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The Missing Man of Kissufim

An Israeli soldier keeps guard next to an entrance to what the Israeli military say is a cross-border attack tunnel dug from Gaza to Israel, on the Israeli side of the Gaza Strip border near Kissufim, Jan. 18, 2018. Photo: REUTERS/Jack Guez/Pool

JNS.orgWhat do you yearn for? For Shlomo Mansour, it was not a flashy career or riches, just a peaceful and happy life.

In 1941 Iraqi Muslims, in alliance with the Nazis, launched the Farhud pogrom. The then-leader of the Palestinian Arabs, Amin al-Husseini, was in Iraq and deeply involved in the violence. Shlomo was a 3-year-old celebrating Shavuot with his family in Baghdad. In the ensuing massacre, hundreds of Jews were slaughtered and many more were raped and assaulted. Shlomo’s family thankfully survived.

With no desire to wait around for the next pogrom, nor to live in an increasingly antisemitic country, the Mansour family joined over 100,000 other Iraqi Jews and moved to Israel. Jews were one-third of the population of Baghdad on the eve of the Farhud but, within a decade, only a few thousand were left.

Shlomo lived most of his life in the bucolic farming collective of Kissufim, nestled in the Negev desert. For much of the community’s history, the mantra was socialism, with luxuries such as televisions and even disposable diapers considered too bourgeois. People made it their home because they yearned for social and economic equality in a communal setting and to make the desert bloom.

And they did. Established in 1951, the first inhabitants encountered a harsh and unforgiving landscape, a glimpse of which was filmed in 1956. Today, pine forests hug Kissufim, expanded every year on Tu B’Shevat, along with fields of blooming anemones and orchards.

Israelis are relatively familiar with Kissufim. This is not due to the 1,500-year-old archeological sites in the vicinity—complete with Hebrew inscriptions—nor to the 1,700-year-old remains of a church. For many, it is because of the award-winning cult Israeli comedy “Operation Grandma,” based on a true story from director and writer Dror Shaul’s youth in Kissufim. The film even includes a scene with an actor playing the part of Shlomo. Shaul followed this up with his darker but still award-winning film “Sweet Mud,” about his experiences in Kissufim in the 1970s. Topping it all off is Keren Nechmad’s movie “Kissufim.” Filmed on location, it won Best Foreign Film at multiple festivals in 2023.

However, most Israelis are familiar with Kissufim due to the frequent terrorist attacks in the immediate area.

As Shlomo tended chickens and worked in his carpentry shop over the years, he enjoyed the relative tranquility of his life. However, since Israel’s disengagement from the Gaza Strip in 2005, his neighborhood has become subject to increasing violence.

Palestinian terrorist groups frequently broke ceasefires. Tunnels were found in the vicinity, complete with handcuffs and other equipment for taking hostages. Kites with incendiary devices were flown into the fields, burning in the hot dry summers, causing intense smoke and ruining crops. Rocket attacks increased in frequency, and bomb shelters multiplied like mushrooms after the rain.

Residents adapted to this new reality. In recent years, Kissufim began to grow, peaking at more than 300 people. Israelis from all over were drawn to communal living in this beautiful oasis. Its residents never gave up on investing in peace. They took part in various initiatives, including “Another Voice,” aimed at strengthening connections and technology partnerships with both Israeli Bedouins and Palestinians.

This progressive population celebrated Jewish and secular American holidays alike—from Pride Month to Halloween. They hadn’t even had a chance to take down their sukkahs when, on Oct. 7, 2023—some 82 years after Shlomo survived the Farhoud—he encountered people in his neighborhood on a mission, once again, to slaughter Jews.

Kissufim was a microcosm of the horrors unleashed by Hamas throughout the western Negev. Although the village rented land to an IDF base, on the morning of Oct. 7 it, too, was overwhelmed.

Sgt. Ilay Noam Ben Mucha and Sgt. David Mittelman found themselves on guard duty, facing a horde of 50 terrorists. Fighting to the death, they held off the terrorists for 20 minutes, buying crucial time for the other soldiers to prepare.

The terrorists did not stick to military targets. Impersonating IDF soldiers, they searched door to door for civilians. Ordinary citizens, such as high-tech worker Shai Asher, found themselves heroically repelling dozens of Hamas terrorists in firefights lasting hours.

Shlomo turns 86 today. Unfortunately, it is far from a happy day for him. He holds the distinction of being the oldest person held captive by Hamas. After Shlomo was beaten in his home, he was led away in handcuffs in full view of his wife, who miraculously escaped.

Gina Semiatich, 90, was dragged to her living room and shot in the head. She was perhaps the oldest victim of the Oct. 7 massacre. She had lived in Kissufim since making aliyah from Chile in her early 20s.

Reuven Heinik may have been the last civilian to have been attacked by the terrorist invaders. He was murdered on Oct. 9 while tending to Kissufim’s famished cows. He is survived by his wife and three daughters.

The Zaq family were burned to death as they hugged each other in their home. Tom Godo was murdered on Oct. 8 in front of his wife and children, who managed to escape. They had just recently moved to Kissufim. Thai workers, the breadwinners for their families back home, were slaughtered. Even pet dogs were shot to death during the rampage. These are just a few of too many tragic stories.

Survivors endured hearing screams for hours. Many saw their friends and loved ones suffer. More than 50 children remain traumatized. Some of those hiding went days without food, water or contact with the outside world.

Kissufim is where I spent the first few wonderful years of my life. I didn’t know what a bomb shelter was or how to lock a door. At the age of 5, I would bike alone in the dark from my friend’s house across the kibbutz back to my home. Will children ever know those tranquil evenings with the air soaked with the intoxicating blended aroma of manure and pine?

Kissufim for the time being is no more. The survivors are at a hotel by the Dead Sea and are currently in the process of moving to temporary housing in Omer. They have been touched by people all over the world coming together to help them rebuild through donations from or fundraising drives held by various Jewish communities in North America, such as Oak Park Temple in Illinois, the Jewish Federation of Cleveland and JNF Canada.

Shlomo’s wife of 60 years, as well as his children and 15 grandchildren, are longing for his return home. Kissufim, which translates in Hebrew to “yearning,” has taken on a whole new meaning for the Mansour family and millions of others around the world.

Among the remains of Shlomo’s home lies his garden, the plants brown and shriveled after five months without Shlomo’s love. A bullet-riddled ceramic survives. The Hebrew inscription reads: “Life is happy here.”

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‘Looming Disaster’: Hamas Releases Video of Operatives Shooting at Israeli Community From West Bank

Palestinian fighters from the armed wing of Hamas take part in a military parade to mark the anniversary of the 2014 war with Israel, near the border in the central Gaza Strip, July 19, 2023. REUTERS/Ibraheem Abu Mustafa

Hamas has begun releasing videos of its operatives opening fire from the West Bank into Israeli villages, raising fears the Palestinian terror group will eventually try to stage a significant attack in the territory.

On Wednesday, Hamas terrorists in the West Bank city of Tulkarm opened fire into the Israeli village of Bat Hefer, which is in Israel proper. They staged the attack from the top of a hill. This is not the first time it has occurred. Last month, terrorists in the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades — the armed wing of Fatah, the political party of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas — fired into the Israeli community as well.

NEW: Hamas terrorists in the West Bank opened fire on houses in the Israeli town of Bat Hefer at 7am as children were preparing to go to school

— Eitan Fischberger (@EFischberger) May 29, 2024

Yoav Zitun, a military correspondent for Ynet News, reported that Hamas is paying people in the West Bank between 500 and 1000 shekels who take a video of themselves shooting into Israeli communities and distribute the footage.

Seth Frantzman, an adjunct fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and executive director of the Middle East Center for Reporting and Analysis, responded to the report on X/Twitter, writing it “reminds me of the Great Return March antics of Hamas that paved the way to Oct. 7.”

For the march, Hamas mobilized more than 40,000 people to try and breach the fence between Gaza and Israel to attack its citizens. Rioters lit fires, threw stones at the Israel Defense Forces, and attempted to plant a bomb on the fence and breach it. Hamas paid people between $200 and $500 if they were injured and $3,000 if they were killed.

Terrorist attacks from the West Bank against Israeli targets have been on an upswing. Last month, terrorists shot from within the West Bank into the Israeli kibbutz Ma’ale Gilboa.

Beyond shooting attacks, a terrorist killed two Israeli soldiers in Nablus in a ramming attack this week.

The terror incidents in the West Bank began to increase more than a year ago, but they have continued to occur since Hamas’ Oct. 7 massacre across southern Israel.

Frantzman called the situation a “looming disaster.”

“The rising attacks in the West Bank using the masses of stolen weapons will eventually become more sophisticated and can lead to an Oct. 7-type event because Israel has ignored security in the West Bank as it did at the other borders and allowed terror groups to exponentially grow over the last years,” he wrote.

The concern has been made more acute by the fact that the Palestinian Authority, which controls the Palestinian areas of the West Bank, is increasingly weak. In certain cities, such as Jenin, terrorist groups have effectively made the PA police obsolete and now have a significant ability to operate.

This is compounded by the fact that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has threatened to take punitive measures against the PA, which could make it more likely to collapse and create a vacuum for terrorists to assert greater control.

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Jury Finds Donald Trump Guilty on All 34 Counts at Hush Money Trial

Former US President Donald Trump appears in Manhattan Criminal Court, May 30, 2024, in New York. Photo: Seth Wenig/Pool via REUTERS

Donald Trump became the first US president to be convicted of a crime on Thursday when a New York jury found him guilty of falsifying documents to cover up a payment to silence a porn star ahead of the 2016 election.

After deliberations over two days, the 12-member jury announced it had found Trump guilty on all 34 counts he faced. Unanimity was required for any verdict.

Trump watched the jurors dispassionately as they were polled to confirm the guilty verdict.

Justice Juan Merchan set sentencing for July 11, days before the July 15 start of the Republican National Convention expected to formally nominate Trump for president.

Merchan thanked the jurors for their service. “Nobody can make you do anything you don’t want to do. The choice is yours,” Merchan said.

The verdict plunges the United States into unexplored territory ahead of the Nov. 5 presidential election, when Trump, the Republican candidate, will try to win the White House back from Democratic President Joe Biden.

Trump, 77, has denied wrongdoing and was expected to appeal.

“This was a disgrace. This was a rigged trial by a conflicted judge who is corrupt,” Trump told reporters afterwards.

“The real verdict is going to be Nov. 5 by the people,” Trump said, adding: “I am a very innocent man.”

He faces a maximum sentence of four years in prison, though others convicted of that crime often receive shorter sentences, fines, or probation. Incarceration would not prevent him from campaigning, or taking office if he were to win.

Trump will not be jailed ahead of sentencing.

Opinion polls show Trump and Biden, 81, locked in a tight race, and Reuters/Ipsos polling has found that a guilty verdict could cost Trump some support from independent and Republican voters.

A source familiar with the Trump campaign’s inner workings said the verdict was expected to prompt him to intensify deliberations on picking a woman as his vice presidential running mate.

Biden’s campaign said the verdict showed that no one was above the law, but noted that Trump still would be able to run for president.

“There is still only one way to keep Donald Trump out of the Oval Office: at the ballot box,” the campaign said in a statement.

The jury notified the court they had reached a verdict at 4:20 pm (2020 GMT) and read out all 34 guilty counts shortly after 5 pm.

Trump‘s fellow Republicans quickly condemned the verdict. “Today is a shameful day in American history,” House of Representatives Speaker Mike Johnson said in a prepared statement.

The jury found Trump guilty of falsifying business documents after sitting through a five-week trial that featured explicit testimony from porn star Stormy Daniels about a sexual encounter she says she had with Trump in 2006 while he was married to his current wife Melania. Trump denies ever having sex with Daniels.

Trump‘s then-fixer Michael Cohen testified that Trump approved a $130,000 hush money payment to Daniels in the final weeks of the 2016 election, when he faced multiple accusations of sexual misbehavior.

Cohen testified he handled the payment, and that Trump approved a plan to reimburse him through monthly payments disguised as legal work. Trump‘s lawyers hammered Cohen’s credibility, highlighting his criminal record and imprisonment and his history of lying.

Trump lawyer Todd Blanche asked Merchan to throw out the guilty verdict, arguing that it was based on the unreliable testimony of Cohen. Merchan denied his request.

Trump‘s near-certain appeal of his historic conviction on criminal charges in New York is likely to focus on porn star Daniels’ salacious testimony about their alleged sexual encounter as well as the novel legal theory prosecutors used in the case, but he faces long odds, legal experts said.

Falsifying business documents is normally a misdemeanor in New York, but prosecutors in Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg’s office elevated it to a felony on grounds that Trump was concealing an illegal campaign contribution.

Trump complained that he could not get a fair trial in his heavily Democratic hometown.

The case was widely regarded as the least consequential of the four criminal prosecutions Trump faces. Jurors heard testimony of sex and lies that have been public since 2018, although the charges themselves rested on ledger accounts and other records of Cohen’s reimbursement.

It was known as the “zombie case” because Bragg brought it back to life after his predecessor opted not to bring charges.

This case was also likely to be the only one to go to trial before the election, as the others are delayed by procedural challenges.

If elected, Trump could shut down the two federal cases that accuse him of illegally trying to overturn his 2020 election loss and mishandling classified documents after leaving office in 2021. He would not have the power to stop a separate election-subversion case taking place in Georgia.

Trump has pleaded not guilty in all the cases, and has portrayed his various legal troubles as an effort by Biden’s Democratic allies to hurt him politically.

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Iran’s ‘Supreme Leader’ Welcomes Anti-Israel Campus Protesters to ‘Resistance Front’

Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei delivers a televised speech in Tehran, Iran. Photo: Official Khamenei Website/Handout via REUTERS

Iran’s so-called “supreme leader,” Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, applauded the anti-Israel protesters who have thrown university campuses across the US into chaos over the past several weeks, declaring them part of a new “branch of the Resistance Front” against the Jewish state.

“Dear university students in the United States of America, this message is an expression of our empathy and solidarity with you,” Khamenei wrote in an open letter published on Thursday. “As the page of history is turning, you are standing on the right side of it.”

Rehashing antisemitic conspiracies of Jewish control, he derided “the global Zionist elite” for speaking against the campus demonstrations.

“The global Zionist elite — who owns most US and European media corporations or influences them through funding and bribery — has labeled this courageous, humane resistance movement as ‘terrorism,’” Khamenei wrote. “You have now formed a branch of the Resistance Front and have begun an honorable struggle in the face of your government’s ruthless pressure — a government which openly supports the usurper and brutal Zionist regime.”

Khamenei also praised students in other countries who have launched anti-Israel demonstrations on campuses, noting the leading role that faculty have played in fostering and supporting the unrest.

“Besides you students from dozens of American universities, there have also been uprisings in others countries among academics and the general public,” he wrote. “The support and solidarity of your professors is a significant and consequential development. This can offer some measure of comfort in the face of your government’s police brutality and the pressures it is exerting on you. I too am among those who empathize with you young people, and value your perseverance.”

Khamenei’s letter came amid an outpouring of praise for the anti-Zionist students by Islamist terrorist groups, including al-Qaeda.

“While we support the assassination of the infidel Zionists and the beheading of them, we also appreciate and value the movement of Western demonstrators and sit-in students from Western universities, who through their sit-ins and protests expressed their rejection of the genocide taking place in Gaza,” al-Qaeda leadership wrote in a recent communique

Hamas and Hezbollah, both backed by Iran, have also cheered the protests.

“Today’s students are the leaders of the future, and their suppression today means an expensive electoral bill that the Biden administration will pay sooner or later,” Hamas official Izzat Al-Risheq said in a statement last month.

Naim Qassem, the deputy head of Hezbollah, also praised the protesters during an interview with Al-Manar TV earlier this month.

“We appreciate and value this very much. Perhaps in the future, there will be cooperation among the youth of the world — in America, France, Britain, Germany, and all the activists,” he said. “The [campus protests] are important, especially because they will have an impact on US elections. They will have an impact on the American position.”

Earlier this month, when some universities suspended students who had occupied sections of campus and refused to leave unless school officials agreed to condemn and boycott Israel, the Iran-backed Houthi militia, a terrorist organization that has repeatedly violated freedom of the seas by attacking international shipping vessels passing through the Red Sea, offered to admit the disciplined students as transfers to Sanaa University, an institution it administers.

Some anti-Zionist student groups have reciprocated the admiration.

Last week, Columbia University’s chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) endorsed Hamas, the latest sign of its growing extremism and willingness to embrace Islamic extremism and antisemitism.

“The Palestinian resistance is the only force materially fighting back against isr*el [sic],” the group said in a series of posts shared by Documenting Jew Hatred on Campus, a social media account which exposes antisemitism on college campuses. “There is no way to eliminate the resistance without ending the occupation. When you see a video of a young palestinian [sic] boy traumatized in a hospital talking about how iof [the Israel Defense Forces, or IDF] shot his pregnant mother in cold blood in front of his own eyes, do not question how he chooses to resist years later.”

Campus Reform, a higher education watchdog which first reported Documenting Jew Hatred on Campus’ posts, noted that Columbia SJP has added an “inverted red triangle” to its social media biography, further indicating its support for Hamas. The Palestinian terrorist group has used an inverted red triangle in its propaganda videos to indicate an Israeli target about to be attacked, and anti-Israel protesters on university campuses have been using the symbol in their demonstrations.

Columbia SJP, a group that has re-formed under multiple names since being suspended by school administrators during the fall semester, was central in staging a slew of riotous demonstrations in which anti-Zionist activists verbally assaulted Jewish students with antisemitic epithets, clamorously expressed support for terrorism and Hamas, and caused thousands of dollars in damages to school property.

The anti-Zionist student movement’s support for terrorism and anti-American ideologies has been expressed before.

Footage of the protests which erupted on college campuses at the end of spring semester showed demonstrators chanting in support of Hamas and calling for the destruction of Israel. In many cases, they lambasted the US and Western civilization more broadly.

“Yes, we’re all Hamas, pig!” one protester was filmed screaming during the fracas at Columbia University, which saw some verbal skirmishes between pro-Zionist and anti-Zionist partisans. “Long live Hamas!” said others who filmed themselves dancing and praising the al-Qassam Brigades, the military wing of the Hamas terrorist organization. “Kill another solider!”

Follow Dion J. Pierre @DionJPierre.

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