Rocket fire from the Gaza Strip targeting Israel’s south continues. This past week two rockets hit open areas in the western Negev. In the Jordan Valley, a Palestinian with carrying seven improvised IEDs was detained at a checkpoint in the Jordan Valley.
A group of Palestinian and left-wing European pro-Palestinian activists biking through the Jordan Valley clashed with IDF soldiers. A YouTube video showed an IDF officer striking a Danish activist with his rifle butt. The officer was immediately relieved of his command, until a full-scale investigation had been undertaken. The heads of the Israeli government and army, including the prime minister, strongly denounced the officer’s behavior.
The fly-in of anti-Israel activists intended as a provocation for the State of Israel was conducted without exceptional incident. There were limited public disturbances at the Ben-Gurion International Airport. In several European countries (most prominently in France), activists who had been prevented from boarding a plane to Israel held protests. The number of activists who reached Ben-Gurion Airport was small (78), far below the organizers’ expectations and declarations.
Rocket Fire Targeting the Western Negev
Rocket fire from the Gaza Strip into Israeli territory continues. On the night of April 15 two rockets fell in open areas in the western Negev. There were no casualties.
Rockets Fired into Israeli Territory 1
Note: The figures for March 2012 include 50 rockets intercepted and destroyed by the Iron Dome aerial defense system during the most recent round of escalation. In April 2012 three rockets were fired at Israel’s southernmost city of Eilat.
The Situation on the Ground
This past week the IDF carried out routine counterterrorist activities, detaining Palestinians suspected of terrorist activities and confiscating weapons. The security forces also dealt with local riots during which stones and Molotov cocktails were thrown at them.
Violent Clash in the Jordan Valley
On April 14 a group of approximately 250 Palestinians and pro-Palestinian left-wing activists from Europe, held a biking event through the Jordan Valley. They began near Jericho and their final destination was the region of Jiftlik in Samaria. They were detained by IDF soldiers on the Jordanian Valley road near the village of Uja and a clash broke out.
An Internet video showed an Israeli officer employing violence and striking a left-wing Danish activist with the butt of his M-16. The IDF Spokesman stated emphatically that it was a grave act which violated IDF values and that there was no justification for violence. However, the Spokesman noted that the video did not show the entire incident, in which behind the twenty-odd leftist and anarchist activists there were 200 Palestinians who tried to switch to the main Jordan Valley road and block it (Interview with the IDF Spokesman on Israeli Channel 2 radio, April 16, 2012).
The officer was immediately relieved of his command until “a thorough investigation can be conducted.” In addition, the Military Advocate General ordered an internal military police investigation, according to whose findings it will be decided whether or not to prosecute the officer (IDF Spokesman’s Website, April 16, 2012). Senior Israeli political and military figures, among them the prime minister, defense minister and IDF chief of staff, strongly denounced the officer’s behavior, emphasizing that it violated IDF values and did not reflect the ethical conduct of IDF soldiers and officers.
Palestinian Carrying IEDs Detained at Checkpoint in the Jordan Valley
On April 11, IDF military police detained a Palestinian at the Beqa’ot checkpoint in the Jordan Valley. He was found to be carrying seven improvised IEDs, three knives and bullets. He was transferred to the security forces for questioning (IDF Spokesman’s Website, April 11, 2012).
Note: Three months ago two similar events occurred at the same crossing. In the first, a Palestinian terrorist operative armed with a pipe bomb advanced toward an IDF force shouting “Allahu akbar.” When he ignored their orders to halt, they opened fire and killed him. In the second, the IDF opened fire at a Palestinian who tried to stab a soldier at the roadblock. The Palestinian was critically wounded and died as he was being taken to the hospital for treatment (IDF Spokesman’s Website, April 11, 2012).
Temporary Easing of the Fuel Crisis
Recently there was a temporary easing in the fuel crisis in the Gaza Strip following a delivery of diesel fuel from Israel to the Gaza Strip power plant, in accordance with an agreement reached between Hamas and the Palestinian Authority. That resulted in an improvement in the supply of electricity to the Gazan population and an increase in the number of vehicles on the road. However, the boat bringing fuel from Qatar, which was supposed to help relieve the crisis, has not yet arrived.2
The power plant in the Gaza Strip, which has received fuel to manufacture electricity
Article in Egyptian Daily Newspaper Strongly Attacks Hamas
Following the Gaza Strip fuel crisis and Hamas’ accusations that Egypt is responsible it, on April 16 the Egyptian daily Al-Masri Al-Yawm published an article entitled “Egypt and Hamas’ faulty judgment.” The article, written by Dr. Tareq Fahmi, head of the Israeli studies department at the National Center for Middle Eastern Studies,3 strongly attacked Hamas for trying to make Egypt responsible for its own crises (the fuel crisis and the crisis in the negotiations with Fatah). According to the article, among other things:
Hamas is of the opinion that after the Muslim Brotherhood achieved political power, it would be easy to deliver merchandise through the Rafah crossing or the smuggling tunnels, “with all the achievements and profit involved.” Hamas behaves “as though the lands of Egypt had turned into the private property of the Hamas movement.” However, said the article, Hamas has forgotten the existence of Egypt’s “red lines” of national security.
There has been, according to the article, a “security problem” in the Gaza Strip, the result of “the strategic expansion of the Palestinian factions,” which do as they please in the Sinai Peninsula. The Palestinian factions [i.e., the terrorist organizations] carry out “illegal activities” [i.e., terrorist activity] which threaten Egyptian national security. As a result, there is concern [in Egypt] that “in the future Israel’s activities will be directed against the Sinai Peninsula and not the Gaza Strip.”
Hamas seeks to involve Egypt in a confrontation with Israel, since the “illegal activities” [i.e., terrorist attacks] provide Israel with an excuse to reoccupy the Sinai Peninsula to turn it into a buffer zone to protect its security. Hamas may think that the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood to power has created an opportunity for a war between Egypt and Israel, but the cost to Egypt of such a war would be very high.
In our assessment, the article was written as part of an exchange of blows in the media between Egypt and Hamas, caused by the fuel crisis in the Gaza Strip. However, it is also possible that it expresses genuine, if covert, Egyptian discontent at the way Hamas behaves towards Egypt and the attempts of the Palestinian terrorist organizations to gain a foothold in the Sinai Peninsula and turn it into a focal point for terrorist activity against Israel.
The De Facto Hamas Administration Executes Three Palestinians
On April 7, 2012, the de-facto Hamas administration in the Gaza Strip hanged three local residents. One of them was found guilty by a military court of collaborating with Israel. The other two were found guilty by a civilian court of premeditated murder (Website of the interior ministry of the de-facto Hamas administration, April 7, 2012).
As a result of the executions Hamas was widely criticized by the Palestinian Authority and the European Union:
The Palestinian Authority claimed that the executions were illegal, since the PA chairman is supposed to authorize executions.4 Brigadier General Adnan Damiri, spokesman for the PA security forces, claimed the executions were illegal and directed against the legitimate Palestinian authority, and served to worsen the internal Palestinian schism. He said it was the ninth such instance of executions carried out by Hamas, adding that Hamas had not been investigated for its hundreds of murders of innocent Gazans, among them well-known public figures, some of whom who held key positions in the Hamas administration in the Gaza Strip (Wafa News Agency, April 9, 2012).
A EU delegation in Jerusalem and Ramallah denounced the executions and expressed opposition in principle to the death penalty, calling it “cruel and inhuman.” Members of the delegation called on the de-facto [Hamas] authorities in Gaza to “refrain from carrying out any executions of prisoners and comply with the de facto moratorium on executions put in place by the Palestinian Authority, pending the abolition of the death penalty in line with the global trend” (EU website, April 10 2012).
Three Palestinians Detained En Route to Libya to Buy Weapons
The Egyptian and Palestinian media reported that the Egyptian security forces had stopped a vehicle in the northern Sinai Peninsula driven by an Egyptian and carrying three Palestinians who had illegally entered Egyptian territory on April 13. The three admitted that they had been en route to Libya to buy weapons to smuggle into the Gaza Strip through the tunnels (Al-Wafd portal, April 14, 2012).
The interrogation conducted by the Egyptian security forces in El-Arish revealed that the three were residents of Jabaliya in the northern Gaza Strip and belonged to the Salah al-Din Brigades, the military-terrorist wing of the Popular Resistance Committees (Ma’an News Agency, April 14, 2012). The PRC denied any connection to the three Palestinians who were detained (Qawm website, April 14, 2012).
Meeting between the Israeli Prime Minister and a PA Delegation
On April 17 a meeting was held in Jerusalem between Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and a PA delegation (Note: The Palestinian delegation was supposed to be headed by Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad but he did not join it. However, Saeb Erekat, the chief Palestinian negotiator, was present.) The Palestinian delegation brought Benjamin Netanyahu a communiqué from Palestinian Authority chairman Mahmoud Abbas about the stalled peace process.
According to “sources within the prime minister’s office” quoted by the Israeli daily newspaper Haaretz, the prime minister is expected to tell the Palestinian delegation that he wants to meet personally with Mahmoud Abbas in the near future. A date is supposed to be set for a meeting in Ramallah, attended by Yitzhak Molcho, the prime minister’s envoy, and Mahmoud Abbas, to bring Netanyahu’s answer to the Palestinian communiqué (Haaretz, April 17, 2012).
Mahmoud Abbas and the Palestinian Authority’s Upcoming Political Moves
On the eve of the meeting, Mahmoud Abbas said that the PA was planning to take a number of political steps to deal with Israel and the United States, and only afterwards would decide if it had to resubmit its application to UN agencies. He said that first the Palestinian Authority would send a political communiqué to Prime Minister Netanyahu, then wait for a written answer, and finally appeal to the United States for help in restarting the negotiations, based on an Israeli agreement to stop construction in the settlements and accept the 1967 borders. He said that if the steps were unsuccessful the Palestinian Authority would consider reapplying to the UN (Al-Ayam, April 15, 2012).
Prisoner Day in the Territories
On and around April 17, designated by the Palestinians as Palestinian Prisoner Day, various protest activities were held in the territories, orchestrated by Fatah, Hamas and other Palestinian terrorist organizations. The main event in Judea and Samaria was held on April 16 in the village of Arabeh, in the Jenin district, to show solidarity with Palestinian Islamic Jihad terrorist operative Khader Adnan, who will shortly be released from administrative detention. On April 13 a march was held in the northern Gaza Strip in solidarity with the prisoners.
The following statements were among those made for Prisoner Day:
Issa Qaraqa, minister of prisoner affairs in the Palestinian Authority, called on all the Palestinians, in the territories and abroad, to participate in Prisoner Day. He said activities in support of the Palestinian prisoners would also be held in Jordan, Egypt, Turkey and France. He called for an academic, cultural, economic and political boycott of Israel because of what he called its “lack of compliance with conventions and UN resolutions” (Al-Quds TV, April 16, 2012).
Ismail Haniya, head of the de-facto Hamas administration in the Gaza Strip, claimed that Israel was carrying out so-called “war crimes” with regard to the Palestinian prisoners. He appealed to the governments of the Arab world to stop normalizing relations with Israel and to expel the Israeli ambassadors from their capitals in support of the Palestinian people and Palestinian prisoners. He also appealed to the terrorist organizations (“the struggle and jihad factions”) to make an effort to release the prisoners through abducting Israelis because it was “the only way to force the occupation [i.e., Israel] to release prisoners (Al-Aqsa TV, April 16, 2012).
Dr. Hanan Ashrawi, member of the PLO’s Executive Committee, wrote an open letter in which she called for an internationalization of the prisoner issue. She called for an “intifada through legal means” against “the Israeli laws which oppress prisoners,” especially administrative detention, which she claimed “was not in accord with international law and punishment.” Her letter was published on April 17 by the daily Al-Quds, which noted that international organizations and institutions should appeal to Israel and ask for a clarification of the issue.
Palestinian Prisoners in Israel Plan a Hunger Strike
Issa Qaraqa, minister of prisoner and released prisoner affairs in the Palestinian Authority, said that on April 17, 1,600 Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails would begin a hunger strike to improve their conditions (Wafa News Agency, April 14, 2012). Qadura Fares, chairman of the Palestinian “prisoners’ club,” said that the Hamas-Fatah schism presented difficulties for the planned hunger strike. He said that Hamas, the Palestinian Islamic Jihad and some of the other [terrorist] organizations would begin the strike on April 17, while the Fatah prisoners had not yet decided on a date (Reuters, April 14, 2012). However, according to the Israeli media, 1,200 prisoners said that they would begin a hunger strike on April 17 (Ynet, April 17, 2012).
Calls to Abduct Israelis Continue
As a result of the wide coverage the issue of the Palestinian prisoners receives in the Palestinian media and the interest it arouses within the Palestinian populace, senior Hamas figures continue their appeals to abduct Israelis as bargaining chips to gain the release of Palestinian prisoners. Not only has de facto Hamas administration head Ismail Haniya made the appeal, as noted above, but others also did the same this past week:
Dr. Ahmed Bahar, deputy chairman of the Palestinian Legislative Council, called on the Palestinian terrorist organizations to act “seriously and practically” to realize another prisoner exchange deal. He made the remarks at a meeting of the Palestinian Legislative Council’s Hamas faction on the eve of Prisoner Day (Ma’an News Agency, April 16, 2012).
Ismail Radwan, a senior Hamas figure in the Gaza Strip, said that Israel understood only the language of force, “the language of taking prisoners and exchanging prisoners.” He said it was “the only strategic way to make Israel accept the prisoners’ demands” (Al-Alam TV, April 9, 2012).
Tawfiq Abu Na’im, a Palestinian terrorist released in the Gilad Shalit prisoner exchange deal, said in a Prisoner Day speech in the Gaza Strip that Hamas’ motto was not to leave a single Palestinian [i.e., a single terrorist] in Israeli jails. He appealed to the terrorist organizations [the so-called “resistance”] to capture Israeli soldiers to “purify” the prisons (Alresalah.net website, April 13, 2012).
The Fly-In Protest (Initial Summary)
The Plan and the Planners
On April 15, 2012, another anti-Israel fly-in protest was held. Hundreds of anti-Israel activists were supposed to take ordinary commercial flights to Ben-Gurion International Airport, engage in media-seeking provocations and cause public disturbances. From the airport they were supposed to go to Bethlehem and participate in a local Palestinian event in Bethlehem. The fly-in, which was planned by activists, organizations and networks participating in the campaign to delegitimize Israel, was aimed at showing support for the Palestinians and representing Israel as a so-called “apartheid state” which limited freedom of movement to and within the Palestinian territories.
Among the organizers were activists and organizations in Europe and the Palestinian Authority-administered territories who were involved in previous propaganda events, part of the campaign to delegitimize Israel. Two activists were particularly conspicuous:
Olivia Zemor, an extreme leftist French Jewish activist and president of an organization called EuroPalestine, is a central figure and participates in anti-Israel activities in France. She is one of the leaders of the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) campaign to boycott Israel and was one of the organizers of last year’s fly-in (July 8, 2011). She was recently given a suspended sentence of several months and a fine by a French court for incitement to boycott because of her activity in the BDS campaign (which violates French law).
Olivia Zemor, one of the fly-in’s organizers, strongly attacks Israel and claims that the so-called “siege” Israel imposes on the Gaza Strip now extends to Judea and Samaria (Dailymotion.com website)
Mazin Qumsiyeh, PhD in biology from the Bethlehem district, studied in the United States, teaches at Bir Zeit University, and engages in intensive anti-Israel activity. He is one of the organizers of the demonstrations at Bila’in and actively participates in them. He is in contact with the International Solidarity Movement and other Western anti-Israel organizations and activists participating in the demonstrations. He is a leader of the BDS campaign and was one of the organizers of the Global March to Jerusalem (March 30, 2012). He rejects the two-state solution and is active in developing the “popular resistance.” He has compared Israel to Germany under the Nazis and claimed that Israel is worse than the apartheid regime of South Africa and is active in the “Israel apartheid week” campaign to delegitimize Israel.
In effect, the fly-in took place relatively quietly and was barely mentioned by the media outside Israel. Most of the activists who had bought tickets to Israel were not allowed to board their flights. As with previous propaganda events, this time as well there was a great discrepancy between what the organizers expected and declared (between 1,500 and 2,000 participants) and the number that actually managed to arrive in Israel (78). Furthermore, the number of activists who flew-in to Ben-Gurion Airport was even smaller than the number that arrived for last year’s similar event (About 130 activists managed to reach Israel for the previous fly-in, most of them from France and Belgium). Only a small number of activists actually went to Bethlehem.
Of the 78 participants who landed in Ben-Gurion Airport, 60 were detained and 18 were returned to their countries of origin on the night of April 15. Those who were detained were taken to holding facilities until their return flights could be arranged. Most of those who arrived in Israel were from France (51). The rest were from Britain (11), Italy (six), Canada (five), Spain (two), Switzerland (one), the United States (one), and Portugal (one) (Yedioth Aharonoth, April 16, 2012).
The activists caused a few limited public disturbances at Ben-Gurion Airport, and the massive deployment of Israeli security forces prevented them from developing into significant provocations. The most serious protests were voiced by activists who had been prevented from boarding their flights in various European airports. The demonstration at Charles de Gaulle in Paris was relatively stormy, with dozens of participants calling for Israel to be boycotted and shouting criticism of the airlines which refused to carry them. Some of the protestors confronted local security personnel and a number were detained. Limited protests were also held at the airports in Brussels, Geneva and Roma. In one instance a Portuguese national caused a disturbance during a Jordanian Airlines flight and was detained when he disembarked.
Activists in Brussels causing a disturbance and resisting detention (YouTube)
The protest fly-in, like previous propaganda events such as the march to Israel’s borders, did not, in our assessment, fulfill the expectations of its organizers, and for the following reasons: the effective security and political measures taken by the State of Israel prior to the fly-in; the cooperation of the various airlines in preventing activists Israel had forbidden to enter the country from boarding planes; the reservations of the international community regarding the fly-in (the United States, France, Britain, German and Italy warned their nationals not to participate); the fact that the international and Arab media, busy with other disturbing issues (Syria, Iran), gave the event scant coverage, especially since the event passed without serious provocation.5
The fly-in activists admitted that the number reaching Israel was far smaller than what had been expected. Abd al-Fatah Abu Srour, one of the fly-in’s Palestinian organizers, admitted at a press conference in Bethlehem that they had hoped for between 1,500 and 2,000 participants, and expressed his disappointment that many had failed to arrive. However, he claimed that nevertheless, the event had been a media success because, he claimed, it had exposed what he called “Israeli oppression” and the “extortion” Israel had used on the governments around the world and the airlines (Hamas’ Al-Quds TV, live from the press conference in Bethlehem, April 15, 2012).
1 The statistics do not include rockets and mortar shells fired which fell inside the Gaza Strip. As of April 17, 2012.
2 A website affiliated with Hamas leaked information from “security sources” according to which Egyptian general intelligence was delaying the ship, which is reportedly carrying 25,000 tones of fuel. According to the website, Egyptian intelligence claimed that Qatar had not informed Egypt before it was planning to dispatch the ship to Egyptian ports. Qatar claimed that it had not received authorization from the Egyptian authorities to deliver the fuel to the Gaza Strip (Alresalah.net website, April 9, 2012). In our assessment, Hamas leaded the information, another in a series of accusations regarding the so-called “Egyptian responsibility” for the fuel crisis in the Gaza Strip
3 Dr. Tareq Fahmi is professor of political science at Cairo University.
4 In a similar occurrence, on May 18, 2010, three Palestinians accused of premeditated murder were executed. At the time the incident enraged the Palestinian Authority and Palestinian jurisprudence figures, who claimed that the executions were illegal because Mahmoud Abbas, chairman of the PA, had to sign execution orders (Xinhua website).
5 The April 15 Internet video of the IDF officer striking the Danish activist provided the opportunity to embarrass Israel and received the temporary media attention the fly-in did not achieve.