1. It’s Friday, which means there are/will be protests on the Gaza border.
- Israel is gearing up for the demonstrations to be among the largest since March 30, with the march officially commemorating Naksa Day, though the actual date of that was on Tuesday.
- “The IDF is getting ready for all scenarios on all fronts — from mass protests involving thousands on the fence to terrorist infiltrations and hundreds of terror kites, to rocket fire on Israel,” Yedioth Ahronoth reports.
- The army is deploying a similar number of forces to what they sent to protect the border on May 14, which is remembered as the bloodiest day in the simmering conflict with Gaza so far, Israel Hayom reports.
- Before noon on Friday, amid a tense wait for the start of the protests, one brushfire near Mefalsim was already blamed by authorities on a kite from Gaza. Israel Defense Forces troops shot at several Palestinians attempting to breach the fence in the southern part of the territory; no one was reported hurt in the incident, with the Palestinians abandoning the attempt.
- “I wouldn’t be surprised if tomorrow there were 40 deaths, but I want there to be zero,” a senior officer told TOI on Thursday.
2. Amid fears that the roiling border riots could snowball into something larger, the Israeli air force held a drill Thursday simulating attacks on hundreds of targets at the same time on multiple fronts.
- Though the IDF officially said the drill had no connection to ongoing events, it’s clear that the decision to hold the exercise, and publicize it in a well-coordinated briefing, was meant to send a message to Hamas, as is widely reported in the press.
- Israel Hayom, which emblazons its front page with a “Message to Hamas” headline, notes that ground troops also drilled in the south “including for a possible ground invasion of Gaza involving infantry, armored brigades, engineers, and artillery.”
- The IDF made sure to note that the drill was for battle on multiple fronts. After the day-long flare-up on May 29, unnamed military officials said Israel was pressured to get Gaza to quiet down while they concentrated on Iran in Syria. This would seem to be designed to push back and show that Israel is not afraid of fighting on two fronts at once.
3. The large Gaza protest was originally scheduled for Tuesday — the actual Naksa Day — but was moved to Friday, which coincides with Quds Day in Iran, marked this year and others by big anti-Israel protests.
- As usual, people in Tehran will burn American and Israeli flags. In Baghdad, pro-Iran forces tread on a giant Israeli flag painted on the pavement, which might be an insult in their culture, but to Israelis seems pretty patriotic.
- (The flag-burning also raises a burning question of my own. How big is the Israeli flag-for-torching industry in Iran, and isn’t it awkward to carry around Israeli flags in Tehran before they are burned?)
- Before leaving for China, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani told reporters that “Israel can never feel that it is located in a secure place. Israel should be aware that it is always the occupier of the homeland of others and will remain always a tyrant,” according to state-run media.
- Hamas moving its Gaza protest to Friday had been read in the Israeli press as a nod to Iran. Furthering the connection, Israel Radio’s Gal Berger reports, citing Palestinian sources, that Tehran is giving $500 payouts to families of Gazans killed in the protests.
4. On Thursday, though, US President Donald Trump said Iran had changed its behavior over the last three months, implying that it was falling in line because he had killed the nuclear deal (even though that was only last month).
- That fact, though, is debunked in a New York Times fact check that notes “Iran has experienced some setbacks in the Middle East. But there is little indication that it has changed its outlook in the region.”
- Iran’s leaders “haven’t changed their ambitions or pulled back their activities,” Defense of Democracies Foundation head Mark Dubowitz tells the gray lady.
5. Back to Gaza, several Israeli news sites report that Gazans plan on dressing as inmates in Nazi death camps during the protests Friday, though they don’t say where they got the info (possibly fed to them by the army with a promise to not mention sourcing).
- “According to the Palestinians, the point of the show is to send the message that Israel is carrying crimes against the Palestinian people,” Haaretz reports.
- In an op-ed in the Middle East Eye Thursday, Hamas politburo chief Ismail Haniyeh tried to lay out a case for why it is okay to take up armed struggle against Israel and vowed that “We shall continue to knock on the doors of this huge prison, and we shall eventually bring down its walls.”
6. Israel is expecting to have to deal with the continuation of fire kites on top of everything else, and apparently their use is being adopted in the West Bank as well, with Friday seeing the flying incendiaries used in the western-most reaches of the West Bank, near Kfar Saba in central Israel.
- The IDF says hundreds of kites have been flown from Gaza, and is defending its program using drones to knock them down as a success.
- Touring the Gaza border region this week, TOI’s Melanie Lidman says she saw several kites that “were still strewn across the forest floor, having landed harmlessly in areas that were previously burned… The kites are uniform, with the same hexagonal shape and balsa wood construction.”
- “Look at this, it takes just 10 minutes to make this, and costs, I don’t know, maybe a few shekels, and it creates hundreds of thousands of dollars of damage,” KKL official Dani Ben David says.
- A picture going around on Twitter purports to show dozen more kites prepared and ready for use Friday, with a threatening message affixed.
A message from the peaceful protesters of Hamas
"Sons of Judaism leave our land, if not we will slaughter you". pic.twitter.com/p1IKPAV3SG
— Yanki farber (@Farberyanki) June 8, 2018
- Yedioth writer Matan Zur writes that he is trying to retake the kite as toy and not fire instrument concept by holding a kite-making class for his daughter, 7, and her school friends.
- “We’re returning the concept of kites to the world of children,” he says he promised the kids and teachers.
7. On May 14, Israel’s black eye on the Gaza border was made even blacker by the juxtaposition of the riots with the US embassy opening celebrations in Jerusalem, and a massive Tel Aviv concert by Eurovision winner Netta Barzilai.
- On Friday, the juxtaposition will be with a massive gay pride parade in Tel Aviv, called the largest in Asia and the Middle East, and … a concert by Eurovision winner Netta Barzilai.
- Far away from Tel Aviv, TOI’s Jacob Magid reports on efforts in the Etzion settlement bloc south of Jerusalem to take ginger steps toward LGBT acceptance, a rare move in the mostly conservative West Bank.
- Reporting on a recent event in the settlement of Efrat, Magid writes that “according to organizers, it was the first-ever event in a religious community — on either side of the Green Line — that went beyond the encouragement of dialogue and actually took a position on the matter at hand — that homosexuality is not a matter of choice that can be ‘treated.’”
- “What you are doing here is saving lives, and that is not just a slogan,” Efrat native Eran Ashkenazi is quoted telling the event. “It’s possible that if there had been an evening like this when I was in high school… the difficult experience I endured could have been prevented.”
- Magid notes that the high number of Americans in the Gush — as the bloc is known in shorthand — may be the key to why its open to being more open, as LGBT acceptance is much more widespread in the US.
- “American immigrants come from a place where there’s more than one way to be religious, and that translates into how they treat gay people,” one gay teen is quoted saying.