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As we Israelis await a ground war in Gaza, normal life has ground to a halt

MODIIN, Israel (JTA) – Living in Israel these days feels like existing in a state of suspended animation. 

We’re caught in an uneasy in-between moment: after the shocking events of Oct. 7 and before the uncharted territory of a dangerous ground war of uncertain duration and scope. 

We know how it started, but we don’t know how it will end. 

Everything feels different from before the Hamas attack. With 360,000 Israeli reservists mobilized, a huge swath of Israelis aged 20 to 50-something have disappeared from homes, families, workplaces and communities. My son’s homeroom teacher has been called off to war. My neighbor’s son. My brother. 

In the central Israeli city where I live, located alongside the West Bank security fence, armed volunteers staff makeshift checkpoints at city entrances. Unarmed residents like me have been deputized for neighborhood watch duty, cruising around in siren-bearing vehicles equipped with walkie-talkies and instructions to report any suspicious characters or activity. 

Businesses are operating with skeletal staffs, if at all. Major Israeli employers have announced furloughs. Traffic is light because so few people are commuting to work. Non-essential services are being cut or reduced, from recycling to library hours. Schools that had been shuttered since before the war are starting to reopen, but on reduced schedules because they can’t have more students than can fit into their bomb shelters. Universities are closed until December — at least.

With shipping traffic to Israel disrupted and international flights sharply reduced, Israelis are experiencing shortages. Some local food manufacturers can’t staff their factories or pick the produce in their fields because they depend on Palestinian day laborers who are now barred entry into Israel, or Thai farmworkers who left after at least 24 of their countrymen were killed in Hamas’ attack. The first week of the war, supermarkets ran out of tomatoes and cucumbers. Last week it was eggs. 

Tourists have disappeared, entertainment venues and many restaurants remain closed, and shuttered museums are moving important holdings to safe places. 

Israel’s hotels are bursting at the seams, however, filled with many of the 200,000 or so Israelis who have been evacuated from their homes near the front lines. This already small country roughly the size of New Jersey feels even smaller with areas near Gaza and Israel’s northern border now closed military zones. Every day the authorities announce more evacuations. 

What little activity there is in this country of nearly 10 million is focused on the war effort. Volunteers are sending toiletries, cigarettes and fresh underwear to soldiers at the front. Psychologists and social workers are counseling the newly bereaved. In my neighborhood, friends are providing meals to an evacuee family whose father was gravely wounded in Hamas’ initial attack (more than 5,000 Israelis have been wounded since the fighting began). Teenagers are helping farmers harvest their unpicked produce before it rots. Tech-savvy entrepreneurs are operating a civilian-run “war room” in Tel Aviv to try to help with the more than 200 Israeli hostages

Behind everything looms the great unknown of where this war will lead and whether it will engulf all of Israel.

A makeshift memorial on a boulevard in Modiin, Israel, for those killed in Hamas’ attack that began on Oct. 7, 2023. (Uriel Heilman)

Hamas shocked Israelis two weeks ago with its brutal attack; one can only guess what surprises it’s planning for Israeli ground troops once they roll into Gaza. Hezbollah has been testing Israel along the country’s northern border with Lebanon with daily artillery attacks and attempted infiltrations; Israel has fired back. If the militia’s Shiite backers in Tehran press Hezbollah to mount a major attack, a hard-pressed Israel could find itself fighting a two-front war with an adversary far more potent than Hamas. Several days ago, Houthi militiamen in Yemen fired missiles toward Israel. U.S. warships in the Red Sea intercepted them.

Clashes between Palestinians in the West Bank and the Israeli military are growing daily. Israeli authorities say they’ve thwarted numerous attempted terrorist attacks and have arrested more than 800 Palestinians. Israel has fast-tracked firearms permits for settlers in the West Bank, and settlements there are rushing to bolster their perimeter security. 

Every day brings news of additional Israeli deaths — from fighting in the West Bank, rocket fire from Gaza, anti-tank fire from Lebanon. Three weeks ago, a single deadly incident might have dominated a full day of the news cycle; today it’s swallowed by a torrent of new developments and fatalities. 

Israel is still finding corpses, identifying bodies and burying the dead from Hamas’ surprise attack, and the airwaves are filled with heroic tales of Israeli soldiers and ordinary citizens who rushed southward on that terrible Saturday to try to save loved ones and strangers. 

The scenes of death and destruction caused by Israeli strikes in the Gaza Strip get limited attention here; Israeli media are more focused on the fight ahead and Israeli suffering. The main news from overseas, aside from President Joe Biden’s interventions on Gaza, are the demonstrations and condemnations of Israel coming from protesters in Europe, American college campuses and Arab capitals. 

Now Israel appears to be in a lull — the quiet before the storm. The incessant rocket attacks from Gaza have become more sporadic and shorter in range; Hamas may be conserving what remains of its arsenal for the next stage of fighting. The hundreds of thousands of Israeli soldiers massed along the country’s borders are in a holding pattern, ready and waiting for orders from above. 

Along with them, all of Israel is holding its breath.


The post As we Israelis await a ground war in Gaza, normal life has ground to a halt appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

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Biden Administration Urges Israel to Tone Down Response to Hezbollah Aggression in Bid to Avert Wider Conflict

Mourners carry a coffin during the funeral of Wissam Tawil, a commander of Hezbollah’s elite Radwan forces who according to Lebanese security sources was killed during an Israeli strike on south Lebanon, in Khirbet Selm, Lebanon, Jan. 9, 2024. Photo: REUTERS/Aziz Taher

The Biden administration has been pushing the Israeli government to de-escalate hostilities with Hezbollah to prevent a full-scale war from breaking out along Israel’s northern border with Lebanon, where the powerful Iran-backed terrorist group wields significant political and military influence.

In Israel’s north, Hezbollah terrorists have been firing rockets at Israel daily from southern Lebanon since Hamas’ Oct. 7 massacre, leading Israeli forces to strike back. Tensions have been escalating between both sides, fueling concerns that the conflict in Gaza — the Palestinian enclave ruled by Hamas, another Iran-backed Islamist terrorist group, to Israel’s south — could escalate into a regional conflict.

More than 80,000 Israelis evacuated Israel’s north in October and have since been unable to return to their homes. The majority of those spent the past eight months residing in hotels in safer areas of the country. The mass displacement has ramped up pressure on Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to find a swift resolution to the situation.

The ongoing conflict between both sides escalated on Tuesday when senior Hezbollah commander Taleb Sami Abdullah was killed in an Israeli strike in southern Lebanon. Hezbollah responded by launching over 200 missiles into northern Israel. 

During Abdullah’s funeral, senior Hezbollah official Hachem Saffieddine vowed that the terrorist group would intensify its strikes on Israel. 

“Our response after the martyrdom of Abu Taleb will be to intensify our operations in severity, strength, quantity and quality,” Saffieddine said. “Let the enemy wait for us in the battlefield.”

In Israel, meanwhile, officials have said they prefer a diplomatic solution to the current crisis but are prepared to escalate military action to push Hezbollah back from the border in order to allow internally displaced Israelis to return home. Polling has shown that the majority of the Israeli public wants the military to engage in expanded actions against the Lebanese terrorist group, which is committed to Israel’s destruction.

The Biden administration has been advising Netanyahu against pursuing the idea of a “limited war” against Hezbollah, arguing that it could spark a regional war throughout the Middle East. According to multiple reports, US officials have warned Israel that Iran could dispatch militants from Syria, Iraq, and Yemen into Lebanon to bolster Hezbollah’s effort.

The White House has also expressed concern  that Israeli officials do not have a clear strategy on how to keep the war contained to solely Lebanon. Fear of a broader regional war has intensified the Biden administration’s urgency to finalize a ceasefire deal between Israel and Hamas, which launched the ongoing war in Gaza by slaughtering over 1,200 people throughout southern Israel and kidnapping more than 250 others on Oct. 7.

“We are concerned about an increase in activity in the north. We don’t want this to escalate to a broad regional conflict and we urge de-escalation,” a Pentagon spokesperson told reporters this week.

The Pentagon also released a statement saying that Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant and his US counterpart Lloyd Austin discussed efforts to “de-escalate tensions along the Israel-Lebanon border in the wake of Lebanese Hezbollah’s increased aggression.”

According to multiple reports, Amos Hochstein, a senior adviser to US President Joe Biden for energy and investment, will head to Israel on Monday in an effort to temper tensions between the Jewish state and Hezbollah. Hochstein will meet with Netanyahu and Gallant with the goal of swaying them against green-lighting a “limited ground invasion” in Lebanon. Hochstein will reportedly also journey to Beirut to conduct discussions with Lebanese officials.

“There was a lot of work, diplomatic work done behind the scenes by several folks in the US administration, working with regional powers and our allies to try and tamp this down,” Hochstein has said regarding the prospect of a regional war erupting in the Middle East.

Hochstein argued that preventing a large-scale war between Israel and Lebanon requires “active engagement” with both parties and for the public of both countries to “understand the risks” of further escalation. He added that “despite the bravado talk” coming from government officials, Lebanese people do not to go to war with Israel.

“The bottom line is a lot of civilians will die,” Hochstein said.

Despite chest-thumping by Hezbollah leaders, experts believe that the elimination of Abdullah might cause Hezbollah to exercise caution in engaging further with the Israel Defense Forces (IDF). 

The powerful elimination worries Hezbollah members. They now understand that the IDF knows much more about them than we do,” Professor Amatzia Baram told The Jerusalem Post. “Additionally, the operation indicates that Hezbollah’s field security is not airtight and that the organization’s intelligence system has been penetrated to such an extent that we were able to eliminate such an important sector commander. The IDF managed to infiltrate their networks and systems and identify the right people for elimination.”

The post Biden Administration Urges Israel to Tone Down Response to Hezbollah Aggression in Bid to Avert Wider Conflict first appeared on Algemeiner.com.

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Iranian Court Sentences Woman to 18 Years in Prison for Supporting Israel

Iranian protesters carry a portrait of Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and a Yemeni flag as they burn an Israeli flag during an anti-US and anti-British protest in front of the British embassy in downtown Tehran, Iran, Jan. 12, 2024. Photo: Morteza Nikoubazl/NurPhoto via Reuters Connect

Fatemeh Sepehri, a prominent Iranian dissident and political prisoner, has been sentenced to an additional 18 and a half years in prison after she publicly expressed support for Israel.

The harsh prison sentence appeared to be at least partly in response to a video clip released on Oct. 16 from Ghaem Hospital in the northeastern Iranian city of Mashhad in which Sepehri, who suffers from a heart ailment, condemned Hamas’ Oct. 7 massacre across southern Israel. Hamas is backed by the Iranian regime, which provides the Palestinian terror group in Gaza with funding, weapons, and training.

“I emphatically declare that the Iranian nation stands in solidarity with the people of Israel,” she said. “I hope [Hamas’ Oct. 7 attacks] closes the Islamic Republic’s chapter in history.”

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For 45 years, Iranian women have tirelessly battled for their rights, freedom, and advancement. Among them, Fatemeh Sepehri has boldly challenged the ideals of the Islamic Republic. NUFDI proudly awards her the 2024 Humanitarian Award.
pic.twitter.com/ccSnhXVQ9e

— سه خط طلا (@misanthropgirl) March 19, 2024

Although Fatimeh’s court records are unavailable to the public, her brother Asghar Sepehri tweeted details about the sentence. According to her sibling, Fatimeh was sentenced earlier this month by a judge of the Islamic Revolutionary Court of Mashhad to seven years for supporting Israel, another seven years for conspiring against internal security, three years for insulting Iran’s so-called “supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and one year and six months for propaganda against the Islamist regime.

Iran’s rulers regularly call for the destruction of Israel, often referring to the Jewish state as a “cancerous tumor” or “the Zionist entity.”

Sepehri was originally arrested in Sept. 2022 following the killing of Mahsa Amini, a young woman whose death at the hands of Iran’s morality police sparked nationwide protests against the ruling Islamist regime on an unprecedented scale.

Sepehri’s pro-Israel video was posted after she was temporary released from prison to undergo open-heart surgery. According to her family, Sepehri has been subjected to intense “psychological torture” while in prison. Her brothers, Mohammad-Hossein and Hossein, have also received severe sentences for similar charges: eight years and two years and 11 months, respectively.

In the past, Sepehri has been an outspoken critic of Khamenei and the Islamic Republic more broadly. The Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI) reported in 2021 that Sepehri said on video that she hoped to see the day when Khamenei would be dragged through the streets and killed like Libya’s late ruler Muammar Gaddafi.

Days after Sepehri received her sentence, Iran released political prisoner Louis Arnaud, a French citizen, on Thursday. Arnaud was arrested in Sept. 2022 as anti-government protests were erupting across Iran. French President Emmanuel Macron tweeted shortly after Arnaud’s release, “Louis Arnaud is free. Tomorrow he will be in France after a long incarceration in Iran.”

Louis Arnaut is greeted by Foreign Minister Stéphane Séjourné at Paris’ Le Bourget Airport following his release from Iran. Photo: Screenshot

Three French nationals remain imprisoned in Iran as political prisoners. French Foreign Minister Stéphane Séjourné posted on social media that securing their release remains a top priority.

The post Iranian Court Sentences Woman to 18 Years in Prison for Supporting Israel first appeared on Algemeiner.com.

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Former ‘Everybody Loves Raymond’ Star Patricia Heaton: Every Human Being Should Be Against Antisemitism

One of the billboards erected in partnership between JewBelong and O7C. Photo: Instagram

Emmy Award-winning actress Patricia Heaton said this week that following the deadly Oct. 7 Hamas terrorist attacks in Israel, it should be a “natural” reaction among all humans to want to combat antisemitism, as well as support the Jewish people and Israel’s right to exist.

The “Everybody Loves Raymond” and “The Middle” star, who is a devout Catholic, made the comments during her guest appearance on the NewsNation show “CUOMO,” where she also advocated for Christians to voice solidarity with Jews and Israel after Hamas terrorists murdered 1,200 people and took 250 hostages during their Oct. 7 onslaught. Heaton began by telling host Chris Cuomo that after the Oct. 7 atrocities, she was “confused by the lack of outcry from the churches.”

“I even posted on Instagram, ‘Did you ever have that thought that if you were in Germany during World War II, you hoped that you would be that good German that helped to hide your Jewish neighbors? Well, today you have that opportunity,’” she added.

Following the Oct. 7 attacks, Heaton founded a nonprofit called the Oct. 7 Coalition (O7C) to urge Christians to be visibly outspoken against antisemitism, and in support of Jews and Israel’s right to exist. Heaton’s O7C has since teamed up with the nonprofit JewBelong to launch a nationwide billboard campaign to raise awareness about antisemitism in the US.

Talking about why she wanted to get involved in rallying support for Israel and Jewish communities facing a rise in antisemitism in the US since the Oct. 7 attacks, Heaton said, “I think if you’re a human being, that should be your natural response to what we saw.” When asked about how people in the entertainment industry have reacted to her avid pro-Israel stance, she said Jewish friends in the business have called her “brave and courageous.”

“[But] I just think this is just a normal human reaction,” she said. “I have heard ‘We have projects we have to promote. We don’t want to bring politics into it.’ I guess if someone spent 50 or 100 million on a movie, they don’t want to introduce this subject matter and I guess you can understand that. But generally speaking I think Hollywood could do more to support our Jewish community.”

The post Former ‘Everybody Loves Raymond’ Star Patricia Heaton: Every Human Being Should Be Against Antisemitism first appeared on Algemeiner.com.

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