A search for meaning in tragedy: 9 things to know for August 9
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A search for meaning in tragedy: 9 things to know for August 9

A West Bank killing and widespread manhunt shines a light on how Israel and Hamas are operating, and a book the slain student was holding speaks volumes about him and the country

IDF troops conduct search operations in the Bethlehem area after the body of a student, Dvir Sorek, later found near the settlement of Migdal Oz in Gush Etzion, on August 8, 2019. (Israel Defense Forces)
IDF troops conduct search operations in the Bethlehem area after the body of a student, Dvir Sorek, later found near the settlement of Migdal Oz in Gush Etzion, on August 8, 2019. (Israel Defense Forces)

1. To the end of the land: The Israel Defense Forces is widening its search for the killer or killers behind the slaying of 18-year-old yeshiva student and army recruit Dvir Sorek.

  • My Times of Israel colleague Judah Ari Gross notes that the army fears the cell could strike again. “The military fears the assailants, who fled the scene after stabbing to death yeshiva student Dvir Sorek in the Etzion Bloc, may attempt to carry out additional attacks or serve as inspiration for other would-be terrorists. These concerns were especially heightened in light of the upcoming Muslim holiday of Eid al-Adha and the Jewish fast day of Tisha B’Av on Sunday.”
  • The Walla news site reports that security officials fear, though, that the cell may have split up, making them less likely to carry out more attacks but harder to find.
  • The manhunt has mostly focused on the area around the attack, outside the Migdal Oz settlement south of Bethlehem, but on Thursday night the search expanded further south to the area of Halhul, north of Hebron, according to Palestinian reports.
  • Channel 13 news reports that Palestinian security officials, who are helping in the hunt, believe the perps may have absconded for Hebron or a nearby town and could be receiving help there.
  • In a Facebook message Friday, Netanyahu says security forces are closing in on the killer.

2. Sleeping on a wire: The attack came days after soldiers blew up a planned Hamas bomb plot in Hebron, with the explosive already ready to go, according to the military.

  • In Ynet, Ron Ben Yishai writes that the group wants to “start a third intifada,” and claims that the location of the attack makes it unlikely that it was a lone wolf of spontaneous act, but rather a planned one.
  • “The area south of Bethlehem, the Arab villages around the Etzion settlement bloc and the city of Hebron are all traditionally identified with Hamas, and are heavily influenced by the Hamas incitement and especially by Gaza-based operatives constantly trying to plan terror attacks in the West Bank.
  • Former Shin Bet Jerusalem chief Arik Brabbing tells Haaretz, however, that Hamas is actually having trouble building terror infrastructure in the West Bank. “The activists in the Gaza Strip have difficulty recruiting many people in the West Bank who are willing to endanger themselves by planning major terror attacks or committing suicide attacks themselves. A change has taken place on the ground since the end of the intifada. People are no longer standing in line to volunteer.”

3. Death as a way of life: There have also been several reports, pushed by the military, that Hamas is looking to launch kidnapping operations, though Israeli forces have dismissed an initial assessment that Sorek’s killing may have been a botched kidnapping, and it seems clear he was not hitchhiking.

  • Nonetheless, in Israel Hayom, columnist Yoav Limor writes that kidnapping-seeking terrorists’ aims are only aided by the hitchhiking culture that is especially strong among West Bank settlements, where young people often don’t have personal conveyances and public transportation remains relatively scarce.
  • “Anyone traversing Judea and Samaria can see, even yesterday youths who despite everything are still thumbing it, and even those walking on foot, alone, in contravention of clear security directives. This reality creates no small amount of opportunities for attacks.”
  • Limor, though, admits that moves to separate the Palestinian and Israeli populations by restructuring road access will only increase despondency among Palestinians and increase terror.
  • Former Shin Bet head Ami Ayalon tells Army Radio that as Shin Bet chief he learned that Israelis are only as secure as Palestinians are hopeful. “The reality among Palestinians now is a loss of hope,” he says, cautioning against heavy-handed moves that will make it worse.
  • A Fatah activist tells Haaretz that the PA fears Israeli moves against it are only making the fight against Hamas harder.
  • “On one hand, the PA is under great pressure because of the lack of a diplomatic horizon, and there’s no positive momentum in the diplomatic sphere. On the contrary, every day we hear about arrests and demolitions and assaults on the PA’s authority. On the other hand, Hamas is getting a tailwind in Gaza. This is a situation that can only lead to a clash and an explosion.”

4. See under: love: Speaking to the media outside his home, Sorek’s father Yoav Sorek says he hopes the murder took place as he imagines it, with the attacker killing his son before he knew what was happening.

  • “[I hope] he did not manage to see the face of the evil person and went purely. I hope he did not go heavenward during some fight that he eventually lost.”
  • Asked about pro forma calls by political hard-liners to expand settlement building in the reaction to the attack Sorek, a respected thinker in the mainstream national religious community and a resident of the settlement of Ofra, rejects the idea: “I don’t think victimhood needs to be the driving force of our enterprise here. This place needs to be arranged because it needs to be arranged, not because someone died,” he says.
  • He’s not alone, as ToI’s Jacob Magid explained in this piece last year.

5. A dovish author walks into a story: In Yedioth Ahronoth, Amit Segal (whose father Hagai Segal was once Yoav Sorek’s boss at Makor Rishon), plays up the fact that the younger Sorek was returning from a trip to Jerusalem to buy a novel by David Grossman when he was killed, given that Grossman is a leader of the left wing and a “sworn enemy” of settlements.

  • “The bookseller may have acted a bit surprised. A yeshiva student, a settler with sidelocks and a knit yarmulke isn’t thought of as the typical Grossman reader,” he writes in Yedioth Ahronoth. “What last testament did Dvir leave us on his way to Migdal Oz, clutching in his arms the novel of the great writer? When he made his way up to the yeshiva on the eve of the ninth of Av, with the book of his ideological rival he was signaling to us, without knowing, an important and ancient precept: We are all brothers.”
  • In Makor Rishon Rabbi Sarel Rosenblatt, one of Sorek’s teachers, is quoted saying that the book was actually a gift for a teacher.
  • “The students were deciding what to buy the teachers, holy books or secular ones and Dvir said ‘they have holy books, but they don’t have David Grossman’ … Dvir managed to see the person inside his rabbi, and not just see him as a rabbi. That was an amazing ability he had.”
  • Grossman himself reached out to the Sorek family and eulogized him at an event honoring the late Nechama Rivlin on Thursday, despite having never met him.
  • “I’ve heard a lot about him over the course of the day,” he’s quoted as saying. “A kind, sensitive, youth who loved others and loved peace, with the soul of an artist.”
  • Yedioth quotes Grossman as saying that “the image of him holding my book just breaks my heart.”

6. Her body knows: Grossman has an unfortunate connection in that he also lost a son to violence, in his case during the 2006 Second Lebanon War.

  • Also among the cohort of grieving parents, Bilha Bachrach, who lost her son Ohad 24 years ago, pens an open letter to the mother of Dvir published in Israel Hayom: “What do I want to say to ‘my new friend.’ I want to say ‘stay strong,’ but I know those are empty words. I want to say ‘time heals,’ but I know they are not the right words. I want to tell you so much more, but I they are all stuck in my throat. So accept my silence, a strong hug and an ocean of tears.”
  • The mother, Rachel Sorek, unfortunately, is already familiar with terror, having lost her father Rabbi Binyamin Herling in a terror attack on Mount Ebal near Nablus in 2000.

6. The smile of the lamb: Pictures from Sorek’s funeral grace most front pages Friday morning and made major news overnight.

  • “God giveth and God taketh away. We are left hurt and missing,” reads a headline in Yedioth Ahronoth, quoting from Yoav Sorek’s eulogy.
  • “He was sweetness. Full of gold and honey,” the rabbi of Ofra is quoted eulogizing in Israel Hayom.
  • Making the rounds online after the funeral is a video clip showing fireworks in the nearby Palestinian town of Silwad during the night-time funeral, which are portrayed as somehow celebrating the killing, though they may have just been celebrating the end of the week and the lead up to the Eid holiday.
  • Nonetheless, the video earns widespread outrage, including a retweet from former US ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro.

7. The zigzag kid: In the political sphere, the Blue and White party is drawing some fire for its strange brew of hawkish and liberal ideologies, a result of its  mashup of various anti-Netanyahu forces.

  • After the party of ex-generals threatened to essentially steamroll Gaza (but only kill the bad guys), Haaretz’s lead editorial takes Blue and White to task for its “ hollow, irresponsible words.”
  • “The Israeli public has no reason to believe or trust the braggadocio of the three former chiefs of staff. It expects the Blue and White party to propose a viable, political long term alternative to the violent arm-twisting contests Israel has been conducting against Hamas. The Gaza issue isn’t an election slogan; it’s a security threat awaiting a political solution,” the editorial reads.
  • In al-Monitor, Akiva Eldar questions the party’s commitment to a two-state solution in light of leader Benny Gantz’s vow to hold on to the West Bank’s Jordan Valley and settlement blocs: “How, then, does Israel’s occupation of the Jordan Valley, which makes up almost one-third of the West Bank, in addition to control of the ‘settlement blocs,’ fit in with the two-state solution? How is an understanding of the importance of a diplomatic arrangement for the future of our children compatible with Gantz’s pledge that if his party comes to power, it would strengthen the Jordan Valley, sell more land for housing, increase farming subsidies and develop a new urban area there?”

8. Someone to run with: Somebody at least likes what they hear from Gantz.

  • Zman Yisrael’s Shlomo Yerushalmi reports that Likud is openly courting the idea of forging a unity government with the Gantz-led part of Blue and White, i.e. Israel Resilience.
  • Calling the idea a “provocation,” Yerushalmi notes that Gantz hasn’t and will not respond or even consider such a thing. “Gantz is being fingered as someone who is willing to break up the band and join Netanyahu. Likud is counting on it, [Likud MK David] Bitan and his friends are pushing the possibility, but it didn’t happen after the vote in April and won’t happen in September.”
  • In Haaretz, though, Yossi Verter writes that a split among the party’s four main bosses is inevitable, unless it wins the election big time: “If after the election, the members of the quartet don’t receive senior cabinet positions, the chances that the glue holding them together will continue to do so are slight. In the first place, the essence of and reasons for the genesis of this combination were based on the working assumption that it would be able to form a government. In April that didn’t happen. And then, quite rapidly, a second opportunity presented itself. If that doesn’t succeed either, then it’s goodbye,” he writes.

9. Voting in the dark: Likud is also counting on winning via a plan to place observers with cameras in polling stations in Arab-majority areas, ostensibly to catch fraud.

  • A hearing on the legality of the cameras at the Central Elections Committee ended without a clear answer, which will come next week. At the hearing, Karine Nahon of the Israel Internet Association, which is trying to keep the vote clean of outside interference, said the cameras could end up creating a database of voters that could fall into the wrong hands.
  • “When you operate a database of the entire State of Israel and this database falls into the wrong hands, it becomes a problem that is far greater than [concerns over] the notion of election purity,” she says.
  • Nonetheless, Israel Hayom reports that Supreme Court Justice Hanan Melcer is considering okaying the cameras, or could okay a system by which cameras are installed by an impartial party at random polling stations instead.
  • To understand the camera issue, Jacob Magid takes a deep dive into how Likud has weaponized and is planning to continue to weaponize the cameras.
  • “These cameras kind of became our secret weapon in the elections, even though they’re not that secret anymore,” a Likud official tells him.
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