This week in Israel: A bomb in Jerusalem returns terrorism to the capital, rockets in the Negev could prompt Cast Lead 2, a former president goes to jail, social workers demonstrate for higher wages, and more
A bomb exploded at a crowded bus stop near Jerusalem’s central bus station on Wednesday, killing a woman visiting from Britain, wounding at least 30, and signaling what pundits are calling a return of terrorism to Israel’s capital after a three-year lull (give or take). It actually wasn’t the first such flare-up—just ask the sanitation worker who lost a hand to a bomb concealed inside a garbage bag in Jerusalem three weeks ago or the children whose parents and three siblings were stabbed to death in their sleep in the West Bank settlement of Itamar two weeks ago—but it is the one that seems to be resounding the loudest here. Israelis call an individual terror attack a pigu’a, but they typically use the word “terror” (pronounced “te-RROR”) to describe the phenomenon as a whole, and several news organizations led with the words “Terror returns to Jerusalem” (Ha’terror hozer leyerushalayim), while former Meretz leader Yossi Sarid asked: “Is the nightmare of terrorism resuming?”
The blast in Jerusalem came as Negev residents dealt with the effects of rockets and mortar shells fired by Palestinian militants in the Gaza Strip. The latest spate of attacks began Saturday with a barrage of more than 50 mortar shells, followed by Russian-made Grad rockets hitting Ashkelon and Be’er Sheva. According to Ynet, Israeli bomb disposal experts said some of the mortar shells contained phosphorus, and school was canceled in Ashdod and Be’er Sheva for part of the week. “I am familiar with the feeling of being under a rocket threat from back home,” said one student from the northern town of Kiryat Shmona, speaking at sparsely attended Ben-Gurion University in Be’er Sheva. “But when the first rocket fell in the morning, my parents called me and asked me to come back to the north.”
The Israeli army, meanwhile, has been conducting air raids and attacking launch sites in Gaza, killing at least 10 Palestinians, including four civilians. The media are talking about “escalation” (haslama), Likud ministers are warning of “Operation Cast Lead 2,” and Haaretz commentators (and Tablet Magazine contributors) Amos Harel and Avi Issacharoff say this tit-for-tat has already developed into “a small war.”
On Tuesday, former Israeli President Moshe Katsav was sentenced to seven years in prison for rape, sexual harassment, and obstruction of justice, but Maariv and Yedioth Ahronoth didn’t wait for the judges to read the sentence in court. On the morning Katsav was due to be sentenced, both papers devoted their front pages to Israel’s former “No. 1 citizen,” as the president is called, and ran the same one-word headline: “Lakele”—“To jail.” “Today is a sad day for everyone,” Katsav’s successor, Shimon Peres, said. “However, it illustrates that in the State of Israel, no one is above the law.”
Elsewhere, a friend and former lawyer of former prime minister Ehud Olmert began testifying in Olmert’s corruption trial this week. Uri Messer, the witness, confirmed the existence of a slush fund controlled by Olmert, at least some of which he said was donated by American Jewish businessman Morris Talansky. Messer said that at one point, Talansky was holding at least $300,000 in cash in his office safe for Olmert. One radio talk show host referred to the case as “Little Sicily.”
The Knesset passed two controversial laws this week. The Nakba Law (Hok Hanakba)—so called because its original, harsher incarnation called for a prison term of up to three years for anyone who commemorates Israel’s Independence Day as a day of mourning, in keeping with the Palestinian view of Israel’s founding as the “nakba,” or catastrophe—gives the finance minister the authority to reduce financial aid for government-funded institutions that reject Israel’s existence as a Jewish and democratic state, support armed conflict or terrorism against Israel, or treat the flag or other state symbols with disrespect. This means, writes the head of the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, “the Knesset has appointed the Finance Ministry to serve as Israel’s Ministry of Truth.” The other law, known as the Admissions Committee Law (Hok Va’adot Hakabalah), gives small communities in the Galilee and Negev the right to keep out potential residents who are judged incompatible with their social norms.
The reverberations of Japan’s earthquake reached the office of Israel’s state comptroller, which issued a report this week stating that the government has done nothing to improve its preparedness for an earthquake despite more than a decade of warnings. Israel and the West Bank sit on the sensitive Syrian-African fault line, though some Israelis seem more concerned about a potential sushi shortage than the risks posed by shoddily built schools.
Israel’s social workers are on strike. The ovdim sotzialim launched their strike nearly three weeks ago in a bid to secure higher wages. One of the slogans the striking social workers have been chanting is “With such dismal pay, we’ll fight here like they do in Libya,” which rhymes in Hebrew: “Sahar kazeh aluv, ne’evak po k’mo b’luv.” The union has set up an “exceptions committee” (va’adat harigim) that determines which Israelis in need get help despite the strike. Some of the cases: Yes to the children who survived the terror attack that killed their parents and siblings in Itamar and to two women seeking placement in a battered women’s shelter; no to a girl who was raped and to a couple waiting to take home a baby born to a surrogate mother. Next up: Doctors are threatening their first public-sector strike in a decade.
And at least one Purim reveler in the West Bank city of Hebron appeared on TV news dressed up as Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi. In Hebron as elsewhere in Israel, the Purim parade is known as Adloyada, an elision of the Aramaic phrase “ad d’lo yada” (“until he no longer knows”), which many take to mean that Jews are religiously obligated to become so drunk on Purim that they can’t tell the difference between cursed Haman and blessed Mordechai. U.S. former Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin, meanwhile, was in Israel for what she called a private visit, and she arrived at the Western Wall tunnels in the Old City of Jerusalem wearing a prominent Star of David necklace. Maybe she was dressing up as a Jew for Purim.
Studying the 1961 Adolf Eichmann trial provided a reminder that it’s always crucial to confront Holocaust denialism, whether among Nazis in the immediate postwar years or from Mahmoud Ahmadinejad today