Female IDF soldiers move from the front lines to the headlines

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Female soldiers in the IDF take a water break during an exercise on Nov 19, 2007. (photo: Israel Defense Forces / Flickr)

Debate over mixed-gender IDF units rages in the Hebrew-language press.

By Adiv Sterman | The Times of Israel | Jan 18, 2018


“It is too bad that too many ultra-religious Zionists — both rabbis and MKs — are stoking the flames, stirring up unnecessary controversy, and provoking hatred.”
— Yossi Yehoshua, writing in Yedioth Ahronoth


The frustration felt by many citizens of the Jewish state over the growing chasm between religious-conservative and secular-liberal values in Israel is reflected in today’s Hebrew-language newspapers, as pundits and analysts pretty much across the board denounce calls for draft evasion issued by prominent right-wing rabbis, including Rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu, who went as far as saying that the IDF’s chief of staff should be fired for promoting women’s service in combat roles.

“Woman combat soldiers: The secret to the IDF’s success,” writes Israel Hayom’s Maayan Adam, who is an officer in the army reserves herself. “The comments against women’s service no longer manage to anger me; they even lead me to feel pity. It is easy to notice that behind the patriarchal discourse stands a distress call from a handful of scared men,” Adam says, adding that there can be no turning back now that women have been introduced into the army’s various combat units.

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Belgium pledges $23m to UNRWA after US cuts aid

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UNRWA supports about 5 million Palestinians. (photo: Ibraheem Abu Mustafa / Reuters)

Belgium is the first to step up after refugee agency pleas for additional donors.

By Al Jazeera News | Jan 18, 2018


“For a lot of Palestinian refugees the UNRWA is the last life buoy. With the help of UNRWA half a million of Palestine children are able to go to school. This prevents them from falling prey to radicalization and extreme violence.”
—Alexander De Croo, Belgian Deputy Prime Minister


Belgium has pledged to donate 19m euro ($23m) to UNRWA, the UN’s aid organization for Palestinian refugees, after the US government announced it would slash its funding to the agency by half.

Deputy Prime Minister Alexander De Croo said in a statement on Wednesday that Brussels would allocate the funds over three years.

The first annual payment is being disbursed immediately “considering the financial difficulties that UNRWA currently faces,” the statement said.

Washington announced on Tuesday it is withholding $65m out of the $125m aid package earmarked for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees, or UNRWA.

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UN seeks donations for refugees after US cuts aid

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Palestinians hold signs during a protest against aid cut, outside United Nations’ offices in Gaza City. (photo: Reuters)

UNRWA issues a broad appeal in the wake of the Trump administration’s aid cut.

By Reuters via New York Post | Jan 17, 2018


“At stake is the dignity and human security of millions of Palestine refugees, in need of emergency food assistance and other support in Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, and the West Bank and Gaza Strip. The reduced contribution also impacts regional security at a time when the Middle East faces multiple risks and threats, notably that of further radicalization.”
— Pierre Krähenbühl, UNRWA Commissioner-General


The head of the UN agency that provides aid to Palestinian refugees appealed on Wednesday for world donations after the United States withheld about half its planned funding for the organization, a move he said risks instability in the region.

Washington said on Tuesday it would provide $60 million to the UN Relief and Welfare Agency while keeping back a further $65 million for now. The US State Department said UNRWA needed to make unspecified reforms.

Palestinians, already angered by US President Donald Trump’s Dec 6 recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, denounced the decision, which could deepen hardship in the Gaza Strip where UNRWA helps much of its population of 2 million.

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US cuts to refugee agency a “death sentence”

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A Palestinian woman rides in a car after collecting aid provided by UNRWA in Gaza City on Wednesday. (photo: Mohammed Abed / AFP / Getty Images)

Trump’s decision to cut aid to Palestinian refugees threatens the well-being of millions.

By Hazem Balousha and Ruth Eglash | The Washington Post | Jan 17, 2018


“We are extremely worried. We support 1 million people with food. . . . [We] just hope we have enough time to persuade them to change their mind and/or to find another donor.”
— Matthias Schmale, UNRWA Gaza Director


The UN Relief and Works Agency, the main body providing aid to millions of Palestinian refugees and their descendants across the Middle East, made an urgent appeal for international support Wednesday, one day after the State Department announced that it will slash its annual funding.

“After decades of generous support, dramatic reduction of US funding to @UNRWA results in most critical financial situation in history of Agency,” the agency’s commissioner general, Pierre Krähenbühl, wrote on Twitter. “I call on member states of the United Nations to take a stand & demonstrate to Palestine Refugees that their rights & future matter.”

In a more detailed statement to the media, Krähenbühl said the U.S. contribution of $60 million, less than half of a planned $125 million installment, is “dramatically below past levels” and jeopardizes the “dignity and human security of millions of Palestine refugees, in need of emergency food assistance and other support.”

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Jerusalem: It’s tense, crowded and can feel like a jail

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Israeli border police officers responding to a disturbance in the Muslim Quarter after Friday prayers. (photo: Uriel Sinai / The New York Times)

This is a tense city on a good day.

By David Halbfinger | The New York Times | Dec 9, 2017


“There’s a big religion problem in Jerusalem. It’s a city of racism. Once there’s a little bit of balagan [chaos] between Jews and Arabs, Jews won’t go in my taxi, and Arabs won’t go to the mall. And if I go into a religious neighborhood and they find out I’m Arab, they’ll stone my car. . . . There will never be peace here. If they take all the Arabs away, the Jews would eat each other. And the same thing with us.”
— Jerusalem taxi driver Muhammad Ziada


You feel it behind the wheel: The traffic signals turn red and yellow to alert a coming green. Hesitate a half-second before accelerating? A honking horn. Schoolgirls gesture at motorists as they step into a crosswalk, fingertips bunched and faces scowling: Will you wait, or what?

You see it in the crowding: Overstuffed apartments spilling onto one another, in teeming Palestinian neighborhoods, and in ghetto-like ultra-Orthodox enclaves, a few blocks apart on either side of the Green Line, the pre-1967 boundary with the West Bank.

You hear it in the way people talk — “The Arabs,” “The Jews” — about people with whom they have been sentenced to share a tiny patch of soil atop a ridge with no strategic value, over which the world has been battling for thousands of years, and negotiating on and off for decades, with no end in sight.

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Let the two-state solution die a natural death

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An Israeli settlement sits to the right of Israel’s separation wall in East Jerusalem, diving the Palestinian neighborhood to the left, from other Palestinian neighborhoods in the area. (photo: Eoghan Rice)

The primary political and ethical question is how to create political traction for a secular state shared equally by Israelis and Palestinians.

By Richard Falk | Mondoweiss | Jan 8, 2018


All in all, it seems time to recognize three related conclusions:

  1. The leadership of Israel has rejected the Two-State Solution as the path to conflict resolution;
  2. Israel has created conditions, almost impossible to reverse, that make it totally unrealistic to expect the establishment of an independent Palestinian state;
  3. Trump even more than prior presidents has weighted American diplomacy heavily and visibly in favor of whatever Israel’s leaders seek as the endgame for this struggle of decades between these two peoples.

Despite all appearances to the contrary, those in the West who do not want to join the premature and ill-considered Israeli victory party, are clinging firmly to the Two-State Solution amid calls to renew direct diplomatic negotiations between the parties so as to reach, in the extravagant language of Donald Trump, “the ultimate deal.”

Israel has increasingly indicated by deeds and words, including those of Netanyahu, an unconditional opposition to the establishment of a genuinely independent and sovereign Palestine. The settlement expansion project is accelerating with pledges made by a range of Israel political figures that no settler would ever be ejected from a settlement even if the unlawful dwelling units inhabited by Jews were not located in a settlement bloc that have been conceded as annexable by Israel in the event that agreement is reached on other issues.

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Jewish voices for peace have long been banned — by Jews

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Baruch, later Benedict, Spinoza

From Spinoza to Vilkomerson, exclusion from the Jewish community based on beliefs has a long history.

By Jonathan Ofir | Mondoweiss | Jan 10, 2018


“But the formality of this step — banning outright leaders and key members of a Jewish organization — is yet further concrete evidence of what has been apparent for some time: that even as the Israeli government makes crystal-clear its commitment to having as few non-Jews as possible within its borders, it is also becoming increasingly blatant about possessing criteria for the types of Jews it considers kosher.”
— Natasha Roth


The big news concerning Israel’s fight against the movement for Boycott, Divestments and Sanctions this week is the publication of an Israeli government blacklist of 20 organizations. Notable on the list is the American Jewish group, Jewish Voice for Peace.

Rebecca Vilkomerson, the head of the organization, wrote Monday that “now, contrary to any democratic norm, there’s to be a political litmus test for entering the country.”

It may come as a surprise to some that Jews are actually being banned in an organized and institutional manner — from entering Israel — the Jewish state. But scrutiny of Jewish history reveals how logical this is. They are simply considered “the wrong kind of Jews,” as Zionist leader Chaim Weizmann told Lord Balfour. And the “wrong kind of Jews” can be banned. The Jewish tradition of such societal expulsion of Jews is known in Hebrew as “herem,” the term also applied for “boycott.”

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