ISRAEL – During the final week of February, the Zionist Organization of America held its annual Mission to Israel, which is more security focused than others.
ZOA National President Mort Klein opened the inaugural dinner noting the ZOA’s success in getting Duke University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill to agree to take several remedial steps to address anti-Semitism on their campuses. This result was triggered by the ZOA’s complaint against both universities under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act, which the U.S. Department of Education agreed to investigate. Before the investigations concluded, each university entered into a resolution agreement, which the federal government is monitoring to ensure its implementation.
Our ZOA delegation met with numerous individuals with highly regarded credentials. Palestinian Business Network chairman and businessman Ashraf Jabari conferred with our group in Jerusalem and, a few days later, we spent an hour in his home. His house is within the Palestinian Authority controlled city of Hebron and special permission from the Israeli government and the PA was required for this visit.
Jabari is in favor of the Trump peace plan and opened an office in 2017 to enhance cooperation between Palestinians and the State of Israel. He believes that the majority of Palestinians prefer living under Israeli law, not under PA rule. He described the Palestinian economy as more vibrant prior to the 1994 Oslo Accords.
Jabari was one of the Palestinian businessmen invited to the June 2019 Bahrain Economic Conference. He was insistent that Israelis and Palestinians worked well for 50 years without PA or PLO interference. He described the Palestinian media as PA controlled, and Western media as deliberately ignorant.
Jabari faults Clinton, Arafat and Begin with the continuous conflict due to their two-state solution promotion. The Arab leaders, he insisted, treat their citizens very poorly. For example, President Assad was responsible for killing more Syrians in two days than all the Arabs killed in wars against Israel. Ironically, he supports Benjamin Netanyahu as prime minister due to his belief regarding Netanyahu’s practicality and understanding of the situation.
Yaakov Eliraz, a journalist and person involved with Jewish and Palestinian communities in the West Bank, explained that less than 3 percent of the West Bank land mass is comprised of Jewish housing. The land is inhabited by 2.5 million Palestinians and 500,000 Jews. The Trump peace plan calls for 30 percent of the West Bank to remain under Jewish control.
The Israeli government, during the 1994 Oslo Accords negotiations, agreed that Area C (presently Jewish controlled areas) would be negotiated in the future. The Palestinian Authority has since believed that this area will ultimately be Palestinian and refuses to negotiate further. Each year, Israel has allowed the Palestinians to illegally build approximately 1,500 homes in Area C, in exchange for a virtual elimination of terrorism in the West Bank.
The government has granted approximately 3,000 Jewish housing permits annually for the past decade. This figure is scheduled to increase 10-fold under the Trump peace plan.
Rachel Frankel, the mother of murdered teen Naftali Frankel, gave a riveting address to our group. Naftali was 16 years old in 2014 when he and two friends were picked up by Palestinian terrorists and brought to an Arab neighborhood and shot dead. This incident became the initial flashpoint for Operation Protective Edge.
Naftali had sent Rachel a text from his yeshiva at 9 pm that Thursday night. His text stated that he would be heading home for the weekend (Friday and Saturday in Israel). There was a knock on her door at 3:30 am by the police to notify her that Naftali had managed to send an emergency text – similar to 911. By Friday morning, it was known that three teenage boys had been abducted. The terrorists had dressed as religious Jews and were playing Jewish religious music in their car.
It took 18 days to find the bodies of these boys and during this time, their families held onto hope that they were alive. The police later identified $200,000 that was used for this heinous attack. These funds originated in Iran and were transferred through Syria and Gaza before ending in a Palestinian village in the West Bank. The murderers were later killed in a battle against the IDF, in Hebron.
Unfortunately, in retaliation, a 16- year-old Muslim boy, Mohammed Abu Khdeir, was murdered by Jews. Rachel spoke one time with the mother of Mohammed and explained that there was no difference between Jewish and Arab blood. However, Mohammed’s mother called the Jews who killed her son “Nazis.”
Fleur Hassan-Nahoum, deputy mayor of Jerusalem, described the ripple effect of opening the U.S. embassy in Jerusalem. Other countries are opening import/export offices in the capital city and considering opening embassies. She is frustrated that 80 percent of Jerusalem’s Arabs live below the poverty line and assigns much blame to the PA school curriculum – which does not include Hebrew as a subject, denies the existence of the State of Israel, and incites and indoctrinates students. These schools are funded by UNWRA.
Hassan-Nahoum, who is a Gibraltar-born Jew, looks forward to the 3,000 housing units that will be built for Jewish residents and an additional 1,000 for the Arabs of Jerusalem. Furthermore, three train lines are on the drawing board.
ZOA Mission attendees heard from Tzachi Hanegbi, former minister of national intelligence and minister of justice, and current minister of agriculture. He was adamant that the Trump administration is better than all previous U.S. administrations.
Hanegbi explained that the 50,000 Hezbollah fighters in Lebanon occupy two-thirds of that country. While this border has been quiet, there are an additional 2,000 Hezbollah fighters in Syria. Secretary of State John Kerry brought 100 high-ranking U.S. military personnel to convince Netanyahu that the IDF need not be the sole defender of Israel on their northern border. This was rejected by the Israeli prime minister, and quiet has been the result. Hanegbi elaborated how the two-state solution will create war and conflict when the Palestinians gain sovereignty, similar to the situation in Gaza.
Ambassador Mario Bucaro of Guatemala addressed our contingent within their Jerusalem embassy. He began by stating, “Jerusalem is the undivided capital of Israel in a tachlis way.”
Guatemala opened its first embassy in Jerusalem in 1957, with a female ambassador. The ambassador in 1977 happened to be the president of Guatemala who voted in favor of recognizing Israel at the United Nations, in 1947. Bucaro was pleased to tell our group that Israeli technology has allowed Guatemala to become the Number 1 exporter of bananas in the world.
The Arab countries boycotted Guatemala beginning in 2017, when they moved their embassy to Jerusalem – two days after the United States. The ambassador referred to himself as a Christian Zionist and mentioned that many of the 200 Jewish families in Guatemala are moving to the U.S. and Israel. His country has arrested many Islamic State terrorists who have attempted to cross the country on their way to the Mexico/U.S. border.
Nir Barkat, mayor of Jerusalem from 2008-2018, explained his desire to increase high-tech into the Haredi and Arab communities within Jerusalem. On the whole, these two populations are economically behind secular Jews and religious Zionists. Barkat was the first chairman of Checkpoint Software, a highly successful Israeli start-up. He has been involved with additional entrepreneurial ventures.
Barkat, who may serve as minister of finance in the new government, explained that the Israeli 30 percent portion of West Bank land, which the Trump peace plan outlines, includes area E-1 (the large tract of vacant land adjacent to Jerusalem). The mapping process is beginning between Israel and the U.S., as the Palestinians have not been willing to take part in this process. He noted the Gulf Arab states have tacitly endorsed this plan.
We drove south to Sderot’s Hesder Yeshiva the day after rockets had been raining upon the community from Islamic Jihad in the Gaza Strip. While the Iron Dome intercepted their usual 90 percent of the Kassam rockets, a few managed to fall within population centers. Since the residents have only 15 seconds to find fortified shelter after the siren wails, many simply lie on the floor and hope for the best.
We were addressed by the head of the yeshiva, who gave us a short history lesson. He lived in Gaza prior to the 2005 withdrawal. Two weeks after the Israelis withdrew from Gaza, Hamas began firing rockets at Israeli communities and the rockets continue to be fired at the Jews. Palestinian residents destroyed most buildings within the Gaza strip, after the Israelis departed. The building remains are currently used for Kassam rocket launching pads.
A visit to the all-volunteer Yatar counter terrorism unit brought us to the Ofer prison parking lot. This prison houses many terrorists and is one half mile from the border with Ramallah. This security division, utilizing all-terrain vehicles (ATVs), works with the Border Police and the IDF to apprehend any infiltration by terrorists. Inside a Border Police station, we witnessed the live tracking of movements on various PA controlled and Israeli controlled borders. Female IDF soldiers monitor computer screens and their concentration is of paramount importance.
Our delegation also heard from General Bentzi Gruber of the IDF Armored Division; visited the Tomb of the Patriarchs and Matriarchs in Hebron; went underground at Jerusalem’s City of David while the excavation was occurring; met with Jerusalem residents of two new Jewish communities, Maaleh Hazeitim (atop the Mount of Olives) and Nof Tzion (a protected community among Arab neighbors); enjoyed lunch with IDF lone soldiers; and experienced the usual walk to the Kotel and Old City.
This article was originally published in the Jewish Advocate.