Snippets from Israel

This past weekend, a Border Guard officer was seriously injured in a car ramming attack north of Chevron. The incident was caught on film, and the scene is truly horrifying: One can see a small Hyundai driving along the road, and when it reaches the military roadblock, the driver simply veers slightly to the side and plows rapidly into a group of Border Guard policemen stationed there. What defense is there against such an attack? The driver, of course, was immediately shot and killed, but one of the policemen was severely wounded and was rushed to Hadassah Hospital in Yerushalayim. I will not be surprised if the army begins placing large cement blocks at every guard post for the soldiers and policemen to stand behind.

We have also had a few days of extremely hazy weather conditions. There were reports of people – mainly the elderly – arriving at hospitals suffering from dust that had penetrated their eyes. But what is some haze in the air and dust in some people’s eyes compared to the intifada and a policeman in intensive care?

There was also the Russian plane that disintegrated over the Sinai Desert, resulting in the deaths of all 224 passengers and crewmembers. ISIS immediately proclaimed that it was responsible for the tragedy, an announcement that appeared at first to be little more than empty boasting. Testing indicated that no external heat source struck the plane before the disaster, meaning that it was not downed by a missile. Two days later, though, American intelligence announced that it believed that ISIS had indeed been responsible for the explosion – not by firing a missile, but by smuggling a bomb aboard the plane.

In addition to all that, there is a new wave of anti-chareidi incitement that has begun with a chorus of raised voices, both from the media and from hostile politicians, protesting on two hot issues: the current efforts to amend the draft law, and the restoration of government-sponsored stipends to their original levels. More on this below.

The Testimony of the Sheikh from Beit Hanina

First, let me make an additional comment on a subject with which we have dealt several times over the past few weeks. About two months ago, I suggested that it is not merely by chance that many of the victims of recent terror attacks have been religious Jews. I felt that Arab terrorists have been intentionally targeting Jews with a chareidi appearance, with their black and white garb and their hats and tzitzis. I had two pieces of evidence for that contention: First, there was a political cartoon from France in which an Israeli “settler” was shown urging an IDF soldier to kill a Palestinian. The “settler” in the picture looked like a chareidi Jew, with a beard, peyos, and large tzitzis. I saw that as proof that the Arabs do not distinguish between the people we know as “settlers” and chareidim. My second piece of evidence was the near-lynch perpetrated on a group of American young men, who were saved by an Arab who brought them into his home. That Arab called the police and informed them that “the settlers are in my house.” I pointed out that the hashkafah of those American boys is far removed from the views of Israeli “settlers,” but as far as the Arabs are concerned, they are all the same.

I speculated that it is possible that the Arabs are targeting chareidim in order to be certain that they are killing Jews, rather than Arabs. Furthermore, I conjectured that since they are waging a war against the Jewish religion, which they suspect of wishing to build the Bais Hamikdosh on the Har Habayis, they have been making an effort to attack the people who are the most “Jewish.”

Last week, a local publication in Yerushalayim featured an interview with Sheikh Raed Alkam of the neighborhood of Beit Hanina, near Neve Yaakov. Let me explain the proximity of the neighborhood, from which stones are regularly thrown at passing cars and at the light rail: If you ever drive on Route 443, which leads from Kiryat Sefer to Yerushalayim (and which is used as an alternate route to Yerushalayim from anywhere in the center of the country when Highway 1 is congested), you will come to a checkpoint just before the entrance to Yerushalayim. At the traffic light after the checkpoint, there is a right turn that leads to Yerushalayim. The road will take you past Givat Ze’ev and the kever of Shmuel Hanovi, and then you will arrive at Ramot. If you continue driving straight, you will come to Ramat Shlomo and to the entrance to Yerushalayim via Begin Blvd. Shortly before Yerushalayim, there is an intersection with a traffic light, where a left turn will lead to Neve Yaakov and Pisgat Ze’ev. This road, which was inaugurated not long ago and was named after Bentzion Netanyahu, the father of the prime minister, passes through Beit Hanina.

Sheikh Raed Alkam is one of the most respected citizens of the neighborhood and serves as the liaison between the village and the authorities – namely, the Yerushalayim municipality and the Israel police force. In the interview, he explained that the current bloodbath is due to the Arabs’ fears of a Jewish takeover of the Har Habayis. He enumerated the reasons that the Arabs believe that this is taking place, and he mentioned the massive incitement in Arab media on this subject.

In terms of our discussion, what is noteworthy about this interview is the following quote: “However they [i.e., the Arab youths who have been incited to violence] view it, religious Jews want to take over Al-Aqsa [the mosque on the Har Habayis], and most of the Palestinian people draw no distinctions. When they see symbols of religion – which the chareidim have, with all of their garb – they are the ones who are attacked. Besides, chareidim generally do not carry weapons, unlike the kippot serugot, who are often armed. So they say to themselves that both are religious, and with the chareidi it is easier to attack.”

May Hashem save and protect us.

Alexei the Wagon Driver

On the subject of anti-Semitic murders, here is an unusual tidbit: Every week, I receive a pamphlet published by the Sanzer chassidus containing divrei Torah from the previous Sanzer Rebbe, the Shefa Chaim, who rebuilt the chassidus after he himself nearly perished in the crematoria of Auschwitz. After the war, the Rebbe was left bereaved and alone. About twenty years ago, he related the following in a drashah:

“Hashem created everything with a corresponding opposite. Just as a human being has the ability to elevate the world, he also has the ability to defile it with his actions. The Baal Shem Tov was once traveling with his holy entourage, while his regular wagon driver, Alexei, directed the horses. In the middle of their journey, the Baal Shem Tov turned to his talmidim and warned them to remain awake and not to allow themselves to fall asleep until they had left the place they were passing through, for the wagon driver might suddenly turn around and kill them. They were surprised, for they had known the driver for a long time and he had always served them faithfully.

Nevertheless, they heeded the Baal Shem Tov’s holy words, without doubting him. The Baal Shem Tov then asked the driver what had gone through his mind when they passed through that place, and he admitted that he had wanted to kill them. When the Baal Shem Tov asked why he had entertained such a thought, he responded, ‘A demon put the thought in my mind.’ The Baal Shem Tov later revealed to his talmidim that a number of Jews had once been killed in that place. Therefore, there was an impure spirit of murder there, and anyone who passes through that place experiences a desire to kill Jews. There is a similar idea in the Zohar, regarding the eglah arufah.”

The Supreme Court Faces Off Against the Knesset

This past week, there was yet another conflict between the Supreme Court and the Knesset and government. It is generally accepted that the State of Israel has three branches of government: the executive branch, which is the government; the legislative branch, which is the Knesset; and the judicial branch, which consists primarily of the Supreme Court. The legislative branch is supposed to oversee the executive branch, and the two divisions of the government work together well, but there is constant tension between the judicial branch of the government and the other two branches, primarily revolving around the question of which of them is superior. During his tenure as the chief justice of the Supreme Court, Aharon Barak expanded his own authority; it was he who decided that it was both his right and his obligation as a justice to judge both the government and the Knesset, and to overturn their decisions if necessary. During his tenure, the Supreme Court abolished a number of laws that had been passed by the Knesset.

Of course, this approach infuriated the members of the Knesset, who viewed it as an assault on the power of the legislature of the State of Israel. In recent years, there has been a growing sentiment in the Knesset that a law must be passed to limit the authority of the Supreme Court. The question is if the court will then decide that the law is illegal…

The current controversy revolves around the Supreme Court’s decision to postpone the demolition of the homes of the terrorists who murdered Eitam and Naama Henkin. The Supreme Court accepted an appeal and instructed the government to clarify certain points, ordering it to delay the demolitions until it had done so. This came despite the security service’s assessment that the demolitions should be carried out as quickly as possible, since the policy of home demolitions represents the most effective deterrent against Arab terror.

After the court postponed the demolitions, it was met with furious reactions from the Knesset, as well as from government ministers. For the first time in the history of this conflict, a justice of the Supreme Court made a politicized statement: Elyakim Rubinstein asserted that it seemed, in his view, that “frustrated politicians are taking out their frustration on the court.”

The Supreme Court continued its battle against the government, ordering the government to produce a list of previous demolitions and the amount of time that elapsed until they were carried out. The document showed that in many cases, the demolitions were delayed not because of a court ruling, but because the army moved sluggishly. This was the case, for instance, in the response to the murder of Avrohom Wallis Hy”d near Meah Shearim. The murder took place at the beginning of the month of Av, 5774, and the court approved the demolition in Teves, 5775, yet the demolition wasn’t carried out until Tishrei of this year. Furthermore, the massacre at Kehillas Bnei Torah in Har Nof took place in Cheshvan, 5775, and the court approved the demolitions of the murderers’ homes in Teves, yet those demolitions, too, took place only in Tishrei, 5776. The court also pointed out other cases in which similar delays occurred. The government explained that in those instances, there were certain operational considerations that delayed the army’s action. Nevertheless, in the battle between the court and the government and Knesset, one can say that the court has scored a victory.

Avreich – 2600, Student – 0

And now for the subject of the anti-chareidi incitement we mentioned earlier. At the moment, the Knesset is involved in an accelerated process to ratify the state budget for the years 2015 and 2016. By passing a budget for two years at once, the Knesset will spare itself an entire year of legislative battles. The opposition, of course, is angered by the two-year budget, but the coalition has a majority that will crush its opposition. The opposition in the Knesset can protest and scream, but in the end, the budget will be passed.

That is, of course, provided that all the parties to the coalition are united, and that is where UTJ and Shas come in. The coalition agreements include a pledge to restore the government stipends to their previous levels, before the budgetary cuts that eliminated them almost entirely, as well as to restore the budgetary allocations for yeshivos. Since these allocations are scheduled to be incorporated into the budget at this time, allegations of chareidi “extortion” have begun to circulate. For example, Yediot Achronot recently ran a headline announcing, in large letters, “Avreich: 2600 Shekels Monthly. Student: 0.” This is a form of demagoguery and a deceptive comparison of two things that have nothing to do with each other. An avreich receives a living stipend, not a payment for his studies; an unmarried yeshiva student, like any other student, receives nothing. Furthermore, if we were to calculate the amounts paid by the government to all of the country’s institutions of higher education, we would find that they receive many times more per student than an avreich receives.

But all this is nothing compared to the uproar over the draft law. Another promise in the coalition agreement guarantees that the criminal sanctions facing yeshiva students who do not enlist – in the event that the yeshivos do not meet the draft quota set by the government – will be abolished. In the initial agreement, we demanded several changes. Yediot Achronot has now devoted its entire front page to incitement against yeshiva students, whom it has labeled “army dodgers.”

Is this because Yediot Achronot is Yair Lapid’s newspaper? Is it because of the newspaper’s clear agenda against Netanyahu? We will never know for certain, but the current wave of incitement certainly demonstrates the widespread hatred for chareidim and the common perception that when it comes to opposing the chareidi community, anything goes.

Will the Ayelet Hashachar Shul Be Destroyed?

It is impossible for us not to revisit the subject of the Ayelet Hashachar shul in Givat Ze’ev, which we wrote about at length last week. At that time, we noted that according to the decision of the Supreme Court, the shul was scheduled to be demolished last Thursday.

In the meantime, something happened: The Supreme Court agreed to postpone the demolition once again. This time, it was in response to a request from the police in Yerushalayim. who claimed that the demolition might spur Jews to carry out terror attacks against Arabs during these tense times. The Chief Justice of the Supreme Court laughed at this bizarre claim and asked, “What will change in two weeks? Will this concern no longer exist?” Nevertheless, she granted another two-week extension. But this did not mean that the demolition would take place after two weeks had passed; it meant that the shul would be demolished within those two weeks.

I have looked into the subject thoroughly and I can say that it is not a simple matter. In this case, the Supreme Court may not be the proper target for criticism. The shul’s administration was asked repeatedly to produce evidence of their legal ownership of the land on which it has been built and they have not succeeded in doing so. Ostensibly, then, the shul may indeed have been built on stolen land, and in the best possible scenario – if it is a good thing – it may have been built on publicly-owned land. Either way, the law gives them no recourse; there is a legal requirement to demolish the building. The shul’s representatives claim, as they told me when I visited the shul for my report in the Yated last week, that the Arabs also have not proven that the land was theirs. Still, their claims are of little value, since even if the land was ownerless, the law would not give them the right to appropriate it. That is exactly what the court told them.

True, it is a shul and it is heartbreaking for it to be demolished, but it isn’t specifically the court that is at fault. To date, the shul’s supporters have asked for extensions over and over, but they have done nothing during the periods of delay. If they are granted another extension today, what good will it do?

According to my research, there is only one possible solution: The plot of land on which the shul was built must be annexed to the local council of Givat Ze’ev. At that point, the shul will not be viewed as encroaching on public land that is not theirs, and then the council can officially designate the plot of land for their use. Even if the Arab claimant manages to prove that he once owned the land – which he hasn’t yet been able to do – it is almost certain that the annexation will lead the court to decide to compensate him, rather than destroy the building and return the land to him. Next week, bli neder, I will explain this issue further.

What Is Worth 500 Shekels?

The following incident took place on Monday, during bein hashemashos, at the Zupnik shtieblach in the neighborhood of Givat Shaul, near the entrance to Yerushalayim. It was at the final minyan for Minchah in an upstairs room, which began with only 14 minutes remaining before the first Maariv downstairs. In attendance at the minyan was a well-known public figure, the sort of person who is always needed for his intervention and assistance. Just a minute before the minyan, he had parked his car on the sidewalk across the street, right beneath a sign warning that illegal parking was punishable by a fine of 500 shekels. As the minyan gathered and Ashrei began, he was utterly serene. For nine years already, he has pledged to daven every tefillah with a minyan. To this day, he has missed only a single minyan, when he was certain that he would find a minyan for Minchah at the shul in Ben Gurion Airport and had been disappointed upon his arrival. After davening alone, he made his way to the gate with tears in his eyes.

During chazaras hashatz, the man remained calm and unruffled. It was only during the Kaddish after Aleinu that he began to seem agitated and to inch toward the exit. But there, of course, a person in need of his aid was waiting for him, with a request for “a little help with the municipality.”

“What would you have done if I wasn’t here now?” the askan asked, his voice taking on a mournful tone.

“But you are here,” the other man pointed out.

“I’m in a tremendous rush,” the askan said. “If you want to talk to me, you’ll have to run with me.”

The askan began racing toward his car, and the other man, who was slower on his feet, demanded, “You were so calm until now. Why are you suddenly in such a hurry?”

“Listen,” the askan replied, “I arrived here after shkiah and parked on the sidewalk. For Minchah, it’s worth it to me to take a risk. Even for chazaras hashatz, I’m willing to risk 500 shekels. But now that we have finished davening, I need to run to my car so I don’t get a ticket!”