Top News & Analysis from Israel & Palestine: April 5-14, 2023

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2023 Congressional Briefing Series on Palestine and Israel – Key Issues for the 118th Congress,

The Congressional Briefing Series is an educational program conducted annually by the Middle East Institute’s Palestinian Affairs Program and the Foundation for Middle East Peace (FMEP) to brief members of Congress and their staff on the most pressing issues facing Israel and Palestine today. The 2023 series, recorded in February and March 2023, features expert analysis — Palestinian and Israeli voices as well as others —  on topics of extremism, human rights, and Palestinian internal politics, among others. Sessions are co-moderated by MEI’s Khaled Elgindy and FMEP’s Lara Friedman.

What is behind rising anti-Semitism around the world?,

“The past five years have seen an increase in anti-Semitic violence around the world…So what are the best ways to identify and combat anti-Semitism? And how do we separate anti-Jewish rhetoric from criticism of the state of Israel and its policies? In this week’s UpFront Special, Marc Lamont Hill puts these questions to Rabbi Brant Rosen, reconstructionist rabbi and founding member of the Jewish Voice for Peace Rabbinical Council, and Lara Friedman, president of the Foundation for Middle East Peace.”


Cyberattacks strike Israeli banks as Iran celebrates Quds Day,

“Israel’s National Cyber Directorate announced Friday afternoon that it had identified and blocked several attacks on websites of Israeli banks. The directorate explained the attackers tried to overwhelm the sites and make them crash…The cyberattack against the banks coincides with Quds (Jerusalem) Day, which is observed in Iran and other Shiite communities such as Syria and Lebanon with anti-Israel demonstrations. Hundreds of anti-Israel marches took place Friday across Iran. Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi led the Tehran march…Israeli authorities had reportedly anticipated attacks by pro-Palestinian hackers on that day.”

Jordan, Israel spar over access to Christian holy sites in Jerusalem,

“Israeli-Jordanian relations have taken a turn for the worse with accusations from both sides over access to Jerusalem’s holy sites, ahead of the Greek Orthodox Easter this Sunday, and the Muslim holiday of Ramadan next week.  The Israeli news outlet Walla reported Thursday that Israel is blaming Jordan for fanning the flames over incidents last week at the Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif compound, when Israeli officers raided Al-Aqsa mosque, and clashed with worshippers that they claimed are barricading themselves at the site. On Thursday, Jordan condemned Israeli restrictions on Christians’ access to the Jerusalem Holy Sepulcher Church for the Holy Light celebrations this coming Saturday.” See also Jerusalem church slams Israeli ‘misguided and false’ reasons for Easter celebration restrictions (New Arab); Catholic patriarch decries spike in anti-Christian attacks by Israelis (Middle East Eye)

Thousands of Israelis march to illegal West Bank outpost as tensions mount,

As tensions mounted between Israelis and Palestinians, Israelis from across the country travelled to the outpost of Evyatar while waving Israeli flags and chanting religious songs and slogans during the holiday week of Passover. Israeli troops fired rubber bullets and tear gas at stone-throwing Palestinian protesters in nearby Beita, injuring 17 people with rubber bullets and two with gas canisters to the head, the Palestinian Red Crescent said.” See also At least 216 Palestinians injured during Israeli settlers’ attack on Beita (New Arab)

Israeli forces storm Al-Aqsa, arrest over 300 as clashes resume with Hamas (April 5) ,

“Videos circulating online showed clashes inside Al-Aqsa, the third holiest site in Islam, with Israeli forces using batons, rubber bullets and smashing chairs as they worked to evacuate the mosque…Israeli reports said the clashes happened after a group of people inside the mosque barricaded themselves at the Temple Mount compound in response to calls by Hamas to prevent Jews from ascending the Temple Mount and offering a Passover sacrifice there…The scenes of chaos and clashes inside Al-Aqsa elicited outrage across the Arab world.” See also Why did Israel attack worshippers at Al-Aqsa Mosque?; More than 250,000 attend fourth Friday prayer of Ramadan at Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa Mosque (New Arab on 4/14/23); Netanyahu bars Jewish visitors from Temple Mount for last 10 days of Ramadan (Times of Israel); Who are the Jewish groups who enter Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa compound? (Al Jazeera); ‘The Israeli police wanted to show that they are in control of Al-Aqsa’ (Vera Sajrawi/+972); Progressive Democrats Slam Israel Over Violence Against Palestinian Worshippers at Al-Aqsa (Haaretz)

Israel strikes Gaza and Lebanon after rocket fire,

“The Israeli military attacked Gaza and launched rare strikes against Lebanon overnight in response to a barrage of rockets fired from Lebanon toward northern Israel earlier Thursday. Dozens of rockets were also fired from Gaza overnight. The big picture: It’s the most serious escalation between Lebanon and Israel since the 2006 war. Israel blames Hamas militants in Lebanon and says the Lebanese government is responsible for any attacks coming from its territory.” See also Israeli attacks on Syria in the past year: Timeline: “Israel attacked Syria on Sunday, saying it was responding to rockets fired towards it from its neighbour…In the past year alone, Israeli attacks on Syria have killed at least 44 people and injured more than 50. Sunday’s attack with artillery and drones comes as Israel ramps up aggression on multiple fronts, including Gaza, Lebanon, occupied East Jerusalem and the occupied West Bank, as tensions soar due to Israeli police raids at Al-Aqsa Mosque. Below is a timeline of Israeli attacks on Syria in the past year:”

A British-Israeli tragedy, born out of the occupation,

“Tributes have been pouring in on news stations and social media for Rina, 15, and Maia Dee, 20, the British-Israeli sisters killed in a shooting attack in the occupied West Bank last Friday, and for their mother Lucy, who died from her wounds earlier this week. The three were in a car driving close to Hamra Junction in the Jordan Valley when they reportedly came under heavy fire. The Israeli army is now conducting a manhunt for Palestinian suspects. The Dee family immigrated from the United Kingdom to the West Bank settlement of Efrat nine years ago…While recognizing that heartbreaking loss, an important detail has been missing from almost every one of these tributes and reports: Israel’s military occupation. To bring this into the picture is not to justify the Dees’ murders — far from it. But to ignore it is to misunderstand the context in which they lived and were killed, and as such, to condemn countless others to the same fate…It is possible to reject acts of violence without denying the conditions that make that violence inevitable. Yet that is exactly what so many of the responses to the Dees’ killings are doing, omitting the brutal system of domination imposed on Palestinians and thus rendering their actions incomprehensible other than being motivated solely by antisemitic bloodlust. By failing to reckon with that system head-on, they ensure that nothing will change before the next attack claims its next victims.” See also Israeli forces kill two Palestinians near settlement in Nablus (Middle East Eye); West Bank: Palestinian boy killed by Israeli forces in military raid (Middle East Eye)

Israel: Contradictory accounts raise questions over Tel Aviv 'car-ramming',

“The family of a Palestinian citizen of Israel, who was shot dead by police after allegedly carrying out a “car ramming” are raising doubts over the authorities’ justification for killing him after law enforcement and medics made contradictory claims over what happened. Israeli police initially labelled the incident, which took place on Friday and left one person dead, as a “terror attack” involving a “shooting and a car-ramming”. A car had crashed into a crowd of people after speeding towards Tel Aviv’s beach promenade before overturning. An Italian citizen, Alessandro Parini, was killed and seven others were wounded. After the vehicle flipped, the driver – later identified as Yousef Abu Jaber from Kafr Qasim city – was shot by a police officer who said he thought Abu Jaber was carrying a gun…Police and the internal security agency Shin Bet then said they were looking into the possibility that it was not a terror attack…But Abu Jaber’s family is disputing the police’s version of events, claiming that it was a car accident and not an attack…”We saw how a barrage of shots were fired at him while he lay on the floor,” Omar Abu Jaber said. “They could have taken him into custody without killing him. Logically speaking, three armed men could have arrested him alive.” According to Omar: “The policemen who shot and killed him took on the role of prosecutor and judge, and tried him right there in the field.”…Israeli Police Commissioner Kobi Shabtai had called on licensed gun owners to start carrying their weapons to respond to potential attacks by Palestinians just hours before the Tel Aviv beach incident.”

Israeli Scene

Why Palestinians Aren’t Joining Israel’s Protests,

“The very Supreme Court that Israeli Jews are protesting to save has been the state’s most loyal partner in enabling this sort of violent repression and abuse against Palestinians. It was this court that approved the military’s use of live fire against protesters in Gaza in 2018. This court has enabled the use of torture by the Israeli state and has never denied a request by Israel to hold Palestinians without trial or charge, the Association for Civil Rights in Israel told Haaretz. Some of its decisions from the past decade allowed the state to carry out the ethnic cleansing of the occupied West Bank area of Masafer Yatta, confiscate Palestinian property in East Jerusalem, revoke citizenship from those it deems disloyal, deny citizenship to Palestinian spouses of Israelis, segregate Jewish and Palestinian communities within Israel, and permit the state to hold the bodies of alleged Palestinian attackers as political bargaining chips…Whatever the outcome of these protests, a state that considers equality an existential threat can never be a democracy. The reason Palestinians are not participating is because we have known this all along.”

Whose Constitution, Whose Democracy?,

“Many opponents of Netanyahu’s judicial overhaul have called for Israel to finally draft a constitution, but any serious attempt will mean choosing between a democratic state and one that privileges Jewish citizens above all others.” See also Analysis | Bills May Have Been Delayed, but Netanyahu’s Judicial Coup Is Alive and Kicking (Haaretz); Netanyahu Reverses Firing of Israeli Defense Minister (NYT)

Under the Radar, a U.S. Group Is Grooming Right-wing Judges Who Will Reshape Israel,

“The Federalist Society also initiated and encouraged the establishment of a similar organization in Israel. The Israel Law and Liberty Forum, established in 2019 with the aid of then-future MK Simcha Rothman, has branches on four campuses: the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Tel Aviv University, Bar-Ilan University and Reichman University (formerly the Interdisciplinary Center, Herzliya). Enjoying substantial funding from the New York-based Tikvah Fund, a conservative U.S. nonprofit foundation, the Law and Liberty Forum provides students with a parallel, in some cases quite different sort of legal education from what is offered in the usual law school curriculum, by means of courses, conferences and other activities. It also helps people it sees as outstanding ideologues to find internships and other posts after their studies and throughout their careers… It’s not a question of whether the justices will be right-wing, but rather of whether they’ll be the shade of right the Forum wants to produce. The answer lies in the organization that stands behind the Forum and the person who heads it. The Tikvah Fund, financed by the estate of the American investment manager Zalman C. Bernstein, was founded with the express purpose of inculcating conservative and Jewish values in Israel and the United States, by means of educational and other activities. However, after many years of philanthropic work – supporting institutions such as Beit Avi Chai and the Shalem Center (now Shalem College) in Jerusalem – the organization’s activity has taken a different tack in recent years. In addition to underwriting scholarships, conferences and research institutes, the Tikvah Fund now also supports groups, such as the Kohelet Policy Forum, that want to revamp society, by way of implanting American-style conservatism in Israel.” See also What an Israeli High School Pupil Discovered in Her Civics Textbook (Haaretz) for an in-depth discussion of the impact of Kohelet Forum affiliated advocates on Israeli civics curriculum. See also this recent FMEP webinar: Spotlight on the “Kohelet Policy Forum”: How a Far-Right-Wing, U.S.-Funded Israeli Think Tank is Working to Shape Policy & Law in Both the US & Israel

Israeli spy chiefs led secret revolt against Netanyahu overhaul plans, leaked documents say,

“The leaked document labeled “top secret” says that in February, senior leaders of the Mossad spy service “advocated for Mossad officials and Israeli citizens to protest the new Israeli Government’s proposed judicial reforms, including several explicit calls to action that decried the Israeli Government, according to signals intelligence.” By itself, the direct intervention into Israeli politics by the Mossad, an external spy service forbidden from wading into domestic matters, would be a significant revelation. That the information surfaced as a result, apparently, of U.S. espionage on its closest Middle East ally could further inflame what has been a time of historic political unrest in Israel…On Sunday, the prime minister’s office released a statement on behalf of the Mossad, describing media reports about the memo as “mendacious and without any foundation whatsoever.” “The Mossad and its serving senior personnel have not engaged in the issue of the demonstrations at all and are dedicated to the value of service to the state that has guided the Mossad since its founding,” the statement read.”

Ben-Gvir Met With His Pick for Chief of His Recently Approved National Guard, Against IDF No-contact Policy,

“The Israeli military has censured Avinoam Emunah, who is expected to retire from the IDF in six months, over his unsanctioned meeting with Ben-Gvir, during which the two discussed his possible appointment as head of the national security minister’s national guard, which critics have charged is more akin to a personal militia with police powers…A video of the soon-to-be retired commander, recorded in during Israel’s ground invasion of the Gaza Strip in 2014, has made waves in recent days. In the resurfaced recording, Emunah can be seen declaring before a group of soldiers on the eve of their deployment that “It’s much more unpleasant tonight to be an Arab… You will see them running away most of the time. Kill them as they flee!””

Palestinian Scene

'From Every Side in Palestine, You Are Under Attack.' NGO Director Ubai Al-Aboudi on Reforming Palestinian Politics,

“In a pre-dawn raid last year, Israeli soldiers stormed the Ramallah office of the Bisan Center for Research and Development, confiscating files and other office material from the Palestinian NGO. After leaving behind a military order declaring the Bisan Center unlawful, the soldiers welded its office door shut. Israeli forces conducted simultaneous raids on six other Palestinian civil society organizations in Ramallah: Addameer, al-Haq, Defense for Children International-Palestine, the Union of Agricultural Work Committees, the Health Work Committees, and the Union of Palestinian Women Committees…But the Bisan Center continues to face repression not just from Israeli forces in the occupied West Bank but also the Palestinian Authority, which has tried to restrict the Bisan Center’s activities, in an attempt to shut down criticism of the Palestinian leadership and demands for free elections. “Sometimes you feel that from every side in Palestine, you are under attack,” [Bisan Executive Director  Ubai] al-Aboudi says. “What the occupation and the PA share is that they don’t want accountability. And because they do not want any accountability, they are using more and more extreme measures to suppress dissent.” In an interview with Democracy in Exile, al-Aboudi outlines the steps needed to reform the Palestine Liberation Organization, bringing democratic change to Palestinian politics.” See also Palestinian Authority Blocks Registration of Rights Group (Omar Shakir//Human Rights Watch)

The Story of Mohammed El-Kurd,

“GQ Middle East sat down with writer and poet Mohammed El-Kurd, together with his friend, singer-songwriter Mustafa the Poet. The two shared their thoughts on Palestine, searching for beauty in a wounded world, and the enduring power of poetry to liberate. MEK: “Writing that is loyal to the Palestinian street exists in Arabic, but not enough in English. The narrative about the Palestinian struggle in English is very, very different from that in Arabic, which is incredibly potent. I want to close that chasm.” As for how he’ll achieve that, living in the US and writing in English? “I’ve written about Palestine in English since childhood — broken English at the time. I’ve talked to countless, sorry diplomats about our imminent displacement in English, and I’ve taken groups of foreigners on tours of Sheikh Jarrah in English.” “These days, I go to Palestine every few months, so my relationship with it hasn’t changed much. I don’t want to preach to the choir. I don’t want to only engage people who violently nod and agree with the things I say. I want to contribute to changing the larger English-language conversation, and you do so by invading the ears that would otherwise tune you out. That’s where I can be most useful.””

US Scene

14 Democrats Urge Biden to Shift Approach to Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, Probe U.S. Aid Violations,

“Fourteen Democratic lawmakers on Thursday urged the Biden administration to undertake a foundational shift in its approach to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in progressives’ most significant missive to date against the Israeli government since Benjamin Netanyahu’s far-right coalition assumed power. Spearheaded by Rep. Jamaal Bowman and Sen. Bernie Sanders, the bicameral letter urges U.S. President Joe Biden and Secretary of State Antony Blinken to “undertake a shift in U.S. policy in recognition of the worsening violence, further annexation of land, and denial of Palestinian rights. Only by protecting democracy, human rights, and self-determination for all Palestinians and Israelis can we achieve a lasting peace.” The letter was additionally signed by co-lead by Reps. Cori Bush, Andre Carson, Summer Lee, Betty McCollum, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar, Ayanna Pressley, Rashida Tlaib, Raul Grijalva, Bonnie Watson Coleman, Jesus “Chuy” Garcia and Delia Ramirez. The progressive lawmakers are further urging the Biden administration to ensure U.S. taxpayer funds are not supporting Israeli settlements projects, and to determine whether U.S. military aid is in violation of the Arms Export Control Act or the so-called “Leahy Law.”

Evangelical Diversity and Support for Israel,

“Not all evangelicals, who are estimated to make up one quarter of the US population, are Christian Zionists, though 80 percent of this group have expressed the Christian Zionist belief that the creation of the state of Israel in 1948 and the “regathering” of millions of Jewish people there “were fulfillments of Bible prophecy that show we are getting closer to the return of Jesus Christ.”…While evangelicals and the Christian Zionists among them may be a powerful force for Israel, they constitute a group with diverse beliefs and backgrounds that also shift over time…[Professor Shibley] Telhami notes that evangelicals have been a core constituency of the Israeli right for decades, intensifying their support during the Obama and Trump years. At the same time, recent shifts among younger evangelicals are dramatic: a 2021 survey showed that they are quickly becoming much less supportive of Israel than older evangelicals. The poll found that support for Israel among the younger group dropped from 75 percent to 34 percent between 2018 and 2021. Telhami’s polling of evangelicals, which he began in 2015, shows a similar trend, and that the gap between the age groups had already widened significantly by 2018.”

We Need to Talk… About AIPAC—and Develop a Strategy to Defeat the Lobby Too,

“The American Israel Public Affairs Committee endorsed over 100 Republicans who voted against certifying the 2020 election of Joe Biden, while weaponizing its super PAC, United Democracy Project, to spend millions of dollars on misleading attack ads, often accusing Democrats like Summer Lee, Jessica Cisneros, Nina Turner, Andy Levin, Donna Edwards, and others of insufficient loyalty to the Democratic Party. (Oddly, in all of these ads the words “Israel” and “Palestine” are never mentioned.) The specter of AIPAC’s unlimited spending now looms large over our democracy…[PA Rep. Summer] Lee’s victory is a road map for how progressive Democrats can unite to build infrastructure to elect candidates whose values will be consistent both at home and abroad. The AIPAC network is spending millions of dollars precisely because it is losing the generational and partisan battle to progressive Democrats. Instead of capitulating, progressives should continue building off Lee’s victory by coordinating our own network of anti-occupation donors, operatives, and local community members on the ground—precisely mirroring the ideologically driven electoral infrastructure that the AIPAC network has already built.”

Apartheid/Occupation/Human Rights

How the ‘Poor People of Galicia’ Defeated an Elderly Palestinian Couple,

“Israel’s war of attrition against the Sub Laban family began in 1976. The stages of the war are detailed in the rulings written by the numerous judges who have heard the case over the years. It is a dizzying, confusing quantity of legal proceedings, which show both the resilience of Norat and Mustafa Sub Laban and the modus operandi of the state, its institutions and its proxies. This sequence of events was also described to a delegation of diplomats – including the head of the EU mission in Jerusalem – who visited the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood and the Sub Labans’ home a month ago. The guests heard how under the guise of regular landlord-tenant disputes and the auspices of double-standard legislation, Palestinian tenants are evicted from their homes and replaced by Jews.” See also FMEP podcast ‘We Are Determined to Stay”: One Palestinian Family’s Story of Dispossession in Jerusalem with Rafat Sub Laban (human rights lawyer), Amy Cohen (Ir Amim), and FMEP’s Kristin McCarthy

Don't Call It a 'Housing Crisis': The Discriminatory Plight of Israeli Arabs,

“Arabs in Israel find it next to impossible to acquire a home, and that’s not due to the same housing crisis that impacts nearly all Israeli citizens. It’s a different one: discrimination”

Updates on Masafer Yatta,

“Surveillance: Palestinian villages are constantly monitored by neighboring settlers who report any construction to the Israeli military, which typically halts it or demolishes the structures in question. Tuwani is actually one of the only villages in the region that the Israeli authorities have granted a “master plan” for building (after the residents won a long and hard-fought battle with the state), which ostensibly ensures the right to build within the legal municipal borders of the village. Yet despite the master plan, when settlers report building in Tuwani, the army will still often show up and stop the construction, at least temporarily, as happened with the cement truck on Sunday. Ultimately, the settlers and the Israeli government work together to surveil Palestinians. The settlers – individually and as part of larger organizations like Regavim – monitor Palestinians on ground, particularly through drones, and the Israeli government funds them. Just this week, the Israeli Knesset passed a budget proposal to double the funds that finance settler surveillance activity.” See this site for more photo essays by Emily Glick on the South Hebron Hills. See also Alhalawa village by Hamdan Huraini (Humans of Masafer Yatta) “In this village lives Hajja Sabria Abu Arameho who is more than seventy years old. I met her and…asked her for her opinion on the Israeli court’s new decision to allow the army to train in Masafer Yatta. She laughed and said, “This is not new. We were born here and we will die here…We will not be able to leave except for our graves, and we will be buried here in them. This is our destiny, and we do not live far from our home and we will not be able to die away from it.””