This week in Israel: Bin Laden makes waves, Hamas and Fatah sign a deal, a former president prepares for prison, and El Al’s first female captain takes off
Osama Bin Laden is “Ben Mavet,” screamed the covers of Yedioth Ahronoth and Maariv this week. The phrase, which comes from Samuel I, usually refers to someone condemned to death or deemed to be deserving of death—it’s akin to saying someone’s a “dead man” in English—but in this case was, of course, referring to an actual dead man. The long-awaited demise of the bearded “rav hamehablim,” or “master terrorist,” prompted Nahum Barnea, one of Israel’s most prominent columnists, to wonder how it could be that Bin Laden was found but Israeli captive soldier Gilad Shalit has yet to be located. Former Justice Minister Daniel Friedmann wrote that he was “frightened by the thought of what would have happened” had the al-Qaida leader been killed by Israeli soldiers. The nightly news—including Channel 2, which ran a large photo of Bin Laden over the word “Husal” (“Assassinated”)—focused less on Israel than on the cheering crowds in New York and Washington, while columnist Ari Shavit discussed how the victory would serve as a “ruah gabit” (literally a tailwind, meaning a boost) for President Barack Obama in his reelection bid.
Hamas’ condemnation of the U.S. killing of the “Arab holy warrior” added fuel to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s opposition to the Hamas-Fatah reconciliation agreement, which was signed this week. As Israel withheld millions of dollars in Palestinian Authority tax revenues because of the deal, outgoing Shin Bet security service director Yuval Diskin warned reporters in an exit interview that the financial move might have serious consequences. “If we and the Americans and the Arab countries don’t give money, there won’t be a Palestinian Authority,” he said, adding that despite the unity deal, he doesn’t foresee genuine cooperation between the rival Palestinian factions. Meanwhile, several Israeli legislators representing Arab parties attended the signing ceremony in Cairo, sparking condemnation by right-wing Knesset members, one of whom said, “It’s time these MKs became members of a Hamas parliament and left the Israeli Knesset.”
Former Labor leaders Amram Mitzna and Amir Peretz have both been heralded as the possible saviors of their party—but the fact that those predictions didn’t exactly pan out didn’t stop Mitzna from declaring his candidacy for party chairman or Peretz from launching his election campaign this week. A recent poll found that of all the leading prospective candidates, Mitzna would bring Labor the most seats in the next election, while Peretz came in fourth. Though he did not say he would negotiate with Hamas, Mitzna said the Palestinian reconciliation “is their decision” and that he wouldn’t turn away any potential peace partner. Echoing Yitzhak Rabin’s comment that peace is something you make with your enemies, Mitzna noted that, after all, “We can’t go make peace with the Swiss.”
Israel’s Supreme Court granted former President Moshe Katsav a few more days of freedom this week. Katsav, who was due to begin serving a seven-year sentence for rape and other offenses this coming Sunday, has won a deferral until Wednesday, when the court is scheduled to hear his request to further push off the day he goes behind bars. In the meantime, security guards are being assigned to the Katsav “pesel”—the Hebrew word for both statue and idol—on the lawn outside the president’s residence in Jerusalem and told to keep an eye out for possible Independence Day vandalism, Maariv reported. Visitors will, however, be allowed to be photographed next to Katsav’s likeness—“if they want to, of course,” the story adds archly.
On the eve of Holocaust Remembrance Day this week, Israeli papers provided data on how quickly survivors are dying out. “Thirteen thousand Holocaust survivors halchu le’olamam in Israel in the past year,” Yedioth said on its cover, using a Hebrew euphemism for dying that literally means “went to their world.” Also this week, the paper reported that the Interior Ministry has decided that when it begins issuing new biometric ID cards in a few months, the serial numbers will start with 6 million, in memory of the Jewish victims of the Holocaust. One blogger questioned the wisdom of this decision, asking: “Is the long-term plan here to turn the entire country into Yad Vashem and all citizens into walking exhibits?”
One of the pilots who will be flying a Boeing 767 in Israel’s annual Independence Day aerial demonstration Tuesday is 40-year-old Smadar Shechter, the first, and so far only, female El Al captain, Yedioth reported this week. “It will be a great honor to fly on Independence Day with the Israeli flag on the tail of the plane, while I’m over the capital,” she said. The headline’s focus on the Hebrew word for a female captain—it read “Good Morning, This is Smadar the Kabarnita Speaking”—indicates that it’s something Israelis are not used to hearing. But that doesn’t mean they don’t like it, said Shechter. “The truth is that it’s really fun for them,” she told the paper. “The passengers feel good that they have a female pilot on the plane. They’re really enthusiastic when I speak.”
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