The Times of Israel liveblogged Monday’s events as they happened.
IDF said to keep Likud lawmaker from visiting contested Hebron home
The Defense Ministry is preventing Likud’s MK David Bitan from visiting the Machpela House in Hebron, a building that has seen years of legal wrangling over claims of ownership by a group of 15 Jewish families who say they bought the site, and Palestinians who say the purchase was fraudulent.
The families entered the house against the IDF’s orders last week and have squatted inside it ever since.
Bitan reportedly is seeking to visit the building, near the Tomb of the Patriarchs holy site, to offer his support for the residents, but the IDF informed the Knesset’s security chief that it would not allow the lawmaker to make the visit.
Bitan calls the IDF decision a “scandal.”
“It’s my right to visit Hebron,” he insists.
Pence: Russia expulsions won’t deter US ‘commitment to allies’
US Vice President Mike Pence says Moscow’s demand that Washington cut 755 American diplomatic staff in Russia will not lessen the US’s commitment to its allies.
“We hope for better days, for better relations with Russia but recent diplomatic action taken by Moscow will not deter the commitment of the United States of America to our security, the security of our allies and the security of freedom loving nations around the world,” Pence says in Estonia after meeting with the leaders of the three Baltic states, Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania.
At a news conference, Pence says he had passed on a “simple message” from US President Donald Trump to the three countries: “We are with you.”
President Vladimir Putin on Sunday said the United States would have to cut 755 diplomatic staff members in Russia and warned of a prolonged gridlock in its ties after the US Congress backed new sanctions against the Kremlin.
Venμs, Israel’s first environmental research satellite, set to launch Wednesday
Israel’s first environmental research satellite, dubbed “Venμs,” is set to launch into space early Wednesday morning from the Guiana Space Center in Kourou, French Guiana, the Israel Space Agency says.
The launch of Venμs, or “Vegetation and Environment monitoring on a New Micro (μ) Satellite,” will be broadcast live on the ISA’s Facebook page, the agency says.
The satellite’s data is expected to help farmers worldwide to better plan their use of land.
PA payments to prisoners, ‘martyr’ families now equals half its foreign aid
The 2017 Palestinian Authority budget for payments to inmates in Israeli prisons and the so-called “families of martyrs” is equal to half of the foreign aid Ramallah expects to receive this year, a recently published Israeli report shows.
According to the PA Ministry of Finance’s 2017 budget, published on its website earlier in July, salaries to incarcerated and released Palestinian prisoners, many of which are convicted terrorists, will amount in 2017 to NIS 552 million ($153.4 million).
This is an increase of 13 percent over the 2016 budget, according to a report by the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs published July 24.
The new budget also allocates $190,869,166 for payments to the so-called “martyr’s families,” a 9% jump from the $174,630,296 allocated in 2016.
The “martyrs’ families” are defined as those with members “killed or wounded in the struggle against Zionism,” which includes those killed while committing terror attacks against Israelis, or those killed in any other context by an Israeli.
The total allocated to Palestinian prisoners and ex-prisoners, as well as martyrs’ families, in the 2017 budget is 1,239,528,424 shekels ($344,313,451), equal to 49.6% of foreign aid Ramallah expects to receive in 2017.
— Dov Lieber
Amnesty International issues call to action over Israelis held by Hamas
Amnesty International releases an “urgent action” call to its supporters urging them to pressure Hamas leaders to return two Israeli civilians being held by the terror group in Gaza.
“Avera Mangistu and Hisham al-Sayed have been missing respectively since 7 September 2014 and 20 April 2015 in the Gaza Strip,” the Amnesty statement reads. “The two Israeli civilians suffer from serious mental health conditions. Hamas authorities in the Gaza Strip have refused to disclose any information about them. Their fate and whereabouts remain unknown.”
Amnesty spoke with their families, the statement explains.
“Avera Mangistu’s family told Amnesty International that he has been suffering from a serious mental health condition since his brother’s death on 11 November 2012. Amnesty International reviewed hospital documents issued by the Israeli Ministry of Health’s mental health services stating that Avera Mangistu was admitted to psychiatric hospitals on two separate occasions in January 2013. According to Hisham al-Sayed’s medical records, he was diagnosed with schizophrenia and personality disorder, was hospitalized for these, and needs regular medication.”
According to the call to action, “Amnesty International fears that the two men are being held as hostages by Hamas’ military wing, the Izz al-Din al-Qassam Brigades, for a potential prisoner exchange.”
It urges Amnesty’s supporters to “write immediately in Arabic, English or your own language urging Hamas authorities to: Ascertain and disclose the fate and whereabouts of Avera Mangistu and Hisham al Sayed immediately; Secure their safe release without delay; Ensure their humane treatment and access to adequate medical care pending their release.”
And it offers fax numbers for the offices of Hamas leaders Ismail Haniyeh and Mahmoud a-Zahar.
Trump set to meet with US envoy to Israel over Temple Mount crisis
US President Donald Trump will meet with his Israel envoy David Friedman in Washington to discuss the Temple Mount crisis.
The meeting is scheduled for late Monday morning, Haaretz reports.
“As part of a long-planned trip, Ambassador David Friedman is in DC this week. In addition to a variety of meetings, he will be meeting with the president, Jared Kushner and Jason Greenblatt tomorrow to discuss the events that transpired in the region over the past two weeks where tensions have recently lowered,” an unnamed White House official tells Haaretz on Sunday.
Friedman reportedly was involved in working to lower tensions over the increased security measures at the Temple Mount, which ultimately were removed. The metal detectors and other measures were installed after a July 14 attack by three Arab Israeli gunmen which left two Israeli police officers dead.
Greenblatt, Trump’s special envoy for international relations, also visited Israel last week in a bid to help reduce tensions over the Temple Mount.
Australian Labor party votes to recognize a Palestinian state
The members of Australia’s New South Wales Labor Party votes for the recognition of a Palestinian state following a push by former foreign minister Bob Carr.
The resolution is watered down ahead of a conference on Sunday in Sydney and fails to follow its original call for unilateral recognition of a Palestinian state. Carr, who also has served as Labor premier in New South Wales, proposed the resolution.
Federal Labor leader Bill Shorten has come under pressure to confirm his stance on the matter as the vote called on the next federal Labor government to recognize Palestine as an independent state.
Following on the heels of similar resolutions in the states of Western Australia and South Australia, the vote will present a challenge for Shorten when he heads the federal Labor conference next year.
Jewish camp defends flying Palestinian flag, acknowledges ‘sadness, anger’ it caused
A camp affiliated with the Conservative movement defends flying a Palestinian flag “as a sign of friendship and acceptance” to visiting Palestinian Muslim and Christian students.
Camp Solomon Schechter in Washington State last week hosted members of Kids 4 Peace, including Christian and Muslim Palestinian children.
In a letter sent to parents and supporters following the visit the camp writes: “For the sake of a teachable moment, we did raise the Palestinian flag as a sign of friendship and acceptance. It was met with uncertainty by some campers and staff, especially the Israeli’s [sic], but all understood that the message of hope for peace by flying the Israeli flag alongside helped develop empathy. Still we plan to take down all the flags for Shabbat since there is no peace and also to relieve the sadness and anger that some feel by the site [sic] of the flag.” The letter also said that the camp “remain(s) unabashedly pro-Israel and we are celebrating Israel alongside our new friends.”
In the letter of apology sent Sunday and posted on the camp’s Facebook page, the camp indicates that the Kids 4 Peace group requested the raising of a Palestinian flag, alongside the US, Canadian and Israeli flags that are raised daily.
— JTA and Times of Israel staff
Hamburg attacker had ‘radical Islamist’ motive — prosecutor
German federal prosecutors on Monday take over a probe into the deadly knife assault in a Hamburg supermarket, after finding that the attacker likely had a “radical Islamist” motive.
“It appears that there is a radical Islamist background to the act. According to ongoing investigations, the accused had self-radicalized,” federal prosecutors say in a statement, adding that there are no indications that the 26-year-old man named as Ahmad A. was a member of a jihadist group like the Islamic State organization.
Trump swears in new chief of staff, says will do a ‘spectacular job’
John Kelly is sworn in as the new White House chief of staff, as US President Donald Trump looks to the retired Marine general for leadership after a shakeup of his top staff.
“We just swore in General Kelly, he will do a spectacular job, I have no doubt, as chief of staff, what he has done in terms of homeland security is record shattering, if you look at the border, if you look at the tremendous results we’ve had,” Trump says.
Trump convenes cabinet with new chief of staff
US President Donald Trump is convening his cabinet for a kickoff meeting with new chief of staff John Kelly.
The president promises his team is “going to work hard” and fulfill that famous campaign promise to “make America great again.”
After a particularly tumultuous time in his presidency, Trump is trying to highlight a positive jobs outlook and strong stock market.
As for the escalating tensions with North Korea, Trump says the situation “will be handled.” But he didn’t elaborate.
The US flew two supersonic bombers over the Korean Peninsula on Sunday in a show of force following the country’s latest intercontinental ballistic missile test.
Senior Fatah official says coordination with Israel won’t return to ‘what it was before’
A senior Fatah official says renewed cooperation with Israel will “not return to what it was” in the wake of the Temple Mount crisis of the past two weeks.
Nabil Shaath tells the Donia al-Watan paper that the PA “will renew certain contacts with the occupation [i.e., Israel], but won’t return to the security coordination at the level we saw before.”
Other planets may never be as hospitable as Earth – study
Scientists deal a blow to the quest for organisms inhabiting worlds besides Earth, saying our planet is unusual in its ability to host liquid water — the key ingredient for life.
It was thought likely that distant worlds orbiting stars similar to our Sun would go through water-rich phases.
This would happen when the young, dim star of an icy, lifeless planet — such as early Earth — starts warming, becomes Sun-like, and melts the ice on planets orbiting it at just the right distance — the so-called “Goldilocks” zone.
Icy orbs in our own Solar System, including Jupiter’s moon Europa and Saturn’s Enceladus, or “exoplanets” in other star systems, may become habitable in this way, the theory goes.
But a team writes in the journal Nature Geoscience on Monday that this is unlikelier than had been imagined.
Jun Yang, of Peking University in China, and a team used climate models to simulate the evolution of icy planets.
Without atmospheric greenhouse gases — a feature of Earth — the energy required to thaw an icy planet would be so high that it would transit from frozen to inferno without an intermediate, liveable phase, they find.
Fisherman finds mortar shell in Yarkon river
The Israel Police reports it has pulled an unexploded mortar shell from a tributary of the Yarkon River between Kfar Saba and Petah Tikva.
A man walked into a police station on Sunday and reported that he had seen a mortar shell being carried by the waters running into the Yarkon the day before.
A search of the river locates the shell in the water. IDF and police sappers pull the shell from the water and destroy it.
There is no immediate word on the source of the shell.
Tisha B’Av fast begins in Israel, commemorating destruction of ancient temples
The fast day of Tisha B’Av begins in a short while in Israel.
Tisha B’av — the ninth day of the month of Av on the Hebrew calendar — is a fast day that Jewish tradition assigns as a commemoration for a long litany of catastrophes that afflicted the Jews, including the destruction of both ancient temples in Jerusalem by the Babylonians and Romans, the expulsion of the Jews from Spain in 1492, the breaking of the first set of tablets given to Moses at Mount Sinai in the Biblical account, and more.
Many Jews observe rituals of mourning during the day.
Fasting starts at 7:41 p.m. on Monday and ends at 8:04 p.m. on Tuesday.
JNF chief executive to repay $525,000 loan from charity
The CEO of the Jewish National Fund will immediately repay a $525,000 loan he received from the charity.
The office of New York state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman sent a letter to JNF last week calling on the organization to recover the loans made to Russell Robinson and its chief financial officer, Mitchel Rosenzweig, by the end of the calendar year.
The letter follows a July 27 story in the Forward about the loans, made in the 2015 fiscal year, which violate a state law barring charities from lending money to their officers.
JNF spokesman Adam Brill tells New York Jewish Life over the weekend that Robinson would repay the loan by Aug. 1, “to make sure there is no sense of impropriety.” Brill also notes that since Robinson and Rosenzweig are executives, not officers or directors, which are limited to board members, the group believed they were entitled to receive the loans.
Army source: Elor Azaria must express ‘real’ remorse for chance at pardon
Elor Azaria will have to express “true and real” remorse to have a chance at receiving a pardon from IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Gadi Eisenkot, Channel 2 says, citing the words of an unnamed senior army source.
“If someone things that a [social media] post or journalistic chatter, or even a [public] petition will influence the chief of staff in the slightest — they’re wrong. Only one person can affect the chief of staff’s decision, and that’s Sgt. Elor Azaria, who will have to write his request for leniency from the cells of [IDF prison] Jail 4.”
Police deploy in Old City, shutter roads to secure Tisha B’Av prayers
Police plan to deploy in large numbers in Jerusalem for Tisha B’Av prayers and events in the city.
The deployment will focus on the Old City, where tens of thousands are streaming even now to take part in prayers and readings of the Biblical book of Lamentations at the Western Wall.
Multiple roads leading to the Old City are closed, including Agron, Shlomo Hamelech, Hativat Yerushalayim, Sultan Suleiman and others.
The streets of the Old City itself will be closed on Tuesday morning to ensure tens of thousands of expected worshipers can reach the Western Wall.
Jerusalem police brace for Thursday’s Pride Parade, prepare for possible violence
Jerusalem Police, already deployed to deal with tensions and violence over the Temple Mount and the mass prayers expected on Tisha B’Av on Monday and Tuesday, are bracing for the Pride Parade in the holy city slated for Thursday.
The parade draws large crowds as it marches through the city center each year, and has been a target in the past for extremist anti-gay violence.
Channel 2 reports that over 1,000 officers will be deployed along the route of the parade this year to protect against violence. Officers also contacted as many as 50 known extremists and anti-gay activists in order to warn them that police would act strictly against any violence or disorderly conduct by anti-parade protesters.
Police plan to track known anti-gay extremists starting on Thursday morning, Channel 2 reports, and have visited homes of residents along the route as part of the preparations for the event.
Court rules for right-wing Jewish group in Old City church properties dispute
The Jerusalem District Court issues a landmark ruling that upholds a set of real estate deals struck between officials from the Greek Orthodox Church and an Israeli right-wing group for two hotels near the Jaffa Gate in Jerusalem’s Old City.
Judge Gila Kanfi-Steinitz, deputy head of the district court, rules that the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate were unable to establish that the deals, made in 2004 between the patriarchate and three overseas front companies for the Ateret Cohanim organization, were fraudulent or involved bribery.
A 2005 expose in the Maariv newspaper about the agreements to lease the Petra and Imperial hotels for 99 years, with options to extend for a further 99 years, caused uproar among Palestinians both within and outside the church, and led to the sacking and demotion of then-patriarch Irenaios.
Irenaios claimed that the deals were signed by his finance director Nikolas Papademos, misusing a power of attorney he had issued to allow him to deal with other affairs.
Ateret Cohanim works to acquire property to establish a Jewish majority in the Old City and in Arab neighborhoods of East Jerusalem, and was behind the front companies that obtained the leases.
— Sue Surkes
Trump fires new comms director Scaramucci after 10 days
Fiery White House communications director Anthony Scaramucci, appointed just 10 days ago by President Donald Trump, is out of a job, according to US media reports.
Scaramucci courted controversy with an eye-watering attack on his colleagues — one targeting chief of staff Reince Priebus, who left his job last week, and chief White House strategist Steve Bannon.
The New York Times reports that Scaramucci was dumped on the request of new chief of staff John Kelly, who was sworn in Monday, and tapped by Trump to bring some stability to an at times chaotic White House.