Top News from Israel & Palestine: February 26, 2021

What We’re Reading

U.S. Politics & Policy

Israel said very pleased with US strikes in Syria: ‘Biden is not Obama’,

“Israel is highly pleased with Thursday night’s US airstrikes against an Iranian-backed militia base on the Syrian-Iraqi border, Israeli officials told Walla News Friday. Officials told Walla they see the strikes as a positive signal about the new administration’s posture toward Iran, and believe it will send a message to Tehran that it must restrain itself and its proxies in the region.” Background/Further Reading: “Biden’s first military action: Strike on Iranian-backed targets in Syria” (JTA)

Pro-Israel Senators to Call on Blinken to Take Stronger Action Over ICC War Crimes Probe,

“Two leading pro-Israel senators are circulating a letter to their colleagues calling on U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken to take a stronger stance against the International Criminal Court’s potential probe into Israeli war crimes according to a letter obtained by Haaretz. Sen. Ben Cardin, a Democrat from Maryland, and Sen. Rob Portman, a Republican from Ohio, write that Blinken should “issue a more forceful condemnation of the Court’s actions,” after the court announced earlier this month that it would open legal proceedings against Israel and Hamas on suspicion of committing war crimes in the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip. “We also urge you to work with like-minded international partners to steer the ICC away from further actions that could damage the Court’s credibility by giving the appearance of political bias. We ask that you give this matter your full attention and that you continue to defend Israel against discriminatory attacks in all international fora,” the letter continues.”

Department Press Briefing – February 25, 2021,

QUESTION: I have another question on the Palestinian issue, please. There are some reports about the U.S. Government intention to postpone reopening the U.S. consulate in Jerusalem until after the Israeli elections. Do you confirm those reports?

MR PRICE:What I can say is that we look forward to deepening our engagement with the Palestinian people and the Palestinian leadership. As part of that, we are reviewing our diplomatic presence on the ground to ensure that that diplomatic presence enables us to fully conduct our complete range of activities. And that includes engagement, public diplomacy, assistance to the Palestinian people, and diplomatic reporting.

‘’Til Kingdom Come’ Review: An Unusual Religious Bond,

““’Til Kingdom Come,” the new documentary by Maya Zinshtein, probes the entanglements of politics and prophecy that bind two strange bedfellows: American evangelical Christians and Israeli Jews. The film follows Yael Eckstein, the president of the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews, and the Kentucky pastors William Bingham III and his son Boyd Bingham IV. The hefty donations that the Binghams’ church makes to Eckstein’s organization — which is advertised through sentimental videos of older Israelis receiving care packages — belies a curious logic: Many Evangelicals believe that the return of Jews to Israel portends Armageddon, leading Christians to the rapture and Jews to hell.”


–> Want to known more? Join FMEP for a discussion of “‘Til Kingdom Come” with Director, Maya Zinshtein, and Sarah Posner, author of Unholy: Why White Evangelicals Worship at the Altar of Donald Trump. More info & RSVP: “Evangelicals, Israel/Palestine, and Messianic Politics” – on Tuesday, March 2nd at 11:00am eastern.

Sharp partisan divides in foreign policy priorities,

“Majority of Americans confident in Biden’s handling of foreign policy as term begins.”

Bernie Sanders criticizes Israel over vaccine situation in Palestinian territories,

“Sen. Bernie Sanders has joined other members of Congress in criticizing Israel for the vaccination situation in the Palestinian territories. The Vermont independent said Wednesday that Israel and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu have a responsibility as the “occupying power” to vaccinate Palestinians. “As the occupying power, Israel is responsible for the health of all the people under its control,” said Sanders on Twitter. “It is outrageous that Netanyahu would use spare vaccines to reward his foreign allies while so many Palestinians in the occupied territories are still waiting.” Sanders was referring to reports that Israel will give a small number of surplus vaccine doses to friendly countries, including Hungary and Guatemala. Israel is leading the world in per capita vaccine doses administered. However, the Palestinian territories have had a much slower rollout, hence Sanders’ tweet. Reps. Jamaal Bowman of New York and Marie Newman of Illinois have also voiced similar criticisms of Israel in recent weeks.”

Occupation, Annexation, Human Rights

Farming in a Buffer Zone, The conditions Gaza farmers face under closure,

“Over the past two decades, Palestinian farmers working on the agricultural lands close to the separation fence in the Gaza Strip have suffered repeated attacks by the Israeli occupation forces. During these attacks, Palestinian farmers risk being killed or injured, as well as suffering severe economic losses if the attacks target their agricultural lands and properties…Because of these attacks, Palestinian farmers have been prevented from freely accessing their land, cultivating their fields, and having a stable source of income. The restrictions imposed by Israel, the Occupying Power, have resulted in considerable losses for Palestinian farmers, leading to a sharp decline in their economic conditions, as well as higher rates of unemployment, poverty, and food insecurity. The perpetuation of these conditions severely undermines. a wide set of economic and social rights, including the right to an adequate standard of living, the right to development, and the right to work. Indeed, the attacks against Palestinian farmers and their agricultural lands also constitute a violation of international human rights and humanitarian law by Israel, which as the Occupying Power, is bound by both. Such violations include, inter alia, the use of lethal force, the destruction of civilian property, and the limitation of freedom of movement. This report provides information and analysis of the situation of Palestinian farmers in the ARA on land and, in particular, focuses on the violations carried out against them by the Israeli forces. This report is supported by figures, statistics, and testimonies gathered by Al Mezan’s researchers through interviews, surveys, and data collection, covering the period between 2018-2020.”

Was the Killing of Ahmad Erekat an Extrajudicial Execution?,

“It is noteworthy that the Israeli authorities have refused to conduct a proper investigation. They did not interview witnesses, did not conduct an autopsy of Ahmad’s body, did not investigate the car for mechanical malfunction, and did not review the available video tapes. Rather, they simply proclaimed that Ahmad was a “terrorist” engaged in an attack and that has been the end of their story. Since then, the state has held onto Ahmad’s body and refused to release it to the family for a proper burial. It is being held along with the bodies of 72 other slain Palestinians as both a form of collective punishment and as bargaining chips for the return of two Israeli soldiers’ bodies currently held by Hamas in the Gaza Strip. Even after the release of the video and report by Forensic Architecture and Al-Haq, Israel responded, “Erekat carried out a deliberate ramming attack.” And sadly, in an environment of silencing tactics, malicious dehumanization of Palestinians, a desensitization to their deaths, and propaganda, there has not been much, if any, pressure on Israel to be held accountable for its actions or to release Ahmad’s body which has now been in captivity for eight months and counting.”

KKL-JNF board advances controversial $11.5 million purchase of West Bank land,

“In a contentious vote that passed Thursday by the slimmest of margins, the Jewish National Fund’s board of directors advanced the controversial allocation of NIS 38 million ($11.58 million) in order to purchase lands in the West Bank. The board of Keren Kayemeth LeIsrael Jewish National Fund (KKL-JNF) will meet once again after the March 23 election to determine its policies beyond the Green Line and rule on whether to give final approval for the purchase itself. Left-leaning groups represented on the KKL-JNF board, which includes international Jewish organizations and representatives from Israeli political parties, had been optimistic that they would be able to quash the measure, according to the Haaretz daily. But they were taken by surprise when the representative of Hadassah abstained and the representatives of Na’amat and Maccabi both voted in favor. Na’amat is a Jewish women’s organization affiliated with the Labor Zionist Movement and Maccabi is the international Jewish sports organization.”

Also See:

JNF Directors Ask to Overturn Vote to Allocate Funds for West Bank Land Purchases,

“Five of the 32 members of the Jewish National Fund’s board of directors are demanding that the organization rescind the Thursday vote to allocate funds to purchase West Bank land. The board members claim that there were “fundamental flaws in the conduct” of JNF chairman Avraham Duvdevani during the vote. The board approved on Thursday the allocation of 38 million shekels ($11.6 million) to buy land in the West Bank by one vote. The organization, which is also known by its Hebrew name Keren Kayemeth LeIsrael and which is separate from JNF in the United States, has not yet made a final policy decision, however, to permit the organization to purchase land in the West Bank, which is beyond Israel’s sovereign borders.”

Today Marks 27 Years Since the Ibrahimi Mosque Massacre,

“On February 25, 1994, Israeli settler Baruch Goldstein opened fire inside the Ibrahimi mosque in Hebron, Palestine, killing 29 Palestinians and injuring 150 more as they prayed. Baruch Goldstein was an Israeli-American settler and a devout disciple of Meir Kahane. Meir Kahane, born Martin Kahane in Brooklyn in 1932, was the founder of the Jewish Defense League (JDL), a violent fascist group designated as a terrorist organization by the FBI. JDL members are also primary suspects in the killing of Palestinian-American civil rights leader Alex Odeh in California. Meir Kahane’s racist and violent ideology to this day still has followers. Ben-Gvir, a follower of Meir Kahane and the leader of the Jewish Power party, is a settler who lives on occupied Palestinian land in Hebron. He was convicted in 2007 for supporting a terror organization and inciting racism. Ben-Gvir also has a framed photo of mass murderer Baruch Goldstein in his home. Now Prime Minister Netanyahu has formed an alliance with Ben-Gvir and the Jewish Power party ahead of the Israeli election on March 23. 27 years after the massacre, Netanyahu is promoting Kahane’s followers, and Palestinians will continue paying the price.” Also See – “Fact Sheet: Meir Kahane & The Extremist Kahanist Movement” (IMEU)

Qatar says to fund $60 mln pipeline from Israel to Gaza,

“Qatar Thursday pledged $60 million to build a natural gas pipeline from Israel into the Gaza Strip that will end the energy crisis that has helped cripple the Gaza economy. The Qatari statement, published on its Foreign Ministry website, came two days after it was reported that closed-door negotiations on the pipeline had reached a breakthrough…The plan is for natural gas from the deepwater Leviathan field operated by Chevron in the eastern Mediterranean to flow through an existing pipeline into Israel, and from there into Gaza through a proposed new extension. The European Union said it has pledged over $24,448,800 to fund the pipeline on the Gaza side of the border.”

Lawfare / Silencing Criticism of Israel

Kentucky to become first US state to adopt IHRA definition of antisemitism,

“In a historic moment, both bodies of the Kentucky Assembly on Thursday unanimously passed a state resolution to condemn antisemitism as defined by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA), calling on public officials to confront antisemitism and Jew-hatred. The recognition comes after a series of antisemitic incidents across the Bluegrass State in the past year, including hate-filled flyers being left in various neighborhoods, vandalism at a Jewish center, a car attack and threatening phone calls made to Rabbi Shlomo Litvin of Chabad of the Bluegrass in Lexington. Rabbi Shlomo Litvin, who helped craft the resolution, congratulated both houses on this moment of solidarity. “

This university claims to be pro-justice. So why is it banning Palestine activism?,

“For the second time in five years, Fordham University, a school that proclaims its commitment to the “promotion of justice” and “freedom of inquiry,” has banned its SJP chapter from campus. Following a New York appeals court ruling in December, which granted the school the right to ban the organization, school administrators informed Fordham SJP members in early February that they could no longer be an official school club. “We’re shocked, disappointed, and ashamed,” Shetty said. “We want to challenge the status quo, and we want to make changes to make our campus better for Palestinian students. But the administration doesn’t seem to care about the voices of Palestinian students.” Asked by +972 why Fordham banned SJP, Bob Howe, a spokesman for the university, pointed to the New York court’s ruling that “rejected SJP’s appeal to overturn the University’s decision not to recognize an on-campus chapter of the organization.””

Young Palestinians Are Leaning Into TikTok – Even if Their Content Gets Deleted,

“Even before Khalifa signed up to TikTok, he was aware that addressing the subject of Palestinian rights in a public space could be a risky endeavour. He took a lot of care to make his profile as anonymous as possible, but this didn’t stop people from emailing the law department of a Canadian university with the goal of getting him suspended — fortunately, they got the wrong university. Every time he posted a video, he received dozens of abusive comments, and sometimes even death threats. Khalifa’s experience is far from an isolated incident. According to Nadim Nashif, executive director of 7amleh, a digital rights NGO based in Haifa, Palestinians are often subject to social media harassment by armies of trolls. There have also been concerted efforts to mass-report Palestinian content in the hope of having it taken down. These campaigns are sometimes coordinated by projects such as, a smartphone app and website which partners with the Israeli Strategic Affairs Ministry. “They basically send people in an organised way, hundreds or even thousands of them, to report certain content,” Nashif says. “In many cases, this content just features a Palestinian flag or some kind of symbol related to Palestinian heritage. Even this is enough for some people to start reporting.””


Israel halts vaccine transfer abroad amid legal scrutiny,

“Israel announced Thursday the process of sending coronavirus vaccines to allied nations has been halted amid legal scrutiny as well as domestic and international criticism. The decision came after Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit sent a letter to National Security Adviser Meir Ben-Shabbat asking for clarifications about the program that would send 45,000 vaccines to 20 countries in what has been called “vaccine diplomacy”. ”

Also See

West Bank hospitals under stress as 3rd coronavirus wave hits Palestinians hard,

“Coronavirus cases continued to surge among West Bank Palestinians on Thursday as the Palestinian Authority weighed instituting yet another lockdown. “We’ve recommended a two-week lockdown, and the decision will be made by the Emergency Committee, which is considering the matter,” Palestinian Authority Health Minister Mai al-Kaila said in a statement. The West Bank’s health system is under strain as the number of cases in intensive care reaches new heights. Around 62 percent of PA ventilators are in use, al-Kaila said, setting a new record since the beginning of the pandemic. Across the West Bank, around 85.6% of hospital beds were in use, the minister added. “We are approaching the maximum occupancy rate, and we are currently working to expand the capacity of government and private hospitals,” al-Kaila said.”

Palestinian health minister recommends lockdown in the West Bank,

“The Palestinian Health Ministry has recommended a two-week lockdown amid a surge in coronavirus infections across the West Bank. Palestinian Authority’s Health Minister Mai al-Kaila suggested Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh implement a comprehensive closure as positive cases have increased by some 20-30 percent, while hospital beds in several places are nearing full capacity, according to a statement on the ministry website.”

Task force says pandemic on rise again, warns of new worrisome New York variant,

“Following the opening of much of the economy this week, the trend of declining infection rates has been halted, and certain indicators are once again trending upwards, a military-led coronavirus task force said Friday. Citing the data, the Coronavirus National Information and Knowledge Center, operating under Military Intelligence and the Health Ministry, recommended reassessing whether to continue plans to further ease restrictions in early March.”

Israel's closure of Covid clinic leaves 50,000 people at high risk,

“The clinic, in Tel Aviv’s Neve Sha’anan neighbourhood, vaccinated 10,500 people in the 14 days it was open, welcoming anyone living in the country without residency or formal status. This included asylum seekers, migrant workers and Palestinians married in Israel without papers or reunited with their families. But the Israeli health ministry unexpectedly announced on Wednesday that “the site ha(d) exhausted its vaccine allocation of around 10,000 doses”, according to Haaretz, which said clinic staff were told “the allotment for this population has been used up.” Around 50,000 statusless people living in Israel are yet to be vaccinated, according to calculations by NGO Physicians for Human Rights Israel (PHRI). “It’s very difficult to handle this decision,” Barhana Nagsi, a Sudanese asylum seeker who chairs the Organisation of Asylum Seekers in Tel Aviv, told Middle East Eye. “We don’t speak the language, we don’t understand what’s going on and why they took such a discriminative decision against us.”

PA, Israel deny reports of a vaccination center on the Temple Mount,

“The Palestinian Authority and Israeli officials denied a report of a plan to open a vaccination complex on the Temple Mount. A KAN News report claimed that Israeli officials had sent a request to the PA and the (Jerusalem) Wakf Islamic religious trust asking to erect a coronavirus vaccine complex on the Temple Mount to inoculate Palestinian worshipers but that the request was denied due to opposition by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. An official from the PA and a senior official with the Jordanian-controlled administration of Jerusalem’s Wakf and al-Aqsa Mosque Affairs said they were unaware of any such request. The Health Ministry spokesperson said Health Minister Yuli Edelstein was unaware of such a request and that it is not customary for the PA to be involved in matters regarding Israel and the Temple Mount. The Foreign Ministry said it had no knowledge of such a request and the office of the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT) referred the question to the Health Ministry.”

Israel - Domestic & Regional News

Israeli nuclear facility undergoes major project,

“A secretive Israeli nuclear facility at the center of the nation’s undeclared atomic weapons program is undergoing what appears to be its biggest construction project in decades, satellite photos analyzed by The Associated Press show. A dig about the size of a soccer field and likely several stories deep now sits just meters (yards) from the aging reactor at the Shimon Peres Negev Nuclear Research Center near the city of Dimona. The facility is already home to decades-old underground laboratories that reprocess the reactor’s spent rods to obtain weapons-grade plutonium for Israel’s nuclear bomb program.”

Also See

Israeli Lawmaker, Mayor Wounded in Clashes With Police as Hundreds Protest Violence in Arab Community,

“An Israeli lawmaker and a mayor of the northern city of Umm al-Fahm were wounded on Friday in clashes with police forces in the city, during a demonstration protesting the authorities’ response to gun violence in the Arab community. Some 500 people attended the protest. Organizers accuse the police of using excessive force and insist they held a non-violent protest, while police say the protesters hurled stones at the forces, lightly injuring one officer. Four activists were detained for disrupting public order, police said in a statement.”

Bahrain’s Crown Prince Speaks With Netanyahu on Iran Nuclear Talks, State Media Reports,

“Bahrain’s crown prince spoke with the Israeli prime minister on Thursday about the return to nuclear talks with Iran, Bahrain’s state-run news agency reported, as the U.S. administration tries to revive the tattered 2015 nuclear accord. Bahraini Crown Prince Salman bin Hamad Al Khalifa, also the country’s prime minister, stressed to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu “the importance of the participation of regional countries in any negotiations on the Iranian nuclear file” to support “security and stability in the region,” according to the official Bahrain News Agency.”

Israel, Saudi, Bahrain and UAE in talks on defense alliance,

“Israel is in talks with the kingdoms of Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates on establishing a four-nation defense alliance, i24NEWS reported on Thursday. The reported defense alliance talks likely come in response to the “growing Iranian threat” in the region, specifically regarding its budding nuclear program along with its expanding influence in the Middle East with countries like Syria and Iraq. The report comes as US President Joe Biden attempts to launch talks with Iran on a return to the 2015 nuclear deal.”

UAE's ambassador to Israel expected to arrive Monday for first visit,

“Muhammad Mahmoud Al Khaja, the designated Emirati ambassador to the Israel, will arrive to the country on Monday for the first time, Ynet reported Friday. Upon arrival, the new ambassador is expected to undergo a coronavirus test and await results. “

Palestinian Politics

Following presidential decree, Hamas releases 45 Fatah prisoners,

“The Hamas-run Interior Ministry in Gaza released 45 prisoners affiliated with rival Palestinian faction Fatah on Feb. 25. In a statement, it said the released prisoners were arrested over security issues that harmed resistance groups in Gaza, adding their arrests were not politically motivated. The ministry said the move was part of efforts to improve the atmosphere ahead of the upcoming Palestinian general elections. It said there are no prisoners “arrested for their political views and opinion” in the Gaza Strip. Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh asked on Feb .22 the Hamas group to release more than 80 “political prisoners” held in Gaza prisons.”

Bonus Read

Concealed for 73 years, the Riftin report is finally published in full,

“On February 10, 1948, Ben Gurion appointed Yaakov Riftin, a member of Mapam and the Yishuv’s Security Committee, to investigate a string of serious events that had been brought to his attention, in which members of the Haganah were suspected – including extrajudicial killing, looting, and torture during interrogation. Three weeks later, Riftin presented his findings to Ben Gurion and attached a list of recommendations. The existence of the Riftin report is no secret. His recommendations are recognized as a key factor in the decision to appoint a general advocate for the military and establish the Military Advocate General’s Corps. Literature quotes Ben Gurion’s letter of appointment, describes the inquiry’s findings and quotes some of the recommendations, but the report itself has not been made public until now. This is its first full publication. For our English readers, the report was also translated from Hebrew by Akevot.”