A PERFECT STORM

Today I had great plans to write a summertime food blogpost about the joys of the upcoming festival of Shavuout, the Feast of Weeks. All week long I’d been developing and testing lots of amazing dairy recipes. But life here in Israel got in the way. I can pretty much say that in the past 36 hours, life has changed drastically for my fellow Israeli citizens. I can pretty much state that we are now at war.

It was bound to happen. It was a perfect storm. We saw it coming on the horizon several weeks ago.

First, a huge thank you to all those who have reached out to check on us from the US, France and the the UK. It really means a ton to us that the world knows our situation. Many of you have been asking some really great questions, and several have sent newspaper accounts and TV news clips from abroad. I’m really not surprised (OK. still part of me IS surprised) at how much mis-information and downright inaccuracies are being disseminated. So I’ve been working on a chronological and factual (and as non-biased as I can be) account to share with you.

Things have been heating up here since the beginning of Ramadan, about four weeks ago. There have been calls from Iran, from Fatah (PA/Palestinian Authority)head, Abbas and from local imams to kill and attack Jews and to level Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. Abbas, who is in year 16 of his 4 year term, just cancelled the upcoming election because he said Israel will not let the Arab population of East Jerusalem vote. This is unequivocally not true. Any Israeli citizen can vote. Those in the Judaea and Samaria areas (West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem) who are Palestinian citizens are all eligible to vote in their own elections.

There is a power struggle going on. Two groups, Islamic Jihad and Hamas are vying for dominance over the PA. They see Fatah (the PA) as an old man who is quite feeble. They realize that the youth of the Arab areas are looking for heroes. Hamas – the word ‘hamas’ in Hebrew, Aramaic, and Arabic actually means ‘violence!!’ – is trying to take over as legitimate leaders of the Palestinian resistance in order to show they are the ones who are willing to put themselves on the line to “stand up to Israel.” Theirs is both a symbolic game and a strategic political move.

Israel, at this time, has a transitional government at best. After four elections in less than two years, a new government made up of rival coalitions coming together is failing to be cobbled together for either unity or new leadership. Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party did not muster up enough seats to form a working government, so the mandate has been passed on to Yair Lapid. It’s been dysfunctional up to this point. We will probably be heading towards a fifth election this summer. It is a perceived sign of weakness.

Former US President Donald Trump, love him or hate him, was extremely favorable towards Israel. One of the things he did was to cut funding to Hamas, who used humanitarian aid to fund terrorism. Under the new US Biden-Harris administration, millions of dollars have already begun to flow back into the PA. This will help fund their “pay to slay” program which gives a nice stipend to the families of terrorists who have perpetrated attacks against the Jews. It’s working. Drive-by shootings, stabbings, and rock-hurling at cars and pedestrians has been on an uptick in the past two months. There have been several casualties over just the past week alone.

The phenomenon of social media: in the past month a new phenomenon has developed. Palestinian youths, mostly in East Jerusalem have been filming themselves slapping Orthodox Jewish youth on the Jerusalem light rail; slashing Israeli flags; throwing rocks at people; pushing down elderly Jewish men; taunting groups of Orthodox schoolgirls and posting it onto the TikTok platform. The video clips have not been taken down, and violence begets violence. Over-zealous Orthodox Jewish teens can be seen trying to engage and incite the Palestinian Youth between the Jaffa and Damascus Gates outside the Old City. It’s a mess.

The back story behind one flashpoint:the Sheik Jarrah neighborhood of East Jerusalem:

The legal case of the Sheik Jarrah neighborhood goes back forty years. It is not an example of ethnic cleansing as is being reported by the AP and Reuters. It is a protracted legal case. From the second century until 1948, it had been a Jewish part part of East Jerusalem and was known as the Shimon haTsaddik neighborhood. The great Talmudic scholar Simon the Righteous is buried there and the homes in the neighborhood surrounding his tomb was a Jewish enclave. In 1875, the land was officially sold to Jewish families by the Ottoman Turks who controlled the area. The Ottomans were great records- keepers and the deeds to the homes and properties are well documented both by the Jewish families that lived there and by old record books. In 1948, when Israel declared independence, she was attacked on all fronts by her Arab neighbors. The Arabs living in East Jerusalem (alongside their Jewish neighbors) were instructed to leave the area – and Israel – and flee to Jordan until after the war. When the area was Judenrein, they would be allowed back into Israel, and the Jewish property would be given to them. In 1948, Transjordan gained control of East Jerusalem, taking the Jews prisoner, killing most, and displacing many. The Jewish property was given to the returning Arabs.They renamed the neighborhood a mile from the Old City, Sheik Jarrah, physician to Saladin, who was buried there during the Crusades. Subsequently, the Old City of Jerusalem was closed off to all Jews and Christians who wanted to worship at their respective holy sites. Only Muslims were allowed into the area.

After the Six Day War in 1967, when Israel regained control of the Holy City and beyond into East Jerusalem, a law was passed allowing Jews whose families had been evicted to reclaim their property, providing they were able to demonstrate visible documentation of ownership. The legal case was first opened in the early 1970s in Israel. The Sephardic Jewish owners sued the Palestinian families living there and demanded their eviction. The Magistrate Court in 1982 ruled that the Palestinian families would enjoy Protected Tenant Status. They would be allowed to remain in the eight homes in question provided they pay a fair monthly rent to the Jewish ‘landlords.’ They never paid rent and since the 1980s have been carrying out what has been deemed as illegal construction to and adjacent to the properties in dispute. The case has come up in court on numerous occasions over the past forty years. This past February the Jerusalem District Court decided that in the absence of payment of rent, the residents must vacate four of the properties. The tenants appealed to the Supreme Court of Israel. Several of the Arab families wanted to reach a compromise, but were threatened by the PA with physical violence if they gave in to the Jews in any way. The final verdict (which has once more been postponed) was supposed to be delivered next week. It’s a flashpoint. Just this morning a friend from Los Angeles sent me the Reuters article with the headline “East Jerusalem’s Sheikh Jarrah becomes an emblem of the Palestinian struggle.” Needless to say, the article does not provide real historical details (of which I just detailed a few) and was filled with misinformation at best. It’s unfortunate.

We here in Israel are at an intersection of holy times for the various faiths.For the Jewish people, we are at the end of the spring festivals. We recently celebrated the Passover, and Independence Day. This past Sunday night/Monday was Jerusalem Day (celebrating the retaking of the Jerusalem in 1967 the and reopening of the Holy City to all faiths). The Muslims call it Naqba, or the disgrace. They call Jerusalem Al Quds. The Roman Catholic Christians recently celebrated Easter and were looking forward to their Pentecost (the Jewish Shavuot) feast this upcoming Sunday. Eastern Orthodox celebrated their Easter this week. The summer pilgrimage festival of Shavuot begins this Sunday. It marks the date Moses received the Torah and Ten Commandments on Mt Sinai. It’s also the late spring barley and wheat harvest festival and official start of summer. And for the Arabs, it’s the end of Ramadan. The sacrificial festival of Eid was yesterday. So, in a land of extreme religious and national fervor, one can see all these coinciding events as a powder keg waiting to explode.

The next series of stories were sent to me by friends in the UK and the US where it is being reported (the Guardian, NBC, CNN, New York Times, Washington Post) that Israeli police started the conflict by attacking innocent women and children worshippers at the Al Aqsa Mosque/Temple Mount complex. That “the assault on Al Aqsa is a Jewish effort to suppress religious freedom.” Reading many of these articles, I’ve come to realize the narrative is about the story you wish to tell, not necessarily all the facts. So – here goes:

First, Israel is just coming out of a year-long lockdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The majority of the adult population have been vaccinated, but there are many that have not. Early on during Ramadan, the police forces on the Temple Mount tried to impose a limit on the number of people that could visit the Temple Mount at any given time. Masks were to be worn, social distancing observed and barricades to control entry and flow to be honored. This was deemed oppressive by the Muslims, so the restrictions were eased. Jews were not allowed onto the Temple Mount during Ramadan.

After the tragedy (45 deaths) at Mount Meron during the Jewish holiday of Lag B’Omer two weeks ago, barricades were set up in East Jerusalem at the Lion’s Gate, the New Gate and the Damascus Gate. This was for crowd control and safety reasons as well as for COVID social distancing. There were also crowd control measures put in place (extra police and barricades) at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre for their Eastern Orthodox Holy Flame Miracle. These were tolerated by the Christians, but barely. There had been unrests and riots in the past two weeks in Jaffa (in Southern Tel Aviv) and Jerusalem by the Arabs there over perceived injustices; and also by the Jewish population who were protesting political events. When the riots in East Jerusalem -involving firecrackers, molotov cocktails and large rocks – threatened to grow out of control, the police backed down and removed all barricades. The damage (perceived oppression) had already been done.

Flashpoint Jerusalem:

This past Sunday evening marked the beginning of Jerusalem Day. Traditionally Jewish people from all across the country come to Jerusalem dressed in white and blue waving Israeli flags. There is a flag parade through the Old City and into West Jerusalem. There is much singing and dancing and entertainment. It’s a family celebration. It is also seen as a provocation to the Arab population. This year the end of Ramadan fell during this time. In the days leading up to the riots on the Temple Mount complex, Palestinians had begun stockpiling a large cache of rocks, slabs, fireworks and Molotov cocktails at the site, turning it from a holy place to a well-fortified citadel. This past Friday, a few hundred troublemakers from the thousands of Muslim worshippers leaving their morning prayers at the mosque, began pelting the Israeli police officers with rocks. Many of their targets were Arab Christian and Druze officers who choose to serve Israel in the military and police forces (this is seen as the ultimate betrayal). The Palestinians barricaded themselves inside the Dome of the Rock and their holy mosque with cameras ready to catch the moment the police entered, breaking down the barricades to arrest the perpetrators. Videos from inside the mosque show tear gas and stun grenades landing inside their prayer rooms. The video clips were leaked to news outlets and social media, going viral throughout the world.

The violence spilled over to Sunday evening, when the Palestinians started hurling large rocks onto the Western Wall Plaza down below, hitting and scattering Jewish worshippers there. The rioters launched a molotov that was supposed to go over the Wall onto those gathered below. Instead, it was launched into a tall cypress tree, setting it and two other neighboring trees ablaze above the Western Wall. The image of the Temple Mount ablaze was a portent of what was to come.

Two rockets were fired at 9:36 by Hamas in the Gaza Strip. One was intercepted by Iron Dome Aerial Defense. The other landed in an open field. At 11:34 two more rockets were fired from the strip which fell short and exploded inside Gaza. On Monday, thousands of Jewish people of all ages started to gather around the HolyCity for the celebrations to take place. Balloons with incendiary devices attached were sent over to Israel, setting many acres ablaze in the areas surrounding the Strip. The sirens started blaring by 06:24 Monday morning warning the residents of the areas surrounding Sderot, Ashkelon, and Beersheva to take cover in their bomb shelters. The barrage from Isalmic Jihad had started. By 6:30 pm, sirens had been sounded in Jerusalem, the first time since 2014. Seven missiles landed in the Judaean Forest to the south of Jerusalem as well as in fields in Beit Shemesh.

Iran issued their Al Quds Day message calling for the bombing of Jerusalem and Tel Aviv and the murder of “Jewish Dogs and Polytheists” (Christians). The New York Times posted pictures of what they called “far-right Israelis marching on Monday outside the Old City.” It was, in fact, white-shirted, jeans-wearing B’nei Akiva youth group teens with backpacks walking to the Western Wall. It’s a very typical site in Jerusalem any day of the week. On Memri TV news, a public service announcement was made by a local imam instructing Palestinians to murder Jews. “A knife costs 5 shekels. Just 5 shekels. Sharpen the knife and use it to cut the artery at the back of the neck. (He displays how it should be done) Then cut the head off every Jew in Jerusalem.” The flames are fanned.

On my mobile phone, I have an app called red alert. It buzzes and vibrates every time a missile is fired into Israel pinpointing the trajectory. If the alert is for your area, you have anywhere from 18-40 seconds to run for shelter before it lands. Not much time. Think about it. Also, a loud warning siren goes off in the vicinity of the incoming rocket. Since Sunday night, my app has been buzzing nonstop all hours of the day and night. We live in the North, about two hours from the action. It’s idyllically quiet here. We had to drive down to Sheba Medical Center for my husband’s appointment yesterday. On the way to the hospital, just northeast of Tel Aviv, we saw where one missile had recently landed. From the upper story window of the medical building, I was able to see what looked like multiple contrails and then little white puffs of cloud coming from the Ashdod area to the south. These were missiles being intercepted by Iron Dome. It was surreal and horrifically mesmerizing at the same time. One after another in long lines. Contrails. Cloud puffs. Contrails. Cloud puffs.

The shelling has not let up. There have been over 1200 missiles fired at us. For the most part, many have landed in vacant lots or have been intercepted. Many have misfired and landed back in Gaza. So far, several homes and apartments have been hit, some destroyed completely. A school and a hospital have both received major damages. I can’t imagine all the civilians living in the area. How they are running to bomb shelters; hearing the sirens continually; hearing the loud booms and feeling the vibrations. All night long into the next days.

By the time we drove home, Hamas had expanded their target area North to Tel Aviv and beyond. I’m sure there are lots of videos circulating on the internet. It’s been hard to keep up. My son, at university in Herzliya, spent most of the night in the dorm’s underground bomb shelter. Children’s birthday parties and weddings were interrupted by the sirens. The barrages are going all the time, even as I write this. So far over 1250 rockets have been launched at us. A city bus was hit last night in Holon. Thankfully most people managed to get out before the blast, but seven were injured in that bombing. Babies are being born as women are going into labor prematurely from the stress. Yesterday a missile hit and exploded inside a home in Ashkelon. An Indian caretaker, Soumya Santhosh was killed because she would not leave the bedridden elderly woman she cared for. Both perished. I don’t have the name of the old woman, but Soumya had a husband and nine year old child back in India. A woman (name not released) was killed in Rishon LeTzion while running to a shelter last night. Ben Gurion airport has been temporarily closed to all incoming and outgoing flights due to shelling. 52 year old Halil Awad and his 16 year old daughter, Nadine were killed overnight in the Central Israeli city of Old by a rocket attack from Gaza. Most schools and businesses from Herzliya to Beersheva are closed today. Highways have been closed. Public transporation halted in those areas most likely to incur attack.

The IDF is currently operating in response to these attacks by striking terror targets and operatives in Gaza. It has been named “Operation Guardian of the Walls.” Two senior terrorists, Ayad Fathi Faik Sharish, the commander of the Hamas Militants and Samah Abdel Mamlouch, Islamic Jihad head of the rocket unit have been taken down. Unfortunately Hamas has been known to store their weapons, have their bomb factories and launch their weapons from the most heavily populated areas in Gaza: schools, mosques, hospitals and high density apartment buildings. Although many IDF Air Force sorties have been carried out, the unfortunate fact is there will most likely be a high occurrence of civilian casualties despite “Roof Knocking.” In roof knocking, one minute before an aerial strike, a dummy pipe targets the proposed structure to be bombed to allow any civilians to escape. I don’t know of any other army that does this. Still, the EU, UN Security Council, UN Human Rights Council, Canada, China, Iran, the UAE, Saudi Arabia and the US administrations have already condemned or expressed deep concern over Israeli show of force.

In the meantime, we are praying a lot. A pray for an end to all violence. For immediate de-escalation. For no other fronts to open up. For peace and cooler heads to prevail. Over 5000 IDF reservists have been called up. The entire country is in a state of high alert. The barrages are continual, coming in spurts of 10-30 rockets. Sometimes there’s a 15-20 minute lull, then my red alert begins to sound again.Even in the North, we are under a curfew at dark. Last night there were demonstrations/riots in Acco, Sakhnin, Madj al Krum, Nazareth, Kana, and other neighboring Arab villages. Tensions are running high. John went out to run errands this morning and all seemed normal here. We’ve been sent instructions by the Home Front Command.

The Home Front Command is an army unit tasked with assuring the best level of local preparedness possible. They disseminate safety procedures, and instructions in all languages. They open up the public bomb shelters and stock them with water. We have been instructed to stay calm ad continue with our daily activities, yet be constantly vigilant and aware of our surroundings at all times. We have a well-stocked miklat (bomb shelter) in our basement. On my bedroom door I have a post it. On it is written in red Sharpie: Tamar- shoes, phone & charger, purse. John – shoes, keys, wallet, phone, dog. Not to forget to grab these items if we have to make a run to the miklat. It’s an interesting life. I shall keep you posted.

On a more humorous note: one friend who was texting us from CA last night wrote, “Do you have an escape plan? Can’t you just drive across the border to Lebanon or Syria and catch a plane from the airports there???? What is your plan B?” We were in hysterics. Thanks for the laugh, S…