Israel on edge
Hebrew Media Review

Israel on edge

A skittish press braces itself for further clashes in the capital, and a possible war with Gaza

Marissa Newman is The Times of Israel political correspondent.

Israeli security forces point their weapons toward Palestinian protestors during clashes in the Shuafat neighborhood of East Jerusalem, on July 2, 2014. (photo credit: AFP/Ahmad Gharabli)
Israeli security forces point their weapons toward Palestinian protestors during clashes in the Shuafat neighborhood of East Jerusalem, on July 2, 2014. (photo credit: AFP/Ahmad Gharabli)

As tensions on the southern front and East Jerusalem flare up, with ongoing rocket fire from the Gaza Strip, and Shuafat riots in the aftermath of the killing of Muhammed Abu Khdeir, the Hebrew newspapers on Friday gear up wearily for a potential wide-ranging operation in the coastal enclave and an uptick of violence in the capital.

The newspapers write that, following the cabinet meeting yesterday, the Israeli government issued a 48-hour ultimatum to Hamas to halt the rocket fire, or face a harsh Israeli response. The threat comes alongside reassurances from Israeli officials who maintain that Israel — as well as Hamas, despite its threats — is not interested in an escalation.

“Israel conveyed a clear message to Hamas: Don’t try us, and don’t lead us on, because then you will hit hard,” political sources tell Yedioth Ahronoth. The sources add that Hamas is determined to keep the peace, as is the Israeli government.

Israel Hayom and Haaretz both transmit the same soothing message from a senior official stating that escalation is a last resort, but Israel Hayom adds: “We must remember that, despite these messages, the organization continues to expand and develop its rocket [arsenal] to ranges that can reach the Gush Dan area and possibly farther than that. Hamas’s motivation to kidnap a soldier has not diminished, and the organization continues to develop its capacities in this area.”

All of the papers quote residents of Sderot, for whom the unceasing sirens and mad dashes for shelter are all too familiar.

“We heard an explosion, and then a louder explosion,” Tammy Journo, whose home suffered a direct hit by a rocket, told Haaretz. “I knew it was close, but I didn’t think it was really inside the house.” Her neighbor adds that the residents of the southern city have been suffering for two weeks, and children and adults alike are terrified. Israel Hayom highlights that Journo runs a daycare enter out of her home, and that the fast-thinking woman managed to take the children under her care to the shelter, averting a disaster.

Finance Minister Yair Lapid (R) visits the Sderot home struck by rocket fire. July 03, 2014. (photo credit: Edi Israel/FLASH90)
Finance Minister Yair Lapid (right) visits the Sderot home struck by rocket fire, July 3, 2014. (photo credit: Edi Israel/Flash90)

In Yedioth, a 15-year-old girl is hailed for saving the life of her hard-of-hearing mother. Evalina Polin of Sderot heard the sirens go off in the middle of the night, and ran to wake her mother, Lena, and escort her to the shelter. Minutes later, a rocket hit her mother’s bedroom, carving a cavernous hole in the wall, and leaving enormous wreckage in its wake.

While Sderot is clobbered by the barrage, the capital simmers, as police brace themselves for mass riots in the wake of Abu Khdeir’s funeral — scheduled for Friday afternoon — and the first Friday prayers of the Muslim holiday of Ramadan.

“The security forces assess that around [the funeral procession], the violence will reach its peak over the next couple of days,” Haaretz reports, while Yedioth calls the atmosphere in Jerusalem “a powder keg.”

Both Israel Hayom and Haaretz write that the damage sustained to the Jerusalem light rail stations in the East Jerusalem neighborhoods of Shuafat and Beit Hanina will amount to tens of millions of shekels in repairs. The stations were completely shattered, the papers report, the wiring tampered with, the traffic lights knocked down, and the tracks uprooted.

The papers have little to say on the ongoing investigation into Abu Khdeir’s killing, other than to stress that, despite the security-camera footage and the autopsy conducted Thursday, the police still maintain the crime could equally be a nationalistic revenge hit, or of a criminal nature.

16-year-old Muhammad Abu Khdeir, a Palestinian teenager whose body was found Wednesday, July 2 in Jerusalem's forest area. (photo credit: AFP via family handout)
16-year-old Muhammed Abu Khdeir, a Palestinian whose body was found Wednesday, July 2, 2014, in the Jerusalem Forest. (photo credit: AFP via family handout)

“The investigation of the killing of the youth is at a standstill, and it’s still not clear if the murder was nationalistic or criminal,” Yedioth reports. A more skeptical Haaretz states: “In Jerusalem, police continued to claim yesterday that, despite developments in the investigation of the murder of Muhammed Abu Khdeir, and despite new materials gathered from intelligence and eye-witness accounts, no line of inquiry can be ruled out, and the motive of the attack –- criminal or nationalistic — cannot be determined.”

The paper says that beyond the general account portrayed in the media, “there is only speculation and estimation,” proceeding to lambaste an unnamed right-winger “who bothered to spread various odd rumors about the circumstances of the case,” and reportedly forged documents to support his claims.

Yet, “As is known, the police really don’t know who the killers are and what their motives were, but through a process of elimination, the proofs of a criminal motive continue to dissipate, and therefore the suspicions of a nationalistic murder are heightened,” it writes, providing little information to back up this statement and leaving readers wondering if the claim is substantiated, or “speculation and estimation.”

With the renewed threats of violence dominating headlines, the killing of Naftali Fraenkel, 16; Eyal Yifrach, 19; and Gil-ad Shaar, 16, continues to haunt the anguished press. Their faces peek surreptitiously along the sides of Yedioth’s coverage, in stories that are seemingly unrelated, as harrowing a reminder of their appalling deaths as the “Bring Back Our Boys” banners, which continue to adorn the sides of Jerusalem’s buses.

The press follows the bereaved parents’ traditional seven-day mourning period, emphasizing the home visits of political leaders such as President Shimon Peres and president-elect Reuven Rivlin, as well as the parents of the slain Shelley Dadon, 20.

“There is a hole in our hearts, but we have faith,” Iris Yifrach soothes an inconsolable Ilana Dadon, in the former’s Elad residence, according to Israel Hayom.

“We cannot break.”

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