European Jewish Congress
Israel Press Review of 05/09/2016
Israeli Press Review
Israel Press Review of 05/09/2016

Major Headlines
  • Traffic jammed as halted train lines delay morning commute

Israelis began their workweek on Sunday morning with clogged highways and hundreds of cancelled trains as the row between Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz over allowing repairs to rail lines on the Sabbath grew angrier, the Times of Israel reports.

Some 150 train departures on the Haifa-Tel Aviv route, the country’s busiest, were cancelled for Sunday, affecting an estimated 150,000 travellers and commuters, including thousands of soldiers returning to their bases after weekends home.

By 7 a.m., large traffic jams were being reported on highways between Haifa and Tel Aviv, as well as smaller alternative routes, as commuters attempted to make their way by car and bus instead of train.

The trains resumed operating on the line only at 7 p.m. on Sunday, after planned repair work to the rail line was ordered frozen by Netanyahu on Friday evening when Haredi parties, Shas and United Torah Judaism, complained over the violation of the Jewish Sabbath, threatening to topple the coalition if it was not prevented.

In all, Netanyahu cancelled Saturday repair work on 17 out of 20 sites throughout the rail system. The three sites that continued operating involved repairs deemed necessary for passengers’ safety, and so were acceptable to Haredi lawmakers as Jewish religious law allows violating the Sabbath to save lives.

The surprise cancellation along the Tel Aviv-Haifa route caught Israel Railways crews after they had already disassembled parts of the track. Unable to return the tracks to their place due to the onset of the Sabbath on Friday night, the company was forced to leave the tracks unusable throughout Saturday, and only concluded the repairs on Sunday.

Other lines were also affected by the work stoppages. The train from Tel Aviv to Ben Gurion Airport was closed from Saturday night through Sunday morning for repairs originally planned for Saturday. It re-opened on Sunday morning.

Netanyahu on Saturday accused Katz, his transportation minister, of intentionally sparking a coalition crisis with Haredi parties over Sabbath work on the railways, just weeks after the two fought over control of a key Likud party institution.

Netanyahu claimed Katz created the crisis by ordering construction work on the rail network over the weekend when it wasn’t necessary to do so, ostensibly in order to avoid train delays.

“This crisis was started by Katz unnecessarily to undermine the relationship between the prime minister and the ultra-Orthodox public, as well as damage his reputation within the general public,” Netanyahu’s office said a statement.

Also on Saturday, the head of the left-wing Meretz party, MK Zehava Galon, petitioned the High Court of Justice to overturn Netanyahu’s decision to halt the weekend railway work.

“The court must put an end to the prime minister’s unbridled frenzy on the backs of thousands of passengers,” Galon said.

Meanwhile, opposition lawmakers announced Saturday they had collected the 25 MK signatures required to force a special recess committee session to discuss Netanyahu’s decision.

Click here to read the full article in Times of Israel

  • Site of ancient capital of Israel kingdom beset by vandalism

The Samaria National Park (Sebastia), some 10 kilometres north of Nablus, was found to have been vandalised with graffiti in Arabic, an ancient marble column toppled, with a smashed tombstone and the remains of burned tires discovered, Yediot Aharonot reports. 

The Samaria Regional Council protested that a Palestinian flag had been hoisted inside the park. The council's chairman, Yossi Dagan, commented, "This is abandonment of historical and archaeological treasures that are thousands of years old."

The site contains artifacts of national importance from biblical times and the early Christian period. At the site, which researchers have labelled as the historical palace of the House of Omri—the celebrated Israelite dynasty—unknown persons have poured a concrete base decorated with used stun grenades and erected an iron pole with a Palestinian flag inside it. Pressured by settlers in Samaria, the IDF removed the flag and pole last week. Other Palestinian flags were hung in the nearby trees.

A Roman marble column from the time of Caesar Augustus was dragged from its place and used to block a pedestrian access road to the site.

At the Byzantine church, where medieval tradition holds that the head of John the Baptist is interred, Arabic graffiti was painted on pillars and walls. An ancient Christian tombstone elsewhere at the site was smashed.

Avraham Faust, an archaeologist of the Martin (Szusz) Department of Land of Israel Studies and Archaeology at Bar Ilan University, commented, "(My) heart hurts; this is very sad. We have to maintain the site. This is a city with Jewish and Christian cultural value that is connected to the entire world. The site is not scientifically controversial. It was a magnificent city that served as the capital of Israel for 150 years, from the city's foundation by the Israelite King Omri until its destruction by the Assyrian kingdom, and it is even mentioned in Assyrian writings."

The huge archaeological site is located in Area C, which is under complete Israeli control, but its car park and access road are in Area B, the civilian control of which is under Palestinian purview. 

Click here to read the full article in Yediot Aharonot

  • Israel targets Syrian military after errant fire hits Golan

The Israeli military fired at Syrian army cannons across the border from the Golan Heights in response to mortar fire from Syria that hit the region, Yediot Aharonot reports.

The army said that the mortars appeared to be errant fire from Syria's civil war, and were not deliberately targeting Israeli-held territory.

No injuries were reported on Sunday. 

The IDF said it holds the Syrian government accountable for the "blatant breach of Israeli sovereignty."

Click here to read the full article in Yediot Aharonot

  • Hecklers attempt to drown out shofars at Women of the Wall service

Progressive Jewish women held a prayer service at the Western Wall plaza on Sunday amid jeering from a number of ultra-Orthodox protesters but few other disturbances, the Times of Israel reports.

In addition, a woman was escorted away and briefly detained after trying to enter the men’s section of the gender-divided prayer space to fetch a Torah scroll after hers was confiscated.

A Torah belonging to Women of the Wall board member Rachel Cohen Yeshurun was taken away by officials from the Western Wall Heritage Foundation, which operates the site.

Rules established by Shmuel Rabinovitch, the rabbi of the Western Wall, permit women to wear prayer shawls, but strictly forbids the bringing of a Torah to the Wall.

Cohen Yeshurun, who then went over to the men’s side of the plaza to get another Torah to use in the service, was kicked out of the holy site by guards.

A spokeswoman for the Women of the Wall organisation told The Times of Israel that the monthly Rosh Hodesh prayer service was interrupted by a handful of Haredi women blowing whistles and banging wooden lecterns on the ground..

The prayer, which was attended by 60 women and included a bat mitzvah, coincided with the start of the new Jewish month of Elul.

The services included women blowing ram’s horns, or shofars, typically connected with Elul and the upcoming Jewish New Year.

Women of the Wall run gender egalitarian services at the Jewish holy site in defiance of the state-imposed ultra-Orthodox regulations at the Wall.

The Western Wall, a remnant of the ancient Jewish Temple complex, is the holiest site where Jews may pray. It is currently administered by Orthodox rabbinic authorities. The site designates separate men’s and women’s prayer sections and forbids non-Orthodox prayer, such as mixed-gender services and women-led prayers.

A planned multi-denominational prayer space directly south of the Western Wall plaza, meant to soothe tensions at the holy site, has become mired in government infighting.

Click here to read the full article in Times of Israel

Monday, September 05, 2016
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