The Times of Israel liveblogged Monday’s events as they unfolded.
New year’s population count puts Israel at just under 9 million residents
In honor of the new year, the Central Bureau for Statistics releases new population numbers, placing the number of inhabitants in Israel at roughly 8,972,000, a 2 percent bump from last year.
Of that number, 6.668 million are Jews (74.3% of the total population), 1.878 million are Arabs (20.9%) and 426,000 are classified as “Others” (4.8%).
A total of 185,000 babies were born in Israel in 2018, the CBS says.
While the 2% increase had to do largely with natural growth, 19% of the bump was due to international migration to Israel. Thirty-two thousand six hundred people moved to the Jewish state in the past year, nearly 84% of whom are not Jewish.
Rivlin eulogizes Amos Oz: ‘You weren’t afraid to be called a traitor’
President Reuven Rivlin pays tribute to Amos Oz, the revered Israeli writer and peace advocate who died aged 79, at a memorial ahead of his burial later in the day.
“Our beloved Amos. I still do not know how to choose the words,” says Rivlin at the ceremony in a small theater in central Tel Aviv. “Two days have passed and I still do not know whom to talk about — my Amos or our Amos?
“Amos, my friend from the bench at the Jerusalem Gymnasia school, which he didn’t like so much. Amos my neighbor, the boy who didn’t play soccer. But when I had the flu he came to visit me and for three hours explained to me the difference between political Zionism and mystical Zionism. Three hours when we were 14 years old — you can only imagine the kind of headache I had after that.”
Rivlin also explains the impact Oz’s writing had on Israeli society, and the way in which he touched his readers with his depictions of a life they found so familiar.
“Your most unique fingerprint was your ability to look at things deep inside, but also always a little from the outside,” Rivlin adds.
“Not only were you not afraid to be in the minority and hold a minority opinion, but you weren’t even afraid to be called a traitor. On the contrary, you saw the word as a title with honor.”
PA court sentences Palestinian-American to life in land case
A Palestinian Authority court has sentenced Issam Akel, a Palestinian American and a resident of Jerusalem, to life in prison for attempting to sell land to Jewish Israelis in Jerusalem, an official in the PA judiciary’s media office says.
Akel “was sentenced on Monday, but he can appeal the ruling,” the official, who asked to remain unnamed, tells The Times of Israel.
A report on the PA judiciary’s website says an individual with the same initials as Akel was sentenced to life in prison for “attempting to take a part of the Palestinian lands and add it to a foreign state.”
Akel, a resident of Jerusalem’s Beit Hanina neighborhood, is a holder of a blue Israeli identification card.
State prosecutor vows threats will not deter work on Netanyahu graft cases
State Prosecutor Shai Nitzan says that no one will succeed in intimidating the legal teams reviewing three cases of alleged corruption by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in an effort to prevent them from carrying out their duty.
“We will not be afraid and we will not be deterred by anyone,” Nitzan says at an economic conference.
Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit is in the process of deciding whether or not to indict the prime minister. Last week comments attributed to a senior Likud party official reportedly threatened that he “will become the target of a merciless attack” by party officials.
Also last week, television news reported that Mandeblit’s security detail has been increased following an assessment by Israel Police and Justice Ministry officials.
The report came a day after it emerged that the gravestone of Mandelblit’s father was vandalized earlier this month, sparking condemnation from Israeli leaders and calls for a swift probe by police.
CCTV footage shows men transporting ‘Khashoggi body parts’
A Turkish television station has broadcast CCTV footage showing men carrying cases and bags which it says contained slain Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi’s body parts.
The images shown on A-Haber television featuring three men carrying five suitcases and two large black bags into the home of the Saudi consul general in Istanbul.
The residence lies a short distance from the Saudi consulate where Khashoggi was murdered in October in a killing that has tested Riyadh’s relations with the West.
Citing unnamed Turkish sources, A-Haber says Khashoggi’s dismembered body was inside the cases and bags.
Khashoggi, a contributor to the Washington Post, was killed on October 2 shortly after entering the kingdom’s consulate in what Riyadh called a “rogue” operation.
The 59-year-old former Saudi insider turned critic was strangled before he was cut up into pieces by a team of 15 Saudis sent to Istanbul for the killing, according to Turkish officials, with media reports suggesting the parts were dissolved in acid.
Iran’s Khamenei predicts Palestinians will soon establish government in Tel Aviv
Iran’s Ayatollah Ali Khamenei predicts that the Palestinians will soon be able to “establish a government in Tel Aviv.”
“As for the recent years, the victory of the Palestinian people has not meant being able to establish a government in Tel Aviv;— of course that will come true by God’s help,” he says, according to a readout of the meeting posted on the Iranian leader’s website.
“However, the main victory has been the fact that the Zionist regime — which Arab armies failed to defeat — was brought to its knees by the Palestinian people and the resistance; and by God’s will, you will achieve greater victories.”
It is not immediately clear why Khamenei referred to Tel Aviv. The seat of Israel’s government is Jerusalem. Many in the international community refuse to recognize the city as Israel’s capital, but expect it to become the shared capital of Israel and a future Palestinian state. The Palestinians have never expressed interest in establishing a government in Tel Aviv.
— Raphael Ahren
Peace Now blasts state’s new plan for 2,500-home settlement neighborhood
Peace Now blasts a recent announcement by the state of the allocation of 1,182 dunams (292 acres) of land south of Bethlehem to the Housing Ministry for the purpose of a new settlement neighborhood that will include as many as 2,500 homes.
The left-wing NGO argues that if constructed, the community known as Givat Eitam would bisect the southern West Bank and prevent territorial contiguity in a future Palestinian state.
It would be located in an area known E2, regarding which the international community has expressed worries that Israeli construction there would prevent the natural growth of the Palestinian city of Bethlehem.
“It is no accident that this and other settlement announcements over the past few days have been done during the Christmas holidays, when the entire Western world is on vacation, and immediately after the elections in Israel were announced,” Peace Now says in a statement.
UN records 69% increase in settler attacks on Palestinians in 2018
The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs releases new statistics ahead of the new year that show a 69% increase in settler attacks on Palestinians in 2018 compared to 2017.
OCHA records 265 incidents where Israeli residents of the West Bank targeted Palestinians or their property. The UN agency includes in its count the murder of Aisha Rabi, a Palestinian woman who was struck in the head with a large stone while sitting in the passenger seat of a vehicle that her husband was driving in the northern West Bank in October. The investigation into the matter is still ongoing, though a defense official told The Times of Israel in November that the growing assumption was that the crime was perpetrated by Israelis.
Ocha says 115 Palestinians were injured, 7,900 trees were destroyed and 540 vehicles were vandalized in 2018.
In comparison, OCHA documents 181 incidents where Palestinians injured or killed settlers, a 28% decrease from 2017. However, the total number of Israelis killed in such attacks increased from four to seven in 2018.
IDF intel chief: Iran could use Iraq as springboard for attacks on Israel
A senior military official warns that increasing Iranian influence in Iraq means the country could be used as a base from which Tehran could launch attacks on Israel.
“Iraq is under growing influence of the Quds Force and Iran,” Maj. Gen. Tamir Hyman, military intelligence chief, tells a conference in Tel Aviv, according to the Reuters news agency.
Iran could “see Iraq as a convenient theater for entrenchment, similar to what they did in Syria, and to use it as a platform for a force build-up that could also threaten the State of Israel,” Hyman says.
Fatah accuses Hamas rivals of detaining 500 members in Gaza
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’ Fatah party says the rival Hamas movement has detained hundreds of its members in Gaza.
The arrests come as Fatah prepared to mark the 54th anniversary of its founding.
The movement says that Gaza’s Hamas rulers have banned pro-Abbas loyalists from organizing events to mark the occasion and rounded up 500 activists.
The Hamas-run Interior Ministry denies the accusations, saying it only summoned 38 local Fatah leaders “to maintain order.”
Hamas also is allowing supporters of Abbas’s rival in Fatah, Mohammed Dahlan, to light torches and stage marches.
Fatah and Hamas have been bitter rivals since Hamas, an Islamic militant group, toppled Abbas’ forces and seized control of Gaza in 2007.
2018 death toll Syria war’s lowest at under 20,000, monitor says
Syria’s nearly eight-year-old conflict saw its lowest annual death toll in 2018 as the regime reasserted its authority over swathes of territory, a war monitor says on Monday.
A total of 19,666 people were killed this year as a result of the conflict, which erupted in 2011, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring group reported.
“2018 was the lowest annual toll since the start of the conflict,” Observatory chief Rami Abdel Rahman tells AFP.
The Britain-based monitor relies on a vast network of sources across Syria to document the war that broke out after the brutal repression of nationwide anti-regime protests in 2011.
The death toll for 2017 stood at more than 33,000 and the highest annual figure was reached in 2014 — the year the Islamic State jihadist group proclaimed a “caliphate” over large parts of Syria and neighboring Iraq — when 76,000 people were killed.
Among those killed in 2018 were 6,349 civilians, 1,437 of them children, Abdel Rahman says.
Iran denounces Brazil’s plan to move embassy to Jerusalem
Iran has denounced plans by Brazil’s newly elected president to move its embassy to Jerusalem.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Bahram Ghasemi says that such a move “will not help with peace, stability, security and retrieval of the Palestinian people’s rights.” He added, however, that “relations with Brazil will eventually be continued.”
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is visiting Brazil, said Sunday it is only a matter of time until Brazil moves its embassy to Jerusalem. Incoming President Jair Bolsonaro said last month that he intends to move the embassy, prompting threats by Arab states to boycott Brazilian goods.
Jerusalem’s fate is one of the most divisive issues in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Nearly all countries maintain embassies in Tel Aviv, and the US decision to move its embassy sparked protests.
Minors arrested in Jewish terror probe denied permission to see their lawyers
The Lod District Court has rejected an appeal by three Jewish minors arrested in a major security probe to meet with their attorneys.
The judge extended the order that has been in effect since the three suspects were arrested yesterday morning, but agreed to their attorneys’ requests that a probation officer check in on their well-being.
Shortly after the decision, the Rishon Lezion Magistrate’s Court extended the remand of the three suspects until Sunday.
The investigation is being conducted jointly by the Shin Bet security service and the police’s nationalistic crime unit, which are probing the incident as a possible Jewish terror plot.
Moldova’s president says he’ll ‘very seriously consider’ moving embassy to Jerusalem
Moldova’s president says his country would “very seriously consider” moving its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, according to Jewish interlocutors who met with him.
Igor Dodon met last week with Euro-Asian Jewish Congress leaders in connection with his visit earlier this month to Israel, the Newsmaker website reports.
The United States moved its embassy to Jerusalem in May. The European Union and Arab countries were among the harshest critics of the move, which they said may be harmful to attempts to reach a permanent peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians, who both claim the city’s east.
The announcement of Moldova’s intention to consider the move comes amid heightened tensions between Moldova and the European Union, which the landlocked country bordering Romania has sought to enter.
Knesset passes law banning advertising cigarettes, tobacco
The Knesset has passed a law banning advertising for cigarettes and tobacco, except in print media.
The law was sponsored by Likud MK Yehudah Glick and MK Eitan Cabel from the opposition Zionist Union. Under the legislation, advertisements in print media will only be permitted alongside an equal-sized health warning.
Knesset approves anti-prostitution bill that punishes buys of sex
The Knesset has given final approval to a bill that punishes those caught hiring prostitutes.
The new law, approved in its second and third readings by 34 MKs, with none voting against, will criminalize procuring the services of a prostitute, as well as presence in a location chiefly used for prostitution, such as a brothel.
First time offenders will be fined NIS 2,000 ($530), with the sum doubled for repeat offenses within three years. Prosecutors will also be empowered to indict prostitution clients in certain cases, with a maximum penalty fine of NIS 75,300 ($20,400).
The law will come into effect in 18 months, during which time the state will form rehabilitation mechanisms for prostitutes, to allow them to find alternative livelihoods.
Ambassador calls on UN to recognize infant Israeli terror victim
Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations Danny Danon asks the UN Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict to include in her periodic reports the terrorist incident in Ofra that led to the murder of Amiad Israel Ish-Ran, a three-day old baby.
“Children and young adults in the Palestinian Authority are indoctrinated and trained to hate Israel from a young age, through several means, starting from media propaganda to schoolbooks filled with messages of incitement and hatred. With such an upbringing, it is not long before young Palestinians apply these teachings, often to violent ends, such as the abominable attack seen in Ofra,” Danon writes to the special representative, Virginia Gamba.
“This brutal event is of great importance and so should be portrayed in the annual report on children and armed conflict, and issue a clear condemnation of Hamas’ continued attacks against innocent Israeli civilians, and wanton disregard for the safety and security of children and unborn babies.”
Amiad Israel was born by emergency C-section after a December 9 drive-by shooting in the West Bank and was pronounced dead four days later.
— Raphael Ahren
PM asked Trump to carry out Syria withdrawal gradually, rather than all at once
In a briefing to reporters in Rio de Janeiro, a senior Israeli official says Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had asked US President Donald Trump to carry out the American withdrawal from Syria gradually over a long period of time, rather than all at once.
The two leaders spoke over the phone following the White House decision earlier this month.
Netanyahu will meet with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in Brasilia tomorrow and with Trump’s National Security Adviser John Bolton on Sunday in Jerusalem to discuss the Syria withdrawal.
The senior official says the prime minister is also considering flying to the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, next month to meet with Trump.
Father of Palestinian-American ‘surprised’ by life sentence for attempting to sell land to Jews
The father of Issam Akel, a Palestinian-American sentenced by a Palestinian Authority court to life in prison on charges of attempting to sell land to Jewish Israelis, says the ruling against his son caught his family off guard.
“What happened was a surprise. We knew there was a trial happening, but we didn’t know this would happen,” Jalal Akel, Issam’s, father tells The Times of Israel, referring to his son’s sentencing.
Akel “was sentenced on Monday, but he can appeal the ruling,” an official in the PA judiciary’s media office, who asked to remain unnamed, said in a phone call.
— Adam Rasgon
France’s Arab World Institute takes down photo of a Netanyahu protesters with bloody hands
Following protests, a French government institute devoted to promoting Arab culture has removed from its website a picture of protesters dressed as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu holding up bloody hands.
The picture, showing protesters wearing Netanyahu masks at a rally while holding up their red painted palms, was featured this month on the Arab World Institute’s website. It advertised a January 3 debate in Paris titled: “Stranglehold on Israel. Netanyahu or the end of the Zionist dream.”
Alize Bin Noun, Israel’s ambassador to France, had condemned the image and the text.
“Scandalous and intolerable how a public institute disseminates such defamatory visuals, assisting the vilification of Israel to advertise a so-called ‘debate,’ which is biased to begin with,” she wrote on Twitter. The institute, she added, “has crossed the border of objective criticism and is making itself guilty of incitement.”
Intolérable et scandaleux qu’un institut public diffuse de tels visuels diffamatoires et attisant la détestation d’#Israël pour présenter un soi-disant “débat” déjà à charge. L’@imarabe a franchi la limite de la critique objective et se rend coupable d’incitation à la haine pic.twitter.com/QyRodUFxyf
— Aliza Bin Noun (@AlizaBinNoun) December 28, 2018
Kahlon said set to fire minister Gallant amid plans for him to defect to Likud
Kulanu chairman Moshe Kahlon is reportedly set to have a senior lawmaker from his party, Yoav Gallant, fired from his position as housing and construction minister ahead of an expected defection to the Likud party ahead of the April elections.
Finance Minister Kahlon will meet with Gallant in Jerusalem later this evening where he will tell him of the decision to remove his cabinet portfolio, Hadashot news reports.
While the prime minister has the final say on cabinet appointments, coalition agreements state that he must cede to a request from a party head to fire one of their own ministers.
According to the report, however, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Kahlon have agreed to appoint Gallant as a minister without portfolio in order for him to remain in the high level security cabinet. Without Gallant, who served in the IDF as a major general and was a candidate to be chief of staff, the cabinet responsible for ordering military operations would include no members with a ranking higher than a company commander.
— Raoul Wootliff
‘Hold fast’: Mattis bids farewell to Pentagon
Defense Secretary Jim Mattis bids farewell to the Pentagon on Monday, telling the US military to “hold fast” after he quit over a series of fundamental differences with President Donald Trump.
Mattis resigned December 20, after Trump stunned the US establishment by ordering a full troop withdrawal from Syria.
“Our Department is proven to be at its best when the times are most difficult,” Mattis says in a brief memo to the Pentagon, an apparent reference to the turmoil in Washington. “So keep the faith in our country and hold fast, alongside our allies, aligned against our foes.”
Mattis had initially been due to leave the Pentagon at the end of February, but Trump brought the date forward by two months.
Russia detains American suspected of espionage
Russia says its security services had detained a US citizen in Moscow accused of spying, the latest in a series of espionage cases between Russia and the West.
The FSB domestic security service says the American was arrested on Friday “while carrying out an act of espionage.”
A criminal case had been opened, the FSB says in a statement, under Article 276 of the Russian Criminal Code, which allows for prison sentences of up to 20 years.
The statement identifies the American in Russian, using a name that appeared to translate as Paul Whelan.
In Washington, the State Department says it had been formally notified by Russia’s foreign ministry and was seeking access to the detained American.
“Russia’s obligations under the Vienna Convention require them to provide consular access. We have requested this access and expect Russian authorities to provide it,” a State Department spokesperson says.
Citing privacy considerations, the State Department declined to provide further details including the person’s name.
Bernie Sanders staffers want a meeting about ‘sexual violence’ of 2016 campaign
Veterans of Bernie Sanders’s insurgent 2016 campaign for the presidency want the Vermont senator to meet with them to discuss “sexual violence and harassment” on the campaign trail as he contemplates whether to run in 2020.
“In recent weeks there has been an ongoing conversation on social media, in texts, and in person, about the untenable and dangerous dynamic that developed during our campaign,” said the letter sent Sunday, Politico reveals.
A reply from Friends of Bernie Sanders, the senator’s campaign organization, has welcomed the letter but did not say whether it would accede to the meeting. It notes that personnel actions, including firings, were taken during the 2016 campaign in response to complaints, and that Sanders’s 2018 Senate campaign set up a hotline run by a third party to handle complaints.
PM cancels round of interviews with Israeli media in Brazil, will hold press conference instead
Netanyahu has canceled, at the last minute, a series of TV interviews he planned to give to Israeli media this evening.
Netanyahu was supposed to be interviewed by Israeli journalists who accompanied him on his visit to Brazil, but has instead decided to hold a press conference.
Abbas sends condolence message to wife of Amos Oz
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas praises preeminent Israeli author Amos Oz, who died on Friday at the age of 79, as “a defender of just causes” and “a supporter of peace.”
Abbas made the remarks about Oz in a letter delivered by members of the Palestine Liberation Organization’s Committee for Interaction with Israeli Society to the author’s family at a memorial service in Tel Aviv today.
“With great sorrow, we received the news of the death of the excellent writer and thinker Amos Oz,” Abbas writes in his letter, adding the Israeli writer was “a defender of just causes and a supporter of peace and dignified life.”
Ziad Darwish, a member of the PLO committee and a cousin of Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish, says he presented the letter and a Hebrew translation of it to Nily Zuckerman, Oz’s wife, at the memorial service.
Abbas also writes: “With his passing, we offer all of you and those who loved him our condolences. We pray God will bring peace and tranquility to his soul.”
— Adam Rasgon
US House Democrats unveil plan to open government
US House Democrats are unveiling legislation to reopen the government without money for President Donald Trump’s border wall.
The House is preparing to vote on the package Thursday, when the new Congress convenes. This is according to an aide who was not authorized to discuss the plan publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity.
It will include one bill to fund the Department of Homeland Security at current levels through February 8, with $1.3 billion for border security.
The package will also include six other bipartisan bills to fund the departments of Agriculture, Interior, Housing and Urban Development and others closed by the partial shutdown. Some have already passed the Senate. Those bills will provide money through the remainder of the fiscal year, to September 30.
The partial government shutdown is in its second week, over Trump’s demand for $5 billion for the wall.
PM: I will not resign if AG says he intends to charge me; law does not require me to do so
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says that he will not resign even if the attorney general announces an intention to indict him for one or more of the corruption probes against him.
“The law does not require me to do so,” he says in a press conference with Israeli media in Brazil.
“Israel is a country of law, and the law does not require that a prime minister resign during the process of hearing [at which a suspect has the opportunity to put his case before an indictment is issued],” he says.
“Imagine what happens if you oust a prime minister before the end of the hearing process, and at the end of the hearing it is decided to close the case,” he says. “That would be absurd, and a terrible blow to democracy.”
Netanyahu on Gantz: Whoever says he’s not right and not left, is left
Netanyahu comments on Benny Gantz’s entry into politics and again suggests that the former IDF chief of staff, who has kept his views close to his chest, is a leftist.
“Whoever says he’s not right and not left, is left,” Netanyahu says.
Netanyahu goes after Shaked and Bennett’s New Right party
Netanyahu criticizes Ayelet Shaked and Naftali Bennett’s decision to break away from the Jewish Home and form their New Right political party.
The premier says the move could “shatter the right bloc to pieces.”
“No one knows what Bennett and Shaked will do with the mandates they receive. They have already been in a fraternal alliance with the left, with Yair Lapid, and they could move their mandates to the left,” he claims.
Liberman rejects proposal raised by PM of uniting right-wing parties into one bloc
Yisrael Beytenu rejects the idea raised by Benjamin Netanyahu at his Brazil press conference, in which the prime minister said he was considering the possibility of uniting multiple right wing parties into one bloc.
“We have no intention whatsoever of uniting with any party. We will work independently and are confident that at the end of the election campaign we will bring a double digit number of mandates,” the right-wing party says in a statement.
Shaked and Bennett deflects PM’s criticism, say their new party returning votes to right
Ayelet Shaked and Naftali Bennett’s New Right party deflects criticism by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who said their faction could “shatter the right into pieces.”
“We will not be dragged into the prime minister’s attacks on us. We are returning the mandates that left the Likud to go to the left-wing bloc of Gantz, Lapid and Orly Levy. We propose the prime minister join us in this mission,” the party says in a statement.
Shin Bet dismisses claims that Jewish terror probe suspects are being mistreated
The Shin Bet security service releases a statement dismissing claims by the attorneys of the three teen suspects in a major security probe are being mistreated while in their custody.
The three Jewish boys were arrested yesterday morning and have since been prevented from meeting with an attorney, which Israeli law allows for up to 21 days in extreme security-related situations.
“The detainees are receiving all the rights to which they are entitled by law, and claims regarding the denial of their rights are baseless,” the security agency says in a statement. “Their purpose, among other things, is to divert the hearing from the allegations over which they were detained.”
Israeli flag with swastika, ‘Death to Zionists’ caption found during arrest of suspects in Jewish terror probe — report
During the arrest of a Jewish teen, whose details are under gag-order, for his involvement in a major security probe, Shin Bet officials found an Israeli flag with a swastika drawn on it along with the phrase, “Death to Zionists,” the Kan public broadcaster reports.
Lapid decries PM’s refusal to step down if summoned for a hearing pending indictment
Yesh Atid chairman Yair Lapid decries Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s announcement that he will not step aside if summoned for a hearing pending indictment.
“Netanyahu saying tonight that he can serve while under indictment is a sign of moral bankruptcy and proof that he has gone off the rails,” Lapid says in a statement.
“The only thing that concerns him is avoiding criminal charges and not the interests of the state.”