Israeli police have refused to return the body of Yacoub Abu al-Qiyan, two days after he was shot dead during a pre-dawn raid to bulldoze his home and those of another dozen families in Umm al-Hiran. But claims that he was an ISIS terrorist who used his car to ram into police, killing an officer, have rapidly unravelled. Video evidence and a leaked autopsy suggest police caused the accident by opening fire on his car, and then allowed him to bleed to death.
The smell of scandal has swirled around Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu for years. Now the smell is starting to turn to a stench, say analysts. One commentator suggested Netanyahu’s conduct risked being compared to the behaviour of a head of a “banana republic”. In one of the police investigations, recordings reportedly show Netanyahu promising to help a newspaper editor damage his rival in return for favourable coverage.
The popular reaction in Israel to the military court’s decision to convict Elor Azaria was far more telling than the decision itself. Like Brexit and Trump, Azaria’s trial exposed not only a deep social fissure, but also a moment of transition. Those who see a virtuous system punishing a rotten apple are now outnumbered by those who see a rotten system victimising a hero.
It was the trial almost no one in Israel wanted. It exposed not just the rogue actions of one soldier but the dark underbelly of Israeli society and its “citizens’ army”. Elor Azaria was taken to the Israeli public’s bosom, celebrated as the “child of us all”. But like many of his fellow soldiers and commanders, he consorted with the most extreme settler leaders in Hebron and used social media to express his hatred of Arabs.
A Greek Melkite archbishop, described as an “icon” of the Palestinian liberation struggle, has died in Rome at the age of 94. Hilarion Capucci, who was appointed the Patriarchal Vicar of Jerusalem in 1965, was jailed nine years later by Israel for arms smuggling. Hanan Ashrawi said Capucci “embodied the activist church – spiritual leaders who were prepared to translate their principles into action and struggle against injustice.”
Some 200,000 documents concerning the mysterious disappearance of thousands of babies in Israel’s early years have been made public for the first time. The Israeli government declassified the files, publishing them in an online archive, after decades of accusations that officials have been concealing evidence that many of the babies were stolen from their Jewish families, who had recently arrived in Israel from Arab states.
For leftwing Israelis, as well as Israel’s Palestinian minority, Netanyahu is considered the king of incitement. His current conduct has revived memories of the mid-1990s, when Yitzhak Rabin, was drumming up support for the Oslo Accords. Footage of the period shows Netanyahu addressing crowds holding aloft placards of Rabin in Nazi uniform. Months later, Rabin was assassinated.
Israel is reported to be ready to expel an award-winning Australian journalist, Antony Loewenstein, after he asked a too-probing question of an Israeli politician. It is unsurprising to learn that Israel has no serious regard for press freedom. But more depressing has been the lack of solidarity shown by journalistic colleagues, most especially the Guardian.
As tens of thousands of Christian pilgrims converge on the Holy Land this week to celebrate the birth of Jesus, senior Israeli rabbis have announced a war on the Christmas tree. In Jerusalem, the rabbinate has issued a letter warning dozens of hotels in the city that it is “forbidden” by Jewish religious law to erect a tree or stage new year’s parties.
Friedman’s appointment would mean more than a change of address for the US embassy and a deterioration in the prospects for Palestinian statehood. Analysts say it would mark a seismic shift in the “special relationship” between the US and Israel – and an early casualty of the shockwaves might be the Palestinian Authority of Mahmoud Abbas.
Israel’s military authorities have published a video on social media publicising Palestinian attractions in the West Bank, in what looks like a generous promotional stunt to bring tourists to Palestine. Except that is precisely not where the video invites them. Instead it beckons tourists to visit “Judea and Samaria”, the Biblical names Israel uses to justify the illegal Jewish settlements that dominate much of the West Bank.
Filmed testimonies of Palestinians in Jerusalem reveal a growing trend of violent assaults by far-right Jewish activists belonging to Lehava, or Flame in Hebrew. Run by rabbi Ben-Zion Gopstein, Lehava rejects any interaction between Jews and Palestinians. Jerusalem’s streets are littered with fliers in Arabic warning, “Don’t even think about a Jewish girl”, and in Hebrew stating, “Beware the goys – they will defile you”.
Fatah launched its seventh congress this week, amid heated speculation about the future of its leader, Mahmoud Abbas. Among those watching closely as events unfold is the Israeli leadership. The congress – the first since 2009 – will determine the make up of Fatah’s main representative bodies and may offer clues as to whom is best placed to succeed the 81-year-old Abbas.
The forest fires that ravaged Israel over the weekend inadvertently drew attention to the deeper goal of Netanyahu’s “muezzin bill”. For many Israelis, the call to prayer threatens the contrived “European idyll” created after 1948 by a programme of planting thick pine forests – creating a fire hazard – over hundreds of Palestinian villages Israel destroyed after it had expelled their inhabitants.
A former Dutch ambassador planted 1,100 olive trees in the West Bank on Sunday to make amends, he said, for the fact that Israel had exploited his family’s name to “cover up an act of ethnic cleansing”. Erik Ader said the trees were his way of apologising for a similar number of pine trees planted in Israel in the 1960s to honour his father by the Jewish National Fund.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has revived long-standing suspicions that his predecessor, Yasser Arafat, was murdered. Abbas announced last week that he knew the killer’s identity, adding that the world would be “amazed when you know who did it”. Abbas also suggested that a Palestinian commission of inquiry into Arafat’s death may be close to releasing its findings, after years of delays.
Palestinian lawmakers in Israel have found an unexpected ally inside the government against a new bill banning mosques from using loudspeakers to broadcast the call to prayer. A parliamentary vote was delayed after worries from health minister Yaakov Litzman that the bill might apply to synagogues too. The setback, however, is likely to prove short-lived.
Netanyahu was among the first to congratulate Trump by phone. The US president-elect reciprocated by inviting him for talks “at the first opportunity”. And yet Netanyahu is reported to be anxious about a Trump White House. Why? It is certainly not because of Trump’s stated policies on the Israel-Palestine conflict.
Israel’s far-right culture minister, Miri Regev, scored a significant victory last month in her self-declared war on the country’s cultural establishment. Israel’s national theatre company, Habima, it was revealed, had agreed to perform for the first time in Kiryat Arba, a notoriously violent settlement next to the Palestinian city of Hebron.
Taking advantage of the renewed quiet at al-Aqsa, Israel allowed record numbers of ultra-nationalists to visit the mosque during its recent high holidays. Parties of Israeli soldiers also entered the site. For Palestinians, Israel’s treatment of this supremely important Islamic holy site symbolises their powerlessness, oppression and routine humiliation.