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U.S. calls on Israel to reverse land appropriation

JERUSALEM (JTA)—The United States called on Israel to cancel the government appropriation of West Bank land in the Etzion bloc, while Israeli ministers praised and panned the decision.

“This announcement, like every other settlement announcement Israel makes, is counterproductive to Israel’s stated goal of a negotiated two-state solution with the Palestinians,” an unnamed U.S. government official told Reuters on Monday. “We urge the government of Israel to reverse this decision.”

The Israel Defense Forces Civil Administration on Sunday said it would appropriate nearly 1,000 acres in the Gush Etzion bloc and convert it in to state land.

The Gva’ot settlement in the western area of Gush Etzion is located on the land adjacent to the Alon Shvut settlement. Gva’ot was built without zoning permits. It was established originally as a military base in 1984.

Ten families currently live on the site and more than 500 housing units are under construction.

The IDF said there is no Palestinian claim on the land, but objections against the decision can be filed for the next 45 days.

Israeli Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, head of the Hatnua party, opposed the decision, telling Israel Radio Monday that “it weakens the State of Israel and hurts our security.”

Livni agrees with the government stance that the land in Gush Etzion should remain in Israel’s hands under any final peace deal. But, she said, the announcement turns settlement blocs such as Gush Etzion “that lie within the consensus both at home and abroad into areas of controversy.”

Israeli Economy Minister Naftali Bennett said the decision to turn the area into state land was a response to the kidnapping and murder of three Israeli teens from a traffic junction in Gush Etzion in June.

“This was always the Zionist answer to Arab terrorism for over 100 years,” Bennett told Israel Radio.

Bennett, head of the Jewish Home party, which is part of the government coalition, on Monday visited the Makor Hayim yeshiva in Gush Etzion that two of the slain teens—Naftali Fraenkel and Gilad Shaar—had attended.

“What we did yesterday was a display of Zionism. Building is our answer to murder,” Bennett said during the visit.

Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat called on the international community to initiate diplomatic action against Israel over the decision.

“The Israeli government is committing various crimes against the Palestinian people and their occupied land,” Erekat told the French news agency AFP. “The international community should hold Israel accountable as soon as possible for its crimes and raids against our people in Gaza and the ongoing Israeli settlement activity in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.”

Nabil Abu-Rudeineh, spokesman for Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, said the decision would “bring about a further deterioration” in peace talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.

Peace Now in a statement called the appropriation plan “unprecedented in scope.”

“By declaring another 4,000 dunams as state land, the Israeli government stabs President Abbas and the moderate Palestinian forces in the back, proving again that violence delivers Israeli concessions while nonviolence results in settlement expansion,” the Peace Now statement said.

The Prime Minister’s Office of Israel has not responded to criticism of the decision.

Report: SodaStream mulling departure from West Bank plant

JERUSALEM (JTA)—The Israeli firm SodaStream, which has been a target of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, is considering closing its West Bank factory.

CEO Daniel Birnbaum told the Israeli economic publication The Marker that the company, which makes home soft drink machines, will make a decision in the next two months.

Birnbaum said the decision would be based solely on economics.

“The considerations will be purely financial, and do not include the European boycott on manufacturing in the territories,” he told the Marker. “Nor will they include the various calls to boycott products of the company because of its location in Maale Adumim. The boycott is a nuisance, but does not cause serious financial damage. We are not giving in to the boycott. We are Zionists.”

The company is expanding its operations at a new plant in Lehavim, a Negev community near Beersheba in Israel’s South, and could consolidate its operations in whole or in part from the Maale Adumim plant. The company receives a government subsidy for its operations in Beersheba.

The company also has plants in Ashkelon, the Galilee and 20 others around the world.

SodaStream has already fired between 100 and 200 workers at the Maale Adumim plant. There are now 1,100 employees there, of whom 850 are Israeli Arabs or Palestinians, according to the Marker. The plant is expected to employ a significant number of Bedouin Arabs at its Negev plant.

The company was in the news following the signing of actress Scarlett Johansson as a spokeswoman and the ensuing controversy over its West Bank factory. Johansson resigned as a global ambassador for Oxfam over her position with SodaStream.

Turkish Jews can stay mum on Israel’s Gaza op, Turkish Jewish intellectuals say

JERUSALEM (JTA)—Jews in Turkey are under no obligation to comment on Israel’s operation in Gaza, a group of Jewish intellectuals in Turkey said.

The open letter issued last Friday was in response to calls for the Jewish community to denounce the operation, as well as a campaign claiming the Jews of Turkey are responsible for Israel’s actions in Gaza.

“No citizen of this country is under any obligation to account for, interpret or comment on any event that takes place elsewhere in the world, and in which he/she has no involvement,” the intellectuals wrote. “There is no onus on the Jewish community of Turkey, therefore, to declare an opinion on any matter at all.

“It is racism to hold a whole people responsible for the actions of a state and we wish to declare that we are opposed to this.”

The letter also pointed out that it is not possible for a community of 20,000 to hold a unified opinion.

The signers, however, said they are opposed to Israel’s Gaza policy “not because we are of Jewish origin, but because we are human.”

“We may not agree on all matters, some of us oppose all of Israel’s policies, some of us oppose some of them,” they wrote. “But all of us are opposed to Israel’s aggression, militarism, expansionism and the violence it brings upon the Palestinian people.”

At the end of July, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey pledged to keep its Jewish community safe, but urged the Jewish community to denounce Israel.

U.N. peacekeepers flee Syrian rebel captives

JERUSALEM (JTA)—Filipino troops from the U.N. peacekeeping force on the Syria-Israel border escaped from the Syrian rebels holding them captive.

The Filipino troops, part of the United Nations peacekeeping force monitoring the 1974 disengagement agreement between Syria and Israel following the 1973 war, escaped in the middle of Saturday night, Reuters reported.

The troops  from the U.N. Disengagement Observer Force “have relocated to an alternate site and are safe,” the United Nations said in a statement.

Meanwhile, 44 Fijian peacekeepers have been held captive since Thursday.

“At this time, no additional information on their status or location has been established,” according to a  U.N. statement. “The United Nations continues to actively seek their immediate and unconditional release.”

The statement said also that other observer force troops are on high alert and carrying out their duties.

Last week, the Philippines said it would recall its peacekeeping force of 331 at the end of its tour of duty in October due to the difficulty in securing the peacekeepers. In September 2013, 21 Filipino peacekeepers were kidnapped by Syrian rebels and released a week later.

The rebels and Syrian forces in Syria’s more than three-year civil war have been fighting near the border for control of the crossing. Several mortars and gunfire have hit Israeli territory; an Israeli military officer and a civilian were injured by the live fire. The Israel Defense Forces said it responded by striking two Syrian military positions in the Golan.

A rebel spokesman told The Associated Press on Thursday that they are focused on fighting Syrian President Bashar Assad and pose no threat to Israel.

ICC prosecutor: ‘Palestine’ can file war crimes charges against Israel

(JTA)—”Palestine” is eligible to join the Rome Statute and file war crimes charges against Israel, the International Criminal Court prosecutor said.

Fatou Bensouda in an Op-Ed in The Guardian newspaper on Friday answered charges that the ICC has avoided opening an investigation into alleged Israeli war crimes in Gaza due to political pressure.

“I have made it clear in no uncertain terms that the office of the prosecutor will execute its mandate, without fear or favor, where jurisdiction is established and will vigorously pursue those – irrespective of status or affiliation – who commit mass crimes that shock the conscience of humanity,” Bensouda wrote in the British paper. “My office’s approach to Palestine will be no different if the court’s jurisdiction is ever triggered over the situation.”

In November 2012, Palestine’s status was upgraded in the United Nations to non-member observer state,” which gives it legitimacy to join the Rome Statute, Bensouda told the Guardian. The statute, which went into effect in 2002, sets down four key international crimes: genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes and crimes of aggression.

Membership in the ICC would grant Palestine the right to file war crimes with the court against Israel and Israeli figures.

Israel’s Cabinet advances plan to develop Sderot, Gaza border towns

JERUSALEM (JTA)—Israel’s Cabinet approved a nearly $364 million plan to develop the southern city of Sderot and communities on the border with Gaza.

The five-year plan approved Sunday at the regular weekly Cabinet meeting, which was held in the Hof Ashkelon Regional Council, includes funds for the economic, social and communal development of the area. The Cabinet also approved $56 million for security infrastructure and protection.

To fund the plan, the Cabinet also voted for a 2 percent cut across all government ministries, except defense. The Education Ministry would face the largest at $1.35 billion. The cuts must gain approval of the full Knesset.

Three government ministers—Silvan Shalom (energy and water), Naftali Bennett (economy) and Uri Orbach (pension affairs)—abstained in the vote. Ministers Uri Ariel (housing and construction) and Amir Peretz (environmental protection) voted against the package.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in comments before the meeting said the Cabinet would submit a similar package for the development of the entire southern Israel in the coming month.

“We are committed to them, we have always been committed to them. In recent years there has been accelerated development in the South; we want to strengthen it,” Netanyahu said. “The Zionist answer to those who seek our lives is not only to rebuff them and overcome them in any campaign but also to develop our state, in this case the communities in the area adjacent to the Gaza Strip and in the South, and to develop the Negev as a whole.”

Sderot Mayor Alon Davidi was joined at the Cabinet meeting by regional council chairs from areas adjacent to the Gaza Strip – Hof Ashkelon’s Yair Farjun, Eshkol’s Chaim Jelin, Shaar Hanegev’s Alon Schuster and Sdot Negev’s Tamir Idan.

Lady Gaga going ahead with Tel Aviv concert

JERUSALEM (JTA)—Lady Gaga will go ahead with her Tel Aviv concert date as planned, despite cancellations by other high-profile performers.

The American pop star’s management announced that the concert scheduled for Sept. 13 is still on, Israeli media reported Sunday.

The date for the concert in Yarkon Park, part of her “artRave: The ARTPOP Ball” international tour, is listed on Lady Gaga’s official website.

Tickets remain on sale and tens of thousands of Israeli fans are expected to attend.

Neil Young, The Backstreet Boys,  America and Lana Del Rey are among the stars who canceled performances this summer due to Israel’s conflict with Gaza.

Lady Gaga performed in Tel Aviv in August 2009, despite of attempts by the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement to have her cancel.

IDF shoots down Syrian drone with Patriot missile

JERUSALEM (JTA)—The Israel Defense Forces said it intercepted a drone from Syria that entered Israeli airspace.

The unmanned aircraft that entered northern Israel on Sunday, near an area of heavy fighting between rebels and Syrian forces as part of Syria’s more than 3-year-old civil war, was shot down by a Patriot missile near the Syrian town of Quneitra located on Israel’s border, according to the IDF.

“The IDF will not tolerate a breach of the State of Israel’s sovereignty,” the IDF said in a statement on its website.

Several mortars fired from Syria have struck the Golan Heights in the last week. An IDF officer was injured by stray gunfire from Syria and a civilian was injured by mortar shrapnel that hit Israel’s Golan. The IDF retaliated for some of the mortar fire.

Farmers in northern Israel have been told to stay off farmland near the border and tourist sites on the border have been closed, according to reports.

It is believed that the rebels have taken over the Quneitra crossing between Syria and Israel.

West Bank bus shelter blown up in attempted terror attack

JERUSALEM (JTA)—A bus shelter in the northern West Bank was blown up with explosives in what police believe was an attempted terrorist attack.

Sunday morning’s explosion occurred outside the settlement of Rechalim, near the Tapuach Junction south of Nablus.

In late July, an Israeli man was shot and seriously injured by a Palestinian terrorist at the same bus shelter.

Also Sunday, firebombs were thrown at cars with Israeli license plates at the Jit junction outside of Nablus and near the West Bank settlement of Kedumim.

Israeli soldier dies of wounds, bringing Israel’s Gaza war dead to 72

JERUSALEM (JTA)—An Israeli soldier critically injured in Gaza more than five weeks ago has died, bringing to 72 the total number of people killed on Israel’s side during the Gaza operation.

Sgt. Shachar Shalev, 20, of Alonei HaBashan in northern Israel, died Sunday at Rambam Hospital in  Haifa, the Israel Defense Forces announced. Both of legs had been amputated during his more than five weeks in the hospital.

Shalev was injured in an explosion as he and his unit searched for terror tunnels. Three other soldiers were killed in the July 23 attack. His funeral was scheduled for  Sunday evening.

Sixty-five of those killed in the recent Gaza conflict were soldiers; one was a foreign worker.

Thousands rally against escalating anti-Semitism in Britain

(JTA)—Thousands gathered in central London to protest rising anti-Semitism in Britain.

The rally Sunday outside the Royal Courts of Justice was organized by the Campaign Against Anti-Semitism, a grassroots group formed in response to the increase in attacks against Jews in Britain and throughout Europe following the start of the Gaza conflict in July.

“I would never have believed a year ago I would be standing here expressing my deep concern about the rise of anti-Semitism in the U.K.,” Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis said in an address to the crowd, the Jewish Chronicle reported. “We are right to be concerned. We see it, we hear it and we feel it. It is there.”

The rabbi said he has received letters of support from private citizens as well as national leaders.

“A threat to Jews is a threat to our society,” Mirvis said. “We are not alone.”

Signs in the crowd read “Zero tolerance for anti-Semites” and “prosecute hate before it’s too late.”

Leaders of the Board of Deputies of British Jewry were jeered as they were introduced amid shouts of “you’re not doing enough” and “resign.” The board backed the rally.

There were 240 anti-Semitic incidents in Britain in July, compared to 304 anti-Semitic incidents in the first six months of the year, according to the British anti-Semitism watchdog Community Security Trust.

 

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