On the fence: 7 things to know for March 28
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Israel media review

On the fence: 7 things to know for March 28

Palestinians chalk one up against the IDF by infiltrating into Israel, and government committee recommends converting non-Jews after Arabs claim demographic parity with Jews

Adiv Sterman is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

Three armed Palestinian men walk past Kibbutz Tzeelim in southern Israel after breaking through the security fence around the Gaza Strip on March 27, 2018. (Screen capture)
Three armed Palestinian men walk past Kibbutz Tzeelim in southern Israel after breaking through the security fence around the Gaza Strip on March 27, 2018. (Screen capture)

1. Israeli security officials, politicians, and pundits are thinking long and hard about the three armed Palestinians who were arrested on Tuesday morning after they crossed the Gaza security fence and traveled approximately 20 kilometers (12 miles) into Israeli territory. Analysts across the Hebrew-language media landscape label the breach as a “colossal fault” on the military’s part, with some stressing the fact that the three had passed by communities, schools, and kindergartens undeterred.

  • The suspects were found outside the Tzeelim army base at 10:35 a.m., approximately an hour and a half after IDF soldiers first spotted signs of infiltration. The three were in possession of knives and grenades, the military said. The tools that were apparently used to cut through the fence were also recovered.
  • Army investigators, however, are trying to work out why the suspects didn’t use the weapons at their disposal, even though they had ample opportunity to do so. For instance, at one point, the men were caught on surveillance camera walking past Kibbutz Tzeelim, which is located down the road from the army base. The gate to the community was open, but the men passed it by without entering.
  • This has led to two main assumptions: either the three were specifically targeting the Tzeelim army base, which is known as an important IDF training facility, especially for soldiers about to be stationed along the Gaza border, or the Palestinians were not planning to conduct an attack and were instead purposely waiting to get caught.

2. Tensions have been on the rise in the area around the Gaza Strip in recent weeks, following a number of incidents along the security fence.

  • On Saturday, a group of four Palestinians cut through the fence in southern Gaza and tried to set fire to the heavy machinery being used to construct a massive above- and below-ground barrier around Gaza.
  • Unlike Tuesday’s incident, however, the four masked men spent just a few minutes inside Israeli territory before they fled back into Gaza as IDF troops arrived at the scene.
  • Earlier this week, the Iron Dome missile defense system’s booming interceptors set off incoming rocket sirens, sending thousands of residents of southern Israel rushing into bomb shelters in the middle of the night when no rockets had actually been fired.

3. While the accumulation of incidents along the Gaza security fence are worrying in themselves, the cases have much broader implications given the fact that the army has been preparing for a massive protest in Gaza scheduled for Friday, during which thousands of demonstrators are expected to take part and possibly try to break through the security fence.

Palestinian youngsters hide and hold flags as they demonstrate near Khan Younis by the border fence between Israel and the southern Gaza Strip on March 16, 2018. (AFP Photo/Said Khatib)
  • Palestinian groups are planning to construct a tent city across from the Gaza security fence and have called on tens of thousands of Gaza residents to participate in what they described as a “peaceful protest.”
  • The “March of Return” is set to begin on Friday with “Land Day,” which marks the Israeli government’s expropriation of Arab-owned land in the Galilee on March 30, 1976, and the ensuing demonstrations in which six Arab Israelis were killed. It is also, by coincidence, the eve of the week-long Passover holiday.
  • Israel has deployed more than a hundred snipers to deal with the march, and the army will authorize them to open fire if it is determined that Israeli lives are in danger, IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot said Wednesday.

4. And while Gazans prepare to cross the border fence into Israel en massse, arguments over demographics have taken front stage, as the Palestinian Authority is expected to publish a survey this week according to which by 2020 there will be an Arab majority between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River.

  • Haaretz reports that based on these approximations, 2.97 million Arabs are currently estimated to be living in the West Bank, as well as 1.91 million in the Gaza Strip. The Palestinian data suggests that 1.53 million Arab Israelis live within the Green Line, compared to 1.8 million according to Israeli estimations.
  • However, according to data compiled by Sergio Della-Pergola of the Department of History of the Jewish People and Contemporary Judaism at the Hebrew University, Jews make up 52% of the population in Israel, the West Bank, and the Gaza Strip. Della-Pergola maintains that 600,000 people should be removed from the Palestinian data due to inconsistencies in the survey.

5. Perhaps due to the purported demographic changes in the region, a committee appointed by Education Minister Naftali Bennett has recommended that the government establish an organization focused on developing Jewish and Hebrew culture studies in non-Jewish communities around the world that claim to be have a connection to Israel.

Education Minister Naftali Bennett leads a faction meeting of his Jewish Home party at the Knesset on March 12, 2018. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)
  • According to the committee, there are about 60 million people all over the globe who have an affinity to Judaism or Israel.
  • The committee has also recommended that some of these millions be seriously considered by the government as potential converts to Judaism who should be granted immigrant status to Israel. “This is an unprecedented strategic opportunity to bring the affinitive public closer to the Jewish people, and to set a clear and permanent path for the minority that will ultimately be interested in joining the Jewish people,” members of the committee told Haaretz.
  • The Diaspora Ministry has stressed that the report has not yet been adopted, and that its goal is to strengthen ties with communities that have an affinity to Israel rather than actually bring about a mass conversion movement.

6. A German plane collided early Wednesday morning with an El Al jet on the tarmac at Ben Gurion Airport. There were no injuries, and all of the passengers were evacuated back to the airport terminal.

  • The Berlin-bound Germania Boeing 737 was reversing out of its parking place en route to takeoff when it clipped the tail of the El Al 767, set to fly to Rome.
  • The crash comes hard on the heels of the chaotic evacuation of a plane due to fly from Budapest, Hungary, to Tel Aviv on Tuesday, during which an Israeli woman fell out of the doorway onto the ground and was seriously injured.
A Germania plane collided with an El Al plane on the tarmac at Ben Gurion Airport on March 28, 2018. Nobody was hurt. (Israel Airports Authority screenshot)

7. El Al is having a bad week, regardless of accidents and evacuations, following India Airlines’ announcement that it would launch a flight from Delhi to Israel.

  • The Israeli airline announced Wednesday that it is filing a petition to the High Court of Justice against the launch, based on the principle of inequality, since Air India flights can fly over Saudi Arabia while El Al legally cannot.
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