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Israel must act to halt Palestinian destruction of Jewish archaeological sites in Judea & Samaria.

Israel must act to halt Palestinian destruction of Jewish archaeological sites in Judea & Samaria.

Published in The Jerusalem Post, July 12, 2024. Print-friendly copy

Judea and Samaria (the West Bank) are rich with Jewish national heritage sites. It is the Biblical heartland. The physical record of the Biblical narrative lies in the ground with hundreds of known archaeological sites (and perhaps thousands of yet undiscovered sites), providing incontrovertible evidence that connects the Jewish People to the Land of Israel.

This is precisely why the Palestinian Authority is systematically destroying archaeological sites in Judea and Samaria, purposefully plundering and erasing Jewish antiquities.

This week the Government of Israel took a first step towards halting the wanton annihilation of Jewish heritage. For the first time since Israeli archaeological activists conducted in 2020 a broadscale survey of some 300 sites under Palestinian assault, the government decided to back a bill in Knesset (introduced by Likud MK Amit Halevi) that would extend the purview of the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) to Judea and Samaria – to manage and preserve historical sites.

The IAA is a globally respected professional scientific agency with considerable budget, real enforcement capacity, and a theft prevention unit.

Until now, archaeological sites in the West Bank have been the responsibility of the IDF Central Command and its Civil Administration (COGAT) – which have no bandwidth for this issue. The Civil Administration’s “Archaeology Staff Officer Office” is a department without clear policy guidelines and with no enforcement capabilities. The Archaeology Officer hasn’t even managed to formally demarcate the boundaries of most heritage sites in Judea and Samaria, making it impossible to prevent illegal PA construction and agricultural projects which (again, purposefully) overrun these sites.

Archaic interpretations of the Oslo Accords by Israeli legal advisors have gotten in the way too. They have argued against Israel’s ability to intervene to protect Jewish heritage sites in Area B of the territories, despite the obvious and outrageous PA campaign to obliterate every Jewish/Israeli site possible.

The 2020 survey was conducted by an NGO called “Preserving the Eternal” and backed by Israel Heritage Preservation Center and the Shiloh Forum. The survey found that 80% of the important archaeological sites in Judea and Samaria (most of which date back to the Second Temple period) were damaged, with half of them in immediate danger of total eradication. The worst devastation was at sites in Area B, where despite technical Israeli security control (alongside Palestinian civilian control), there is effectively no Israeli control, no law, and no enforcement.

Among the prominent heritage sites in Area B that are subject to severe and continuous damage are “Joshua’s Altar” on Mount Ebal, the Hasmonean fortress at Tel Aroma, and large sections of ancient Samaria (Sebastia) – the capital of the biblical Kingdom of Israel.

Institutional PA efforts to destroy Jewish heritage sites (and Christian sites too, including many churches from the Byzantine period) are supported, alas, by an international network of foreign state entities which directly or indirectly fund destructive activities. This is coupled with an international academic boycott against archaeological researchers working in Judea and Samaria, which impedes theoretical and applied research on the archaeological sites of Judea and Samaria, and which indirectly encourages their neglect and eventual destruction.

PERHAPS the most terrible story is the ongoing saga on Mount Ebal near Nablus, where a dramatic and large archaeological site has been identified from the early Biblical period. The late Prof. Adam Zartal and many of his archaeological disciples have identified this site as the altar of Joshua (see the Book of Joshua chapter 8) where a dramatic ceremony reaffirming G-d’s covenant with the Jewish People was held after the early stages of conquest of the Land of Israel. Ancient Hebrew writing was found on an amulet at this site, along with unique burnt bone fragments and potsherds that underpin Zartal’s thesis.

Zartal began paying protection money to the local Palestinian landowner to protect the site, because it wasn’t demarcated as a heritage site by the IDF Archaeology Officer, and Zartal knew that the global sensation which his discovery drew would lead to Palestinian attacks. But the land was sold to a Hamas-affiliated Palestinian who drew-up plans with the PA to pave over the site with roads and 24 high-rise housing units. Indeed, in 2001 the PA paved a road encircling the site and which destroyed part of the area. This included the grinding into gravel of part of the ancient stone fencing at the site, and then using the gravel to pave the road.

A large group of the most prominent Israeli archaeologists (including Zartal critics and anti-Biblical-narrative archaeologists at Tel Aviv University, and including many Israel Prize laureates in archaeology) twice signed a public petition to then-Defense Minister Benny Gantz and Prime Minister Netanyahu demanding protection for the “altar” site on Mount Ebal. To no avail.

In January 2023, a Palestinian building contractor started again to plow-up the area. An Israeli officer even found the PA plans to destroy the entire site inside one of the tractors in operation. An Archaeology Staff Officer then acted to demarcate the site as a protected site, but the Civil Administration insisted that the line be drawn narrowly around only the “altar” without the surrounding plain where the biblical “swearing-in ceremony” may have been held and which could be an archaeologically rich zone. The excuse: insufficient legal authority.

And the battle continues…

Another infuriating story relates to the incredible aqueduct identified as King Solomon’s magnificent water system in Judea that runs from Hebron through Bethlehem to Jerusalem, including what is today termed “Solomon’s Pools,” southwest of Bethlehem.

This marvel of ancient engineering, 40 km. long, is described in detail in the Bible, and the description matches the archaeological findings precisely. The pools and aqueducts survived 2,000 years of summer and winter and many invaders and predators – until the arrival of the Palestinian Authority.

In 2022, the PA dug an enormous 1,500 dunam quarry pit at Beit Fajar right through a section of the aqueduct. The quarrying caused irreversible damage to the aqueducts, with some 100 meters of tunnel and approximately 2,000 meters of the aqueduct on either side of the tunnel reduced to rubble.

And the Government of Israel did nothing to stop this.

This is the place to point out that PA-directed destruction of Jewish heritage sites in Judea and Samaria is a gross and explicit violation of the Oslo Accords and all relevant international legal frameworks, including heritage preservation obligations under UNESCO (which the PA joined in 2011), and the World Heritage Convention (known as ICOMOS, the International Council on Monuments and Sites).

The flip side of this is that Government of Israel has been derelict in its international heritage preservation legal obligations too (in addition to its responsibility for Jewish memory and historical truth), under provisions of the Hague Convention and Jordanian law which still partially apply in the West Bank.

The Israeli Supreme Court in particular has been a comatose, regressive actor in this ongoing saga – foregoing opportunity and after opportunity to force the hand of the Israeli government into action against Palestinian destruction-ism.

The sad result to-date is truly annihilationist: Three thousand years of heritage on its way to near-complete wipe-out within a mere 30 years. This is a tragedy that must be stopped.

I salute the activist archaeologists and Ministers Betzalel Smotrich and Amichai Eliyahu, MK Amit Halevi, and others who have driven this matter to the government table. Clear policy directives must be issued to the IAA, IDF, Israel Police, and Israel Security Agency to prioritize preservation of heritage sites in Judea and Samaria and to punish the PA for its belligerence.

Preservation and protection is a necessity so that something of biblical heritage remains for future generations. So that the land of the Bible is not erased by Palestinian aggression and denialism.

The real sources of instability in Judea and Samaria are escalating Palestinian terrorism, surging illegal Palestinian construction in zones of strategic importance to Israel, and wildly out-of-control arson attacks.

Escalating Palestinian terrorism, surging illegal Palestinian construction in zones of strategic importance to Israel, and wildly out-of-control arson attacks must be stopped.

Published in The Jerusalem Post, July 5, 2024; and Israel Hayom, July 8, 2024. Print-friendly copy

Reading the international press, and reading much of the overwhelmingly left-wing Israeli press, you inevitably get the impression that the threats to stability in Judea and Samaria stem from “settler violence” and settlement housing starts.

You wouldn’t know, couldn’t know much, about the real sources of instability – which are escalating Palestinian terrorism, surging illegal Palestinian construction in zones of strategic importance to Israel, and wildly out-of-control arson attacks. The arson attacks in particular have become a central tool in the terrorist assault on Jewish life in Judea and Samaria (the “West Bank”).

Here is a reminder of some basic facts.

Attacks on Palestinian property and individuals committed by a few extremists at the fringes of a half-million-person strong and overwhelmingly peaceful community of Israelis who live over the Green Line – calculates to a level of violence that is lower than the level of violence by Israelis against Israelis that afflicts greater Tel Aviv.

And without meaning to diminish the ugliness of extremist Israeli attacks on Palestinians (about 1,100 incidences of all types a year), harassment and vandalism by some angry settlers pales in comparison to more than 5,000 Palestinian bomb, car-ramming, knifing, and shooting attacks a year aimed at killing Israeli civilians in Judea and Samaria.

(And of course, this super-pales in comparison to the 1,200 Israelis slaughtered by Hamas on Oct. 7 or the reign of terror inflicted on all Israelis by the more than 20,000 rockets and missiles fired by Hamas into Israeli civilian population centers over the past half year.)

Everybody knows how Nablus and Jenin (and Tulkarem and Kalkilya and more) have become dens of hard-core, Iranian-supplied terrorist groups, requiring nightly interdiction raids by IDF commandos with heavy engineering and air strike support. (So much for the Oslo Accords promise of a demilitarized Palestinian autonomous entity.)

The threat of terrorist assault from the western Samaria seam line into central Israel is concrete, and already there have been scattered shootings over and through the security barrier into the Bat Hefer and Mount Gilboa areas.

Israel has been forced to eliminate 450 terrorists in Judea and Samaria this year in more than 60 brigade-level raids, and arrest 3,600 other terrorists or those suspected of terrorism. Some 8,000 Israeli troops, mostly reservists, have been stationed on regional defense missions in the area this past year.

As for housing starts, well there are about 4,000 Israeli “structures” (mobile homes, caravans, etc.) considered unapproved or illegal in Judea and Samaria. This includes homes for which final residence permits are pending (“tofes 4”) or homes where a garage or additional room was built without permits. But note: 85% of these “structures” are inside the municipal boundaries (what is known as the “blue line”) of recognized Jewish communities.

That leaves only some 500 structures that are, according to international critics of Israel, “changing the footprint of Jewish presence in Judea and Samaria.” (Not a great showing for “Zionist expansionism,” if you ask me.)

On the other hand, there are at least 90,000 defiantly built Palestinian homes that have cropped-up illegally in Area C of the West Bank in recent years, almost all of which can be considered strategic threats to Israel.

These structures actively are changing the map of Area C, purposefully placing Palestinians in areas that never before had an Arab presence, dividing the settlement blocs, encroaching on access routes (forcing the Israeli government to pave bypass roads to the bypass roads, which leads to accusations of land expropriation, etc.) – all in an attempt to prevent any future logical division of the territory into neighboring polities (for those who still believe in the wisdom of this).

A recent report by the Regavim Movement argues that illegal Palestinian construction seems designed to specifically conquer the Judea and Samaria security buffer zone, meaning the seamline adjacent to the security barrier that Israel constructed mostly along the Green Line over two decades.

Regavim’s mapping division has revealed three sample clusters of illegal construction: In the southern Hebron region in the vicinity of Ramadin, Dahariyeh and Eshkolot; in the Judea-Etzion region, south of Tarkumiyeh, Khirbet Khatta, Khirbet Adir, Sureif, Wadi Phukhin, Batir, Beit Iksa, Beit Laqya, Kfar Tzaffa and Na’alin; and in Samaria, in the northern and southern sections of IDF firing zone 203 near Kfar Thulth, north Tzofim, and a-Ras.

Regavim identified 7,675 illegal structures in these clusters, all within a one-kilometer radius of the separation barrier, all of them in Area C.

In the seamline buffer zone stretching from the northern tip of the Jordan Valley to Ein Gedi in the south, Regavim has mapped 16,866 additional illegal structures within a one-kilometer radius of security and border barriers.

AND THEN there are the multiple brush and forest fires persistently being lit every day in Judea and Samaria by Palestinian terrorists in an attempt to literally smoke Israeli farmers, ranchers, and settlers out of the area.

Over the past months, firefighters have battled well over 1,000 fires in Judea and Samaria, many of them adjacent to Jewish towns and Israeli army bases, almost all of them certainly caused by arson.

This included difficult-to-control fires around the community of Peduel, on the western ridge of Samaria, and adjacent to Elon Moreh, an Israeli town of 2,000 people in the Samarian highlands; fires near Revava, Shavei Shomron, Karnei Shomron, Salit, Nahal Shiloh, Yitzhar, Givat Itamar, Tzur Harel, Oz Zion, and Kochav Hashachar; in Gush Etzion and the Jordan Valley; near the important IDF base on Mount Hazor near Ofra, near the Mount Kabir base above Nablus, and adjacent to the “Ofrit” base on Mount Scopus on the eastern ridges of Jerusalem.

And every single day, Palestinians and their extreme left-wing Israeli anarchist allies torch the grazing grounds of cattle in the central Binyamin and Samaria highlands where pioneering Israelis have established a string of some 100 ranches (in Hebrew: havot); or as Western media and hostile NGOs call them, “wildcat settler outposts.”

The grass and brush that grows in the vast and mostly unsettled parts of Binyamin and Samaria are “natural gold” for feeding these herds of cattle and flocks of sheep. Burning the pastures is outright warfare, designed to firebomb Jewish “settler sheep” off the land and drive settlers from the area.

This is not too different from the devastation caused by thousands of incendiary balloons and kites sent over the Gaza border by Hamas since 2018, firebombs that destroyed tens of thousands of acres of nature reserves and farmland in southern Israel. (Experts say it will take years to rehabilitate the burned farm fields in southern Israel.)

But who cared about the Hamas fire balloon blitz, and who cares about the manifold arson assaults in Judea and Samaria? Who cares about the dangerous and illegal Palestinian building juggernaut along the seam line and other strategic zones? The first is long forgotten, the second grossly underreported, and third shrugged off (or even supported by the European Union).

And in the face of exaggerated reports of “settler violence” and crassly misreported stories of settler “land grabs” – well, the reality of Palestinian terrorist violence and belligerence does not stand a chance of grabbing anybody’s attention in Tel Aviv, Washington, or Brussels.

It is critical to defiantly distinguish haredi ideology regarding military service from authentic Torah ideology. To rigorously reject haredi dogma on this matter and debunk haredi distortion of religious sources. To me, doing so is no less an obligation for the sake of the “honor of Torah” than it is an emotional and social imperative.

There is no solution to the haredi draft issue. Haredi leaders are not budging – despite October 7, despite the near-existential threat situation Israel finds itself in across seven fronts, despite the attendant acute military manpower crisis, despite the enormous sacrifices in dead and wounded and kidnapped and displaced, and despite financial deprivation and household disruption and emotional trauma experienced by so many Israeli families religious and secular alike… 

What remains possible, and necessary in this moment, is to defiantly distinguish haredi ideology regarding military service from authentic Torah ideology. To rigorously reject haredi dogma on this matter and debunk haredi distortion of religious sources. To me, doing so is no less an obligation for the sake of “the honor of Torah” than it is an emotional and social imperative.

This article debunks four pseudo-foundational concepts that haredi ideologues cite in defense of their refusal to participate in “carrying the burden” of military service.

Published in The Jerusalem Post, June 28, 2024; and Israel Hayom, June 30, 2024. Print-friendly copy

Cartoon by Shay Charka (Makor Rishon): “Don’t worry guys, my Torah learning is dedicated to this soldier’s recovery and to your success in battle.”

Tens of millions of words will be spilled in newspapers and community rag sheets for and against the military draft of Ultra-Orthodox men (haredi yeshiva boys), in response to this week’s Supreme Court decision mandating their draft.

I am not going to add to the scuttlebutt because I have exhausted myself over three decades writing about solutions (moderate solutions, I think) for patient integration of the haredi community in Israeli academy and economy and for a soft, slow draft of haredi men into the IDF and/or home front defense and rescue units and/or national service in civilian frameworks specially attuned to their religious/social mores.

Alas, I have reached the conclusion that no solution is in the offing. Despite October 7, despite the near-existential threat situation Israel finds itself in across seven fronts, and despite the attendant acute military manpower crisis – haredi leadership is not budging.

Despite the enormous sacrifices in dead and wounded and kidnapped and displaced, and despite financial deprivation and household disruption and emotional trauma experienced by so many Israeli families religious and secular alike – haredi leadership is not budging.

Forget the military draft of the Ultra-Orthodox for a moment. How about some concrete expressions of empathy for the sacrifices and burdens carried at this time by the non-haredi Israeli public? How many haredi leaders of any stream (Lithuanian, Hassidic, Sephardic) have you seen at any one of the many funerals for fallen soldiers on Mt. Herzl? How many significant haredi figures have shown up at soldier shiva houses to pay condolences?

How many significant haredi leaders – and there are so many of them in Jerusalem, admorim (“Grand” Hassidic Rebbes), geonim (Halachic geniuses), and gedolim (just “big” rabbinic leaders) – have quietly taken a minyan of their boys late night to daven (pray) at the Mt. Herzl military cemetery? After all, haredim have a thing about davening at the gravesites of tzaddikim (holy people)!

BUT NO. Aside from some extra tehillim (ritual recital of Psalms in synagogue, as an afterthought), aside from some extra challah bakes, aside from a very few older (30+) haredi men who anyway weren’t studying in yeshiva or Kollel and who to abundant and distorting fanfare drafted into rear army positions (basically working in their civilian fields but within the military framework) – the haredi community isn’t budging.

The haredi world is overwhelmingly cut-off from the war reality that “mainstream” Israel is living, purposefully and devastatingly so.

I am no longer sure that this can be changed, even if the most drastic punitive measures were applied (and they won’t be) – like a complete cut-off of government funding for everything haredi from schools that don’t teach basic secular subjects, to yeshivas that don’t encourage national service, to the massive subsidies that Kollel families enjoy in municipal taxes, health insurance, daycare and more.

I have reached the conclusion that the average haredi adult is a tinok shnishba bein haGedolim, a baby held hostage (mollycoddled) by the “great” leaders of the haredi rabbinic world. (This is a play on words. Haredi leaders somewhat forgivingly but mostly superciliously often refer to secular Jews as “babies held hostage by non-Jews and non-Jewish culture.”)

So I don’t see solutions on the horizon for the current constitutional, political, and social crisis over haredi draft exemption, even though I believe that there are pathways to a better place in the very long term (along the lines of haredi “hesder” yeshivas – see below).

And perhaps things will change when the current 90-year-old haredi leaders are replaced 50 years from now by today’s 40-year-old haredi intellectuals, some of whom are more broad-minded, better educated, and more rooted in Israeli reality. Maybe.

WHAT REMAINS possible, and necessary in this moment, is to defiantly distinguish haredi ideology regarding military service from authentic Torah ideology. To rigorously reject haredi dogma on this matter and debunk haredi distortion of religious sources. To me, doing so is no less an obligation for the sake of the “honor of Torah” than it is an emotional and social imperative.

There are four pseudo-foundational concepts that haredi ideologues cite in defense of their refusal to participate in “carrying the burden” of military service.

One is that rabanan lo tzricha netiruta (Torah scholars do not need protection) because they are protected, I guess, by the Heavens. This is a distortion of the meaning of a phrase in the Babylonian Talmud, tractate Bava Batra 7b – which doesn’t at all refer to wars of defense. It refers to everyday policing tasks, at most. (See the writings of Rabbi Shlomo Yosef Zevin, editor in chief of the Encyclopedia Judaica, on this.)

Second is reference to the famous, soaring rhetoric of the Rambam, Maimonides (Mishne Torah, Laws of Shmita and Yovel 13:2) about the special qualities of the Biblical tribe of Levi, who by priestly service in the Temple, and by inference in devoting itself to Torah study and spiritual matters, is exempt from military draft.

Of course, Maimonides paen to religious and spiritual types is beautiful, but it was written as aggada (homily), not halacha (binding religious law). And who says that haredim, all haredim, are automatically “Levites”?

Third, is the aphorism that Torah magna umatzla, Torah protects and saves (Babylonian Talmud, tractate Sotah 21a). That all one needs for protection from the Jewish People’s enemies is a spiritual effort, whether through religious observance, charity, or study.

The modern haredi interpretation/distortion of this phrase is that students in yeshiva are operating “spiritual drones” that quite literally determine the fate of military campaigns more than soldiers on the battlefield.

Obviously, this is not at all what the Talmud meant. It is poppycock on so many levels, beginning with the fact that when a haredi person gets sick he goes to the doctor or the hospital in addition to praying or giving charity. The same principle applies on the national level.

Moreover, even if one accepts the concept that Torah study is a critical component of the Jewish People’s soul and purpose in life (– I do!), and that Torah study indeed “protects and saves” – who says that the Torah study of haredi 20-year-olds (who should be doing some national or military service) is a sine-qua-non necessity for Heavenly cover? Might the Torah study of haredi kids or 45-year-old adults be sufficient and more welcome in the Heavens?

Might it be that the 15 minutes a day of Torah study, squeezed-in between guard duty or combat sessions of my “Torah-true” religious sons in the IDF, is the Torah study that actually provides Israel with the protections of the Heavens (and perhaps much more so)?!

Fourth, is the concept of Teivat Noah (Noah’s Ark), that the haredi community writ-large is the Jewish People’s protected oasis of purity and morality, something that must be preserved for the overall good of Israel. Haredi society is indeed an oasis of kindness and commitment, but maintenance of this oasis involves rejection of general education and gainful employment, disconnection from the secular public and the Zionist state (including army service), reliance on the dole (whether private charities or government largesse), and much more that is problematic.

The thinking here is so corrupt that it ends up justifying ignorance (of all knowledge outside religious texts), hatred (of other Jews), dishonesty (in business dealings with government), and abject poverty (which brings with it so many social ills).

As the undisputed Torah “giant” of his time, the Netziv of Volzhin, Rabbi Naftali Zvi Yehuda Berlin (1816-1893), wrote in his introduction to Genesis: “God is honest and straight, and does not tolerate esoteric tzaddikim, holier-than-thou types, but rather prefers holy people who also walk righteously in everyday matters of the world, and who do not act in distorted fashion even though their intentions are for the sake of Heaven. Because the latter bring about the destruction of creation and devastation of civilization.”

AS FOR (justifiable) haredi concerns about the fact that military service at a young age would expose their youth to the possibilities of other ways of life and could erode the unique identity characteristics of future generations of haredim – well, yes, but deal with it!

Had Haredi leaders been granted more wisdom from the Heavens, long ago they would have founded their own hesder yeshivas (which combine Torah study with army service in special conditions) and saved themselves and the country a lot of heartache.

The late, great Rabbi Dr. Aharon Lichtenstein zt”l, dean of the Har Etzion hesder yeshiva (who also received the Israel Prize for Torah scholarship), wrote 40 years ago that “Hesder at its finest seeks to attract and develop men who are profoundly motivated by the desire to become serious Torah scholars but who concurrently feel morally and religiously bound to help defend their people and their country; who, given the historical exigencies of their time and place, regard this dual commitment as both a privilege and a duty; who, in comparison with their non-hesder confreres love not Torah less but Israel more.”

“Hesder provides a context within which students can focus upon enhancing their personal spiritual and intellectual growth while yet heeding the call to public service. It thus enables them to maintain an integrated Jewish existence, despite the conflict of values, lifestyle, and sensibility between bet midrash, Torah study hall, and boot camp, especially in a predominantly secular army.”

“The halachic rationale for hesder rests upon the simple need for physical survival and the fact that military service is often the fullest manifestation of gemilut hasadim, the empathetic concern for others and action on their behalf, which is one of the three cardinal foundations of the world, and is the basis of Jewish social ethics. Its realization, even at some cost to single-minded development of Torah scholarship, is virtually imperative.”

“In contemporary Israel, the greatest single hesed, good deed, one can perform is helping to defend his fellows’ very lives. And it is inspiring to behold.”

May we behold such haredi hesed soon.

Time to put Israeli economy and society on an emergency footing.

Time to put Israel’s economy and its society on an emergency footing.

Published in The Jerusalem Post, June 21, 2024; and Israel Hayom, June 23, 2024. Print-friendly copy

A cold, calculated analysis of Israel’s strategic situation will reach the conclusion that this country faces a decade of tough warfare on seven different fronts, mainly against Iran and its proxy armies. Enemy armies and militias are entrenched on Israel’s borders, with Iran actively arming and seeking to radicalize Palestinians in Judea and Samaria, and Jordan, too.

Full-scale war with Hezbollah in Lebanon, which is two days or two years away at most, will be an earth-shattering event in particular, bringing inevitable destruction of unprecedented proportions to civil infrastructure in Israel (as well as in Lebanon).

Neither the Israeli military nor home front is sufficiently geared to handle this grim reality. Therefore, the Government of Israel must embark on an emergency effort to significantly strengthen the IDF, and to mobilize the public in preparing for long-term struggle in wartime conditions. This requires punishing economic decisions and a change of mindset led by leaders with both grit and vision.

I believe that the Israeli public instinctively understands the dramatic inflexion point at which this country stands and the sacrifices that yet will be required to guarantee the country’s very existence – beyond the enormous sacrifices in men and materiel that already have been amassed over the past eight months.

And I believe that the Israeli public, young and old across all partisan lines, is yearning – screaming! – for national leadership that will motivate it to participate in an escalating national war effort despite the severity of the costs involved.

I am not talking about the many magnificent initiatives that have been launched by Israeli civil society organizations over the past year to support soldiers and their families, and to heal and comfort war victims. I am not talking about barbeques for the troops, weekend retreats for war widows, or loans for devastated small businesses and farmers. I am not talking about the selfless activists who have rallied to advocate for Israel’s hostages or to back the government’s war goals against international pressures.

All these activities, from all sides of the political and social spectrum, are good and important, even heroic. And they certainly should and will continue.

Rather, I am talking about extreme moves to shift this country onto a true wartime footing, in order to rigorously prepare for the imminent, overwhelming challenges ahead.

I am talking about activating the Defense Ministry’s Supreme Emergency Economy Board to ramp-up and reinforce services such as hospitals, electricity grids, water and sewage networks, and food manufacturing and stockpiling. Israel must have at hand sufficient (again, massive) supplies of medicines, food products, and core industrial ingredients to last-out a one-year-long interruption in air and sea imports.

Also in need of colossal emergency augmentation: firefighting and rescue services. Far beyond the widespread forest and brush fires in Israel’s north wrought by Hezbollah in recent months, and wildcat arsons across Judea and Samaria perpetrated by Palestinian marauders, Israel must be ready for large-scale industrial explosions and fires at key infrastructure sites caused by precision-guided, large-ordinance Hezbollah missile strikes.

Israel also needs trained personnel to clear and dispose of massive amounts of wartime debris. According to disaster specialist Dr. Efraim Laor (the longtime Israeli oracle of emergency preparedness for earthquakes, and for chemical, biological, and nuclear strike), this could amount to 200 million tons of rubble, possibly contaminated itself, or that threatens to contaminate basic water supply and interfere with essential sewage treatment.

Then there is the military. The IDF needs to grow by at least three divisions. That is 50,000 soldiers more, with tons of military equipment. A gargantuan increase in the training of front-line troops is necessary, especially armored formations. The Israeli navy needs more than $5 billion in new ships, submarines, weapons systems, and personnel over the next decade.

Israel’s defense industries need to produce 10,000 surveillance and attack drones, 200 Thundermaker self-propelled artillery guns, 100 Namer armored personnel carriers, and 50 Merkava main battle tanks – per year. Israel also needs to self-manufacture 155mm artillery shells, and precision-guided missiles for the air force, in insane numbers. (This is especially true since Israel faces increasing restrictions on the use of US-supplied weaponry, and because there is a global shortage of such ammunition.)

This is a very tall, almost impossible, order, and it will cost hundreds of millions of shekels. Overall, it is estimated that Israel needs a huge build-up, eight times over the current manufacturing capacity of Israeli defense industries.

Besides the budget allocations for all this (and the concomitant cuts in civilian budgets that will be necessary), the Israeli government will need to mobilize the public to manufacture and man the above platforms.

It is time to raid the high schools, university campuses, and senior citizen homes for manpower; to press the entire Israeli public, young and old of all hues and stripes, into industrial and emergency service.

New factories and new rescue/response brigades need to be staffed by every able body. This inevitably will have to include segments of Israeli society that currently are underrepresented in industry and military.

And with political leadership that knows how to scare, inspire, and drive the Israeli public into the emergency super-structure and national crisis footing I am describing, I am certain that the public will respond with alacrity. I sense that Israelis are thirsting for such leadership. They are aching to be called upon for the Herculean efforts necessary.

SOME WILL retort that what I am calling for amounts to a near-complete shutdown of civil life in Israel, of education, culture, and leisure activities – and that this would be a major mistake. It would reinforce the assaults of our enemies who seek to indeed make Israel unlivable.

It would undermine our own self-confidence that despite enemy attacks, and alongside a painful war effort, everyday life in Israel proceeds apace with vigor, joy, simple pleasures (like vacation time), and with great accomplishment in all fields from science to music.

Nevertheless, it is high time for a national reset, for a forbidding awakening that marshals the public for the tough grind ahead. It is time to rally the troops – and that means all Israelis in all sectors and stages of life – for a period of intense national struggle. For sacrifice that goes beyond anything known to Israelis to-date.

Maj. Gen. Gershon Hacohen, who is the most ideologically rooted military thinker in Israel today, argues that rekindling an ethos of national struggle in Israel today – and acting decisively on this basis – is both essential and possible.

He recalls that David Ben-Gurion did so before and during Israel’s War of Independence in 1948. This entailed throwing Holocaust survivors off the boats from Europe into battle, the drafting of teenagers into work brigades and senior citizens into factories and fields, even the rationing of basic foodstuffs. It involved subserviating all aspects of the economy to the war effort.

After the Yom Kippur War disaster, Hacohen says, Israeli leadership also knew how to rapidly rebuild the military, aggregating every resource to do so – despite global boycott, mushrooming debt and economic depression, and without succumbing to too much legal and other government bureaucracy.

Two years ago, the leadership in Kyiv threw Ukrainians into national war mobilization too, mustering a large fighting force within half a year and equipping itself with the newest battle technologies such as UAVs.

In May 1940, Prime Minister Winston Churchill famously girded the people of the United Kingdom for an arduous path ahead. Before he drafted every single Briton into war service of one type or another, he warned that “We have before us an ordeal of the most grievous kind. We have before us many, many long months of struggle and suffering. I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears, and sweat.”

“You ask, what is our policy? I can say: It is to wage war, by sea, land, and air, with all our might and with all the strength that God can give us, to wage war against a monstrous tyranny, never surpassed in the dark, lamentable catalog of human crime. That is our policy. You ask, what is our aim? I can answer in one word: It is victory, victory at all costs, victory despite of all terror. Victory, however long and hard the road may be. For without victory, there is no survival.”

Israelis hanker for such leadership today. The emergency mobilization of society and economy described above is certainly necessary, and Israelis assuredly will be up to the task.

Helping them integrate into Israeli life is the big “day after” challenge. The “Ohev Ger” NGO is there to help.

Helping them integrate into Israeli life is the big “day after” challenge. “Ohev Ger” is there to help.

Published in The Jerusalem Post, June 14, 2024; and Israel Hayom, June 16, 2024. Print-friendly copy

Rav Menachem Weinberg, founder of “Ohev Ger” (second from left) with teachers and students at the Nativ conversion college.

Because the biblical Book of Ruth tells a story of kindness and commitment that marks Ruth’s decision to join the Jewish People, and the book is read ritually on Shavuot, every newspaper in this country on the holiday eve tells a few beautiful stories of modern converts to Judaism. Once a year, converts get a few moments of attention.

And then everybody forgets about them for the rest of the year.

Very few people lift a finger to assist converts beyond their day in beit din (i.e., after they are formally converted through a rabbinical court). This column, timed specifically for the “day after” Shavuot, is meant to redress this lacuna.

Understand: Converting to Judaism requires not only a change of lifestyle and belief system, but often entails replacing country, language, livelihood, community, and even family ties. Many individuals who have dedicated themselves to joining the Jewish People find themselves alone. They need and deserve support to meet untold challenges which devolve from their monumental conversion undertaking.

Most of the fine organizations that deal with conversion are focused on the conversion process itself – on teaching Jewish knowledge and testing the converts’ commitment. Some groups advocate for halachic or systemic change to the often impersonal and rigid Rabbinate conversion mechanism.

But care for the individual convert’s personal and communal needs after conversion is often sorely lacking. Due to the centralized conversion system in Israel many converts are not naturally streamed into specific communities. And even when they are, prejudice and suspicion abound, adding to the difficulties commonly experienced by ‘outsiders.’

These difficulties include language and cultural barriers that make it hard to join social circles, tap into communal resources, and create connections (– to benefit from protektzia, which is so important for getting ahead in Israel).

TWO YEARS AGO, a new non-profit organization was founded to care for converts on the “day after” conversion, to promote their success and smooth their integration in Israel. It is called Ohev Ger, Love thy Convert.

The agency was established by my esteemed brother, Rabbi (Rav) Menachem Weinberg, who has taught converts from around the world (even from Africa and China) – giving him a unique perspective on the needs of gerim.

Underlying Ohev Ger’s activity is the fundamental understanding that conversion is not the end of a process but rather the is beginning of a new life path, which requires familial and communal anchors to buttress dedication to Jewish life.

Ohev Ger programs include a network of volunteers who help integrate converts into communities and families; social programming for young converts; and professional social worker support for converts, which can include financial aid, rental subsidies, scholarships, employment and housing assistance, advocacy and legal services, and other counselling.

After October 7, the organization established a new program called Magen LaGer to provide convert soldiers and their families with support, emergency rental assistance for evacuees, and guidance on keeping halacha in wartime. It also has partnered with the Bnei Akiva yeshiva high school network to organize and pay for the weddings of converts.

Ohev Ger also has launched an incentive program for marriage matchmakers (shadchanim) to prioritize matchmaking for converts. This is particularly needed because there is stigma, prejudice, and suspicion in all sub-sectors of Israeli society regarding marriage to converts.

The organization is now attempting to establish a lobby in Knesset for promoting integration of converts in Israeli society, and an annual conference honoring converts for their dedication to Judaism and their contributions to Israel.

It also plans to offer scholarships for conversion course graduates to pursue continuing Jewish studies, and to launch a digital platform where converts can obtain swift answers to questions about Jewish life and customs.

Rav Menachem: “Ohev Ger is working with directors and teachers in the conversion colleges, with leaders of the Conversion Authority, with rabbinical court judges, with local community rabbis, and with many converts themselves, to enhance the ability of converts of all backgrounds to live proudly as committed Jews in Israeli society. It is our moral responsibility, historic opportunity, and mitzvah obligation to imitate God – who ‘loves the convert’ (ohev ger) – by supporting these unique individuals and attentively addressing their needs.”

“Mostly, we must fund this ourselves, because the relevant government offices, from social to religious affairs and a half dozen others, have no budgets dedicated to assisting converts – even though caring for converts is a commandment mentioned 36 times in the Torah! Unbelievably, there are government funds for building mikvaot (ritual baths) and eiruvin (Sabbath perimeter fences) but none for assisting geirim (converts).”

‘Mainstream’ Jews and ‘veteran’ Israelis can get involved by volunteering their professional and social services, becoming an Ohev Ger community coordinator, and donating funds to the cause.

I BELIEVE IT a privilege to live in an era with an unprecedented number of sincere converts. Every year, an average of 3,000 amazing gerei tzedek (righteous converts) from all over the world join the Jewish People in Israel through Israeli conversion courts (civilian and military). This amounts to approximately 50,000 converts over the last 15 years! About 40% of these converts are Ethiopian immigrants, 25% are from the former Soviet Union, 15% are Israeli-born, and the rest are from various countries.

Many of these converts have studied towards conversion at Israel’s National Center for Jewish Studies, Identity and Conversion (now known as the “Nativ” civilian and military conversion programs), an organization that was founded on the basis of the Neeman Committee and is run by the Prime Minister’s Office and Jewish Agency for Israel. The valiant Prof. Benny Ish-Shalom of Beit Morasha College of Jerusalem spearheaded this center from its opening in 1999 until his very recent retirement.

This is the place to salute Prof. Ish-Shalom for his pioneering vision, wise leadership, and unstinting commitment. For 35 years, he ran the largest Jewish educational venture in the world, navigating carefully through minefields of denominational politics and government bureaucracy, and triumphing over abundant apathy.

President Biden prefers to make allowances for Iran while reprimanding Israel; to spare the ayatollahs but scold Netanyahu; to let the Iranian bomb program advance but not the IDF. Dangerous times indeed.

President Biden prefers to make allowances for Iran while reprimanding Israel; to spare the ayatollahs but scold Netanyahu; to let the Iranian bomb program advance but not the IDF. Dangerous times indeed.

Published in The Jerusalem Post, June 7, 2024; and Israel Hayom, June 10, 2024. Print-friendly copy

On the sidelines of the funeral in Tehran for Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi, who was killed in a helicopter crash last month, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei convened a meeting of his “resistance front” – with Hamas, Hezbollah, Palestinian Islamic Jihad, PFLP, and Yemeni Houthi chieftains.

The purpose: To decide how to “continue jihad and struggle until a complete victory is achieved in the Gaza Strip with the participation of all resistance groups in the region,” and to “confront American imperialism.” Khamenei calls this the “ring of fire” strategy to eliminate Israel and achieve regional hegemony.

Two days ago, acting Iranian foreign minister Ali Bagheri Kani visited Lebanon and Syria where he met with Syrian president Assad and Hezbollah chieftain Nasrallah “to discuss ways to counter the Zionist regime” – which apparently means, among other things, escalating Hezbollah’s attacks on Israel. Witness the precise missile attacks on military and intelligence sites in northern Israel this past week (and the resultant wild brush fires).

The mullahs of Teheran also are behind the increasingly sophisticated and well-equipped military infrastructure in Judea and Samaria. As far back as 2014, Khamenei began to openly advocate “exporting the Islamic revolution” to the hills of Samaria. He called for “serious planning to add the West Bank to the confrontation with Israel.” “Gaza is the center of resistance, but resistance groups in the West Bank are the key that can bring the Zionist enemy to its knees,” Khamenei said.

The notorious commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps Quds Force, Qassem Soleimani (assassinated by the US in 2020), took-up the charge, making the arming of West Bank militias an Iranian priority.

Soleimani brought Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh, his deputy Saleh al-Arouri, and Islamic Jihad leader Ziyad al-Nakhaleh, to meet Khamenei and Raisi in Teheran. Hamas official Osama Hamdan then bragged about a “new stage of resistance” in which Iran would back the creation of “20 to 30 new battalions of 2,000 militants in Samaria.”

Al-Nakhaleh plainly told Iranian newspaper Al-Wefaq that anti-Israeli operations in the West Bank reflect directives coming from Iran. “No other country in the world takes such a stance so explicitly, a testament to Tehran’s support for the Palestinian resistance factions, with strong ties between PIJ, Hamas and the Islamic Republic.”

The result? Just yesterday the Shin Bet (Israel Security Services) warned of “Iranian islands” flush with cash and weapons in Judea and Samaria.

This means that heavy battles are ahead. Israel cannot sit by and watch Judea and Samaria (the West Bank) in Israel’s center – adjacent to Israel’s three key cities of Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, and Haifa – become another full-fledged base of Iranian military operations against the Jewish state, like Gaza (on its southern border) and Lebanon (on its northern border).

AND WHERE is all Iran’s cash coming from? Well, the Biden administration has unfrozen at least $6 billion in Iranian assets, and helped Tehran evade sanctions through waivers that have funneled billions more into its coffers. Iranian oil exports have consequently surged to 1.82 million barrels a day, the highest total since the Trump administration reinstated sanctions in 2018.

On behalf of Iran, Hezbollah and the IRGC also are invested heavily in drug production and distribution (Captagon pills and more) across the Middle East and Europe, and in money-laundering cryptocurrency schemes – as revealed last year by Israeli authorities.

Of even greater concern is Iran’s helter-skelter dash to nuclear bomb capability, under cover of the world’s lopsided focus on Israeli “crimes” in Gaza. The International Atomic Energy Agency says that Iran’s stockpile of 60% highly enriched uranium has doubled (!) since February from 20.6 kg to 42.1 kg and could be converted into weapons-grade enriched uranium in a matter of days. It would then be enough to fuel three nuclear weapons.

The international response? Well, the IAEA board on Wednesday condemned Iran “for its lack of cooperation” with agency watchdogs, with the US reluctantly going along at the last moment (after first lobbying European countries to avoid censuring Iran).

Wow. The Iranians must be shaking in their Islamic marching boots.

Of course, Biden’s approach to Iran is a function of the long-standing Obama-Biden obsession with appeasing Tehran’s ayatollahs, hoping that “they will become less medieval and more compliant if treated nicely” – as former US national security adviser and ambassador to the UN John Bolton wrote critically this week. It also is a function of Biden’s desire to keep gasoline prices low and foreign distractions to a minimum before November’s US presidential election.

THIS EXPLAINS the weak American responses to attacks upon its assets in the Arabian Gulf by Iranian proxies, carefully avoiding killing any Iranians themselves. It also explains Washington’s insistence that Israel not respond significantly to the massive April 14 Iranian missile attacks – an event that should have led to game-changing military action against Iran on multiple fronts. But Washington publicly reassured Teheran that it would not take part in any offensive actions against Iran and made sure that Israel could not do much either.

And then there is Gaza and Lebanon, where Biden has undermined Israel’s attempts to achieve crushing victories in the multi-front pincer war being waged against it by Iranian proxies. This includes withholding weaponry and ammunition, attempting to micro-manage IDF operations neighborhood-by-neighborhood and/or preventing them, forcing Israel into paralyzing, never-ending, and unlikely to succeed hostage negotiations, and insanely insisting that the supply of humanitarian aid to Gazans be Israel’s “priority.”

This is persistent strategic blindness. By concentrating energies on punishing Israel for daring to defend itself against extermination; by failing to give Israel the weapons and diplomatic cover it needs to achieve decisive victories; by refusing to acknowledge Iran’s hegemonic “ring of fire” strategy; by failing to confront the Houthis as they close international shipping routes through the Red Sea (and Suez Canal); and by failing to truly check Iran’s nuclear bomb program which is moving towards all-out nuclear attack on Israel within a decade – the Biden administration is wreaking disaster on Israel and the West.

WHAT IS particularly sad is that there are ways of halting Iran’s march towards a nuclear bomb and regional hegemony.

A real Biden administration road map for countering Iran would include snapback sanctions on Tehran with tight supervision (especially of Iranian oil exports and dual-use technologies); terrorist designation of the IRGC across Europe; suspension of Iranian membership in international forums; sanctions and economic pressure on individuals and organizations involved in repressing human rights; penalties on key Iranian industries; covert disruptive measures against Iran’s nuclear program; and most saliently, articulation and demonstration of a credible military threat against the Iranian regime.

The Foundation for the Defense of Democracies in Washington has outlined more than 200 specific measures in the military, cyber, financial, energy, legal, and diplomatic spheres that US government agencies can take in “deploying multiple elements of national power” to confront threats from the Islamic Republic of Iran.

Taken together, these measures would enhance American deterrence, reassure America’s true Mideast allies, pointedly punish Iran for terrorism, help Israel win its ground wars in Gaza, Judea and Samaria, and Lebanon, and perhaps prevent an Iranian nuclear breakout.

Alas, President Biden prefers to make allowances for Iran while reprimanding Israel; to spare the ayatollahs but scold Netanyahu; to let the Iranian bomb program advance but not the IDF. Dangerous times indeed.

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Israel’s future is guaranteed by gutsy and patriotic teens, soldiers, and students. They are buoyant and brave and confident in Israel's ability to overcome adversity. Pay no attention to the “Dichonistim” movement, the “Depressive” lobby -- a privileged class of older journalists and veteran “experts” that gloomily dominate the airwaves with stale, defeatist thinking.
Only full Israel military control of the territories adjacent to Israel has any chance of preventing enemy military build-up (and even then, it will remain an ongoing and difficult challenge).
The training and equipping of civilian rapid-response security squads on a massive scale everywhere in Israel is more necessary and urgent than ever. This requires both government investment and volunteer mobilization, including participation of the haredi sector.
Every other interest and concern, no matter how poignant, compassionate, or pressing, must remain subordinate to the overarching goal of erasing Hamas’ control of the Gaza Strip. Nothing should distract Israel’s leaders from their focus; nothing should dissuade them from achieving the fullest possible victory over Hamas.
The serial truces Israel has accepted to obtain hostage releases from Hamas have run their course. At this point, their long-term disadvantage outweighs the immediate advantage achieved. Therefore, it is time to reengage the enemy in full-scale combat until its complete destruction.
David M. Weinberg is a think tank director, columnist and lobbyist who is a sharp critic of Israel’s detractors and of post-Zionist trends in Israel. Read more »
A passionate speaker, David M. Weinberg lectures widely in Israel, the U.S. and Canada to Jewish and non-Jewish audiences. He speaks on international politics and Middle East strategic affairs, Israeli diplomacy and defense strategy, intelligence matters and more. Click here to book David Weinberg as a speaker

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