10,000 years ago. By analyzing the salt cores, the researchers were also able to estimate how much water reached the sea during the drought. It is believed to have been only 70 percent to 80 percent of the water that flowed to the sea before Israel and Jordan began exploiting the sources of the Jordan and Lake Kinneret.
The decline sometimes persisted for decades or longer. In some periods, the level went down to nearly 500 meters below sea level. In recent years, it has dropped below 430 meters below sea level. Rainfall during the droughts was at least 40 percent less than it is now.
"The observations show that this region is one of the most influenced by climate changes today," according to Dr. Yael Kiro, an Israeli researcher at Columbia University in the United States and the Hebrew University, one of the report's authors.
Because what happened in the past can happen again, the new findings can have major implications for the future of water resources and population density in the Middle East, the report concludes.
The Dead Sea level has declined in recent years as a result of human activity, but it is expected to decline even more sharply due to climate change. Israel and Jordan are working on a project to bring remnants of desalinated water from the Gulf of Eilat to the Dead Sea, but the extent of the project is such that it will do no more than slow the decline.
The witch's brew that has brought the political system to the point of nausea in recent weeks ended Thursday with a twisted and no less nauseating agreement between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon. The threat of early elections, if it ever existed, has disappeared, until the next attack of madness, or alternatively, until Netanyahu is indicted - whichever comes first.
Netanyahu won this ego war, at least in the short term. Israel's free press, his bête noire, suffered a harsh blow. He wanted to close the new public broadcasting corporation, fire its executives, revive the ailing Israel Broadcasting Authority and preserve the job of a family friend, Channel 1 television economic analyst Oded Shahar, who will always be grateful to him and his wife, Sara, for what they did. And he succeeded. Bibi ("in the end, I get what I want") proved that he hasn't lost his touch.
With help from Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit, he achieved his goal in a more elegant fashion, so to speak - not by shutting down the corporation or chopping off heads, but by creating a "news company" separate from the main corporation. The news company will essentially be the same uninteresting channel known today as Channel 1 television.
What about the hundreds of corporation employees who left their old jobs after the Knesset passed a law establishing the new broadcaster and will now be unemployed? Netanyahu will live with that. He's already spent his limited amount of fake compassion on IBA employees.
For him, this is just one small piece of the puzzle. His big plan - breaking up Channel 2 television, importing oligarchs from overseas to set up submissive channels like Channel 20, or like his mouthpiece, the daily Israel Hayom, and thereby achieving control over all the electronic media, both public and commercial - isn't happening. There are legal problems. But he doubtless told himself Thursday, "We've conquered another hill; we'll regroup and press onward."
When news of the agreement first broke Thursday morning, it was mistakenly called a compromise. Once the details became known, it became clear that this was like a compromise between the wolf and the lamb.
Kahlon had made it clear from the start that he was willing to concede the essence to preserve the shell: The corporation must begin broadcasting on schedule and its budget mustn't be increased. A two- or three-week delay doesn't count. He was publicly furious when the corporation's executives announced Geula Even-Sa'ar's appointment as the principal news anchor at the height of the crisis. He was willing to deliver up their heads without batting an eye.
Netanyahu seized the opportunity. Within the legal constraints set by Mendelblit, he maximized his profit. The androgynous creature that emerged from his office's negotiations with the treasury is utterly malformed. It has a long and troubled road ahead, politically, legally and technically.
And that's exactly what Netanyahu wanted - chaos, uncertainty, additional delays. Thus both the young new corporation and the creaking old one will continue stumbling along, weak, frightened and easily influenced. That's how Bibi likes his media.
Kahlon came off badly. Now, everyone hates him - both IBA employees and corporation employees.
But to say that Netanyahu emerged from this mud wrestling the victor is shortsighted. Polls show that a large majority of the public think he's lying and acting out of ulterior motives, that Geula Even Sa'ar deserved her job, and so forth. And that's without even mentioning the politicians, many of whom are saying, "Enough already!"
The China Syndrome
Ever since he returned, sick, from China, Netanyahu has devoted most of his time to the broadcasting corporation. It's important for the public to know what the world's busiest prime minister, in the world's most threatened country, wastes his time on for the sake of satisfying his caprices.
He held marathon meetings with Kahlon, with bureaucrats from the Prime Minister's Office, the treasury and the Communications Ministry, with the attorney general and his deputies, and about what? About a broadcasting corporation that has become his and his wife's obsession du jour.
People who attended these meetings described a frantic, capricious, angry, suspicious man with a persecution complex who blamed the whole world for his troubles. "It's not clear how his wires are attached," one said. "You'd need an MRI to understand what's going on in his brain."
Aren't all those wasted hours a shame? Wouldn't it have been better to spend all that energy on issues important to the general public? And that's not even to mention the chutzpah of his dealing with the media at all when he's a walking conflict of interests, a tangle of personal interests and ties to interested parties, a man suspected of a serious crime related to the media. It's spitting in the legal system's face.
Mendelblit's entry into the picture reduced Netanyahu's room to maneuver. Time after time, Mendelblit and his staff poured cold water on Bibi's rampages. Given that two senior members of Netanyahu's party, David Bitan and Miri Regev, "said explicitly that the government has to control the corporation's broadcasts, how will we persuade the High Court of Justice that everything is businesslike, professional, disconnected from politics?" one demanded.
Netanyahu was furious. "So they said it, so what? Everyone's allowed to say anything he pleases." Wonderful, suddenly he's in favor of freedom of expression, one participant muttered in a colleague's ear.
All this recalls the saga of the illegal settlement outpost Amona. Netanyahu spent dozens of hours poring over maps with legal advisers and settlement representatives in an effort to find an alternative location for the settlers who knowingly built their houses on stolen land. When they summoned him to his office in the middle of the night, he jumped out of bed and ran to appease them.
Amona and the broadcasting corporation - that's ultimately what will be remembered about this government, this prime minister. It's been weeks since that illegal, isolated outpost with a few dozen residents was evacuated from its hilltop in the middle of nowhere, but the issue of finding an alternative location is still with us, at the heart of diplomatic talks with the White House.
It's been almost three years since the cabinet and Knesset passed the broadcasting reform that created the corporation. It will be years, if ever, before the infant corporation can provide real competition to the two commercial television channels. But the prime minister hasn't been able to leave it alone. Some of his ministers say he's acting as like he's completely lost it.
The ministers shrugged despairingly; even the most experienced threw up their hands. "What, for God's sake, is he doing?" one asked this week. "Pesach is approaching, there's a real danger of terror attacks, the south is a tinderbox that could explode at any moment, Trump is working on a new diplomatic initiative, and Bibi is totally immersed in the broadcast corporation."
Over the past week, he's been out of touch with ministers and party leaders, even those he usually talks with frequently. "That's it, we've ceased to understand him," said the leader of one party in the governing coalition.
"Moshe Kahlon found himself in a corner he never sought, as the standard-bearer of public broadcasting," this cabinet minister added. "What interest does he have in that? If the economic situation is good and housing prices fall, who'll remind Kahlon that the corporation wasn't established? And if the situation is bad and housing prices keep climbing, will anyone vote for him because the corporation began broadcasting?"
I asked this minister whether he and his colleagues had tried to persuade Kahlon to compromise, to capitulate. "No," he responded. "We have no complaints against him. It's Netanyahu who's behaving inappropriately."
Before the weekly cabinet meeting on Sunday, the heads of the other four coalition parties met by themselves, without Netanyahu and Kahlon. They decided that Habayit Hayehudi, United Torah Judaism, Shas and Yisrael Beiteinu should issue a joint statement - a very rare move - voicing vehement opposition to early elections.
They then gave Netanyahu's bureau a heads-up. "He should know we won't forgive him if he drags us into elections over this madness," they warned.
One of Netanyahu's aides promptly ran over to them, panicked. "Wait with this," he begged them. "It's liable to weaken us in the negotiations with Kahlon."
The party leaders agreed, but their message was transmitted, and apparently understood. Elections are out. And so is the free press.
A year and half ago, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu sparked controversy with comments about the ties between the Nazi regime and the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem during World War II. Netanyahu claimed that it was Mufti Haj Amin al-Husseini himself who convinced Nazi leader Adolf Hitler to exterminate Europe's Jews, before backpedalling on his remarks.
But a new discovery by the National Library of Israel has brought the ties between the mufti and the Nazis back into focus. The archive found a 1943 telegram from Nazi SS leader Heinrich Himmler to Husseini, written in German. The timing of the telegram is significant: It was sent on November 2, 1943 and marked 26 years since the British government issued the Balfour Declaration expressing its support for the establishment of a Jewish homeland in Palestine. (This November will mark the declaration's 100th anniversary.)
The Himmler telegram reads: "To Grand Mufti Amin al-Husseini: From the outset, the National Socialist [Nazi] movement of Greater Germany has been a standard-bearer in the battle against world Jewry. For this reason, it is closely following the battle of freedom-seeking Arabs, particularly in Palestine, against the Jewish invaders. The shared recognition of the enemy and the joint fight against it are creating the strong base [uniting] Germany and freedom-seeking Arabs around the world. In this spirit, I am pleased to wish you, on the anniversary of the wretched Balfour Declaration, warm wishes on your continued fight until the great victory."
It was signed by Himmler as SS commander of the entire Third Reich.
The telegram from S.S. head Heinrich Himmler to Mufti Haj Amin al-Husseini, sent to mark the 26th anniversary of the Balfour Declaration in 1943. Israel National Library The back side of the telegram from S.S. head Heinrich Himmler to Mufti Haj Amin al-Husseini, sent to mark the 26th anniversary of the Balfour Declaration in 1943. Israel National Library
Chen Malul of the National Library's content department said the telegram took a circuitous route before ending up at the archive in Jerusalem. With the defeat of Nazi Germany, where the mufti had lived during World War II, the document was confiscated by the American army. It then came into the possession of a member of the pre-state Haganah underground army in Palestine, who in turn donated it to the National Library.
Several months ago, as part of ongoing work in the archives, the file was recategorized as pertaining to the Balfour Declaration due to its mention in the telegram.
The file came to the library's attention after staff was asked to look for materials connected to the 1917 declaration. The telegram was made public this week on Chen's blog on the National Library's website.
Ultimately, Himmler's promise of a "strong base" uniting Nazis and Muslims didn't stand the test of time. "The mufti failed to achieve most of his goals. Nazi Germany did not declare its support for the idea of Arab independence," said Dr. Esther Webman, a senior research at Tel Aviv University's Dayan Center for Middle Eastern and African Studies. She noted that efforts to incite the Arabs of the Middle East against the colonial powers in World War II also failed.
The telegram supplements what historians already knew: At a particular time, an ideological partnership existed between part of the Nazi leadership and the mufti. Nevertheless, it does not serve to confirm Netanyahu's initial reference to an imaginary conversation between the mufti and Hitler that purportedly took place in November 1941, two years before Himmler sent his telegram.
The Israeli prime minister had initially claimed: "Haj Amin al-Husseini went to Hitler and said to him: 'If you expel them [the Jews], they will all come here [to Palestine].'" According to Netanyahu's account, Hitler then asked, "So what am I supposed to do with them?" and the mufti replied: "Burn them."
When Netanyahu made the remarks in 2015, they sparked major criticism from leading Holocaust historians because the comments implied that Husseini had pushed Hitler to begin the extermination of the Jews. In backtracking, Netanyahu acknowledged that it was the Nazis, and not Husseini, who had decided to exterminate European Jewry. He said that he had never attempted to "absolve Hitler of his responsibility for the Holocaust."
"All of the facts show that at the meeting between Hitler and the mufti, the Final Solution had long been around and that they had long been killing Jews and had abandoned a solution involving force emigration and expulsion," said Prof. Dina Porat, the chief historian at the Yad Vashem Holocaust museum and research center. Husseini had asked Hitler to carry out the Final Solution in the Middle East, Porat said, but was certainly not the person to steer the plan itself.