Australia/Israel Review

Behind the News – September 2021

Aug 25, 2021 | AIJAC staff

UNRWA school in Gaza: Undermined by Hamas military tunnel (Source: Flickr)
UNRWA school in Gaza: Undermined by Hamas military tunnel (Source: Flickr)

Rocket and Terror

On Aug. 16, two rockets were fired at Israel from Gaza, the first since the Israel-Hamas conflict in May. One was intercepted by the Iron Dome missile defence system. Earlier, Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) had sworn it would avenge the deaths of four Palestinians killed in a shootout during the attempted arrest by Israeli forces of a Hamas operative in Jenin. 

On Aug. 12, a Hamas drone flew into Israel from Gaza and was shot down.

On July 25-26 and Aug. 6, incendiary balloons were launched into Israel from Gaza, prompting Israeli retaliatory strikes on Hamas military infrastructure. 

On July 22, a PIJ arms cache blew up near a busy Gaza market, killing one and injuring 14. 

In the West Bank, Palestinian riots and attacks on Israeli soldiers and civilians using stones and Molotov cocktails continued, especially during Israeli attempts to arrest terrorist operatives, resulting in the deaths of several Palestinians. 


Lebanese border tensions

Three rockets were launched from Lebanon into Israel on Aug. 4. Israel retaliated with air strikes and shelling. On Aug. 6, Hezbollah launched 19 rockets into Israel, ten of which were intercepted by Iron Dome. Israel launched a series of airstrikes in Lebanon as a response. There were no casualties on either side.

On Aug. 12, a Hezbollah drone crossed into Israeli airspace and was shot down.

Following the Aug. 6 attack, furious Druze villagers in Lebanon detained four Hezbollah operatives and their rocket-launching truck for using their town as “human shields” to fire at Israel. The operatives were arrested and their rocket-launching truck impounded by the Lebanese Army, but both were quickly released. 


Jerusalem property dispute freezes

On Aug. 2, Israel’s Supreme Court delayed any final decision regarding the decades-long dispute over four properties in the Jerusalem neighbourhood of Sheikh Jarrah. 

The court proposed a compromise whereby the Palestinian families living in the homes would be “protected tenants” in exchange for an annual payment of NIS 1,500 (A$630) to the Jewish-owned Nahalat Shimon Company that has been found to own the properties and is seeking to evict them. Both sides rejected the proposed compromise.

In May, Hamas had used tensions arising from the Sheikh Jarrah dispute as a pretext for launching missiles from Gaza into Israel, sparking 11 days of war.

On Aug. 9, the Jerusalem Court for Local Affairs froze demolition orders until February 2022 on dozens of homes in the Silwan neighbourhood of Jerusalem that had allegedly been built illegally on public land. However, the court order would allow demolition of 16 of the buildings to proceed.


Qatari money to Gaza 

An agreement reportedly brokered in early August between Qatar and the Palestinian Authority (PA) to transfer Qatari aid money to some 100,000 needy families in Gaza has reportedly run into difficulties.

In the past, Qatar had made regular US$30 million (A$40 million) cash payments to Gaza to pay needy families, the salaries of Hamas officials, and for fuel for the power plant – without PA participation. But following the Gaza war, Israeli PM Naftali Bennett prohibited Qatari money from being delivered to the enclave in “suitcases of cash” – much of which is alleged to have ended up in Hamas hands – insisting on an alternative.

The PA is opposed to transferring funds to anyone affiliated with Hamas. 

Hamas has threatened to resume violence unless the funding is resumed. Discussions are reportedly underway for the UN to facilitate the transfers.


Hamas protects tunnels under Gaza schools

Hamas has blocked UN experts from entering two United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) schools in Gaza because of terror tunnels dug by Hamas under the schools. 

Experts from the UN Mine Action Services (UNMAS) arrived during early August at an UNRWA school in Gaza’s Zeitoun neighbourhood, following claims unexploded IDF munitions remained there after the May conflict. UNMAS personnel were surprised to find a Hamas military tunnel dug under the school. Learning of this development, Hamas promptly dispatched police, who demanded the UN team leave. 

In response, the UN cancelled scheduled checks of another UNRWA Gaza school in Rafah, where a tunnel was also suspected to exist. UNRWA also announced that these two schools, where 4,000 students study, cannot open unless UN teams are allowed to inspect them.


Iran attacks tankers in the Gulf

A British and a Romanian crew member were killed on July 29 in an Iranian drone attack on the oil tanker MT Mercer Street off the coast of Oman. The tanker is managed by Zodiac Maritime, a London company headed by a UK-based Israeli businessman, Eyal Ofer.

On Aug. 3, a group of armed Iranians seized the MV Asphalt Princess in the same area, demanding the tanker sail to Iran. The hijackers left the ship a few hours later, as US warships approached. 

Speaking to ambassadors of the countries on the UN Security Council on Aug. 4, Israel’s Defence Minister Benny Gantz named two Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) officers – Amir Ali Hajizadeh, Commander of the IRGC Air Force, and Saeed Ara Jani, the Head of the IRGC’s UAV Command – as responsible for dozens of aerial terror attacks in the Middle East, including the attack on the Mercer Street. 


Water-related unrest in Iran continues

Protests that began in Iran’s Khuzestan province on July 15 over a severe lack of water have widened to include demonstrations against the Iranian regime throughout the country – reaching Teheran by July 26. 

Protestors were recorded shouting “Death to the dictator,” together with slogans objecting to Iran’s resources going toward involvement in regional conflicts.

The regime reacted by blocking the internet in Khuzestan and using live fire against demonstrators, killing several. The water shortage is caused by a drought, but also by government mismanagement of water resources. 


Israel-UAE trade set to boom 

On the first anniversary of the Abraham Accords between Israel and the United Arab Emirates, trade between Israel and the UAE has reportedly reached US$570 million (A$785 million). Trade between the nations could reach US$1 billion for the whole of 2021, and may exceed US$3 billion (A$4.1 billion) within three years, according to the UAE-Israel Business Council. 

Meanwhile, Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid travelled to Morocco on Aug. 11 to inaugurate the Israeli Liaison Office in Rabat. His two-day visit to Morocco was the first by an Israeli foreign minister since 2003. 

Direct flights between Israel and Morocco were also launched in July. 


COVID update

Israel’s fourth COVID-19 wave, caused by the Delta variant, reached a new peak with 7,177 new infections recorded on Aug. 16 alone. The number of active cases rose to 53,169, including 881 in hospital. In the month since July 18, there were 104,587 new cases, and 255 deaths. As of Aug. 17, 79.62% of the population had received at least one vaccine, while 73.72% were fully vaccinated. 

Israel has now extended its booster vaccine program, adding those over 50 to the immunity-impaired people and over 60s already eligible. As of Aug. 16, 1,048,767 Israelis had received a third dose – over half of those eligible. 

In the PA-controlled areas of the West Bank, there had been 3,956 new cases and 38 deaths, with 17.06% of the population having received one vaccine and 11.31% fully vaccinated. Gaza had 3,317 new cases between July 18 and Aug. 15. 


Stranger than Fiction

Journalists against openness

The Palestinian Authority frequently conducts its relations with its supposed Israeli peace partner in ways that aren’t exactly conducive to peace. Rather than negotiate, it financially incentivises terrorism against Israelis, demonises Israel throughout the international community, and pushes for boycotts of all types against the Jewish state. 

It also routinely opposes and punishes “normalisation” – ordinary human relations – between Palestinians and Israelis.

However, it would make sense, if one side feels the other is oppressing it, as the PA says Israel is doing, to try to change views inside that society, especially if one’s enemy is known to be a vibrant democracy with a wide range of views, as Israel is.

And indeed the PLO, which claims to represent all Palestinians, sensibly has a body called the Committee for Communication with the Israeli Society whose job is to convince Israelis of the Palestinian point of view. This Committee hosted a group of Israeli journalists in Ramallah on Aug. 4 to try to show them the Palestinian view of the realities of life under occupation.

You might think this would be applauded by anyone seeking to improve conditions for Palestinians – yet it was condemned as a “sin” by, of all people, Palestinian journalists. 

The Palestinian Press Syndicate said in a statement, “Holding such meetings at the headquarters of the Palestine Liberation Organisation, while the occupation authorities continue to commit grave crimes and violations against journalists, prevent their entry into Jerusalem and the occupied territories… is a great sin that cannot be tolerated.”

The journalists apparently considered the meeting to be a form of “normalisation”. So much for Palestinian journalists wanting the Palestinian story to be told. Some things are obviously more important – like maintaining a dehumanising stance of unmitigated enmity against all Israelis. 


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