TUBAS, West Bank (AP) — At least 85 Palestinians have been killed in the West Bank this year as Israeli forces have carried out nightly raids in cities, towns and villages, making it the deadliest in the occupied territory since 2016.
The military says the vast majority were militants or stone-throwers who endangered the soldiers. The tally, from the Palestinian Health Ministry, includes Palestinians who carried out deadly attacks inside Israel.
But it also includes several civilians, including a veteran journalist and a lawyer who apparently drove unwittingly into a battle zone, as well as local youths who took to the streets in response to the invasion of their neighborhoods.
The length and frequency of the raids has pulled into focus Israel's tactics in the West Bank, where nearly 3 million Palestinians live under a decades-long occupation and Palestinians view the military’s presence as a humiliation and a threat.
Israeli troops have regularly operated across the West Bank since Israel captured the territory in 1967.
Israel says it is dismantling militant networks that threaten its citizens, and that it makes every effort to avoid harming civilians. Palestinians say the raids are aimed at maintaining Israel’s 55-year military rule over territories they want for a future state — a dream that appears as remote as ever, with no serious peace negotiations held in over a decade..
Israel stepped up the operations this past spring after a string of deadly attacks by Palestinians against Israelis killed 17 people, some carried out by militants from the West Bank. There have been no deadly attacks since May, but the relentless military operations have continued.
JERUSALEM (AP) — The Israeli army said Monday there was a “high possibility” that a soldier killed a well-known Al Jazeera journalist in the occupied West Bank last May, as it announced the results of its investigation into the killing.
In a briefing to reporters, a senior military official said a soldier opened fire after mistakenly identifying Shireen Abu Akleh as a militant. But he provided no evidence to back up the Israeli claim that Palestinian gunmen were present in the area and said no one would be punished. He also did not address video evidence showing the area to be quiet before Abu Akleh was shot.
The conclusions were the closest Israel has come to taking responsibility for her death and followed a series of investigations by media organizations and the United States that concluded Israel either fired, or most likely had fired, the deadly shot. But they were unlikely to put the matter to rest.
“He misidentified her,” the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity under military briefing guidelines. “His reports in real time...absolutely point to a misidentification.”
Abu Akleh was wearing a helmet and a vest identifying her as press when she was killed in May while covering Israeli military raids in the occupied West Bank.
US B-52 bombers fly over Middle East amid tensions with Iran
Palestinians: Israeli forces kill 19-year-old militant
Dozens of Lebanese and Syrian migrants trapped at sea
German president apologizes for 1972 Olympic attack failures
The Israeli human rights group B’Tselem accused the army of carrying out a whitewash.
“It was no mistake. It’s policy,” the group said.
Al Jazeera’s local bureau chief, Walid Al-Omari, accused the army of trying to escape responsibility. “This is clearly an attempt to circumvent the opening of a criminal investigation,” he told The Associated Press.
The 51-year-old Palestinian-American had covered the West Bank for two decades and was a well-known face across the Arab world. The Palestinians, and Abu Akleh's family, have accused Israel of intentionally killing her, and her death remains a major point of contention between the sides.
The official said the military could not conclusively determine where the fire emanated from, saying there may have been Palestinian gunmen in the same area as the Israeli soldier. But he said the soldier shot the journalist “with very high likelihood” and did so by mistake.
The official did not explain why witness accounts and videos showed no militant activity in the area, as well as no gunfire in the vicinity until the barrage that struck Abu Akleh and wounded another reporter.
He also did not say why the investigation had taken some four months, though he said the Israeli military chief asked for more information after an initial probe. The official said the investigation had been shared with the military's independent prosecutor, who had decided not to launch a criminal probe. That means no one will be charged in the shooting.
Abu Akleh's family criticized the investigation, saying the army “tried to obscure the truth and avoid responsibility” for the killing.
“Our family is not surprised by this outcome since it’s obvious to anyone that Israeli war criminals cannot investigate their own crimes. However, we remain deeply hurt, frustrated and disappointed,” they said in a statement. The family also reiterated its call for an independent U.S. investigation and a probe by the International Criminal Court.
Rights groups say Israeli investigations of the shooting deaths of Palestinians often languish for months or years before being quietly closed and that soldiers are rarely held accountable.
Israel has said she was killed during a complex battle with Palestinian militants and that only a forensic analysis of the bullet could confirm whether it was fired by an Israeli soldier or a Palestinian militant. However, a U.S.-led analysis of the bullet last July was inconclusive as investigators said the bullet had been badly damaged.
An Associated Press reconstruction of her killing lent support to witness accounts that she was killed by Israeli forces. Subsequent investigations by CNN, the New York Times and the Washington Post reached similar conclusions, as did monitoring by the office of the U.N. human rights chief.
Abu Akleh rose to fame two decades ago during the second Palestinian intifada, or uprising, against Israeli rule. She documented the harsh realities of life under Israeli military rule — now well into its sixth decade with no end in sight — for viewers across the Arab world.
Israeli police drew widespread criticism from around the world when they beat mourners and pallbearers at her funeral in Jerusalem on May 14. An Israeli newspaper reported that a police investigation found wrongdoing by some of its officers, but said those who supervised the event will not be seriously punished.
Jenin has long been a bastion of Palestinian militants, and several recent deadly attacks inside Israel have been carried out by young men from in and around the town. Israel frequently carries out military raids in Jenin, which it says are aimed at arresting militants and preventing more attacks.
Israel captured the West Bank in the 1967 Mideast war and has built settlements where nearly 500,000 Israelis live alongside nearly 3 million Palestinians. The Palestinians want the territory to form the main part of a future state.
Goldenberg reported from Tel Aviv, Israel.
A document describing a foreign government’s military defenses, including its nuclear capabilities, was found by FBI agents who searched former president Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago residenceand private club last month, according to people familiar with the matter, underscoring concerns among U.S. intelligence officials about classified material stashed in the Florida property.
Some of the seized documents detail top-secret U.S. operations so closely guarded that many senior national security officials are kept in the dark about them. Only the president, some members of his Cabinet or a near-Cabinet-level official could authorize other government officials to know details of these special-access programs, according to people familiar with the search, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe sensitive details of an ongoing investigation.
Documents about such highly classified operations require special clearances on a need-to-know basis, not just top-secret clearance. Some special-access programs can have as few as a couple dozen government personnel authorized to know of an operation’s existence. Records that deal with such programs are kept under lock and key, almost always in a secure compartmented information facility, with a designated control officer to keep careful tabs on their location.
DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — The long reign of Queen Elizabeth II saw large swaths of the world cast off London's rule, but after her death a handful of British-installed monarchies still endure in the Middle East.
They have survived decades of war and turmoil and are now seen as bastions of a certain kind of authoritarian stability. When popular uprisings erupted across the region a decade ago in what was known as the Arab Spring, sweeping away regimes with anti-colonial roots, hereditary rulers were largely unscathed.
The days of imperial pomp and gunships may be over, but the region’s emotional and financial ties to England run deep. Emirs, sultans and kings attend the Royal Military Academy at Sandhurst. Gulf Arab sovereign wealth has helped reshaped London’s skyline.
As the son of a British mother, Jordan’s King Abdullah II also has familial and cultural ties to Britain.
Jordan’s ruling Hashemites, who come from the Arabian Peninsula and claim descent from the Prophet Muhammad, launched the revolt against the Ottoman Empire during World War I. They had hoped their wartime alliance with Britain would help secure an independent Arab state across much of the Middle East.
It didn’t work out that way.
QUEEN ELIZABETH II
Live updates: Queen to be buried in Windsor next to husband
Crowds queue for queen's coffin as Charles spends quiet day
With its queen gone, Britain ponders how to discuss death
AP PHOTOS: Queen takes final journey from Buckingham Palace
Britain and France carved up the Ottoman Empire after the war, breaking promises and drawing often arbitrary borders that virtually guaranteed decades of conflict in Iraq, Lebanon and Syria, as well as Israel and the Palestinian territories.
“There is no question that the two royal families have enjoyed very strong relations,” former Jordanian foreign minister Marwan Muasher said of the the British royals and the Hashemites. “But the relationship has been marred by major issues and turbulent times.”
Abdullah I, the current king's great grandfather, was given Jordan, a swath of desert mainly populated by nomadic Bedouin.
His brother, Faisal, was placed on the throne of Iraq, another new country, assembled from three distinctive Ottoman provinces and loosely based on ancient Mesopotamia.
The British helped establish both kingdoms in an English mold. Jordan got a British-style bureaucracy. In Iraq, a band played “God save the King” at Faisal’s coronation.
Both were buffeted by the wave of Arab nationalism that erupted after World War II. Abdullah was assassinated by a Palestinian nationalist in Jerusalem in 1951, and Iraq’s King Faisal II was deposed and killed in a bloody 1958 coup.
Egyptian military officers deposed that country’s British-backed monarchy in 1952, and hereditary rulers were later overthrown in Libya and Yemen. All were eventually replaced by homegrown autocrats — many aligned with the West.
But not Jordan.
King Abdullah II, a native English speaker who would fit in at a British army club, and his glamorous wife of Palestinian descent, Queen Rania, today rule an Arab country that has come to be seen as an island of stability in a volatile region.
His father, King Hussein, quashed internal threats and survived dozens of plots to kill and overthrow him. His image as a friendly, Western-style monarch in a restive region compelled foreign patrons — first Britain, then the United States — to bankroll the kingdom.
Its modern-day image of stability masks an economy dependent on foreign aid, a conservative culture and popular discontent that occasionally bubbles to the surface.
King Abdullah II often flies to London to "seek advice from the British on this or that issue,” said Labib Kamhawi, a Jordanian political analyst. When the king’s half-sister, Princess Haya, sought legal protection from her ex-husband, the ruler of Dubai, she looked no further than the British capital.
Jordan’s royal court declared a week of mourning after Queen Elizabeth’s death, hailing her as an “iconic leader” and a “beacon of wisdom.”
The response from ordinary people in Jordan — and across the region — was more muted.
Many trace the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to Britain’s 1917 Balfour declaration, in which it supported “the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people.”
Daoud Kuttab, a prominent Palestinian journalist based in Jordan, said he would have expected Elizabeth's passing to create more debate among Jordanians. “But she became queen in 1952. It’s hard to blame her for the Balfour declaration,” he said.
Iraqis still bitterly recall the British invasion during World War II and many view the 1958 coup that deposed Faisal II with pride. But it ushered in decades of instability, culminating in Saddam Hussein’s brutal rule and wars with his neighbors. The U.S.-led invasion in 2003, in which Britain was a key participant, removed Saddam but plunged Iraq into chaos from which it has yet to fully emerge.
“Installing a monarchy that wasn’t very popular and that was overthrown in 1958 was the ignition for the many problems that the modern Iraqi state has faced,” said Lahib Higel, senior Iraq analyst for the International Crisis Group.
Still, Iraqis of a certain age credit Britain with helping to establish education and health systems that were the envy of the region before Saddam’s catastrophic rule. Some Egyptians also look back fondly on their monarchy, whose demise was followed by decades of authoritarian rule and stagnation.
“Especially older Egyptians have this residual admiration for British culture and institutions,” said Egyptian writer Khaled Diab.
Further east, across the glittering cities of the Persian Gulf, British influence remains strong decades after independence. Starting in the 18th century, Gulf emirs came under the protection of the British Empire, which brokered truces between loosely organized tribes.
The discovery of vast oil riches ensured the survival of hereditary rule even after the British withdrew in 1971. Heirs to the tribal leaders today boast second homes in London’s toniest districts and degrees from British universities.
Bahrain was convulsed by a 2011 revolt supported by its Shiite majority against its Sunni monarchy, but there was hardly any sign of unrest in any other Gulf country.
“These Arab monarchies are modern-era creations and they’ve had to create the monarchical myth in a relatively short space of time,” said Christopher Davidson, a fellow at the European Center for International Affairs. "The British royal protocols continue to produce these states with a ready-made blueprint on how to behave and operate.”
After Elizabeth’s death, a video clip from 2015 went viral showing Ali Gomaa, the former grand mufti of Egypt, describing the British queen as a descendent of the Prophet Muhammad. Her blood line, he alleged, ran through medieval Muslim Spain.
The claim, which has been made by others but never proven, drew mockery on social media. But some welcomed it as proof of enduring ties.
“There’s this desire to build bridges,” said Diab, the Egyptian writer. “Britain has this residual pull on the Arab imagination.”
Associated Press writer Joseph Krauss in Ottawa, Ontario, contributed to this report.
CANBERRA, Australia (AP) — In a story published October 18, 2022, about Australia dropping its former recognition of west Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, The Associated Press erroneously reported that Foreign Minister Penny Wong said the government would again recognize Tel Aviv as the capital. Wong said the embassy would stay in Tel Aviv but did not mention recognizing the city as the capital.
AL-AROUB REFUGEE CAMP, West Bank (AP) — In two volatile spots in the occupied West Bank, Israel has installed robotic weapons that can fire tear gas, stun grenades and sponge-tipped bullets at Palestinian protesters.
The weapons, perched over a crowded Palestinian refugee camp and in a flashpoint West Bank city, use artificial intelligence to track targets. Israel says the technology saves lives — both Israeli and Palestinian. But critics see another step toward a dystopian reality in which Israel fine-tunes its open-ended occupation of the Palestinians while keeping its soldiers out of harm’s way.
The new weapon comes at a time of heightened tensions in the occupied West Bank, where unrest has risen sharply during what has been the deadliest year since 2006. The victory by former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's hard-line alliance, which includes an extreme right-wing party with close ties to the settler movement, has raised concerns of more violence.
Twin turrets, each equipped with a watchful lens and a gun barrel, were recently installed atop a guard tower bristling with surveillance cameras overlooking the Al-Aroub refugee camp in the southern West Bank. When young Palestinian protesters pour into the streets hurling stones and firebombs at Israeli soldiers, the robotic weapons unleash tear gas or sponge-tipped bullets on them, witnesses say.
About a month ago, the military also placed the robots in the nearby city of Hebron, where soldiers often clash with stone-throwing Palestinian residents. The army declined to comment on its plans to deploy the system elsewhere in the West Bank.
Palestinian activist Issa Amro said Hebron residents fear the new weapon might be misused or hacked with no accountability in potentially lethal situations. People also resent what they say is a weapons test on civilians, he added.
“We are not a training and simulation for Israeli companies," he said. "This is something new that must be stopped.”
There are no soldiers next to the machines. Instead, the weapons are operated by remote control. At a touch of a button, soldiers nestled inside a guard tower can fire at selected targets.
The army says the system is being tested at this stage and fires only “non-lethal” weapons used for crowd control, such as sponge-tipped bullets and tear gas. Residents of Al-Aroub say the turrets have repeatedly drenched the hillside camp in gas.
“We don’t open the window, we don’t open the door. We know not to open anything,” said shopkeeper Hussein al-Muzyeen.
Robotic weapons are increasingly in operation around the world, with militaries expanding their use of drones to carry out lethal strikes from Ukraine to Ethiopia. Remote-controlled guns like the Israeli system in the West Bank have been used by the United States in Iraq, by South Korea along the border with North Korea, and by various Syrian rebel groups.
Israel, known for its advanced military technologies, is among the world's top producers of drones capable of launching precision-guided missiles. It has built a fence along its boundary with the Gaza Strip equipped with radar and underground and underwater sensors. Above ground, it uses a robotic vehicle, equipped with cameras and machine guns, to patrol volatile borders. The military also tests and utilizes state-of-the-art surveillance technology such as face recognition and biometric data collection on Palestinians navigating the routines of the occupation, such as applying for Israeli travel permits.
“Israel is using technology as a means to control the civil population," said Dror Sadot, spokeswoman for Israeli rights group B'Tselem. She said that even supposedly non-lethal weapons like sponge bullets can cause extreme pain and even be deadly.
Kuwait puts to death 7 inmates in rare mass execution
Israeli-linked tanker hit by bomb-carrying drone off Oman
Climate talks deal with fast coming deadlines, slow progress
EXPLAINER: The AP guides to Qatar ahead of FIFA World Cup
The turrets in Al-Aroub were built by Smart Shooter, a company that makes “fire control systems” that it says “significantly increase the accuracy, lethality, and situational awareness of small arms.” The company boasts contracts with dozens of militaries around the world, including the U.S. Army.
Speaking at the company’s headquarters in Kibbutz Yagur in northern Israel, Chief Executive Michal Mor said the gun requires human selection of targets and munitions.
“They always have a man in the loop making the decision regarding the legitimate target,” she said.
She said the system minimizes casualties by distancing soldiers from violence and limits collateral damage by making shots more accurate.
In a densely populated area like Al-Aroub, she said soldiers can monitor specific people in a crowd and lock the turret onto specific body parts. The system fires only after algorithms assess complex factors like wind speed, distance, and velocity.
The military said such safeguards minimize the risk to soldiers and improve supervision over their activities. It also said the technology allows soldiers to target “less sensitive” areas of the body to minimize harm and avoid shooting bystanders.
“In this way, the system reduces the likelihood of inaccurate fire,” it said.
But Omar Shakir, the Israel and Palestine Director at Human Rights Watch, said Israel is on a “slide toward the digital dehumanization of weapons systems.” By using such technologies, Shakir said Israel is creating “a powder keg for human rights abuse.”
Violence in the West Bank has surged over the past several months as Israel has ramped up arrest raids after a spate of Palestinian attacks within Israel killed 19 people last spring. The violence has killed more than 130 Palestinians this year and at least another 10 Israelis have been killed in recent attacks.
Israel says the raids aim to dismantle militant infrastructure and and that it has been forced to act because of the inaction of Palestinian security forces. For Palestinians, the nightly incursions into their towns have weakened their own security forces and tightened Israel’s grip over lands they want for their hoped-for state. Israel captured the West Bank, east Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip in the 1967 Mideast war.
In Al-Aroub, residents say the machines fire without warning.
“It is very fast, even faster than the soldiers,” said Kamel Abu Hishesh, a 19-year-old student. He described almost nightly clashes where soldiers storm the camp as the automated gun fires tear gas up and down the hill.
Paul Scharre, vice president of the Washington think tank Center for a New American Security and a former U.S. Army sniper, said that without emotion and with better aim, automated systems can potentially reduce violence.
But he said the absence of international norms for “killer robots” is problematic.
Otherwise, he said, it's just a matter of time before these automated systems are equipped to use deadly force.
Associated Press writers Mahmoud Illean in Al-Aroub and Ami Bentov in Kibbutz Yagur, Israel, contributed to this report.
JERUSALEM (AP) — Israel's departing Prime Minister Yair Lapid doubled down Tuesday on his government's harsh condemnation of a reported investigation by the United States Department of Justice into the killing of Shireen Abu Akleh, a Palestinian-American journalist, in the occupied West Bank.
A Justice Department spokesman had no comment. There were no details about when an investigation might begin and what it would involve, nor what the ramifications might be. But an FBI probe into the actions of an ally would mark a rare — if not unprecedented — step, threatening to strain close ties between the countries as Israel heads toward the most right-wing government in its history.
After a swearing-in ceremony for Israel's newly elected parliament on Tuesday, Lapid vowed Israel would not participate in an American investigation into the fatal shooting of the prominent 51-year-old Al Jazeera correspondent last May in Jenin, a Palestinian city in the West Bank. Echoing remarks by Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz the day before, Lapid said that Israeli soldiers “will not be investigated by the FBI or by any foreign country or body, however friendly.”
Meanwhile, the Palestinian Authority welcomed the news and promised to cooperate fully with a U.S. investigation, reflecting how Abu Akleh's case has become a point of contention in competing narratives by Israelis and Palestinians.
Israel deploys remote-controlled robotic guns in West Bank
“This decision, even if it came late, reflects the birth of an American conviction in the absence of any serious investigation by the Israelis,” the Palestinian Foreign Ministry said. “(Their investigations) are no more than attempts to cover up the criminals.”
Palestinian officials, Abu Akleh’s family and Al Jazeera have accused Israel of intentionally killing Abu Akleh. Several independent investigations, including by The Associated Press, have concluded that Abu Akleh was most probably killed by Israeli fire.
The death of the veteran journalist, who covered the Israeli-Palestinian conflict for a quarter-century, reverberated across the region and drew global outrage, throwing a spotlight on Israeli actions in the West Bank. Abu Akleh's families and supporters, along with 57 Democratic lawmakers, called on the Biden administration to launch a full probe following an inconclusive State Department assessment of the fatal bullet and the equivocal results of an Israeli military investigation.
Abu Akleh's family said it was “encouraged by the news” of an investigation on Tuesday, expressing hope that the U.S. “will use all of the investigative tools at its disposal to get answers about Shireen’s killing and hold those who are responsible for this atrocity accountable.”
A probe “gets our family closer to justice for Shireen,” their statement said.
Israel's critics contend that history has showed that the Israeli military cannot credibly investigate or prosecute itself. Israel says its investigations are independent and professional.
“We will not abandon our soldiers to foreign investigations,” Lapid told the new lawmakers. "Our strong protest has been conveyed to the Americans at the appropriate levels.”
Although Lapid was ousted from office after Israel's Nov. 1 elections, his likely replacement, former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, will likely maintain the same stance.
Israel initially raised the possibility that Abu Akleh had been killed by a Palestinian gunman during clashes between Israeli soldiers and militants before acknowledging in September there was a “high probability" she was killed mistakenly by an Israeli soldier. Nonetheless, Israel has vigorously denied its troops had intentionally targeted her and ruled out a criminal investigation.
JERUSALEM (AP) — Israel’s ties to the Jewish American community, one of its closest and most important allies, are about to be put to the test, with Israel’s emerging far-right government on a collision course with Jews in the United States.
Major Jewish American organizations, traditionally a bedrock of support for Israel, have expressed alarm over the far-right character of the presumptive government led by conservative Israeli leader Benjamin Netanyahu. Given American Jews’ predominantly liberal political views and affinity for the Democratic Party, these misgivings could have a ripple effect in Washington and further widen what has become a partisan divide over support for Israel.
“This is a very significant crossroads,” said Jeremy Ben-Ami, president of J Street, a liberal, pro-Israel group in Washington. “The potential for specific actions that could be taken by this government, these are the moments when the relationship between the bulk of American Jews and the state of Israel begins to really fray. So I’m very afraid.”
Jewish-American leaders appear especially worried about the prominent role expected to be played by a trio of hard-line, religious lawmakers. The three have made racist anti-Arab statements, denigrated the LGBTQ community, attacked Israel’s legal system and demonized the liberal, non-Orthodox streams of Judaism popular in the U.S. All vehemently oppose Palestinian independence.
Israeli deportation of Palestinian activist on hold
Israel dismantles unused Gaza crossing to extend barrier
Al Jazeera wants court to probe Palestinian reporter's death
Lockheed teams with Israel's Rafael on laser defense
“These are among the most extreme voices in Israeli politics,” said Rabbi Rick Jacobs, president of the Union for Reform Judaism, the largest Jewish movement in the U.S. “What will be the trajectory of a new Israeli government with such voices in such key leadership roles is of deep, deep concern.”
More centrist organizations, such as the Anti-Defamation League, which fights antisemitism and other forms of hatred, and the Jewish Federations of North America, an umbrella group that supports hundreds of Jewish communities, have also spoken out.
Though these groups, like J Street and the Reform movement, support a two-state solution with the Palestinians, their recent statements have focused on Israel's democratic ideals. The Anti-Defamation League said that including the three far-right lawmakers in a government “runs counter to Israel's founding principles.” The Federations called for “inclusive and pluralistic” policies.
For decades, American Jews have played a key role in promoting close ties between the U.S. and Israel. They have raised millions of dollars for Israeli causes, spoken out in Israel’s defense and strengthened strong bipartisan support for Israel in Washington.
But this longstanding relationship has come under strain in recent years — especially during Netanyahu's 2009-2021 rule.
Netanyahu’s hard-line policies toward the Palestinians, his public spats with Barack Obama over peacemaking and the Iranian nuclear issue and his close ties with Donald Trump put him at odds with many in the American Jewish community.
Opinion polls show that roughly three-quarters of American Jews lean toward the Democratic Party. They tend to be more critical of the Israeli government and more sympathetic to the Palestinians than their Republican counterparts, with these divisions even wider among younger Jews in their 20s.
These trends appear set to go into hyper-drive as Netanyahu prepares to return to power after a year and a half as opposition leader, this time flanked by some of the country’s most extremist politicians.
After winning elections last month, Netanyahu and his allies are still forming their coalition. But he already has reached a number of deals that are setting off alarm bells overseas.
Itamar Ben-Gvir, a lawmaker known for his anti-Arab vitriol and provocative stunts, has been offered the job of national security minister, a powerful position that will put him in charge of Israel’s national police force. This includes the paramilitary border police, a unit on the front lines of much of the fighting with Palestinians in east Jerusalem and the occupied West Bank.
Ben-Gvir has labeled Arab lawmakers “terrorists” and called for deporting them. He wants to impose the death penalty on Palestinian attackers and grant soldiers immunity from prosecution.
Netanyahu also has agreed to appoint the lawmaker Avi Maoz as a deputy minister overseeing a new authority in charge of “Jewish identity” and giving him responsibilities over Israel’s educational system.
Maoz is known for his outspoken anti-LGBTQ positions and disparaging remarks about the Reform movement and other non-Orthodox Jews.
He wants a ban on Pride parades, has compared gays to pedophiles and wants to allow some forms of conversion therapy, a discredited practice that tries to change the sexual orientation or gender identity of LGBTQ children.
Maoz hopes to change Israel’s “Law of Return,” which allows anyone with a single Jewish grandparent to immigrate to Israel, and replace it with a much stricter definition of who is a Jew. He also opposes non-Orthodox conversions to Judaism. This is an affront to liberal Jewish groups, which have less rigid views on Jewish identity.
Bezalel Smotrich, a settler leader with a history of anti-gay and anti-Palestinian comments, has been granted widespread authority over settlement construction and Palestinian civilian life in the occupied West Bank.
Netanyahu has been generous toward his allies because they support major legal reforms that could freeze or dismiss his corruption trial. Critics say such moves will imperil Israel’s democratic foundations.
Speaking on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” Netanyahu tried to play down such concerns as he vowed to safeguard democracy and LGBTQ rights. “I ultimately decide policy,” he said.
Hailie Soifer, chief executive of the Jewish Democratic Council of America, said it is premature to judge a government that hasn’t yet taken office. But she acknowledged the concerns about issues like LGBTQ rights, Palestinian rights and respect for democracy – particularly with memories of the Trump administration still fresh.
“Many of those concerns are based on our own experience with an administration that didn’t share our values,” said Soifer.
Whether U.S. policy will be affected is unclear. The Biden administration has said it will wait to see policies, not personalities, of the new government.
But Eric Alterman, author of “We Are Not One,” a new book about relations between Israel and American Jews, says the sides are moving in opposite directions.
Progressive Democrats already have pushed for a tougher approach to Israel because of its treatment of the Palestinians.
“It may come suddenly. It may come in pieces. But there’s simply a break coming between American Jews and Israeli Jews,” Alterman said.
Associated Press writers Eleanor H. Reich in Jerusalem, Luis Henao in New York and Peter Smith in Pittsburgh contributed reporting.
JERUSALEM (AP) — When Israel struck an agreement with the United Arab Emirates to open diplomatic ties in 2020, it brought an electrifying sense of achievement to a country long ostracized in the Middle East.
Officials insisted that Israel’s new ties with the UAE, and soon after with Bahrain, would go beyond governments and become society-wide pacts, stoking mass tourism and friendly exchanges between people long at odds.
But over two years since the breakthrough accords, the expected flood of Gulf Arab tourists to Israel has been little more than a trickle. Although more than half a million Israelis have flocked to oil-rich Abu Dhabi and skyscraper-studded Dubai, just 1,600 Emirati citizens have visited Israel since it lifted coronavirus travel restrictions last year, the Israeli Tourism Ministry told The Associated Press.
The ministry does not know how many Bahrainis have visited Israel because, it said, “the numbers are too small.”
“It’s still a very weird and sensitive situation,” said Morsi Hija, head of the forum for Arabic-speaking tour guides in Israel. “The Emiratis feel like they’ve done something wrong in coming here.”
The lack of Emirati and Bahraini tourists reflects Israel’s long-standing image problem in the Arab world and reveals the limits of the Abraham Accords, experts say.
Nebraska Gov. Pillen reveals plan for education funding
St. Louis students return to school where shooting occurred
Kemp: Georgia budget spending meant to keep economy growing
Mississippi nursing schools turn away students amid shortage
Even as bilateral trade between Israel and the UAE has exploded from $11.2 million in 2019 to $1.2 billion last year, the popularity of the agreements in the UAE and Bahrain has plummeted since the deals were signed, according to a survey by the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, an American think tank.
In the UAE, support fell to 25% from 47% in the last two years. In Bahrain, just 20% of the population supports the deal, down from 45% in 2020. In that time, Israel and Gaza militants fought a devastating war and violence in the occupied West Bank surged to its highest levels in years.
Israeli officials say Gulf Arab tourism to Israel is a missing piece that would move the agreements beyond security and diplomatic ties. Tourist visits from Egypt and Jordan, the first two countries to reach peace with Israel, also are virtually nonexistent.
“We need to encourage (Emiratis) to come for the first time. It's an important mission,” Amir Hayek, Israeli ambassador to the UAE, told the AP. “We need to promote tourism so people will know each other and understand each other.”
Israeli tourism officials flew to the UAE last month in a marketing push to spread the word that Israel is a safe and attractive destination. The ministry said it's now pitching Tel Aviv — Israel’s commercial and entertainment hub — as a big draw for Emiratis.
Tour agents say that so far, betting on Jerusalem has backfired. The turmoil of the contested city has turned off Emiratis and Bahrainis, some of whom have faced backlash from Palestinians who see normalization as a betrayal of their cause. The Palestinian struggle for independence from Israel enjoys broad support across the Arab world.
“There’s still a lot of hesitation coming from the Arab world,” said Dan Feferman, director of Sharaka, a group that promotes people-to-people exchanges between Israel and the Arab world. “They expect (Israel) to be a conflict zone, they expect to be discriminated against.”
Feferman also cited Israel’s tight coronavirus restrictions that were in place for 2021 and for part of 2022, as well as the lack of waivers for visas for Bahrainis, as factors limiting tourism from the Gulf region.
He said he felt the trips left his visitors with a positive impression of Israel. Yet after leading two groups of Bahrainis and Emiratis to Israel, Sharaka shifted its focus away from the Gulf visits.
When a group of Emirati and Bahraini social media influencers in 2020 visited the Al Aqsa Mosque compound, the third-holiest site in Islam, they were spat on and pelted with shoes in Jerusalem's Old City, said Hija, their tour guide.
When another group of Emirati officials visited the flashpoint site accompanied by Israeli police, they drew the ire of the grand mufti of Jerusalem, Sheikh Muhammad Ahmad Hussein, who issued a religious edict against Emiratis visiting the mosque under Israeli supervision.
Most Emiratis and Bahrainis who have visited Israel say they forgo their national dress and headscarves in order not to attract attention.
The Islamic Waqf, which administers the mosque, declined to answer questions about the number of Emirati and Bahraini visitors and their treatment at the compound.
Palestinian rage against Emiratis is not confined to the sacred esplanade. Emirati citizens visiting and studying in Israel say they face frequent death threats and online attacks.
“Not everyone can handle the pressure,” said Sumaiiah Almehiri, a 31-year-old Emirati from Dubai studying to be a nurse at the University of Haifa. “I didn't give into the threats, but fear is preventing a lot of Emiratis from going.”
The fear of anti-Arab racism in Israel can also drive Gulf Arabs away. Israeli police mistakenly arrested two Emirati tourists in Tel Aviv last summer while hunting for a criminal who carried out a drive-by shooting. Some Emiratis have complained on social media about drawing unwanted scrutiny from security officials at Israel's Ben-Gurion Airport.
“If you bring them here and don’t treat them in a sensitive way, they’ll never come back and tell all their friends to stay away,” Hija said.
Benjamin Netanyahu, who returned for a sixth term as prime minister last week, has pledged to strengthen agreements with Bahrain, Morocco, the UAE and Sudan. Formal ties with Sudan remain elusive in the wake of a military coup and in the absence of a parliament to ratify its U.S.-brokered normalization deal with Israel.
As a chief architect of the accords, Netanyahu also hopes to expand the circle of countries and reach a similar deal with Saudi Arabia.
Yet experts fear his new government — the most ultranationalist and religiously conservative in Israel’s history — could further deter Gulf Arab tourists and even jeopardize the agreements. His government has vowed to expand West Bank settlements and pledged to annex the entire territory, a step that was put on hold as a condition of the initial agreement with the UAE.
“We have a reason to be worried about any deterioration in relations,” said Moran Zaga, an expert in Gulf Arab states at the University of Haifa in Israel.
So far, Gulf Arab governments have offered no reason for concern.
The Emirati ambassador was photographed warmly embracing Itamar Ben-Gvir, one of the coalition's most radical members, at a national day celebration last month. And over the weekend, the UAE's leader, Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, called Netanyahu to congratulate him and invite him to visit.
It's a different story among those who are not in the officialdom.
“I hope that Netanyahu and those with him will not set foot on the land of the Emirates,” Abdulkhaleq Abdulla, a prominent Emirati political scientist, wrote on Twitter. “I think it is appropriate to freeze the Abraham Accords temporarily."
This story was first published on January 3, 2023. It was updated on January 15, 2023 to make clear that Israel’s tight coronavirus restrictions that were in effect in 2021 and part of 2022, as well as the lack of waivers for visas for Bahrainis, were also factors limiting tourism from the Gulf region.
JERUSALEM (AP) — An Israeli group raising funds for Jewish extremists convicted in some of the country’s most notorious hate crimes is collecting tax-exempt donations from Americans, according to findings by The Associated Press and the Israeli investigative platform Shomrim.
The records in the case suggest that Israel’s far right is gaining a new foothold in the United States.
The amount of money raised through a U.S. nonprofit is not known. But the AP and Shomrim have documented the money trail from New Jersey to imprisoned Israeli radicals who include Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin's assassin and people convicted in deadly attacks on Palestinians.
This overseas fundraising arrangement has made it easier for the Israeli group, Shlom Asiraich, to collect money from Americans, who can make their contributions through the U.S. nonprofit with a credit card and claim a tax deduction.
Many Israeli causes, from hospitals to universities to charities, raise money through U.S.-based arms. But having the strategy adopted by a group assisting Jewish radicals raises legal and moral questions.
It also comes against the backdrop of a new, far-right government in Israel led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, where ultranationalists and extremist lawmakers have gained unprecedented power.
Israel's Netanyahu fires Cabinet ally, heeding court ruling
Israelis press on with protests against new government
Palestinian who allegedly tried to stab Israeli fatally shot
Removal of West Bank outpost tests Israel's new coalition
According to Shlom Asiraich’s promotional pamphlets, its beneficiaries include Yigal Amir, who assassinated Rabin in 2005; Amiram Ben-Uliel, convicted in the 2015 murder of a Palestinian baby and his parents in an arson attack; and Yosef Chaim Ben David, convicted of abducting and killing a 16-year-old Palestinian boy in Jerusalem in 2014. The group also assists an extremist ultra-Orthodox man who fatally stabbed a 16-year-old Israeli girl at Jerusalem’s gay pride parade in 2015.
Shlom Asiraich, or “The Well-Being of Your Prisoners,” has been raising money in Israel since at least 2018, and officially registered as a nonprofit in 2020 by a group mostly consisting of Israelis from hard-line settlements in the West Bank. At least five of the group’s seven founders have themselves been questioned by Israeli authorities for crimes related to their activities against Palestinians. Some have been arrested and charged.
Recipients of its largesse have hailed the group for coming through in difficult times.
“You have no idea how much you help us,” the family of Ben-Uliel, who is serving three life sentences, wrote in a hand-written letter posted to the group’s Facebook page.
Being a relatively new organization, Shlom Asiraich’s official filing to Israel’s nonprofit registry provides little data and does not indicate how much money it has raised. But in its promotional flyers, recently broadcast by Israeli Channel 13 news, the organization indicated it has raised 150,000 shekels (about $43,000).
Israeli nonprofits have long sought funding abroad, with the U.S. a major source. According to figures published by Noga Zivan, a consultant for nonprofits in Israel, between 2018 to 2020 Jewish-American organizations alone donated $2 billion to Israel each year.
Israeli right-wing groups have long raised funds in the U.S. But Dvir Kariv, a former official in the department of Israel’s domestic security agency Shin Bet that deals with Jewish violence, said it is unusual for extremist Jews such as the ones who run Shlom Asiraich to do so.
He said the group appears to have taken a cue from other far-right Israeli groups, particularly Kach, an anti-Arab racist group that was once banned as a terror organization in the U.S. but which Kariv said was adept at raising money there decades ago.
Itamar Ben-Gvir, a senior Cabinet minister in Israel’s new far-right government, is a disciple of Kach's founder, Rabbi Meir Kahane, who was once barred from Israeli politics.
It is not clear when Shlom Asiraich began working with the New Jersey-based World of Tzedaka, a nonprofit that says it works “to enable any individual or organization to raise money for their specific cause.”
Donors in the U.S. can enter the Shlom Asiraich site and click on a link that takes them to a donation page hosted by World of Tzedaka. They can also donate directly from World of Tzedaka’s site.
According to an instructional video on the World of Tzedaka site, fundraisers must list a rabbi as a reference and receive approval from a Lakewood religious committee. World of Tzedaka charges $28 a month and a 3% processing fee for transferring funds to an Israeli bank account, the site says.
World of Tzedaka supports other charitable ventures, most of them focused on assisting Jewish families in distress, according to its website.
Ellen Aprill, an expert on tax and charities at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles, said convicted criminals and their families could be considered in need and qualify as a permissible charitable purpose.
While supporting someone convicted of acts of terrorism could be seen as encouraging criminal activity, that would need to be proven, she said.
Marcus Owens, a lawyer who ran the IRS’s nonprofit unit in the 1990s, took a tougher stance.
“The U.S. Department of Justice views assistance to the families of terrorists as a form of material support for terrorism,” he said.
In order to become a tax-exempt group recognized by the IRS, an organization must operate exclusively for charitable, religious or educational purposes.
Repeated attempts to reach representatives of Shlom Asiraich were unsuccessful. A person who answered the group’s phone number hung up on an AP reporter. Moshe Orbach, whose address in the hard-line West Bank settlement of Yitzhar is listed as the group’s headquarters, declined through a lawyer to be interviewed.
A World of Tzedaka representative hung up when asked for comment.
The IRS refused to answer questions about the group, saying “federal law prohibits the IRS from commenting.”
According to documents obtained by the AP, Shlom Asiraich was registered as a nonprofit with Israeli authorities by Chanamel Dorfman, an attorney and a top aide to Ben-Gvir, Israel’s new national security minister.
Dorfman is also listed as the group’s “lawyer/legal adviser” on Guidestar, the official nonprofit registry’s site.
In a text message, Dorfman denied ever having been the group’s legal adviser and did not respond to additional questions. Dorfman recently told the conservative daily Israel Hayom he was simply acting as a lawyer and that “if I knew that this is what this organization does, I wouldn’t have registered it.”
In October, on the eve of the Jewish New Year, Shlom Asiraich tweeted a photo of snacks it provided to Jewish suspects under house arrest, and to families of Israelis convicted or charged with crimes against Palestinians. A note accompanying the wine and other goods the nonprofit provided called the men “beloved heroes.”
“Stay strong and remain loyal to the people of Israel and to the holy Torah and don’t stop being happy!” the note read.
This article was published in partnership with Shomrim, The Center for Media and Democracy in Israel.