Netanyahu asks if African infiltrators can be forcibly removed from Israel

PM reportedly orders study of new proposal as cabinet meet to approve plan to tell migrants to leave or face indefinite jail

Israels prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, has reportedly asked officials to examine the feasibility of forcibly deporting thousands of African migrants, in the latest escalation of an anti-migrant campaign.

According to a report in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, Netanyahu instructed the national security adviser, Meir Ben Shabbat, to look into forced expulsion as his cabinet met to approve a plan to offer 40,000 people the choice of being deported with a cash payment or being incarcerated indefinitely.

Despite controversy around the existing plan, Netanyahu, following concerns over cost and prison space, asked officials to go a step further and ask if the migrants could be expelled by force a proposal that would almost certainly be challenged in the courts.

On Tuesday, details were disclosed of a much-criticised scheme starting in April to persuade people to leave through a combination of the threat of prison and the incentive of a cash payment of $3,500.

Most of the migrants in question largely Sudanese and Eritrean people arrived in Israel in the second half of the last decade, crossing from Egypt before new security on the border sealed the route.

Many people settled in poor neighbourhoods of south Tel Aviv, prompting a campaign against them by local Israeli residents, which attracted the support of Netanyahu despite at times being heavily coloured by racism.

Speaking at the cabinet meeting that approved the scheme, Netanyahu said the mission was to deport the illegal infiltrators who entered Israel prior to the construction of the new barrier with Egypt.

He said: Today the cabinet will approve the plan for deporting the infiltrators from Israel. We will step up enforcement and we will allocate budgets and personnel to implement the plan. I think that it is important that people understand that we are doing something here that is completely legal and completely essential.

The infiltrators have a clear choice cooperate with us and leave voluntarily, respectably, humanely and legally, or we will have to use other tools at our disposal, which are also according to law.

The plan has been opposed by human rights groups including the Centre for Refugees and Migrants, Amnesty International Israel and the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, who recently signed a letter demanding the deportations be halted. Anyone who has a heart must oppose the expulsion of the refugees, the letter says.

Referring to a widely reported deal to pay Rwanda $5,000 per person to accept the migrants, the groups added: Rwanda is not a safe place. All the evidence indicates that anyone expelled from Israel to Rwanda finds himself there without status and without rights, exposed to threats, kidnappings, torture and trafficking.

The latest move comes amid a rash of right populist moves by Netanyahus coalition, which some have suggested is being pursued ahead of expected police recommendations against the Israeli prime minister in two corruption cases.

Earlier this week Israels Knesset voted to prevent Jerusalem being divided, despite similar legislation already being on the statute books.

Then, in the aftermath of the cabinet meeting that discussed the fate of the African migrants, Israels parliament gave preliminary approval to a bill making it easier for terrorists to be sentenced to death after Netanyahu said it was necessary in extreme cases.

That proposed legislation requires three more votes in parliament to become law and is being pursued despite the fact the death penalty although never applied in Israel since the hanging of the Nazi Adolf Eichmann is also on the statute book.

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Gaza’s health system close to collapse as electricity crisis threatens total blackout

World Health Organization warns hospitals could be plunged into darkness by end of February without fresh funding to keep emergency generators running

Hospitals in Gaza will face an almost total power blackout by the end of February unless funding is secured to keep emergency generators running, the World Health Organization has warned.

An ongoing electricity crisis in Gaza has left hospitals reliant on emergency generators for up to 20 hours a day, while medical staff have been forced to cut back on basic services such as equipment sterilisation and diagnostics. About 500,000 litres of fuel are required each month to sustain critical care in Gaza, but funding will only cover hospitals needs until the end of February.

Dr Mahmoud Daher, head of the WHOs Gaza sub-office, said the health system is on the edge of collapse. Without urgent fundraising, hospitals will face a disastrous situation, he said. There are at least 200 babies and people in intensive care units. It would be a really fatal situation for them. There are dozens of people who are going to surgical operations that would be affected.

Fears over the humanitarian situation intensified following a series of tweets by Donald Trump on Tuesday, in which he threatened to cut funding for the Palestinian Authority unless it recommences peace talks. The US ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley, earlier said the US would cut funds to UNRWA, the UNs agency for Palestinian refugees, unless the authority went back to the negotiating table.

Dr Andy Ferguson, director of programmes for Medical Aid for Palestinians (Map), an organisation that works with hospitals and other healthcare providers across Gaza and the West Bank, said electricity outages in Gaza, combined with medical shortages and severe restrictions on freedom of movement, were creating a medical emergency.

Difficulties with sterilising equipment have caused a rise in hospital infections, he added, while power fluctuations have damaged sensitive medical equipment.

Worsening maternal malnutrition and increasing rates of premature and low-birthweight babies have led to instances of dangerous overcrowding in the neonatal intensive care unit in al-Shifa hosptial, said Ferguson.

Palestinian children do their homework by candlelight during a power cut in Gaza City. Photograph: Mahmud Hams/AFP/Getty Images

As a result, explained Ferguson, incubators designed to accommodate one baby were often occupied by several. Medical staff are having to look after as many as seven critically ill babies each at a time, compared to the UK standard of 1:1 or 1:2 care. Overcrowding of this type makes adequate monitoring and infection control impossible.

Generators are also in need maintenance, the WHO warned, but hospitals are unable to carry out repairs due to restrictions on moving goods into Gaza.

We have been told by doctors in a neonatal unit that there were periods when staff in the units were forced to make manual ventilation to patients in intensive care because the generators didnt function, said Daher. Its a matter of seconds sometimes.

The WHOs latest figures show hospitals are experiencing severe shortages of drugs and medical disposables. Of 516 medications on the essential drug list, 223 (43%) were at zero stock levels in November, which means central supplies will be totally depleted in less than a month. At the end of November, drugs used in the emergency departments and intensive care units were at 48% zero stock, while power shortages have made it harder for hospitals to collect and store large quantities of blood.

There are also dramatic decreases in the proportion of people securing permits to access healthcare outside Gaza, said Daher. In October, 45% of patients who applied to the Israeli authorities for such treatment were unsuccessful. Figures are expected to show that there were fewer exit permits granted in 2017 than in any year since the WHO began monitoring applications.

Map knows of at least 30 patients who died in 2017 after being either prevented from exiting by Israel or unable to secure financial coverage for their referral from the Palestine Authority, said Ferguson.

The Israeli government has yet to respond to a request for comment.

The UN will launch its humanitarian response plan for the occupied Palestinian territory later this month, and is expected to call for $374m (275m) to meet humanitarian needs in the Gaza Strip.

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Trump Jerusalem move ‘a dangerous violation’ of international law, says Arab League

Foreign ministers says US presidents decision threatens to send the region into violence and chaos

Arab foreign ministers have called Donald Trumps decision to recognise Jerusalem as Israels capital a dangerous violation of international law that had no legal impact and was void.

The Arab League urged the United States to abandon an announcement it said would increase unrest in the region. The decision has no legal effect … it deepens tension, ignites anger and threatens to plunge region into more violence and chaos, the Arab League said early on Sunday after an emergency session attended by all its members in Cairo.

Trumps endorsement of Israels claim to all of Jerusalem as its capital goes against long-standing US policy that the citys status must be decided in negotiations with the Palestinians, who want East Jerusalem as the capital of their future state.

The league said it would seek a UN security council resolution rejecting the US move.

Lebanons foreign minister, Gebran Bassil, said during the meeting that Arab nations should consider imposing economic sanctions against the US to prevent it moving its embassy to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv.

Pre-emptive measures [must be] taken … beginning with diplomatic measures, then political, then economic and financial sanctions, he said, without giving specific details.

The Arab League statement made no mention of economic sanctions.

Arab criticism of Trumps plan contrasted sharply with the praise Washingtons traditional Arab allies heaped on him at the beginning of his administration in January.

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Victims of Israeli attack on Gaza flotilla fear legal case will be dropped

Concern legal process being politically hijacked after deal to restore diplomatic relations between Israel and Turkey

A landmark case due to be heard by the high court in Istanbul over alleged crimes committed by Israel during the 2010 aid flotilla to Gaza could be dropped as a result of a bilateral agreement signed in June.

The Turkish court is expected to hold a hearing on Wednesday aimed at holding four Israeli generals to account for the alleged assault and unlawful detention of more than 700 activists. They were aboard a fleet of boats attempting to break Israels blockade of Gaza in May 2010. The case against the generals is due to be heard in absentia.

However, the activists fear the judge will dismiss the case following a deal reached between Israel and Turkey in the summer to restore diplomatic relations, which broke off following the violent interception of the flotilla.

Under the deal, Israel agreed to make an ex gratia payment of $20m (16m) to Turkey to compensate the families of 10 activists who were killed by Israeli forces aboard the flotillas lead ship, the Mavi Marmara.

The agreement specified that the two countries do not attribute legal or other liability to the other side or its agents, and agree that this understanding will not be construed as an admittance of or the placing of criminal or civil liability on any side or its agents.

The deal constituted full release from any liability of Israel, its agents and citizens with respect to any and all claims, civil or criminal, that have been or will be filed against them in Turkey, direct or indirect, by the Republic of Turkey or Turkish real and legal persons, in relation to the flotilla incident.

Israeli forces stormed the Mavi Marmara and five other ships in May 2010 to prevent them reaching Gaza, killing 10 people and injuring many more. The incident triggered international condemnation and a diplomatic crisis between Turkey and Israel.

The flotilla had set sail from Turkey, and nine of the 10 dead activists were Turkish. Its cargo included medical supplies, construction materials and paper for Gaza schools. Israel warned it would prevent the ships breaking its blockade on Gaza.

A United Nations investigation later backed Israels naval blockade of Gaza as legal but said its military assault on the flotilla was excessive and unreasonable.

In the case due to be heard in Istanbul this week, 740 activists from 37 countries including a number from the UK are being represented. The court has heard testimony over the past 18 months, and the judge is now due to decide how to proceed.

Alexandra Lort Phillips, a British activist who testified in earlier court hearings in Istanbul, said: The attack on the ships of the flotilla was a shocking event The actions of Israel were illegal, plain and simple.

She said the legal process was now at risk of being politically hijacked, adding: It is deeply upsetting. The legal process should not fall victim to power politics.

Ahsan Shamruk, another British activist, said he was shot in the head and stomach and left to die in the lethal military assault on the flotilla. I am still suffering from nightmares and many sleepless nights. I have permanent ear nerve damage and my eyesight has drastically deteriorated. Those responsible must be held to account for this criminal act.

The deal between Israel and Turkey was not enforceable as a matter of international law and under the European convention on human rights, said Rodney Dixon, a British QC who is part of the survivors legal team.

It would be unlawful for the Turkish court to terminate the criminal case and deprive the victims of justice and their day in court on account of an agreement made by two states, he said.

The victims and the families of the deceased were not consulted nor involved at all in these dealings that directly impinge on their fundamental rights.

Last week, an Israeli government minister visited Turkey for the first time since 2010 in a sign of restored diplomatic relations.

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Going inside Jerusalem’s underground city of the dead

Jerusalem (CNN)In Jerusalem’s largest cemetery the deceased have a need that the living cannot fulfill: more space.

The Givat Shaul cemetery, which sprawls across a hilltop on the northwestern edge of the city, contains more than 200,000 burial spots, and nearly every one is full, marked with a carved headstone and adorned with flowers and memorial candles.
Burial spots cover nearly every acre of the cemetery, separated only by access roads and walkways. The graves form a neatly organized pattern across the entire area.


The project, which started last year, will take at least five more years to complete. But the first burials will take place in late-2017, Shachor said, when the first passages are completed.
Asked if people may have a psychological problem being buried underground, Shachor said he believes skeptics will overcome their doubts.
“The most important thing is that it’s according to the Jewish tradition. Everybody will be buried in the ground, and this fits the Jewish tradition … there won’t be any problems.”
But Shachor knows that this underground site is a temporary solution to an eternal problem.
“I have to find a solution for the next 20, 30 years, and the people who will take my place will have to find a solution for a longer time.”

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The New Ben-Hur Is an Ancient and Modern Mess

A world power mired in the Middle East: The Rome/US parallels are inescapable and tantalizingand cluelessly handled in this chariot ride to nowhere.”>

They are all Romans now, proclaims Pontius Pilate, prefect of Judea, as he watches throngs of Jews exult over the chariot victory of their champion, Judah Ben-Hur. The line speaks to one element (among many) that the new Ben-Hur so utterly lacks: any insight into the meaning of Roman identity and power in a culturally diverse world. For a country with long-term military commitments in the Middle East, in landscapes very much like the sets of this hollow remake, that lack is deeply troubling.

Ancient Rome has often served Hollywood studios as a stand-in for America in its role as world hegemon, as well as for the militaristic regimes that threaten American freedom. That dual legacy was a central theme of the Coen brothers film-within-a-film, Hail Caesar!, released earlier this year. In part a spoof of the 1959 Ben-Hur, this savvy comedy set the story of a Roman soldier in Jerusalem against the backdrop of the Cold War. George Clooney, playing an officer of the Roman army of occupation, simultaneously converts (in the interior film) to the worship of Christ and (in the exterior film) to the utopian Communist vision preached by a cadre of pro-Russian screenwriters, while also contemplating a job with an aerospace firm developing new nuclear weapons.

Hail, Caesar! took as its premise the idea that no Hollywood portrayal of ancient Rome exists in a political vacuum. Global hegemony is a rare enough phenomenon, historically, that the Roman Empire inevitably becomes a mirror for American power in the post-World War II world, albeit a distorting one. And when that Empire goes toe to toe with Middle Eastern religious fanatics, as in the Ben-Hur story, the parallels become inescapable, and profoundly disquieting.

The new Ben-Hur seems to highlight these parallels with an important change to the plot of the previous versions (three American films, going back to 1907, and the 1880 novel on which they were based). The incident that sets Judah Ben-Hur, Judaean prince, against his childhood friend Messala, Roman officer, is, in these earlier Ben-Hurs, a piece of fantastically bad luck. While the Hur family watches from their roof a Roman military procession through Jerusalem, a tile slides from a parapet and falls to the street below. Judah and his family are blamed for the affront, however accidental, to Roman authority.

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Israel brings fresh charges against nuclear whistleblower Mordechai Vanunu

Former nuclear technician who revealed details of Israels nuclear programme is accused of breaching restraining orders

Israeli prosecutors charged nuclear whistleblower Mordechai Vanunu on Sunday with violating the terms of his release, more than a decade after he completed an 18-year jail term.

Upon his release in 2004, Vanunu was slapped with a series of restraining orders, some of which he has violated in recent years, the justice ministry said.

According to the charge sheet, Vanunu in 2013 met two US nationals in Jerusalem without having permission to do so.

He is also accused of moving to a different flat in his apartment building in 2014 and failing to inform police.

And in 2015, he granted an interview to Channel 2 television, in which he relayed to the interviewer classified information that was by cut out by censors, according to the indictment served at Jerusalem magistrates court.

The former nuclear technician was jailed in 1986 for disclosing the inner workings of Israels Dimona nuclear plant to Britains Sunday Times newspaper.

He spent more than 10 years of his sentence in solitary confinement.

In the 2015 interview, Vanunu said he no longer had any secrets to spill and just wanted to join his new bride in Norway, theology professor Kristin Joachimsen whom he married at a Lutheran church in Jerusalem in May that year.

He has been barred from emigrating on the grounds that he still poses a threat to national security.

Vanunu, 61, converted to Christianity shortly before being snatched by Mossad agents in Rome and smuggled to Israel.

In 2010 he was jailed for 11 weeks after breaking the terms of his release by meeting a foreigner, a prison official said.

Israel is the Middle Easts sole if undeclared nuclear power, refusing to confirm or deny that it has such weapons.

It has refused to sign the nuclear non-proliferation treaty or to allow international surveillance of the Dimona plant in the Negev desert of southern Israel.

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