This 2024 - Let's Win the Battle of Headlines
Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant speaks with Israeli soldiers at a staging area not far from the Israeli-Gaza border on Oct. 19, 2023. Photo by Chaim Goldberg/Flash90.
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Overline
Update: Operation Swords of Iron
Headline
Israeli Air Force jet eliminates Hamas’s anti-tank missile chief
Intro
Israel’s Defense Minister Yoav Gallant: Israel Defense Forces are progressing towards the defeat of Hamas; military is watching all sides of all sectors against continued and forceful aggression.
text

In what is one of the most crucial targeted killings of senior Hamas terrorists since the start of war on Oct. 7, an Israeli Air Force fighter jet struck and killed Muhammad A’sar, the head of Hamas’s Anti-Tank Missile Unit in the Gaza Strip on Wednesday, the Israel Defense Forces announced.

“A’sar was responsible for all of Hamas’s anti-tank missile units throughout the Gaza Strip, commanded the units in routine and assisted their activity in emergencies,” said the IDF. “Under his command, numerous anti-tank missile attacks were carried out against civilians and IDF soldiers.”

Defense Minister Yoav Gallant said in a statement on Wednesday: “We are at the height of the war. Intense battles are being waged in built-up areas in Gaza City. IDF soldiers are fighting with courage and determination as they display commitment to their mission.”

Gallant said the IDF is making progress towards defeating Hamas. “War has a heavy price,” he said, sending condolences to the growing list of Israeli families who have lost soldiers as a result of the fighting.

The IDF has fired more than 10,000 rounds of various ammunition at targets in Gaza City, he said, and thousands of targets have been destroyed, as well as thousands of terrorists killed—from the field level to the highest level. “The war is advancing in line with the objectives,” he Gallant.

Meanwhile, the IDF announced that since the Friday ground offensive began, 15 soldiers have been killed in action. It named Sgt. 1st Class (res.) Shalev Zion Sharabi, 22, a combat medic in the 749th Battalion of the Bislamach Brigade from Teneh Omarim, as one of the casualties on Wednesday.

Sharabi was killed by mortar fire near the southern community of Be’eri.

Rocket barrages from Gaza continued to be fired at central and southern Israel.

Meanwhile, the northern arena appeared to escalate to a certain degree throughout the day, as IDF ground forces advanced further into northern Gaza and towards Gaza City.

Following sirens that sounded in Moshav Shtula in northern Israel, numerous mortar launches were identified towards the area on Wednesday evening. The mortar shells fell in open areas and no injuries were reported, said the IDF, adding that the IAF identified and struck the cell that launched the shells.

In addition, terrorist cells that attempted to launch anti-tank missiles from Lebanon towards Israeli territory in the area of Shtula were struck by an IDF tank, the military said.

It reported earlier on Wednesday that “numerous mortar launches were identified a short while ago towards the area of Shomera in northern Israel. No injuries were reported. The IDF is firing toward the origins of the launches.”

Israeli tanks near the Gaza border in southern Israel on Nov. 1, 2023. Photo by Erik Marmor/Flash90.

‘The focus is on Gaza’

The IDF also released new video of a Hamas terrorist who was captured on Oct. 7, in which he stated that after he and a fellow terrorist passed by a safe room in a southern community and heard the sounds of children crying, they opened fire at the room’s door until the cries went silent.

The terrorist later told his interrogator that Hamas’s actions were “worse than ISIS.”

The IDF also shared an intercepted call between the Hamas deputy commander of the Jabaliya Battalion and a Gazan resident in which they discussed stealing fuel from the Indonesian Hospital.

“The focus is on Gaza; that’s where the hostages are, that’s where Hamas is. After 20 days, we went to ground offensive phase,” IDF Spokesperson Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari, told journalists on a video call on Wednesday.

The commander of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ Quds Force appears to still be on the ground in Lebanon as clashes between Hezbollah and Israel continue,

Quds Force Brig. Gen. Esmail Ghaani reportedly arrived in Beirut on Oct. 8, left for consultations on Oct. 16 and then returned on Oct. 20, where he has remained in Lebanon ever since.

Hezbollah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah is due to make a televised address on Friday. Earlier on Wednesday, a terrorist cell attempted to launch anti-tank missiles from Lebanon towards Israeli territory in the Zar’it area. An IDF tank struck the cell.

Additionally, terrorists opened fire a short while ago from Lebanon towards Israeli territory in the Yiftah area. No injuries were reported. They responded with fire in the direction of the shooting.

Israeli soldiers at a staging area near the border with Lebanon, Oct. 21, 2023. Photo by Ayal Margolin/Flash90.

‘In a vast underground complex’

Hagari stated on Wednesday morning that Israeli forces continue to significantly expand ground operations in the Gaza Strip.

“In northern Gaza, during the night, significant battles took place, one of which was conducted surrounding a multi-story building in the area of Jabaliya from which terrorists shot at our forces. This building, like many locations that Hamas terrorists use as shelter, is a civilian structure, located in close proximity to a school, medical center and government offices. IDF soldiers directed aircraft to strike the threat, eliminating the terrorists,” he said.

“As we published yesterday, we eliminated the Commander of the Jabaliya Battalion, Ibrahim Biari. He was a murderous commander who was responsible for a significant area from which the terrorists emerged to carry out the massacre in Israel on October 7th, but beyond his leadership of that, he was a senior terrorist who has been the dominant leader of their military activity during this war in northern Gaza. We have killed him,” Hagari stated.

Biari was killed while situating himself inside the Jabaliya Camp with dozens of additional terrorists around him in the same area, which contains a headquarters and other operational facilities located in buildings within the civilian camp, according to the IDF spokesperson.

The airstrike caused the collapse of the buildings compound within the civilian camp. The strike on the compound additionally caused the collapse of the underground military infrastructure, including terror tunnels under the camp, which further caused the collapse of additional structures, he added.

“These once again demonstrate how murderous terrorists use civilians as a ‘human shield’, civilians whom we have called upon to evacuate for their own safety. This is a cynical tactic that they have, and will continue, to employ. During the fighting, [Hamas leader Yahya] Sinwar and all of Hamas’s senior officials are attempting to manufacture images of a destroyed Gaza and dead Gazans at the hands of Israel and the IDF,” he said.

Hamas is bringing disaster to Gaza, Hagari emphasized, adding that IDF soldiers are heroically fighting on the battlefield and eliminating terrorists.

An Israeli military helicopter flies near the border with the Gaza Strip on Nov. 1, 2023. Photo by Chaim Goldberg/Flash90.

‘Iranian tentacles affected by their aggression’

IDF International Spokesperson, Lt. Col. (Res.) Jonathan Conricus addressed the targeting of Hamas Battalion Commander Ibrahim Biari in Jabaliya, saying on Tuesday night, he was a senior and important Hamas combatant. “His military significance is what he was doing now and what he did in his recent and distant past,” said Conricus.

“His history as a terrorist goes back to 2004 when he masterminded a terror attack in Ashdod that killed 13 Israelis,” he stated. “We understood he was in a vast underground complex. We struck that complex. It is our assessment that dozens of Hamas combatants were with him and the underground complex collapsed, causing them to die, and many reports of collateral damage and noncombatant injuries. This was a strike on a military target and to obtain our military objectives,” said Conricus. “In terms of the results, we’ll listen to the Hamas-controlled Health Ministry releases, reports from the Indonesian Hospital and others, and cross-reference it with what Hamas admits clandestinely. As we know more, we will say more.”

He stressed that “we have called on civilians to leave this area for almost two weeks, in written form in leaflets numerous times, radio and social media. We have been in direct contact with U.N. agencies to get across to civilians that this is a war zone, and that is why we don’t want civilians there. I’m happy to see many have evacuated themselves from the area, and I hope all noncombatants in northern Gaza will make the right decision to go to the humanitarian zone northwest of Khan Yunis. I do not claim these are perfect conditions, but they are much better than the war zone that northern Gaza now is.”

The airstrike targeted an area in between buildings because the target was the underground complex underground, Conricus stated.

It occurred as ground troops were operating in Jabaliya and in other locations of the Gaza Strip. “We perform joint combat there is close air support for ground forces as they advance create friction with enemy use air assets to strike,” he stated.  

Conricus said the IDF remains highly vigilant on all borders and arenas. He did note that the latest Red Alerts in Eilat, at Israel’s southernmost point, caused 40,000 people to seek shelter.

“Time will tell how the Iranian tentacles will be affected by their aggression against us,” said Conricus.

On Tuesday, the Coordinator for Government Activities in the Territories Unit announced on Tuesday night that at the request of the U.S. administration, and in accordance with instructions from the political echelon, 70 trucks carrying humanitarian aid have entered the Gaza Strip through the Rafah border crossing in Egypt. The aid includes only water, food and medical equipment. All the equipment was inspected by Israeli security personnel before it entered Gaza.

“This is part of Israel’s response to the U.S. administration’s request not to block humanitarian supplies from Egypt as long as it includes food, water and medicine for the civilians who are located in the southern Gaza Strip or are being evacuated to it, and as long as such supplies are not reaching Hamas. The transfer, the source and the destination of the aid are monitored by Israel,” said COGAT in a statement. “Any other attempt to provide supplies not coordinated with and approved by Israel will be blocked.”

In the north, the IDF continues with a high level of readiness to provide a strong defensive and offensive response, said Hagari. “This is also seen in the wide-scale defensive deployment of the IDF in the Northern Command, which has continued the same way it has throughout the war,” he said. “Every terrorist cell that comes to the area or tries to infiltrate Israel or shoot at our territory will be stopped and eliminated. Every terrorist cell—and we will continue to do so. The Air Force maintains a very high level of readiness and deployment, and the Intelligence Directorate is ready and watching the north for every scenario.”

South of Eilat in the Red Sea, the IDF once again intercepted an aerial threat detected on Tuesday night. Hagari said on Wednesday morning regarding that incident: “There was no ultimate threat to civilians, as there was no entry into Israeli airspace. We maintain a high level of readiness in this arena as well. We have sent additional Israeli Navy vessels to provide significant defense of the area, and layered strike capabilities with defensive layers and the air force. We are prepared to defend this arena as in every arena in Israel.”

Regarding the option of retaliating for the attack by Houthis in Yemen, Hagari stated that “we know how to gather at the time and place of our choosing in relation to the security interests of Israel wherever needed.”

To date, the IDF notified the families of 240 hostages.

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    February 25, 2024
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Once the Israel Defense Forces launches its military operation in Gaza's southernmost city of Rafah, it will be "weeks away from total victory," Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told CBS News on Sunday.

Plans for the IDF offensive in Rafah, Hamas's last stronghold in the Gaza Strip, will be reviewed by the political echelon on Sunday, the premier said in an interview with CBS's "Face the Nation."

The potential hostages-for-ceasefire deal under discussion in Doha won't stop the IDF from operating in the city, Netanyahu added.

"If we have a deal, it will be delayed somewhat, but it [the Battle of Rafah] will happen. If we don't have a deal, we'll do it anyway," he stated.

Earlier on Sunday, Netanyahu announced he would "convene the Cabinet to approve the operational plans for action in Rafah, including the evacuation of the civilian population.

"Only a combination of military pressure and firm negotiations will lead to the release of our hostages, the elimination of Hamas and the achievement of all the war's objectives," he added.

According to Israel, there are four Hamas battalions positioned in Rafah, the population of which has swelled to some 1.5 million, more than half of Gaza’s total of 2.3 million, after the IDF directed civilians to a humanitarian zone there when the war began in October.

“We very much want to achieve another [hostage] release and we are prepared to go far, but we are not prepared to pay any price, certainly not the delusional prices that Hamas is demanding of us, the meaning of which is the defeat of the State of Israel,” said Netanyahu last week.

He added that those calling for Israel to forgo an operation in Rafah were effectively urging the IDF to surrender to Hamas.

“I speak with world leaders every day. I tell them decisively: Israel will fight until we achieve total victory. And indeed, this includes action in Rafah, of course after we allow the civilians found in the combat zones to evacuate to safe areas,” said Netanyahu.

"Whoever wants to prevent us from operating in Rafah is telling us in effect to lose the war. I will not allow this. ... We will not surrender to any pressure. We will not surrender, because we are a people of heroes. We will not surrender because we are a people that desires life. We will not surrender because we must—must—defeat the evil,” he added.

The comments came after U.S. President Joe Biden demanded a temporary ceasefire to secure the release of hostages in Gaza, claiming that a deal “has to” go through before Israel launches a military operation in Rafah.

In a call on Thursday with Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, Lloyd Austin, the U.S. secretary of defense, raised "the need for a credible plan to ensure the safety of and support for the more than one million people sheltering in Rafah before any military operations proceed there."

The call came after a Pentagon spokeswoman said that the U.S. Defense Department was unaware of any plans being presented to Washington regarding how Israel would protect Palestinian civilians in Rafah during a ground operation.

Earlier this month, Netanyahu attempted to assuage the concerns of Jerusalem's allies, highlighting plans for the safe passage of Palestinians "so they can leave” Rafah.

To this end, the premier ordered the security establishment to submit to the Cabinet a combined plan to evacuate civilians and target Hamas's remaining battalions.

“We have worked out a detailed plan to do so. And that’s what we have done up to now," explained Netanyahu. "We are not cavalier about this. This is part of our war effort, to get civilians out of harm’s way. It’s part of Hamas’s effort to keep them in harm’s way. But we’ve so far succeeded and we are going to succeed again.”

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Three online fundraising campaigns in support of Israeli citizens sanctioned by the Biden administration for "undermining peace" in Judea and Samaria were taken down following an Associated Press investigation, the news agency reported over the weekend.

Israeli crowdfunding platform Givechak closed down an appeal for Yinon Levi, a farmer in the South Hebron Hills of Judea, according to the report. Before the fundraiser was taken down, more than 3,000 donors worldwide had contributed over $140,000 for Levi and his farm.

After AP requested comment from Givechak, Levi's page was deleted, and the transfer of the money was put on hold. According to legal documents shared with the outlet, Levi's family has filed a lawsuit to try to release the funds.

JGive, a Jerusalem-based crowdfunding website for nonprofits, likewise took down a campaign for Levi over the weekend, telling AP it had "blocked donations in compliance with the sanctions order."

Meanwhile, New York-based Charidy.com deleted a $31,000 fundraiser for David Chai Chasdai, another Israeli sanctioned by the United States.

Earlier this month, U.S. President Joe Biden issued an executive order targeting "persons undermining peace, security and stability" in Judea and Samaria, citing "high levels of extremist settler violence, forced displacement of people and villages and property destruction."

The White House named four Israeli Jews as the targets of sanctions: Yinon Levi of Meitarim Farm; David Chai Chasdai of Givat Ronen; Einan Tanjil of Kiryat Ekron; and Shalom Zicherman of Mitzpe Yair.

Faced with the prospect of being cut off from the U.S. monetary system, Bank Leumi—Israel's largest bank—subsequently informed Levi that his accounts would be suspended. Chasdai had his account at the state-owned Postal Bank frozen, while reports indicated that Tanjil's and Zicherman's accounts at Bank Hapoalim would follow shortly.

On Feb. 14, the Honenu legal defense group announced its lawyers had sent a "warning letter" to the Bank of Israel on behalf of the four families, demanding that the supervisor order financial institutions to "immediately remove all restrictions that were imposed."

In the letter, Honenu stressed that Israeli banks have discretionary powers in individual cases and must examine the "unique and particular circumstances" of their customers before acting upon sanctions imposed by foreign countries.

Honenu vowed to "stand alongside these heroes who were hurt by the visceral hatred for the settlement" of Judea and Samaria.

"Our appeal to the supervisor is the first action within the framework of the legal procedures that we intend to take, as long as the cardinal damage is not rectified," the organization said.

On Feb. 14, Israeli lawmaker Amit Halevi summoned a meeting of the Knesset Economic Affairs Committee on Wednesday to explore ways Jerusalem can come to the aid of citizens who face sanctions.

"If the issue cannot be solved through political channels and if the regulator, the Bank of Israel, does not put out clear instructions, we suggest a new law. In these cases—when there are sanctions of foreign states of Israeli citizens—we must back those citizens," Halevi told JNS.

One of the options suggested by coalition lawmakers entails the Israeli government providing an open-ended loan to affected families.

"We're not talking about sanctions against businessmen that have billions, like [tycoon Roman] Abramovich, because he did business with Russia; we're talking about simple families that work in agriculture. We must defend their right to live," said Halevi.

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Israel will start transferring humanitarian supplies directly to the northern Gaza Strip to bypass the Hamas terrorist group, the War Cabinet decided on Saturday night.

In the coming days, trucks carrying supplies bound for the parts of Gaza already conquered by Israeli forces will enter near the Karni crossing at the northeastern end of the Strip, which was permanently closed in 2011, with the last remaining structures of the cargo terminal demolished by the Israeli military in 2022.

On Dec. 15, Israel’s Security Cabinet approved the opening of the Kerem Shalom crossing for the transfer of aid to the Strip after intense U.S. and international pressure. All the Israeli crossings to Gaza had been shuttered after the Oct. 7 massacre, with only Egypt’s Rafah crossing from Sinai remaining open.

However, Hamas has been hijacking up to 60% of the aid entering the Gaza Strip.

The UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) is suspending aid deliveries to northern Gaza via Egypt's Rafah crossing, the Guardian reported on Saturday.

“The desperate behavior of hungry and exhausted people is preventing the safe and regular passage of our trucks,” Tamara Alrifai, director of external relations for UNRWA, told the British newspaper.

Sporadic protests have taken place over the past two months at Kerem Shalom in an attempt to block aid trucking from resupplying Hamas while the terrorist group continues to hold Israelis hostage and fight a war against Israel.

Activists have also attempted to block the aid trucks at the smaller Nitzana crossing to Sinai and at the Ashdod port.

Clashes broke out between Israeli security personnel and protesters at the Kerem Shalom crossing to Gaza on Feb. 22, with one of the demonstrators reportedly injured by security forces.

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IDF Master Sgt. Zohar Kochavi narrowly escaped death three times this year. Once fleeing the Hamas attack at the Supernova music festival and twice as a soldier fighting in the Gaza Strip. He is eager to return to the front.

Kochavi, with his girlfriend, Shiraz Amir, at his side, described his close calls to Channel 13 on Saturday evening, and his determination to return to combat, while pointing out footage of himself taken at the music festival and in the thick of the Gaza fighting.

"If this war continues, and they'll need me, I'll be there. Even if they don't need me. Even if they'll tell me, 'Sit at home,'" said Kochavi, who serves in the Oz Brigade, also known as the "Commando Brigade," a special operations force.

Kochavi was at the Supernova concert with his girlfriend when the terrorists attacked on Oct. 7. More than 360 people were killed and 40 kidnapped.

Kochavi and Amir arrived by car early that Saturday morning. Shortly afterwards, the terrorist assault began with a heavy barrage of rockets.

Amir related how Kochavi had bought a tent, shade canopy, mat and other camping equipment. When the rockets started, "he insisted on packing away all the things and taking home all he'd invested in."

Amir said she couldn't function. She was in shock from the shelling. "I stood on the side and cried while he folded up everything."

"I took my time and today I know that there's a possibility that this is what saved us," Kochavi said, suggesting that if they'd started off immediately, they might have been caught on the way and killed by the terrorists.

When they finally reached Kibbutz Be'eri, they spotted a white security vehicle stopped along the road; a security officer warned them that terrorists were ahead. They turned back to the site of the festival.

Amir wanted to enter a reinforced structure they had passed, built to withstand rocket attack. It was filled with people. "I thought, 'They know what they're doing,'" she said. Then they saw a man exit a nearby vehicle with a bullet in his foot and they realized the terrorists were close. Amir still wanted to enter the structure but Kochavi said, "We're moving."

Most of those hiding in such structures were slaughtered.

As they traveled south, they reached a traffic jam. They abandoned the vehicle and continued on foot. When Kochavi heard shots, he told Amir, "Run as fast as you can and don't stop"—words she said still echo in her ears.

Kochavi filmed part of it with his cellphone and young people can be seen running. "Everyone's fleeing," he says, out of breath.

Ultimately, what saved them was a vehicle that passed by. They jumped aboard and insisted, "You have to take us."

They reached their apartment in Tel Aviv but "didn't have time to digest what they'd experienced," the report noted.

Kochavi, who had only recently finished a commando course, received his IDF call-up notice two hours later. He headed south.

"Shiraz tried to convince me: 'Don't go. Don't leave me alone,'" Kochavi related. "I explained to her this is my time. It's for this that I trained. For this I fought. For this I have my team, who are incredibly strong, and it'll be OK. Don't worry."

It was on the first day of fighting in Beit Hanun, a city in the northeastern Gaza Strip, that Kochavi received his first wound. Terrorists in a building fired a salvo at his head, missing him by centimeters, he said. He suffered a shrapnel wound to his hands and a comrade had to pull him to safety.

"I had a feeling something would happen to me and that I won't return," Kochavi admitted, which led him to write a letter to his family and to Amir in the event of his death.

Kochavi teared up as he read the letter aloud during the Channel 13 segment: "My Dear Family, If you're reading this letter, it's a sign that I'm in a better place. I'm there above. I hear you and see you. I want to tell you that maybe physically I'm not there, but I'll always be by your side even without your noticing."

Zohar Kochavi reads aloud the letter he wrote in the event of his death, his mother and girlfriend at his side. Screenshot.

While the first injury was a near-miss, the second, a few days later, was more serious. Hamas used a drone to drop an explosive on a group of IDF soldiers as they were resupplying.

Remarkable footage from the terrorist drone was shown in the television segment as the rocket falls and blows up beside the soldiers, dropping a number of them to the ground. Thirteen soldiers were wounded, including Kochavi.

"This happened really in a place where a soldier is supposed to feel the most protected," Kochavi said of the resupply area defended by raised sand walls, where soldiers return to stock up on food and water.

The soldiers didn't know that it was a drone at first and they fired on nearby structures. Kochavi took part in helping another wounded soldier. He felt as if a fist was pressing continuously in his side. He expected it to go away but it only grew worse.

He continued to fight but after 10 minutes his hand fell asleep and he started to feel weaker. His GoPro camera filmed the event and Kochavi can be heard groaning from the pain even as he fires on surrounding buildings.

Only when he woke up in Barzilai Medical Center in Ashkelon did he learn that two pieces of shrapnel had entered his side, one practically touching a major artery. "Everything hurt," he said. "I couldn't walk."

"It will sound a little weird," Amir confided, but her concern for Kochavi saved her. "I didn't function after Nova," she said. "And when [the injury] happened, I left the house. I moved into the hospital and I had something to worry about. That was my treatment."

Zohar Kochavi recovers in Barzilai Medical Center, in Ashkelon, with support from his girlfriend, Shiraz Amir. Screenshot.

Kochavi's mother, Fanny, admitted she was happy that he was wounded because it took him out of Gaza.

Kochavi is determined to return to combat, however. He is taking physical therapy to build back his strength.

Amir and Kochavi had what they described as a "very difficult conversation" about it. Amir, in the end, decided to support him. "If that's what will help him go on with life with a tranquil spirit, I'm with him," she said.

"My stomach churns. It's hard to hear it," said Fanny. "But I can't hold him back. He's 27 years old."

At the end of the television segment, Kochavi brought out his army fatigues to show where the shrapnel entered. "This is the first and this is the second," he said, pointing to two small holes in his shirt. "And I will wear it still."

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As the Biden administration repeatedly pushes for a "two-state solution," which more than half of Israelis oppose, David Friedman, a former U.S. ambassador to Israel, unveiled his plan for peace at the National Religious Broadcasters convention in Nashville, Tenn.

Given how so many countries are turning on the Jewish state, it is untenable to do nothing about the Palestinian issue, but a two-state solution is unrealistic, Friedman said at the Feb. 22 event.

“Give up all the fantasies,” he said.

Friedman called the notion of a Palestinian state side-by-side with the Jewish one “the mother’s milk of the Democratic party, and to an extent, the Republicans.” But after Hamas's Oct. 7 terror attack on Israel, “there can’t be a two-state solution,” he said. He noted that an overwhelming majority of Palestinians has told pollsters it approved of the attack.

Israelis were evenly divided on a two-state solution until a few months ago, Friedman said. “Not any more.” The prior day, the Knesset—across political divides—voted 99-11 against unilateral declaration of Palestinian statehood. The Labor Party boycotted the vote, and the 11 were Arab party members.

Friedman's is a “generational plan,” which he said will take years and starts with an ultimatum to terrorists.

“Those of you who want to kill us, we’re going to kill you first. We’re not going to give in to terrorism,” he said. “Those who want to live with us, live with us.”

Jerusalem, Washington and Abraham Accord countries would lead the plan, with Israel retaining sovereignty in Judea and Samaria. As in the Marshall Plan for postwar Europe, Palestinian areas would be built up, funded by Gulf states. Palestinians would have “maximum civil autonomy,” with Israel retaining control of security, Friedman said.

As permanent residents, Palestinians would have Israeli documents, and though they could vote in local elections, they wouldn't participate in national ones, lest they have the chance to alter Israel's identity as a Jewish state.

“There are 30 Muslim states. If you want to live in one, pick one. There’s only one Jewish state,” Friedman said at the event. Palestinians would have full civil rights “other than the right to destroy the world’s only Jewish state through demographic power.” Israeli Arabs would retain their right to vote in national elections.

Friedman anticipated charges that his plan would amount to apartheid.

“Is America an apartheid state?” he asked, noting that residents of American Samoa, Guam, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands can't elect a U.S. president and have non-voting congressional representation.

“These arrangements are accepted because there are significant reciprocal benefits,” Friedman said. “Israel has to help the Palestinians get out from the depths.”

U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman speaks to members of the press during an event in Jerusalem on Oct. 14, 2018. Credit: Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90.

'Biblical homeland'

Friedman unveiled the plan of his nonprofit, the Friedman Center for Peace Through Strength, in a session that introduced the Christian and Jewish grassroots group Keep God’s Land.

Per its site, the group, which was founded after Oct. 7, is “dedicated to strengthening and defending Israel’s right to its biblical homeland, with the ultimate goal of sovereignty over Judea and Samaria.”

The prior day, the National Religious Broadcasters announced a “Biblical Heartland Resolution,” urging members to refer to "Judea and Samaria" when reporting on the region, not the “the erroneous term ‘West Bank.'"

The board of the NRB passed a resolution on Feb. 20 pledging “continued support and friendship with Israeli in her time of need,” condemning terrorism and calling on Hamas to release all of the hostages. It also noted the important role Christian media play in educating about Jew-hatred.

The NRB's large annual gathering of evangelical media outlets and personalities, held in Nashville this year from Feb. 20 to 23, had a strong emphasis on Israel.

Friedman participated in several events during the conference, and former U.S. president Donald Trump called his former ambassador to Israel to the stage to deliver remarks during Trump's address on Feb. 22.

Had Trump been in office last year, Hamas would never have been able to invade Israel, because Trump cut off funds to Hamas and hamstrung Iran, Friedman told those assembled. The Biden administration reversed both of those, he said. “We’re feeling the pain now because of that.”

Friedman added that his plan for the Palestinians follows the biblical promise that Israel is the land of the Jewish people and said it would grant civil rights to all and “recognizes that every human being is created in the image of God.”

David Friedman
U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman speaks at the Jewish Federation's annual General Assembly in Tel Aviv, Oct. 24, 2018. Photo by Tomer Neuberg/Flash90.

Middle East abhors a vacuum

“Let’s not let the perfect get in the way of the possible,” Friedman told attendees, anticipating Palestinian opposition to his plan.

He noted that there is no clear successor to aging, widely-unpopular Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas. In the aftermath of the war against Hamas, “Israel will have to increase security” to address the “vacuum,” Friedman said.

Stability can be improved with initiatives to build real lives for Palestinians, not by recycling refugee camps and a grievance mentality, according to Friedman. Palestinian leaders who can create opportunities for a better and freer Palestinian future are needed also.

The plan “addresses needs on the ground, including the need to improve the Palestinian quality of life,” Friedman said. It also builds on the success of the Abraham Accords, he said.

With Israel retaining sovereignty in Judea and Samaria, the plan would ensure that sites sacred to many people of faith remain open and protected.

“You’re going to live here forever," he told Palestinians. "We can prosper together.”

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A walk around the Tower of David is a one-stop shop for architecture in Jerusalem from the times of the kings of Judea in the First Temple period 2,800 years ago until today.

There are walls from the Hasmoneans, towers from King Herod, a banquet room from the Crusaders and arched walls from the Ottomans to name just a few. 

Now the Tower of David Jerusalem Museum welcomes the latest layer in the Old City's architecture with the addition of the Angelina Drahi Entrance Pavilion, which opens its doors next month.

After more than a decade of planning and three years of construction, the final part of the $50 million renewal of the Tower of David Jerusalem Museum is complete with the opening of the new multi-level sunken entrance pavilion.

The 1,000 square meter (10,763 square feet) building nestled between the walls of Jerusalem's Old City and the ancient citadel walls is barely noticeable from the Jaffa Gate Plaza.

The Tower of David Museum. Photo by Dor Pazuelo.

Building regulations forbid building above the height of the Old City walls, so the architects and engineers needed to plan for excavating the site 17 meters/18.6 yards down to build the pavilion that now houses the ticket office of the museum, a changing exhibition gallery, and a labyrinth of offices for the Education Department underground and a shaded seating area outside. In May, the coffee shop will open.

A duty and an honor

The ancient citadel was transformed into a welcoming and accessible environment under the direction of Kimmel Eshkolot Architects, Professor Etan Kimmel and lead architect Yotam Cohen-Sagi.

“The opportunity to bring the 21st century to this ancient iconic site is both a duty and an honor," says Kimmel.

"We were set the task of renovating one of the earliest and most important architectural treasures of Jerusalem. Our challenge boiled down to our ability to find solutions to preserve the ancient stones that represent Jerusalem’s past without compromising their historic value or their beauty while planning new architectural structures and introducing modern infrastructure using modern materials to create a fruitful, interesting meeting between the new and the old,” he explains.

The first people to go on site were the archaeologists from the Israel Antiquities Authority.

"You only need to use a teaspoon to dig up antiquities in the Old City of Jerusalem, and this is even more true when you are building a structure underground next to a citadel thousands of years old," says Cohen-Sagi.

The Tower of David Museum in Jerusalem's Old City, May 4, 2023. Photo by Yonatan Sindel/Flash90.

No great treasures from Jerusalem's past were found during construction and the building of the pavilion could go ahead as planned.

The renewal and conservation of the museum was led by the Clore Israel Foundation.

“No other museum can tell Jerusalem’s story in such a distinctive setting, within this citadel that has witnessed so many eventful periods in the city's past," says Eilat Lieber, director and chief curator of the museum. 

"Alongside the physical conservation of the walls and towers of this ancient site, we have developed a completely new permanent exhibition and creative programming that tells Jerusalem's long, complex and colorful history in respectful, innovative and engaging ways," she adds.

The museum now boasts 10 galleries spread throughout the ancient citadel that bring the story of Jerusalem to life through ancient artifacts mixed with the latest in immersive and interactive technology.

Designing Memory at the Tower of David Museum. Photo by Ricky Rachman.

The new pavilion allows for a change in the flow of visitors.

Jerusalem Mayor Moshe Lion says, “The new Tower of David Jerusalem Museum at the Jaffa Gate will serve as the new gateway to Jerusalem for the millions of visitors, tourists and pilgrims who want to explore the city’s rich and complex history before visiting the religious sites and ancient alleyways of the Old City.”

The entrance should have been opened on Nov. 3 but the Hamas war changed these plans. The museum opened on Oct. 9, the third day of the war, and has been running activities and guided tours for evacuated families, arts and crafts fairs for artists from the north and south as well as education programming for school children, all free of charge. 

"When we opened the museum, we didn’t know who would come," admits Lieber.

It quickly became clear that for the thousands of visitors who arrived, the museum offered a reprieve from the shadows of the war, she says. One visitor, who had been evacuated from Moshav Kfar Maimon, near the northern Gaza Strip, says that standing surrounded by the ancient Jerusalem stones gave a historical perspective and some hope.

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Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh's government could offer its resignation "within days" as part of a unity deal with the Hamas terrorist organization in the Gaza Strip, Sky News Arabia reported on Sunday.

The move would be meant to facilitate the swift establishment of a Palestinian "government of technocrats" whose primary purpose would be the reconstruction of Gaza, sources in Ramallah told Sky News.

The government is expected to be headed by Mohammad Mustafa, currently the chairman of the P.A.'s Palestine Investment Fund. It would serve during a "transition period" until elections are held.

On Feb. 12, P.A. chief Mahmoud Abbas traveled to Doha at the invitation of Qatari Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani to discuss ways to incorporate Hamas into a P.A.-led body for Judea, Samaria and Gaza.

Following Abbas's trip, Hamas reportedly approved a three-step plan leading to "complete reconciliation [with the Palestinian Authority]" and the terrorist group joining the Palestine Liberation Organization, which controls the P.A., under a "unified Palestinian-Arab vision."

Hamas officials told Saudi-based Asharq News that while it welcomes cooperation with the P.A., the terrorist group demands to be consulted on "every step," including the members of the prospective government.

The United States wants the P.A. to assume control of Gaza after the war against Hamas ends, a move that Israel vehemently rejects because of Ramallah's overt support for terrorism.

On Jan. 27, Abbas's spokesman told Al Arabiya television that the P.A. is prepared to hand over the reins to Hamas after the conflict. Ramallah is "prepared to hold general elections, and if Hamas wins, the president will hand over the Authority," spokesman Nabil Abu Rudeineh said.

The U.S. State Department has refused to rule out Hamas retaining power in Gaza or even joining a P.A.-led governing body that would also have jurisdiction in Judea and Samaria.

According to Palestinian polls, 89% of Palestinians support establishing a government that includes or is led by Hamas. Only around 8.5% said they favor an authority controlled exclusively by Abbas's Fatah faction.

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Israel's Education Ministry is warning of "panic-inducing costumes" ahead of next month's Purim holiday as the country continues to grapple with the Hamas war that began on Oct. 7.

According to the ministry, the directive issued to schools and kindergartens comes "in the shadow of the war and in accordance with the security reality and the characteristics of the current period."

Administrators and teachers are recommended to sit down with students and parents to discuss "how to properly celebrate the holiday" with the recognition of the "worry or sadness they experience."

Additionally, the guidelines state that "care must be taken to avoid arriving in costumes that may cause fear, panic, or injury to another."

In the coming days, educational teams will discuss with students the costumes they intend to wear, "with the aim of considering together with them about how to choose a costume that will give them a creative and joyful personal expression, without endangering the costume-wearers and their environment. Also, the students are required to show sensitivity and personal responsibility in choosing the costume, so as not to harm the other."

The wartime mood has put a damper on preparations for the usually joyful holiday celebrating the biblical story of the Jewish Queen Esther saving the Jewish people from Haman, the evil vizier of the Persian King Achashverosh. It takes place from sunset on March 23 until sunset on March 24.

Many municipalities across Israel have decided to cancel or alter traditional events, including Holon nixing the popular Adloyada parade.

An exception is Jerusalem, which plans on celebrating Purim as usual, including the party on Nissim Becher Street in the Nachalot neighborhood and dressing famous buildings in monster costumes. Jerusalem is also looking at the possibility of holding an Adloyada parade for the first time since 1957.

"The Jerusalem municipality decided to hold the events out of a desire to be happy, and to show that the capital of Israel continues to live and be happy even in difficult times," Ynet reported.

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One in five Israeli seniors is living without proper home heating due to financial constraints, a phenomenon exacerbated by the Hamas war's effects on the economy, a survey released on Sunday finds.

The findings of the Geocartography survey prompted the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews to allocate an additional 10 million shekels ($2.76 million) of funding to help 27,000 households across Israel. 

The seniors most heavily impacted economically by the war, now in its fifth month, were those between the ages of 65 and 69, 23% of whom said the war had forced them to adjust or limit spending as a result of the current financial climate. 

Seniors in the Israeli Arab sector were especially hard hit financially in the wake of the Hamas attack, the polling found.

“Every winter presents major challenges for Israel’s elderly, but there is no doubt the war in Israel has caused greater financial constraints on this already vulnerable community,” said IFCJ President Yael Eckstein.

“With the help of our hundreds of thousands of friends and supporters around the world, the Fellowship is blessed to increase our ongoing support of Israel’s elderly, through practical and financial assistance to help them during these challenging winter months,” she said.

The survey, which was conducted in mid-January among 400 Israelis aged 65 and up, had a margin of error of 4.9 percentage points.

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