Naftali Bennett: The tech millionaire son of Berkeley ‘left-wingers’ who is poised to take over from Israel’s Benjamin Netanyahu

Naftali Bennett Ayelet Shaked
Naftali Bennett and Ayelet Shaked during a press conference in Tel Aviv on December 29, 2018.

  • Pending a Knesset vote, Naftali Bennett will become Israel’s next prime minister.
  • He was raised by two UC Berkeley graduates and has lived in Israel, Canada, and the US.
  • The right-wing multimillionaire was also controversially involved in the 1996 “Qana Massacre” of 106 civilians.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Israel’s longest-serving prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, could soon be out of office after an unlikely coalition of eight opposition parties successfully reached a deal to form a new government.

If the coalition is ratified in Israel’s Knesset, Netanyahu will be replaced as prime minister by his former Chief of Staff and the head of the right-wing Yamina party- Naftali Bennett.

Bennett, an ultra-nationalist multimillionaire, would serve as prime minister for two years before handing over to the Yesh Atid chairman Yair Lapid.

With Bennett poised to take the reigns imminently, many are wondering who the prime minister-in-waiting actually is.

Read more: ‘Netanyahu owes his career to Hamas’ – ‘The Human Factor’ director Dror Moreh talks about the rise and fall of the Israel and Palestine peace process

Both of his parents are graduates of the University of California, Berkeley

Bennett was born in the port city Haifa in 1972. He descends from Holocaust survivors on his mother’s side and has Polish, German, and Dutch roots, according to Haaretz.

His parents, Myrna and Jim Bennett, are American but now live in Haifa. They visited Israel for a vacation after the Six-Day War in 1967 and ended up settling, according to The Jewish News of Northern California. Bennett’s father is a fifth-generation San Franciscan, the paper reported.

His parents are graduates of the University of California, Berkeley, and were “left-wingers” until they settled in Israel and embraced nationalism, his mother told Haaretz.

“In the US, we were against the Vietnam War. We went to Berkeley. We were automatically like left-wingers. When we came to Israel, I felt I loved the place I was living in,” she said in a 2013 interview.

Bennett and his two brothers, Asher and Daniel, were raised in a modern Orthodox Jewish home in Haifa. A childhood friend told Haaretz that Bennett grew up in an atmosphere that was “very Zionist, right-wing.”

He attended a religious, co-educational school. He didn’t excel academically, according to a former teacher.

Naftali Bennett praying
Naftali Bennett prays at the Western Wall in Jerusalem in June 2013. He is a practising Orthodox Jew.

He was involved in the ‘Qana Massacre’ that killed 106 civilians

Bennett began his compulsory military service with the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) in 1990. He served as a soldier in Sayeret Matkal – the special forces unit tasked with counter-terrorism missions and hostage rescue outside of Israel’s borders – and as a company commander of the elite Maglan unit, The Jerusalem Post reported. Maglan is a secretive reconnaissance unit that specializes in using advanced technology and weaponry behind enemy lines, according to Ynet.

His role in one military operation, known as the Operation Grapes of Wrath or the April Aggression, is particularly controversial.

In April 1996, Bennett was the commander of a Maglan unit of 67 soldiers. While in Qana, a village in Southern Lebanon, his unit came under mortar fire from Hezbollah fighters.

The attackers reportedly fled into a nearby United Nations compound sheltering hundreds of Lebanese civilians. Bennett radioed for support against the Hezbollah mortar team, according to The Times of Israel, and the IDF artillery strike fired 36 high explosive shells. But 13 shells struck the UN compound, killing 106 civilians in what is now called the “Qana Massacre.”

Qana Massacre 1996
An Israeli unit, commanded by Naftali Bennett, shelled a United Nations compound and killed 106 civilians in 1996.

In the lead-up to the 2015 Israeli elections, Israeli journalist Ravid Drucker cited an anonymous “senior army figure” report that said Bennett’s radio call for support was “hysterical” and showed poor judgment, The Times of Israel reported.

Bennett called Drucker’s charges a “vanity of vanities, nonsense, a pile of bulls–t.” Other officers familiar with the incident dismissed the charges and said that Bennett displayed “level-headedness,” according to The Jerusalem Post.

Bennett would go onto boast of having killed many militants during his military service. “I already killed lots of Arabs in my life, and there is absolutely no problem with that,” he said, according to The Washington Post. He claims to have been misquoted, Israeli media reported.

Bennett is still a reservist, ranked as a major, and was called up during the 2006 Lebanon War, The Australian said.

Bennett led Wikipedia workshops on how to make the website more Israel-friendly

After his military service, Bennett studied for a law degree at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. In 1999, he married his wife Gilat – a professional pastry chef from a secular Israeli family.

In the early 2000s, he moved to New York City to launch his career as a software entrepreneur and lived in the affluent Upper East Side of Manhattan, The New Yorker reported. He co-founded an anti-fraud software company, Cyota, which he eventually sold in 2005 to RSA Security for $145 million.

He returned to Israel as a reservist in 2006 and then embarked on a political career. He served as Netanyahu’s Chief of Staff from 2006 to 2008. He also helped Netanyahu win his primary campaign to lead the Likud party in 2007.

In 2009, he became the CEO of Soluto – a now-defunct software company. He eventually stood down from the role to become director-general of the Yesha Council – a pro-settlement group of organizations.

In 2010, he co-founded a right-wing political organization, My Israel, with Zionist firebrand Ayelet Shaked. The group, along with the Yesha Council, worked to propagate right-wing Zionism online. They launched workshops to teach participants how to rewrite Wikipedia articles to make them more pro-Israel, The Guardian reported in 2010.

In 2012, Bennett left Likud – the party currently chaired by Netanyahu – and joined the Orthodox Jewish, pro-settlement Jewish Home party.

Naftali Bennett speaking as head of the Jewish Home party
In this Wednesday, Dec. 26, 2012 photo, Naftali Bennett, who was then the head of the Jewish Home party, speaks in Ashdod, Israel.

In 2013, he became the party leader with 67 percent of the vote and later won 12 seats in Israel’s Knesset. He renounced his American citizenship to join the Knesset, The Jerusalem Post reported.

He was appointed Minister of the Economy, Minister of Religious Services, and, later, the Minister of Jerusalem and Diaspora Affairs, serving under prime minister Netanyahu.

While acting as a minister in these roles, Bennett sold Soluto for $130 million in 2013, according to Haaretz. He pocketed millions from the sale, the paper said.

In 2015, he was re-elected and became Minister of Education. In this role, he banned schools from inviting organizations that condemned Israel’s actions in the occupied West Bank, Ynet reported.

Tensions between Bennett and Netanyahu

Bennett had previously viewed Netanyahu as his mentor. He looked up to him so much that he even named his eldest son, Yoni, after Netanyahu’s brother, who was killed in 1976, Reuters reported.

Their working relationship soured after a mysterious falling out in 2008 at the end of Bennett’s tenure as his chief of staff, according to The Washington Post. The argument was, according to Israeli media reports, related to Netanyahu’s wife, Sara.

A year later, they clashed again after Bennett criticized Netanyahu for slowing down settlement construction, the Post added.

In 2018, tensions between Netanyahu and Bennett escalated. Bennett wanted to be Defense Minister but was thwarted by Netanyahu, who then took the job for himself, Reuters reported.

Bennett announced that his party, Jewish Home, would leave Netanyahu’s government. He later reneged and remained in the coalition, The Times of Israel reported.

Naftali Bennett, left, and Benjamin Netanyahu, right
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, right, and Naftali Bennett, left, in August 2016.

He then shocked the nation by splitting from Jewish Home and with Ayelet Shaked and other lawmakers to form the anti-Palestinian New Right party in 2018.

The party failed to win any seats, and the New Right formed an electoral coalition with several right-wing, religious parties to bolster their electoral chances. This became known as Yamina, which won seven seats in the March 2021 election under Bennett’s leadership.

Yamina’s core principles include opposing the establishment of a Palestinian state, developing illegal settlements, and defeating terrorism.

Due to the logistics of coalition-forming in the Israeli political system, Bennett, with only seven seats, became known as the “kingmaker’ during negotiations to form a new government and set himself up to become the next Israeli prime minister.

As part of these negotiations, Bennett had to walk back on previous comments made about United Arab List chairman Mansour Abbas – an Israeli-Arab politician who has joined the coalition.

Bennett had previously called Abbas a “supporter of terrorism,” but, now, the pair have become strange political bedfellows. This week, he called Abbas a “brave leader” and a “decent man” and said that the partnership would “turn over a new leaf in the relationship between the state and Arab Israelis,” Haaretz reported.

‘I told my kids their father will be the most hated person in Israel’

Those hoping that Netanyahu’s ousting will bring a substantive change to the Israeli-Palestinian relationship may be left wanting. Bennett shares a similarly hardline, right-wing approach to security issues.

Several Palestinian officials told Al Jazeera that they expect Netanyahu’s replacement to pursue the same “Greater Israel” agenda.

Bennett favors the unilateral annexation of the occupied West Bank. “We have to mark the dream, and the dream is that Judea and Samaria will be part of the sovereign State of Israel. We have to act today, and we must give our lives,” he said in 2017.

But Bennett has said that, as part of his coalition agreement, he will not agree to the annexation of any West Bank territory or the building of new settlements, The Times of Israel reported.

Naftali Bennett
Naftali Bennett speaks to the Israeli Parliament in Jerusalem, Sunday, May 30, 2021.

He also opposes the creation of a Palestinian state. “I will do everything in my power to make sure they never get a state,” he told The New Yorker in 2013.

Bennett holds a conservative viewpoint on social issues, including opposing same-sex marriage.

How he will find common ground between his ultra-nationalist, religiously conservative views and Lapid’s center-left, pragmatic approach is the focus of political discussion in Israel. When asked about this, his response is simple and ambiguous: “We’ll manage.”

Bennett is also already anticipating ferocious criticism and cries of betrayal for joining the coalition. He told Channel 12 News: “I told my kids that their father was going to be the most hated person in the country.”

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500 Amazon workers sign a letter asking Jeff Bezos and Andy Jassy to support Palestinians and sever contracts with the Israel Defense Forces

Andy Jassy Jeff Bezos
Andy Jassy (left) will take over as Amazon CEO from Jeff Bezos (right) in Q3 of this year.

  • More than 500 Amazon workers signed a letter asking CEO Jeff Bezos and top exec Andy Jassy to support Palestinians.
  • The workers specifically asked that Amazon sever contracts with the Israel Defense Forces.
  • Amazon signed a cloud computing deal with Israel this week worth more than $1 billion.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

A group of more than 500 Amazon workers signed an internal letter asking its top executives Jeff Bezos and Andy Jassy to support Palestinians, The Verge reports.

Andy Jassy is set to take over from Jeff Bezos as Amazon CEO later this year.

“As Amazonians, we believe it is our moral responsibility to stand in solidarity with and speak out on behalf of the millions of Palestinians who, for decades, have not only been dispossessed of their voices and victimhood, but, in essence, their humanity,” the letter reads.

“Amazon employs Palestinians in Tel Aviv and Haifa offices and around the world. Ignoring the suffering faced by Palestinians and their families at home erases our Palestinian coworkers,” it adds.

The letter makes four specific demands of Amazon’s senior leadership, including severing contracts with government and corporate entities associated with human-rights violations. The letter names the Israel Defense Forces as an example.

Amazon Web Services, the company’s cloud division, signed a deal Monday with the Israeli government to provide cloud services to the country’s military and public sector. Google also signed a similar deal.

Israel and the militant group Hamas agreed to a cease-fire Thursday after 10 days of the bloodiest fighting the region had seen in years. The Israeli bombardment of Gaza killed at least 232 Palestinians, including 65 children and 39 women, according to Reuters, citing health authorities. Nearly 2,000 people in Gaza, the Hamas-controlled territory that is under an Israeli blockade, were injured, and the UN said about 58,000 were displaced.

Militants in Gaza fired more than 4,300 rockets that killed at least 12 people in Israel, including two children and a soldier.

The letter also asks Amazon to start a relief fund for Palestinians affected by military violence, to publicly acknowledge “the continued assault upon Palestinians’ basic human rights under an illegal occupation,” and to reject publicly and internally any definition of antisemitism that says criticism of Israel is inherently antisemitic.

“It is important to clarify that our stance against the Israeli military occupation of the Palestinian people is not a stance against the Jewish people. Antisemitism has no place in our cause. Our narrative is a stance against a state continuing to perpetuate settle colonial violence against an indigenous people: the Palestinians,” the workers wrote in the letter.

Amazon isn’t the only tech company where employees have asked leadership to support Palestinians. More than 250 Google employees signed a petition asking the Google to end certain contracts with Israel.

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Israel moving towards ceasefire with Hamas in Gaza now that several military objectives have been met, reports say

Israeli tank fires a howitzer
Israeli soldiers fire a 155mm self-propelled howitzer towards the Gaza Strip from their position along the border with the Palestinian enclave on May 16, 2021

  • Ceasefire talks mediated by Egypt could start today, senior Israeli officials told the local news outlet, Walla.
  • Israel says several military goals have been achieved.
  • International pressure and the worsening humanitarian situation have contributed to this development, Walla reported.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Israel will start moving towards a ceasefire now that several military objectives have been achieved against Hamas, according to a report by Israeli media outlet Walla.

Ceasefire talks could begin as soon as today (Sunday) and mediated by Egypt, Walla reported.

Military officials believe that the airstrikes on Gaza have been successful in reaching specific military goals, the unnamed Israeli sources told the media outlet. The Israeli government is reluctant to progress towards a ground invasion, the officials added.

Israel’s willingness to discuss a ceasefire in Gaza is partly driven by increasing international pressure, encouraged by President Joe Biden, and a deteriorating humanitarian situation in the Palestinian territories, Walla reported.

Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel’s prime minister, will conduct a situation assessment with defense minister Benny Gantz, Israel Defense Forces (IDF) Chief of Staff Aviv Kochavi, and top security officials later today, the media outlet said.

The IDF has conducted hundreds of airstrikes in the Gaza Strip since Monday, including on a media building housing the Associated Press and Al Jazeera offices.

The Israeli military has said that it is targeting terrorist targets. Gaza’s top Hamas leader, Yahiyeh Sinwar, was killed in an airstrike in the town of Khan Yonis, CBS News reported.

But the airstrikes have resulted in civilian casualties. The deadliest single attack yet took place on Sunday when airstrikes flattened three buildings and killed at least 26 people, CBS News said.

Palestinian officials say at least 181 people have been killed since the conflict began on Monday, including 83 women and children, The Financial Times reported.

Israel has reported 10 dead, including two children, as a result of a barrage of rockets on the country.

International pressure has steadily increased on Israel to put an end to the violence, with “Free Palestine” protests taking place across the world.

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Astonishing footage filmed by a plane passenger shows Hamas rockets being intercepted mid-air by Israel’s Iron Dome

iron dome missile interceptor
Israel’s Iron Dome intercepts rockets fired from Gaza in a clip recording on board an El Flight on May 13.

  • A passenger on board an El Al flight captured Israel’s missile-defense system in action.
  • The clip shows rockets, fired from Gaza, being intercepted mid-air.
  • Over 2000 rockets have been fired from Gaza towards Israel since Monday, the IDF said.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

A passenger on board a flight from Brussels to Tel Aviv captured Israel’s advanced missile-defense system intercepting rockets on early Thursday morning, a viral video shows.

The passenger filmed the Iron Dome in action from his window seat on El Al flight LY332, aviation website Simple Flying reported.

The El Al flight was diverted due to the rocket fire, entering a holding pattern above Nablus in the occupied West Bank, before safely landing in Ramon Airport near Eilat, Simple Flying said.

In the astonishing clip, the Iron Dome can be seen firing interceptors at incoming missiles above Tel Aviv. Each flash of light represents a successful interception.

The Israeli missile-defense system has blocked some 90% of rockets fired by Hamas, Insider’s Mia Jankowicz reported on Thursday.

The Iron Dome’s algorithm has recently been adapted to counter Hamas’ attempts to overwhelm the system with a barrage of rockets, experts told The Economist.

Some 2000 rockets have been fired from Gaza towards Israel, the Israel Defense Forces said on Saturday morning.

In response, Israeli fighter jets have hit targets in central Gaza. Palestinian fatalities from strikes on Gaza stand at more than 132, including 30 children, The Guardian reported. About 950 people have been injured, the paper added.

Eight people have died in Israel due to the rocket offensive, The Guardian said.

The region is facing its worst violence since the 50-day war in 2014, Insider reported.

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In Sheikh Jarrah, Jerusalem, longtime Palestinian residents are challenging expulsions by Israeli settlers in court and bearing a violent response, fearing the repeat of history

Sheikh Jarrah family
Samira Dajani holds a photo of her father, Fouad Moussa Dajani and his sons, taken in the same place in the courtyard of their home in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood of east Jerusalem, Sunday, May 9, 2021. When Samira Dajani’s family moved into their first real home in 1956 after years as refugees, her father planted trees in the garden, naming them for each of his six children.

  • A dozen Palestinian families face expulsions from the occupied East Jerusalem area of Sheikh Jarrah.
  • Peaceful sit-ins in the neighborhood were met with deadly violence from Israeli police.
  • Insider spoke to Palestinian families fighting to save their neighborhood, and their identities.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Rasha Budeiri and her mother often reminisce on the intergenerational, cheerful memories that define their family’s history in Sheikh Jarrah, a close-knit Palestinian neighborhood in East Jerusalem.

Her mother, Samira Dajani, remembers planting trees with her grandfather in the garden, and Rasha misses the summertime reunions with her cousins from across the diaspora, where they would play, fight, laugh and clamor for a spot on the swing. Budeiri distinctly remembers her grandmother’s eyes, and the way they would light up at the sight of her grandchildren, a unified family, gathered in her garden.

The swing is still there, but like many other Palestinians in Sheikh Jarrah, and scattered throughout the occupied territories, the fate of their family and land is uncertain.

A fraught history, and a chaotic present

Sheikh Jarrah has become the tense centerpoint of an expulsion campaign led by Israeli settlers, which Palestinian residents say is also sanctioned by the Israeli state.

Since 2020, eviction notices have been served to thirteen Palestinian families in Sheikh Jarrah, a neighborhood which sits between East and West Jerusalem, a strategic location just north of the Damascus Gate and the Al Aqsa Mosque compound in Jerusalem’s old city.

The basis of the attempted dispossession in the neighborhood revolves around the use of a 1970 Israeli law that exclusively allows Jews to take back lands they claim to have lost before the state of Israel was established in 1948.

The history of the neighborhood is, “a microcosm of the Nakba,” Diana Buttu, the director of the Institute for Middle East Understanding told Insider.

“Because it’s a result of the Nakba,” Buttu added.

The Nakba, or the great catastrophe in Arabic, describes the mass expulsion of 700,000 Palestinians from their native land in 1948, as paramilitary Zionist forces raided villages and towns and established the state of Israel.

May 15 marks the 73rd anniversary of the Nakba, during a week in which Palestinians have mobilized globally to save Sheikh Jarrah. As the violent response increased tensions, Hamas launched missiles into Israel and Israel has launched a deadly, ongoing new bombing campaign in the Gaza Strip which has killed at least 65 people, including 16 children.

Between 1951 and 1967, Jordan controlled what is now known as the West Bank and Egypt maintained control of the Gaza Strip, while Israel occupied the rest of the land.

With the approval of the UN agency for Palestinian refugees, UNRWA, Jordan allowed Palestinians displaced to other parts of Palestine and into Jordan to build homes in Sheikh Jarrah in 1956, if they renounced their refugee status.

The reality of an autonomous neighborhood was short-lived though, as the 28 Palestinian families who built houses in Sheikh Jarrah came under Israeli military occupation after the 1967 Arab-Israeli war, interrupting Jordan’s ability to prefect all of the families new homes.

Budeiri’s maternal family was one of the expelled Palestinian families that was able to resettle in their homeland, in Sheikh Jarrah under the agreement, and who soon found themselves under occupation.

“You carry the weight of occupation wherever you go,” Budeiri said, who grew up in Jerusalem and now lives in Ottawa. “It affects every aspect of your life, where to study, who to marry, whether you have freedom to move, or relocate and access to medical care.”

Expulsions amounting to “war crimes”

The UN has maintained that the Israeli military occupation is illegal and the continued settlement of East Jerusalem is as well. In a statement addressing the current expulsions in Sheikh Jarrah, the UN said Israel’s actions, “may amount to war crimes.”

One woman, who requested anonymity for fear of reprisal, but whose identity is known to Insider, is among the dozen Palestinian families served an eviction notice by Israeli courts after settler groups claimed to have documents proving ownership from before 1948, demanding rent payments from the longtime residents.

An Israeli court ordered the woman’s family, as well as Budeiri’s family, to leave their home by August 1.

“We would lose the air we breathe,” she said. “My father said his life would be over without this home. He’s been here for 60 years, since he was five years old.”

She said her family, and others in Sheikh Jarrah, have been the targets of settler organizations mounting legal campaigns, filing land claims in Israeli courts, since 1972.

Two years after the property ownership law was passed, two settlement organizations, the Sephardic Committee and the Knesset Committee of Israel, challenged Palestinian residents in Sheikh Jarrah and across the West Bank in courts, according to the Palestinian legal organization Adalah.

An uphill battle

Many Palestinian families found themselves advocating to preserve their land and homes in Israeli court processes they felt were designed for them to lose.

By 2002, 43 families had been evicted from the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood, the Middle East Eye reported.

A 2015 report from Haaretz found US registered nonprofit organizations funneled $200 million between 2009-2013 to settlements in Israel, with some of the money being used to cover the legal fees and building costs for expulsion and settlement. Buttu, the Institute for Middle East Understanding director, said groups like the Israel Land Fund benefit from political cover in their efforts to advance this process.

“The Israeli government could have tried to block these expulsions, they could have taken a public interest position when it comes to the land. The government has not only allowed for the claims to go through, but they have supported them,” Buttu said.

The Sheikh Jarrah resident said she is hopeful because of the mobilization of Palestinians, and people internationally, against the evictions, which she felt pressured the Israeli Supreme Court to delay a decision which could have evicted some families by May 6.

“I’m happy about the pressure we’ve seen, and it’s not clear what the ruling will be. We’re still not sure whether we will be evicted, or whether, god willing, we will stay in our homes,” she added.

Over the next few weeks, the Israeli attorney general Avichai Mandelblit will decide whether he will become a party to the Sheikh Jarrah families’ case, which they have requested. The Israeli Supreme Court canceled the May 10 hearing at Mandelblit’s request.

A glimmer of hope amid escalating violence over the land

The Israeli Foreign Ministry has called the string of expulsions, “a real estate dispute between private parties.”

After residents in Sheikh Jarrah held sit-in protests denouncing the looming evictions last week, Israeli police forces targeted protesters with rubber bullets, tear gas and sound bombs.

“The skunk water is even worse than the sound bombs and tear gas,” the woman added, describing a sewage water cannon used by Israeli forces, “the smell stays on your skin for weeks, and my parents got sick from it.”

The Palestinian Red Crescent said some 700 Palestinians were injured by police forces through Monday. Almost 300 were injured over the weekend, when Israeli forces stormed the Al Aqsa Mosque, Islam’s third holiest site, while worshippers were praying inside.

“Coupled with the other things that have happened just this month alone, the ‘Death to Arab’ campaigns that we’ve seen, the blocking of access to Al-Aqsa mosque, it’s terrifying being Palestinian,” Buttu said, adding she woke up to news that a Gaza City residential building where she used to live was leveled.

“It’s a process of what I call death by a thousand cuts. And the reason that it takes a long time is because Israel wants to drag it out so that we lose all momentum when it comes to protests, and one day, we all wake up and we see that there aren’t any more Palestinians left in Sheikh Jarrah,” Buttu added.

As the Israeli courts weigh in on what’s next, Palestinian families in the neighborhood hope international pressure to stop their expulsions will persist, and that they can live free of occupation and violence.

Buttu told Insider it was a hopeful sign that Israeli organizations like B’Tselem, and Western organizations like Human Rights Watch have called the conditions to which Palestinians are subjected, “apartheid.”

Meanwhile, Budeiri is looking ahead: “I hope one day, it’s my daughters who I can push on that swing,” she said.

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Israeli airstrikes killed 26 people in Gaza as rocket attacks left 2 dead in Israel. Tensions have been rising over violent clashes in Jerusalem.

Smoke rises after an Israeli forces strike in Gaza in Gaza City, Tuesday, May 11, 2021.
Smoke rises after an Israeli forces strike in Gaza in Gaza City, Tuesday, May 11, 2021.

  • Israeli airstrikes killed 26 people in Gaza as rocket attacks left 2 dead in Israel this week.
  • Rockets and air strikes were preceded by clashes between Palestinians and Israeli security forces.
  • Clashes included confrontations at Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa Mosque.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip (AP) – Israel unleashed new airstrikes on Gaza early Tuesday, hitting a pair of high-rise buildings believed to be housing militants, as Hamas and other armed groups bombarded southern Israel with hundreds of rockets. The escalation was sparked by weeks of tensions in contested Jerusalem.

Since sundown Monday, 26 Palestinians – including nine children and a woman- were killed in Gaza, most by airstrikes, Gaza health officials said. The Israeli military said at least 16 of the dead were militants.

During the same period, Gaza militants fired hundreds of rockets toward Israel, killing two Israeli civilians and wounding 10 others.

In a further sign of rising tensions, Israel signaled it is widening its military campaign. The military said it is sending troop reinforcements to the Gaza border and the defense minister ordered the mobilization of 5,000 reserve soldiers.

But, in a potentially positive sign, officials said Egypt was working on brokering a cease-fire.

The barrage of rockets and airstrikes was preceded by hours of clashes between Palestinians and Israeli security forces, including dramatic confrontations at Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa Mosque compound, a sacred site to both Jews and Muslims.

The current violence, like previous rounds, including the last intifada, or uprising, has been fueled by conflicting claims over Jerusalem, which is at the emotional core of the long conflict.

In a sign of widening unrest, hundreds of residents of Arab communities across Israel staged overnight demonstrations – denouncing the recent actions of Israeli security forces against Palestinians. It was one of the largest protests by Palestinian citizens in Israel in recent years.

Egypt is trying to broker a truce, but Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says fighting could “continue for some time.”

Israel and Hamas, an Islamic militant group that seeks Israel’s destruction, have fought three wars and numerous skirmishes since Hamas seized control of Gaza in 2007.

Recent rounds of fighting have usually ended after a few days, often helped by behind-the-scenes mediation by Qatar, Egypt and others.

An Egyptian official confirmed that the country was trying to broker a truce. But the official, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was discussing sensitive diplomacy, said Israeli actions in Jerusalem had complicated those efforts. A Palestinian security official, also speaking on condition of anonymity, confirmed the cease-fire efforts.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, meanwhile, has warned that fighting could “continue for some time.”

A Palestinian man inspects the rubble of a mechanic garage destroyed by Israeli airstrikes, in Gaza City, Tuesday, May 11, 2021.
A Palestinian man inspects the rubble of a mechanic garage destroyed by Israeli airstrikes, in Gaza City, Tuesday, May 11, 2021.

Lt. Col. Jonathan Conricus, an Israeli military spokesman, told reporters Tuesday that the military was in “the early stages” of strikes against Gaza targets that it had planned well in advance.

Israel carried out dozens of airstrikes, including two that targeted high-rise buildings where militants were believed to be hiding.

At midday, an airstrike hit an apartment building in central Gaza City. Local media said an unknown number of militants had been killed. But the force of the blast sent terrified residents, including women and children who were barefoot, running into the streets.

An earlier airstrike struck a high-rise elsewhere in Gaza City as people were conducting dawn prayers, residents said. Health officials said two men and a woman were killed. The woman’s 19-year-old disabled son was among the dead, residents said.

Ashraf al-Kidra, spokesman for the Gaza Health Ministry, said a total of 26 people were killed and 122 people were wounded. He said Israel’s “relentless assault” was overwhelming the health care system, which has been struggling with a COVID-19 outbreak.

Mourners chant Islamic slogans while they carry the body of Amira Soboh, and her 19-year-old disabled son Abdelrahman, who were killed in Israeli airstrikes at their apartment building, during their funeral at the Shati refugee camp, in Gaza City, Tuesday, May 11, 2021.
Mourners chant Islamic slogans while they carry the body of Amira Soboh, and her 19-year-old disabled son Abdelrahman, who were killed in Israeli airstrikes at their apartment building, during their funeral at the Shati refugee camp, in Gaza City, Tuesday, May 11, 2021.

The escalation comes at a time of political limbo in Israel.

Netanyahu has been acting as a caretaker prime minister since an inconclusive parliamentary election in March. He tried and failed to form a coalition government with his hard-line and ultra-Orthodox allies, and the task was handed to his political rivals last week.

One of those rivals is Israel’s defense minister, who is overseeing the Gaza campaign. It was not clear whether the toxic political atmosphere is spilling over into military decision-making, though the rival camps have unanimously expressed support for striking Hamas hard.

The support of an Arab-backed party with Islamist roots is key for the anti-Netanyahu bloc’s efforts. But the current tensions might deter the party’s leader, Mansour Abbas, from joining a coalition for now. The sides have three more weeks to reach a deal.

The violence has coincided with Ramadan

The current round of violence in Jerusalem coincided with the start of the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan in mid-April.

Critics say heavy-handed police measures helped stoke nightly unrest, including a decision to temporarily seal off a popular gathering spot where Palestinian residents would meet after evening prayers. Another flashpoint was the Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah, where dozens of Palestinians are under treat of eviction by Jewish settlers.

Over the weekend, confrontations erupted at the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound, which is the third holiest site of Islam and the holiest site in Judaism.

Rockets are launched by Palestinian militants into Israel, in Gaza May 10, 2021
Rockets are launched by Palestinian militants into Israel, in Gaza May 10, 2021.

Over several days, Israel police fired tear gas, stun grenades and rubber bullets at Palestinians in the compound who hurled stones and chairs. At times, police fired stun grenades into the carpeted mosque.

On Monday evening, Hamas began firing rockets from Gaza, setting off air raid sirens as far as Jerusalem. From there on, the escalation was rapid.

Conricus, the army spokesman, said Gaza militants fired more than 250 rockets at Israel, with about one-third falling short and landing in Gaza.

The army said that a rocket landed a direct hit on a seven-story apartment block in the coastal Israeli city of Ashkelon. Israeli paramedic service Magen David Adom said it treated six people injured in the rocket strike. Two were hospitalized in moderate condition.

Later, a second building in the city of Ashdod was hit, lightly wounding four people, Israeli police said.

Conricus said the military hit 130 targets in Gaza, including two tunnels militants were digging under the border with Israel. He said Israel’s new system of concrete barriers and electronic sensors, intended to thwart tunnel digging, has proven effective.

He did not address Gaza Health Ministry reports about the dead children.

In Gaza, most of the deaths were attributed to airstrikes. However, seven of the deaths were members of a single family, including three children, who died in an explosion in the northern Gaza town of Beit Hanoun. It was not clear if the blast was caused by an Israeli airstrike or errant rocket.

Dozens of mourners took part in the funeral of Hussein Hamad, an 11-year-old boy who was among the dead.

More than 100 Gazans were wounded in the airstrikes, the Health Ministry said.

Israel struck scores of Gaza homes in its 2014 war with Hamas, arguing it was aiming at militants, but also killing many civilians. The practice drew broad international condemnation at the time.

Israel’s tactics in Jerusalem have drawn angry reactions from the Muslim world.

Regional power house Saudi Arabia on Monday condemned in the strongest terms what it said were attacks by Israeli forces against the sanctity of Al-Aqsa and the safety of its worshippers. The Saudi Foreign Ministry called Tuesday on the international community to hold Israeli forces responsible for any escalation.

___

Laub reported from the West Bank. Associated Press writer Ilan Ben Zion contributed from Jerusalem.

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Dramatic footage of killings and mob violence as Israeli-Palestinian hostility erupts in Jerusalem and the West Bank

Palestinian protesters hurl stones at Israeli security forces
Palestinian protesters hurl stones at Israeli security forces amid clashes in Jerusalem’s Old City on May 8, 2021.

  • Jerusalem has seen violent clashes between Israeli police officers, Jewish settlers and Palestinians in recent days.
  • An upcoming Supreme Court verdict and revenge attacks in the West Bank are contributing to the tension.
  • Dramatic footage from the past week offers a window into the worsening unrest.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Jerusalem and the West Bank are in a state of unrest, and the current violence between Palestinians, Israeli security forces, and Jewish settlers are the worst in years.

A spike in settler and revenge attacks, the advent of significant but politically sensitive dates, and an upcoming verdict on Palestinian evictions from the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood have all contributed to an atmosphere of chaos.

Dramatic footage of recent protests, clashes, and killings offers a window into the reality of the worsening conflict.

Read more: In the land of billionaire megadonors, Sheldon Adelson was king

Killings in the West Bank

Settler violence in the occupied West Bank has risen markedly in recent months, according to a report by the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA). There have also been notable examples of Palestinian violence towards Jewish settlers and Israeli soldiers.

  • On May 2, an Israeli soldier shot a 60-year-old Palestinian woman who attempted a knife attack, the Israeli military said. She later died of her wounds, Reuters reported.

  • Also on May 2, a Palestinian man carried out a drive-by shooting in the West Bank that killed a 19-year-old Israeli and left two other Jewish teenagers injured, France24 said.

  • Extremist Jewish settlers vandalized property and hurled stones in the occupied West Bank village of Jalud on the night of May 2, according to Israeli human rights group Yesh Din.

  • On May 5, a 16-year-old Palestinian boy was shot and killed by an Israeli soldier. Saeed Odeh’s killing followed Palestinians in Beita hurling Molotov cocktails towards IDF soldiers, Sky News said. Large crowds attended the funeral.

  • Three Palestinian gunmen shot at Israeli border police based in the occupied West Bank early on Friday, Reuters reported. Israeli fire killed two of the Palestinians and critically wounded the third, the news agency said.

Clashes in Jerusalem

Israel’s Supreme Court will decide on upholding a ruling that would see several Palestinian families in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah, known in Hebrew as Shimon Hatzadik, removed from their homes.

The controversial case has sparked protests, violent clashes, and unrest in the holy city.

  • On Thursday, Palestinians and Israeli settlers hurled rocks and chairs at each other in Sheikh Jarrah before Israeli police separated them, AP said.

  • Videos of police violence towards residents of Sheikh Jarrah have emerged.

  • Videos from that night showed stun grenades landing inside prayer rooms at the Al-Aqsa Mosque.

  • Several buses carrying religious pilgrims on the way to Jerusalem for one of Ramadan’s holiest nights – Laylat al-Qadr – were held up at a police checkpoint on Saturday, The Washington Post reported. Many began walking to Jerusalem on foot instead, according to local media.

  • On Saturday night, over 90,000 Muslims gathered at the Al-Aqsa Mosque.

  • Following prayers, many Palestinians gathered at the Damascus Gate in the Old City of East Jerusalem. Palestinian protesters hurled stones at the police, according to the BBC. This led to clashes with Israeli security who used tear gas, rubber bullets, and stun grenades, The National’s senior correspondent Joyce Karam said on Twitter. Palestinian medics said 90 Palestinians were wounded, while Israeli police said at least one officer was hurt.

The violence is expected to continue into next week, with the Sheikh Jarrah verdict and advent of Nakba Day and Eid al-Fitr on Wednesday likely to further escalate a very tense situation.

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Spike in revenge attacks between Jewish settlers and Palestinians adds fuel to the fire of the spiraling violence in Jerusalem and the West Bank

Palestinian protesters hurl flares amid clashes with Israeli security forces at the al-Aqsa mosque.
Palestinian protesters hurl flares amid clashes with Israeli security forces at the al-Aqsa mosque compound in Jerusalem, on May 7, 2021.

  • The start of May has seen a string of violent clashes, arrests, and killings in Jerusalem and the West Bank.
  • The situation is set to get worse. Significant dates in the coming week signal further violence.
  • An upcoming court verdict about Palestinian property evictions is already causing chaos.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

After a week of violent and sometimes deadly clashes between Jewish settlers, the Israeli military, and Palestinians in the occupied West Bank, tensions and enmity are boiling over.

But the situation is only set to worsen, with several historically significant but politically sensitive dates forecast to add fuel to fuel the fire.

The advent of Jerusalem Day, Nakba Day, and the end of Ramadan – all taking place in the coming days – has prompted the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) to bolster troop deployments in anticipation of further violence, The Times of Israel said.

And an upcoming Supreme Court hearing on Monday regarding the eviction of Palestinian families in East Jerusalem’s Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood threatens to exacerbate the tensions and add to the worst turmoil the region has seen in years.

Tensions have been rising during Ramadan

The Islamic month of Ramadan has been fraught with conflict in Jerusalem and the occupied West Bank. Violent clashes in the city have become a nightly occurrence during the holy period, the Associated Press reported in April.

The placement of barricades outside the Damascus Gate entrance to Jerusalem’s Old City – a popular nightly gathering point with local Palestinians after the end of the Ramadan fast – resulted in a confrontation with Israeli police and more than 100 Palestinian injuries on April 22, Insider reported.

Israeli security forces outside the Damascus Gate in Jerusalem's Old City
Members of the Israeli security forces deploy during clashes with Palestinian protesters outside the Damascus Gate in Jerusalem’s Old City on April 22, 2021.

On the same night, Israeli police blocked supporters of a far-right Jewish group, Lehava, as they marched through the Jerusalem streets towards the Damascus Gate. Some of the followers of the group chanted “death to Arabs,” CNN said.

In other incidents, Palestinians filmed TikTok videos. They attacked ultra-Orthodox Jews, Jewish youths attempted to set fire to a Palestinian family’s home, and a video emerged of an Israeli motorist being beaten by a Palestinian mob before his car was set ablaze.

After the riots, Palestinian militants in Gaza shot rockets into Israel. Israel retaliated by launching strikes on Hamas targets there, Insider reported.

The chaos in the Palestinian territories coincides with increased violent attacks by Israeli settlers against Palestinian civilians.

Settler violence in the occupied West Bank has risen markedly in recent months, according to a report by the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA). In the first three months of 2021, the OCHA recorded more than 210 incidents of settler violence in the territory.

One of the authors of the report, Michael Lynk, the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian Territory occupied since 1967, spoke to Insider about the motivations behind the attacks.

“There’s a very entrenched belief that’s probably shared by most settlers that this land is theirs that it has been historically and biblically granted to them,” Lynk told Insider. “Therefore, what they are carrying out is righteous violence in the name of both religion and nationalism.”

A week of violence – the timeline

The start of May has seen a string of violent clashes, arrests, and killings. Below is a comprehensive – but not exhaustive – list of recent events.

  • On May 2, an Israeli soldier shot a 60-year-old Palestinian woman who tried to carry out a knife attack, the Israeli military said. She later died of her wounds, Reuters reported. Footage of the incident shows the woman slowly approaching soldiers with a sharp weapon before being fired at.

  • Also on May 2, a Palestinian man carried out a drive-by shooting in the West Bank that killed a 19-year-old Israeli and left two other Jewish teenagers injured, France24 said.

  • After the drive-by shooting, the Israeli Defense Forces searched the occupied West Bank village of Beita for the suspect and Palestinians throwing Molotov cocktails at Israeli soldiers who responded with live fire, The Jerusalem Post reported. Several Palestinians were injured and at least 19 were arrested, the Israeli newspaper said.
  • Overnight, extremist Jewish settlers vandalized property and hurled stones in the West Bank village of Jalud, according to human rights groups.
  • On May 3, settlers attacked two Palestinians and vandalized properties in three separate incidents in the West Bank, according to The Jerusalem Post.
  • On May 5, a 16-year-old Palestinian boy was shot and killed by an Israeli soldier. The killing followed Palestinians in Beita, hurling Molotov cocktails towards IDF soldiers, Sky News said. “The troops responded according to open-fire protocols, including firing towards the suspects. The incident is being investigated,” an IDF spokesperson told the media outlet. A second Palestinian was shot in the back and is being treated in hospital, according to Reuters.
  • Three Palestinian gunmen shot at Israeli border police based in the occupied West Bank early on Friday, Reuters reported. Israeli fire killed two of the Palestinians and critically wounded the third, the news agency said.
  • Israeli-Palestinian clashes have broken out nightly ahead of a Monday court hearing that could see Palestinian families evicted from Sheikh Jarrah – an East Jerusalem neighborhood.
  • More than 200 Palestinian worshippers were injured after clashing with Israeli police outside the al-Aqsa mosque, a significant holy site that is sacred to Muslims and Jews, on Friday night, Insider reported.
  • At least 90 people were injured as Palestinians and Israelis clashed in Jerusalem again on Saturday night, CNN said.

Several significant dates threatening a new wave of violence

The IDF has already beefed up its forces in anticipation of a week fraught with conflict, The Jerusalem Post said. An additional battalion and special forces are to be deployed to the occupied West Bank, the paper reported.

“We have dates that offer some sort of warning that there might be a rise in violence,” Oded Revivi, the mayor of the Efrat settlement in the occupied West Bank, a community of Jewish settlers that is considered to be illegal under international law, told Insider.

One of these dates is Jerusalem Day, which starts on Sunday evening and lasts through Monday. It is an Israeli national holiday commemorating the capture and consequent establishment of Israeli control over the Old City in the aftermath of the 1967 Six-Day War.

The holiday observed by thousands of religious Zionists is controversial to secular Jews and many Arabs.

Israelis gather outside Damascus Gate on Jerusalem Day in 2019.
Israelis, including a large contingent of Jewish religious nationalists, gather outside Damascus Gate in the Old City of Jerusalem on June 2, 2019 to mark Jerusalem Day.

As part of the Jerusalem Day celebrations, an annual “Dance of Flags” parade sees participants walk through the Old City while waving Israeli flags.

This year, taking into account the rising tensions, Jerusalem’s police chief has asked for the parade to be re-routed to avoid passing through the Muslim quarter of the city.

“The passage of the parade in these two sensitive areas in the last week of Ramadan fasting, when all warnings relate to a possible flare-up due to events related to Jerusalem would be irresponsible and could claim human lives,” Israel Police’s Jerusalem District Chief Doron Turgeman told The Jerusalem Post.

It could incite a “violent outbreak” in other parts of the occupied West Bank and the Gaza Strip, Turgeman added.

Jerusalem Day also happens to fall on the same date as a highly-anticipated verdict by Israel’s Supreme Court on a toxic property dispute between Jews and Arabs.

The Supreme Court will decide on upholding a ruling that would see several Palestinian families in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah, known in Hebrew as Shimon Hatzadik, evicted from their homes in favor of right-wing Jewish settlers that assert a historic claim to the land.

The upcoming ruling has been a flashpoint for nightly protests and violence.

On Thursday, Palestinians and Israeli settlers hurled rocks at each other in Sheikh Jarrah before Israeli police separated them, AP said.

But Amit Gilutz, a spokesperson for the Jerusalem-based human rights organization B’Tselem, told Insider that the situation in Sheikh Jarrah is just one example of the mistreatment of Palestinians.

“Settler violence rampaging all over the West Bank, a racist parade marching through Jerusalem’s Old City, and the Supreme Court granting permission to expel more Palestinian families from their homes and hand the property to settlers; all these take place with the backing and encouragement of the state,” Gilutz said.

Tensions relating to the upcoming Sheikh Jarrah verdict have also prompted threats from the leader of a Palestinian terrorist group – the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades. “This is our final warning,” Mohamed Deif, the head of Hamas’ military wing, said on Wednesday. “We will not stand idly by, and the occupation will pay a heavy price.”

Ohad Zemet, a spokesperson for the Embassy of Israel in London, has accused Hamas and the Palestinian Authority of politicizing the upcoming legal decision for personal gain.

“The Israeli judicial system is independent and will reach a just legal conclusion based on the law and the facts. It is unfortunate that the Palestinian Authority and the Hamas terrorist organization try to use this case for their own political purposes and in a bid to incite violence,” said Zemet.

Muslim holy shrine becomes a battlefield

On Friday night around 200 Palestinian worshippers were injured after clashing with Israeli police at the al-Aqsa mosque, Insider’s Kelsey Vlamis and Sarah Al-Arshani reported. Several Israeli police officers were also hurt in the clashes, according to the BBC.

Thousands of Muslims had gathered at the holy site to observe the last Friday of Ramadan. Israeli police say the clashes begun after worshippers threw rocks, according to CNN. Videos of the event show people running as Israeli forces shot rubber bullets and stun grenades.

Over 90,000 Muslim worshippers prayed at the Al-Aqsa Mosque to mark the holy night of Laylat al-Qadr on Saturday, Reuters said.

Palestinians pray on Laylat al-Qadr outside the Dome of the Rock
Palestinian devotees pray on Laylat al-Qadr (Night of Destiny) outside the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa Mosque compound during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan on May 8, 2021

Nearby, outside the Old City’s Damascus Gate, Palestinian protesters pelted Israeli police officers with rocks and water bottles and set barricades alight, the Associated Press reported. Officers responded by firing stun grenades and periodically firing a water cannon, the news agency said. Around 64 Palestinians were wounded, according to the AP.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abba accused Israel of “sinful attacks.”

These dates may play a part in further violence

In addition to the Sheikh Jarrah verdict and Jerusalem day, two other dates could provide the backdrop to more violence.

Nakba Day, which takes place next Saturday, is an annual Palestinian commemoration of the Nakba, or the so-called “Palestinian catastrophe.” It mourns the creation of the State of Israel in 1948, and, in the past, the day has been marked by bloodshed.

In 2011, protesters attempted to breach Israel’s borders from the occupied Palestinian Territories, Lebanon, Syria, Egypt, and Jordan. At least 12 Palestinians were killed and hundreds wounded due to shootings by the Israeli Army, AFP reported.

Eid al-Fitr is the feast marking the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan on Wednesday.

Israel’s Police Commissioner Kobi Shabtaiheld has order commanders in the Jerusalem area to “significantly” boost their forces ahead of the Ramadan celebrations, The Times of Israel said.

The international community is appealing for de-escalation

The international community has appealed for an end to the violence.

A US State Department spokeswoman told reporters that Washington was “deeply concerned about the heightened tension.”

The EU followed suit, with a spokesperson calling on authorities to “act urgently to de-escalate the current tensions” in Jerusalem. “Violence and incitement are unacceptable and the perpetrators on all sides must be held accountable,” the EU spokesperson said in a statement.

The UN’s rights office has urged Israel to call off the evictions in Sheikh Jarrah, Al Jazeera reported.

But according to Lynk, the UN’S Special Rapporteur, these types of statements aren’t enough. “I’ve called for the international community to speak louder and more forcefully,” he said.

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After months of torture and imprisonment, Hamas told a Palestinian activist that he would only be released if he divorced his wife

rami aman palestine gaza
Rami Aman, a Palestinian Gazan peace activist, holds note’s in which he recalled his ordeal, during an interview on the roof of his family house in Gaza City, Feb. 10, 2021.

  • Rami Aman was arrested for setting up a Zoom call between Israeli and Palestinian peace activists.
  • He received pressure from Hamas officials to divorce his wife – the daughter of a high-ranking official.
  • Aman eventually signed the divorce papers but remained in jail for two more months, AP reported.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Palestinian activist Rami Aman has said that he was forced by the militant group Hamas to divorce his then-wife in order to secure his release from a Gaza prison, according to the Associated Press.

Aman told the news agency that after months of pressure from Hamas officials, he eventually gave in to pressure and went ahead with the separation.

The demand that he divorce her is thought to be a move by the militant group to distant itself from Aman’s decision to engage in discourse with Israeli peace activists last year, AP reported.

His ex-wife is the daughter of a senior-ranking Hamas official, AP said.

She has since been deported from Gaza, against her will, and Aman told the news agency that he may never see her again.

Read more: People are being unjustly kept in prison because of bad software. It’s yet another reason mass incarceration should be a national outrage.

Aman was imprisoned following a backlash against him for helping set up a two-hour-long Zoom chat between Israelis and Palestinian peacemakers, Insider’s Anthony L. Fisher reported in April 2020.

He was one of over 200 people on both sides of the Israel-Gaza divide who participated in the English-language Zoom chat initiated by Aman’s organization – the Gaza Youth Committee.

Following a campaign on Facebook by a Palestinian journalist to shame those who attended and the subsequent social media outrage online, Aman was charged with the crime of “normalization” with Israel.

His former wife was also arrested, the Associated Press reported.

After Aman’s arrest on April 9, 2020, he said that he was interrogated and tortured. He claims he was blindfolded, taken to a prison cell, and was forced to sit in a tiny child’s chair for days or weeks on end, according to AP.

He was referred to by his prison number, only allowed to remove his blindfold for bathroom breaks, and could only leave his seat to be interrogated or pray, AP reported.

During his imprisonment, a police officer reportedly told him that it would be “better” if he proceeded with a divorce. He resisted the request for months, AP said.

In August, an Islamic judge asked him whether he felt coerced into separation. Aman said yes but the judge, the activist told AP, refuted this. “How are you being forced? Do you see me carrying a gun?” he says the legal official told him.

Aman, 39, eventually signed divorce documents, expecting to be released, but remained imprisoned for two more months.

“The deplorable treatment of Rami Aman by Hamas authorities reflects their systematic practice of punishing those whose speech threatens their orthodoxy,” Omar Shakir, Israel-Palestine director at Human Rights Watch, told AP.

His ex-wife, who has been deported to Egypt, confirmed to the Associated Press that she was forced into the divorce and wants to reunite with Aman.

Aman is now banned from leaving Gaza and security officials are still holding onto his laptop, computer, and phone, the news agency said.

He is in frequent communication with human rights organizations, lawyers, and Hamas officials, AP reported.

But his priority is to be reunited with his lover.

“Now I have my personal battle: return to my wife,” the activist told the news agency.

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The story behind the distressing video of Israeli soldiers detaining Palestinian kids sheds light on the reality of living under occupation

palestinian children west bank detained
A Palestinian child is carried by an Israeli soldier to a vehicle on the outskirts of Havat Maon in the West Bank on March 10, 2021.

  • Five Palestinian children were apprehended by Israeli soldiers in southern Hebron on Wednesday.
  • The young boys were then taken to a police station where they were detained for several hours.
  • Three of the children. aged between eight and 11, are below the age of criminal responsibility in Israel.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

A video has emerged of five Palestinian children being detained by Israeli soldiers near a West Bank outpost on Wednesday afternoon.

The children, aged between eight and 13, were apprehended after settlers from the Havat Maon settlement in southern Hebron reported them to a military patrol.

The video of the incident, initially shared by the human rights nonprofit B’Tselem, shows the young boys being escorted into a vehicle by soldiers from the Israeli Defense Forces. One of the children can be seen crying and struggling as an armed soldier lifts him into the van. Another holds hands with one of his masked captors.

They’re just children, what is this?” an adult can be heard yelling at the soldiers.

The young boys are accused of attempting to steal parrots from a private property in an Israeli settlement, a spokesperson for the Israeli police told Insider.

Havat Maon is one of many settler outposts in the West Bank, considered illegal by international law, that is not authorized by the Israeli government. There have been several incidents in the area of Palestinian children being harassed by Israeli settlers while on their way to school.

Armed military personnel reportedly took the children into the settlement and questioned them about their alleged attempted theft, according to the children’s lawyer.

“They were taken to the Havat Maon illegal outpost, where the soldiers tried to get a confession from them, which is illegal,” their lawyer, Gaby Lasky, told Insider.

Both the Israeli police and Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) dispute this claim and instead insist that the young boys were immediately taken to a police station.

palestinian children soldiers west bank
A Palestinian child is escorted by an Israeli soldier to a police vehicle on the outskirts of Havat Maon in the West Bank on March 10, 2021.

After being transferred to Kiryat Arba police station, the young boys were detained for several hours. Their parents, despite multiple attempts, were unable to contact or locate their children, according to Lasky.

Israeli officials claim that the detention’s purpose was to help reunite them with their families. A spokesperson from the IDF told Insider that the boys were transferred to a police facility for “further processing” and to “locate their parents.”

This is echoed by the Israeli police force. “The minors were brought to the police, who acted in order to locate their parents that live in Palestinian territory, for several hours,” the spokesperson told Insider.

Lasky, who is representing the five boys, has said that the boys’ detention was criminal.

“Three of the kids were under the criminal age of responsibility, so they can’t detain them and they can’t take them to the police station or anywhere else. This is completely illegal,” she told insider.

The age of criminal responsibility in Israel is 12. Three of the boys are aged between eight and 11. The two older boys are 12 and 13 and are old enough to be charged with a crime.

The lawyer also believes that the use of military force on the children was unwarranted. “The way that the children were taken and made to kneel when they were detained is not only unnecessary but is also completely illegal,” Lasky told Insider.

gaby lasky lawyer israel palestine
Israeli lawyer Gaby Lasky at a Jerusalem court on September 16, 2018.

Lasky has filed a complaint with the attorney general of the Occupied Palestinian Territories and the Israeli police.

All five boys were initially summoned for further questioning, according to their lawyer. While the two older boys will be interrogated on Sunday, the three younger children had their summons canceled after an objection by their lawyer, Lasky told Insider.

The human rights organization B’Tselem, whose activists were at the scene, has said that the incident shines a light on the reality of life under occupation.

“It is part of the routine of the occupation for incidents like this, as absurd as they are, to take place,” Amit Gilutz, a B’Tselem spokesperson, told Insider. “It is a reflection of the absolute disregard Israeli authorities hold for the wellbeing of Palestinians.”

“No matter what these children were doing in the vicinity of the settlements,” he added, “they shouldn’t have been arrested by military force.”

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