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Israel segues from mourning to Independence Day celebration

Netanyahu dismisses Hamas' 'softened' stance; Erdan pens NY Times op-ed repudiating Barghouti; Rep. Ros-Lehtinen to retire

Ilan Ben Zion, a reporter at the Associated Press, is a former news editor at The Times of Israel. He holds a Masters degree in Diplomacy from Tel Aviv University and an Honors Bachelors degree from the University of Toronto in Near and Middle Eastern Civilizations, Jewish Studies, and English.

Official celebration of Israel's Independence Day at Mount Herzl, Jerusalem, May 1, 2017 (Screen capture: Facebook video)
Official celebration of Israel's Independence Day at Mount Herzl, Jerusalem, May 1, 2017 (Screen capture: Facebook video)

The Times of Israel liveblogged Monday’s events as they unfolded.

2 soldiers hurt after jeep flips in Etzion Bloc

Two Border Police soldiers are lightly injured after their jeep flipped in the West Bank, between the Eztion Bloc settlements of Elazar and Efrat, south of Jerusalem.

The two women were taken to Jerusalem’s Shaare Zedek Medical Center.

Iran says it’s talking detained dual citizens with US

Iran has acknowledged discussing the fate of detained dual nationals with the United States, saying there have been “positive results” for prisoner trades in the past.

Monday’s comments by Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Bahram Ghasemi mark the first official government acknowledgement of discussing prisoners with the U.S. at a recent meeting in Vienna. That meeting last week focused on implementation of the Iran nuclear deal.

Ghasemi told journalists: “In the past … we had talks for humanitarian reasons with Americans over (swapping) some (American) prisoners with Iranian prisoners jailed in the U.S. and it had positive results too.”

Among the dual nationals held in Iran are Iranian-American businessman Siamak Namazi and his 81-year-old father, Baquer Namazi. They are serving 10-year prison sentences for “cooperating with the hostile American government.”

— AP

3 women arrested in UK counterterror investigation

British police have arrested three women as part of a continuing counterterrorism investigation that included a raid last week.

Police said that three women were arrested Monday morning on suspicion of planning attacks. Two are 18 and one is 19. They are being questioned at a police station outside London.

Police say the arrests are part of an ongoing intelligence-led operation related to a series of arrests that began Thursday when police stormed a house in northwest London.

One woman who was shot during that raid was arrested after she was discharged from a hospital.

So far, a total of 10 people have been arrested as part of the investigation. None have yet been charged or identified.

— AP

Police nix rally in support of Palestinian prisoners

A group of Palestinians asked to hold a demonstration outside the Damascus Gate in Jerusalem in support of hunger-striking Palestinian prisoners, and were rejected by police.

Police say they arrested a Palestinian woman who organized the protest and who refused to heed the police officers’ orders not to hold the demonstration.

She is being held for questioning. The remainder of the demonstrators dispersed.

Hamas said set to drop Israel’s destruction in new document

Hamas will reportedly drop its call for Israel’s destruction and distance itself from the Muslim Brotherhood, the Egyptian Islamist organization from which it originated, in a new document set for publication today.

According to Gulf sources familiar with the text who spoke to Reuters, the document also seeks to improve the group’s relations with Egypt, which has kept a blockade on the Gaza Strip along with Israel for nearly a decade.

Ultra-Orthodox Jews protest Bnei Brak Memorial Day ceremony

Several dozen ultra-Orthodox Israelis are protesting a Memorial Day ceremony being held by other ultra-Orthodox Jews in the central city of Bnei Brak.

The police are breaking up the demonstration.

The demonstrators are railing against the ceremony and the “Holocaust” being perpetrated against Judaism, referring to the secularization of the State of Israel.

— Judah Ari Gross

Erdan pens op-ed rebutting Barghouti

Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan has written a New York Times op-ed responding to one run the paper ran by jailed Palestinian terrorist Marwan Barghouti.

Erdan repudiates Barghouti’s claim, says he’s become “adept at rebranding Palestinian terrorism as legitimate ‘resistance’ and casting himself as a ‘moderate,'” and addresses the hunger strike being held by several hundred Palestinian prisoners in Israeli prisons.

“Mr. Barghouti would like his audience to believe that the hunger strike is a reaction to the mistreatment of prisoners like him. In fact, it has nothing to do with their conditions, which meet international standards,” Erdan says in the op-ed. The true reason for the strike, the Likud minister says, “is political jockeying.”

“From prison Mr. Barghouti has become a major player in Palestinian politics, releasing regular statements on Palestinian affairs and backing candidates in elections. He is now involved in the infighting over who will succeed Mahmoud Abbas, the aging president of the Palestinian Authority and leader of the Fatah party,” he says.

“Israel will not give in to extortion. The conditions and regulations in Israel’s prison system are determined according to Israeli law and international standards, not by pressure tactics,” Erdan says. “Surrendering to such a strike would constitute a surrender to terrorism and would only embolden terrorist groups, weaken our deterrence and lead to further conflict and bloodshed.”

Reuters: Hamas to still support ‘armed struggle’ against Israel

Reuters has added to its report about the Hamas document set for publication today, saying that the Palestinian Islamist group will still reject Israel’s right to exist and will still support “armed struggle” against Israel.

Veteran Jewish congresswoman, champion of Israel, to retire

Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Republican of Florida, a congressional leader who has been a staunch defender of Israel and the rights of Holocaust survivors, is leaving Congress.

Ros-Lehtinen, a GOP moderate who has sharply criticized the policies of President Donald Trump, told the Miami Herald on Sunday that she simply no longer felt the drive to run again and is retiring at the end of her current term.

“There was no epiphany. There was no moment, nothing that has happened that I’ve said, ‘I’ve got to move on,’” Ros-Lehtinen, 64, told the newspaper. “It was just a realization that I could keep getting elected — but it’s not about getting elected.”

Ros-Lehtinen, who is Cuban-born of Jewish descent, took a special interest in Israel during her career. The stringent Iran sanctions she authored in 2006 were blocked by congressional procedure, but were the template for the sanctions Congress approved in 2010, and that helped force Iran to the negotiating table to limit its nuclear program.

— JTA

Philippine president may drop Washington for Israel trip

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte says he may turn down an invitation by Donald Trump to visit the United States.

Duterte, who has loosened the Philippines’ long alliance with the United States while strengthening ties with China and Russia, says he cannot commit to the American president because of a busy schedule that includes a trip to Israel.

“I am tied up. I cannot make any definite promise. I am supposed to go to Russia, I am supposed to go to Israel,” he tells reporters when asked about Trump’s invitation made in a telephone call on Saturday.

— AFP

Princeton Jewish center denies room for Breaking the Silence exhibit

The Center for Jewish Life at Princeton University denied the local chapter of J Street U space to hold an exhibition created by the left-wing Israeli NGO Breaking the Silence.

The J Street U chapter decided to go forward with the exhibit, to be held Tuesday and Wednesday, in another campus space, despite the possibility of causing a rift with the Center for Jewish Life, or CJL, which is affiliated with Hillel International, the student newspaper the Daily Princetonian reported.

“We do not take this step lightly. Our relationship with the CJL is deeply important to us, and we consider the CJL and the Princeton Jewish community to be a home for us on campus. We want to continue to be a part of this community,” J Street U Princeton wrote in a statement posted on Facebook.

— JTA

Netanyahu on ‘milder’ Hamas charter

A Netanyahu spokesman responds to reports of a new Hamas charter purportedly in the works, saying “the group is trying to delude the world but it won’t succeed.”

“It builds terror tunnels and launches rockets — that’s the true Hamas.”

Hotovely rejects ‘absurd’ UNESCO resolution as ‘fake history’

Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely releases a video ahead of Tuesday’s UNESCO vote on a resolution that rejects Israeli sovereignty over Jerusalem and criticizes construction and tunneling in the Old City.

Hotovely, a minister with the religious nationalist Jewish Home party, calls the vote “absurd” and the resolution “fake history.”

“UNESCO has long been politicized and unfortunately has become a tool in the service of Palestinian propaganda against Israel,” she says. “Such absurd and historically baseless resolutions undermine UNESCO’s mission of safeguarding humanity’s cultural heritage.”

Israeli Arab hurt in Palestinian rock throwing incident

An Israeli Arab man is lightly wounded after his car was hit by rocks thrown by Palestinians on Route 465 in the West Bank. He received treatment from an IDF medic.

Hamas delays announcement after hosting hotel backs out

Hamas says it had to delay the presentation of its new political program after a Doha hotel withdrew consent to host a news conference by the group.

The news conference by Khaled Mashaal, the Hamas leader in exile, was to begin at 7 p.m. (1600 GMT) Monday at a five-star hotel.

Shortly before the start of the event, Hamas sent a text message saying the hotel had withdrawn consent. Hamas says a news conference is now set to start at 8:45 p.m. (17:45 GMT) at a different hotel in Doha.

The new political program is meant to help the Islamic militant group break out of its international isolation. The manifesto does not formally replace the group’s fiery 1987 founding charter, but adopts more conciliatory language.

— AP

Zionist Union MK ‘curses’ protesters at alternative memorial ceremony

Zionist Union MK Miki Rosenthal tears into the right-wing protesters who demonstrated at an Israeli-Palestinian Memorial Day ceremony in Tel Aviv last night.

“Cursed be those who spit on bereaved parents, despicable are those who curse people who came to commune with the fallen,” he says. “We must not let this violence pass in silence. Everyone remembers in their own way, in whichever ceremony they chose. No one will tell us what to feel, no one will decide for us what to think.”

President issues ‘Independence Day of all the Jewish people’

President Reuven Rivlin released an Israel Independence Day greeting in English, in which he called it “the Independence Day of all the Jewish people.”

“Sixty-nine years ago, in the moments just after David Ben Gurion declared the birth of the State of Israel, we all went out to dance in the streets. We celebrated a hope which came true: to be a free people in our land, in Jerusalem,” Rivlin said.

“My generation, who dreamed to see an Israeli pilot fly above them, got to see Israeli satellites circle the globe. Our young state, in a difficult neighborhood has become a center of learning and doing. The nation that wandered for hundreds of years looking for shelter, has built universities and yeshivot,” he added.

Rivlin noted that Israelis will “continue to look deep inside ourselves to solve all the problems and turn challenges into opportunities.” He added: “On this day, on our Independence Day, let us all work to be sure that our national home is a home that looks after the weak, and cares for its sons and daughters. This is the duty of our leaders, but it is also the duty of each and every one of us.”

— JTA

Independence Day ceremonies kick off in Jerusalem

The state ceremony at Mount Herzl is kicking off, marking the close of Memorial Day and the start of Independence Day celebrations for Israel.

Trump open to meeting North Korea’s Kim

US President Donald Trump on Monday said he would not rule out meeting North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un, saying he would be “honored to do it,” despite weeks of tough talk against the regime.

“If it would be appropriate for me to meet with him I would absolutely. I would be honored to do it,” Trump said in an interview with Bloomberg.

— AFP

Edelstein ushers in Independence Day with Jerusalem theme

Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein is the first official to speak at the Mount Herzl ceremony.

He starts off with a strident message about how Jerusalem will remain in Israel’s hands. The theme of his speech, delivered ahead of the 50th anniversary of the 1967 war in which Israel captured the city, is how Jerusalem will be Israel’s eternal capital.

Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein speaks at the Independence Day ceremony at Mount Herzl on May 1, 2017 (screen capture: Channel 2)
Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein speaks at the Independence Day ceremony at Mount Herzl on May 1, 2017 (screen capture: Channel 2)

Jerusalem-themed torch lighting kicks off

Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat is up next, following in the theme of Edelstein’s speech focusing on Jerusalem.

The first torch lighter, Eli Amir, a 79-year-old Iraqi immigrant, urges unity among the various Jewish communities that made aliyah to Israel. He’s followed by a veteran of the Battle of Ammunition Hill, one of the soldiers who captured Jerusalem in 1967.

A full list of torch-lighters is available in our full coverage of the event.

Netanyahu’s Independence Day message

Here’s Netanyahu’s video that was aired at the start of the Independence Day ceremony:

Flag march chases Jerusalem of Gold

After Rita’s rousing rendition of Jerusalem of Gold, the flag bearers have taken the stage to march in various formations: 50 for the 50th anniversary of Israel’s capture of East Jerusalem, the Jerusalem lion, the Knesset, the windmill. It’s all Jerusalem themed tonight.

As Israel celebrates independence, Hamas announces new charter

While Israel is celebrating the start of Independence Day, Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal is announcing the “updated and new” party charter, which he says is adaptive and open to “development.”

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Ultra-Orthodox Jews protest Bnei Brak Memorial Day ceremony

Several dozen ultra-Orthodox Israelis are protesting a Memorial Day ceremony being held by other ultra-Orthodox Jews in the central city of Bnei Brak.

The police are breaking up the demonstration.

The demonstrators are railing against the ceremony and the “Holocaust” being perpetrated against Judaism, referring to the secularization of the State of Israel.

— Judah Ari Gross