Australia/Israel Review

Behind the News – July 2021

Jun 29, 2021 | AIJAC staff

Israeli soldiers try to extinguish fire in an area close to the border between Israel and the Gaza Strip near southern Israeli Kibbutz of Nir Am (Credit: Gil Cohen Magen/ Shutterstock)
Israeli soldiers try to extinguish fire in an area close to the border between Israel and the Gaza Strip near southern Israeli Kibbutz of Nir Am (Credit: Gil Cohen Magen/ Shutterstock)

Rocket and Terror Report

Since a ceasefire was declared on May 21 after the latest Israel-Hamas war, no rockets have been fired from Gaza. However, Hamas carried out incendiary balloon attacks across the border on June 15-17, sparking numerous wildfires and prompting Israeli retaliatory airstrikes against Hamas targets. 

A civilian and an IDF soldier were stabbed on May 24 in Jerusalem near the Israeli Police national headquarters. The attacker was killed. 

There were numerous stabbing, shooting and car-ramming attacks, and severe rioting across the West Bank, while Israel thwarted attempts to smuggle in weapons from Jordan and Lebanon.


New details about Palestinians killed during Gaza war

The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) reported on May 27 that of the 256 Palestinians killed in Gaza in the recent conflict, 128 were civilians, of whom at least 11 were killed by misfired Palestinian rockets that fell inside Gaza. 

An investigation by the Meir Amit Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center (ITIC) found that at least 112 (48%) of the 234 Palestinian casualties it identified were definitely associated with terrorist groups, while many of the civilians killed were either family members of the terrorists or happened to be in very close proximity to them. Of the civilians, at least 21 died from misfired rockets and five from causes unrelated to the war. As many as 42 were killed when a strike on Hamas’ tunnel network accidentally caused two buildings nearby to collapse.

In late May, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) revealed it had found a tunnel built and used by Palestinian militants for their attacks on Israel under one of its schools in Gaza. 


Iran enriches uranium to 60% 

Iran announced on June 17 that it had enriched 108kg of uranium to 20% level and 6.5kg to 60%, very close to 90% weapons grade enrichment. Teheran has accumulated enough fissile material to potentially build three nuclear warheads, and Iran’s potential breakout time to produce enough weapons grade fissile material for a bomb is now estimated to be less than three months. 

Rafael Grossi, Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), noted on May 26 that Teheran has yet to provide explanations for evidence the agency had found of forbidden nuclear activities at three undeclared sites in Iran. He also warned that IAEA monitoring in Iran since February, when Iran began limiting IAEA activities at its nuclear sites, is “not ideal”. 


Iran behind social media antisemitism

New research indicates Iran was behind some of the recent spike in antisemitism on social media. 

During the recent Hamas-Israel conflict, Iranian regime-linked Twitter accounts began spreading messages like “hitler was right” and “kill all jews” at a rate of 175 times per minute, according to the Network Contagion Research Institute, an organisation affiliated with Rutgers University and the Anti-Defamation League (ADL). 

Another popular twitter hashtag during the conflict was #COVID1948, promoting the idea that Israel is a dangerous virus worse than COVID-19. A report by Stanford University’s Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies showed that this hashtag was coordinated by an Iranian network beginning in April 2020 and was part of an incitement campaign spread through official Iranian media and across social media, including accounts associated with Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei. 


Iranian ships to Venezuela? 

Western countries are closely monitoring two Iranian ships which set sail in late May towards Teheran’s ally Venezuela, likely to supply weapons in breach of international sanctions, including seven fast gunboats of the sort used by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. The two vessels were the first Iranian ships to navigate past the Cape of Good Hope. 

In mid-June, the two ships seemed to change course and are now heading towards the Mediterranean Sea, possibly toward Syria. The Biden Administration warned Venezuela and other countries in the region not to accept the ships. 

Earlier in June, the Kharg, Iran’s largest military ship, caught fire and sank in the Gulf of Oman. In the past, this fuel and supply vessel had delivered missiles to Syria.


Hamas thanks Al Jazeera

On June 10, Al Jazeera, the Qatari news network, was honoured by the terrorist organisation Hamas, which presented it with a certificate of appreciation for its “exemplary coverage” of the recent Israel-Hamas conflict. 

Khalil al-Hayya, Hamas deputy chief in Gaza, praised Al Jazeera reporters for “demonstrat[ing] their belonging to the cause of the oppressed Palestinian people.” 

Al Jazeera has repeatedly been accused of biased pro-Hamas coverage, in line with the political preferences of the Qatari Government, which is a major backer of the terrorist group. 


IHRA definition adopted by Switzerland, Texas, Quebec

The International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) working definition of antisemitism, introduced in 2016, has continued to be adopted across the world, the latest three governments to do so being those of Switzerland, Texas and Quebec. As well as defining antisemitism, the working definition gives examples of what can constitute antisemitism, including in relation to extreme claims about Israel.

Switzerland is the 36th country to adopt the definition. In a statement, its Federal Council said, “This definition can serve as an additional guide for identifying antisemitic incidents within the framework of the various measures to combat antisemitism in Switzerland.”


UNHRC creates permanent inquiry into Israel 

On May 27 the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) passed a resolution creating a permanent Commission of Inquiry (COI) to investigate alleged violations of international law during the recent Israel-Hamas conflict, as well as the root causes of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. This is the first time the UNHRC has formed a permanent, or ongoing, commission into a UN member state. The UNHRC resolution did not refer to Hamas, or acknowledge its rocket and terror attacks on Israeli civilians or oppressive rule in Gaza. 

The UNHRC has a long history of very disproportionate focus on Israel, which is the subject of almost half of all country-specific resolutions it has passed, as well as the focus of a permanent separate agenda item raised at all UNHRC meetings.

The new Commission’s mandate enables it to investigate “all underlying root causes of recurrent tensions, instability and protraction of conflict, including systematic discrimination and repression based on national, ethnic, racial or religious identity.” Its findings could be used as evidence before the International Criminal Court. 

Meanwhile, on June 7, Israel was elected to serve as a member of the United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) for the first time. 


Latest Israeli and Palestinian COVID-19 numbers 

As of early June, Israel had fewer than 200 active coronavirus cases, the lowest total since March 2020. However, in mid-June, there was a spike in cases of the Delta strain imported from India, leading to 606 total active cases on June 23, and renewed restrictions. Between May 25 and June 23, Israel had 24 additional coronavirus-related deaths, and by June 23, had suffered a total of 6,428 deaths and 840,079 cases throughout the pandemic.

In the Palestinian ruled areas of the West Bank, there had been 312,625 cases as of June 21, up from 305,777 a month earlier, and 3,550 deaths, up from 3,470. In Gaza, the total number of cases rose to 113,102, up from 106,994 cases the previous month.


Stranger Than Fiction


Post-terrorist depression

In recent years, there have been many justified complaints about the Palestinian Authority’s (PA) “pay for slay” scheme, whereby Palestinians who have been imprisoned in Israeli jails for terrorist acts against Israelis, and the families of those killed carrying out such acts, receive generous lifetime pensions that far exceed regular welfare payments.

Given their amount is based on the severity of the crime and the length of the sentence, there can be no dispute that the payments are a crude incentive to carry out terrorist acts against Israelis. Israel therefore often rightly complains about these payments, as do other countries. Some, including the US and Australia, have cut direct payments to the PA in response.

However, one set of recent complaints came from an unexpected source – the recipients of the payments. Their concern was having to wait at a post office to be paid.

The payments were previously made directly into bank accounts, but then Israel passed a law declaring banks handling the payments could face sanctions under anti-terror laws. An alternative arrangement was created by the PA using Palestinian post offices. 

The Palestinian paper Al-Hadath reported in late May that there was a “wave of rage over the manner of payment, which is considered humiliating and degrading from the prisoners’ perspective.” 

In early June, Latifa Abu Hmeid, the proud mother of seven terrorists, told official PA TV that “It is the worst thing for the families of the prisoners and martyrs.” After waiting for hours without getting paid, she said, “This is suffering,” adding the situation is “unbearable, unbearable.” 

We think “unbearable suffering” might better describe what happened to the victims of her sons’ attacks. Yet perhaps it’s encouraging for those wanting the Palestinians to emerge from the third world that they’ve at least graduated to experiencing first world problems. 


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