Wailing over the ‘West Bank’ wall
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Hebrew media review

Wailing over the ‘West Bank’ wall

With news of Trump's alleged blabbing to the Russians breaking after press time, tensions between Jerusalem and DC over moving the embassy and who has control of the Western Wall dominate the dailies

New US ambassador to Israel David Friedman stands next to Rabbi Shmuel Rabinovitch (R) while praying at the Western Wall in the Old City of Jerusalem on May 15, 2017. (AFP Photo/Menahem Kahana)
New US ambassador to Israel David Friedman stands next to Rabbi Shmuel Rabinovitch (R) while praying at the Western Wall in the Old City of Jerusalem on May 15, 2017. (AFP Photo/Menahem Kahana)

With time zone differences ensuring that Israeli papers went to bed last night before news broke of US President Donald Trump’s reported bumbling intelligence leaks, the tabloids and broadsheets are left to contend with only the bumbling clashes between the US and Israel in the lead-up to Trump’s trip to Jerusalem.

“Tensions before the visit,” reads Yedioth Ahronoth’s front page, referring not only to a dispute over moving the embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, but the US refusal to allow Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to join Trump’s visit to the Western Wall, with a US official telling Israel that the holy site does not belong to Israel but is in fact part of the West Bank.

The paper however, centers the tensions around one question:
“Tensions are ramping up between Jerusalem and Washington around the question of whether Israel is the one that actually asked the Americans to retreat from Trump’s campaign promise not to move the embassy to Jerusalem, or at least not now,“ the paper reports, before giving a laundry list that also includes the Americans telling Netanyahu’s people that the president cannot be joined by Israeli officials on his trip to the Western Wall.

Haaretz also puts the Western Wall and embassy stories together, juxtaposing them with a picture of new ambassador David Friedman visiting the Western Wall upon his arrival in Israel, which only muddles the whole issue further.

The paper recounts the confrontation between US officials checking out the Old City for Trump’s visit and Israelis tagging along and being rebuffed when they asked if they can offer help.

“The consular diplomats asserted that the Western Wall is part of the West Bank, implying that Israel has no sovereignty over the site. The PMO employees responded furiously, terming the diplomats’ statements unacceptable, the senior Israeli official said. The PMO staffers then announced that they will no longer have anything to do with this part of Trump’s visit. ‘We said we don’t intend to give any assistance with regard to media and logistics for Trump’s visit to the Western Wall,’ the senior Israeli official said. ‘We made it clear that their position is unacceptable to us, but the head of the American delegation just stood there and didn’t intervene,’’ the paper reports.

Israel Hayom also puts the picture of Friedman on its front page, but to read the tabloid, one might think these US staffers were working for previous US president Barack Obama and not Trump. Actually, one might get the impression that Obama, and not Netanyahu, is also prime minister of Israel, with the headline “Here’s how Obama froze building in Jerusalem,” detailing that “just 639 Jewish homes were built in East Jerusalem in the last five years.”

“The figures show the strength of the American pressure on Israel during the Obama administration and the drastic decrease in the number of building starts in areas of liberated Jerusalem in the last five years,” the paper reports, adding that the so-called freeze is continuing, but without placing any blame on Trump.

Israelis in East Jerusalem aren’t the only ones playing a waiting game. Haaretz’s lead headline reports that Palestinian residents need to wait a year just to get in line to apply for Israeli citizenship. The story is based on the “Kafkaesque” journey of an East Jerusalemite whose wife is the midst of obtaining citizenship and whose son was born prematurely on a trip to the US, setting off a bureaucratic nightmare. But he’s not alone.

“In a normal place, a person comes, waits in line for an hour, maybe two if it’s really bad,” a lawyer dealing with the issue says. “Here you stand in line for hours just to make an appointment, and then they give you an appointment for a year later. Essentially you’re waiting in line to get an appointment to get an appointment in another three years.”

Spilled secrets of the type Trump apparently blabbed about can be dangerous, but they can also be incredibly important, as is the case with the revelation that the Syrian regime has apparently hidden a crematorium next to a prison, where it is carrying out mass executions and burning the bodies to hide the evidence.

The revelations gain major headlines in the Hebrew press, not least probably becuase of the horrible precedent it conjures.

Israel Hayom writes that “Assad is using methods reminiscent of the Nazi regime to get rid of political enemies,” and Yedioth’s lede also recalls the Holocaust.

But columnist Ben-Dror Yemini predicts in Yedioth that like in other cases before it, the world will sit on its hands in the face of evidence of mass killings.

“True, a crematorium begins to remind people of the worst atrocities to occur in Europe during the Holocaust. But the reports of mass killings have become commonplace in the last decades, and the world doesn’t really care,” he writes. “It happened in Biafra, in Rwanda, in Darfur, it occurred at the hands of the global jihad which has killed 25,000 people every year over the last five years. In a reality like this, a crematorium won’t change the world’s agenda.”

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