Today is the last full work day before the start of the new Jewish Year – which begins tomorrow night after sundown. Normally I would I a summary of the events of the year that was. However, today, this last day of the year, turned out to be a day filled with military and political developments. In the early hours of the morning, Israeli forces killed the two Palestinians who kidnaped and killed the three Israeli teens in Gush Etzion this past June. This kidnap, turned to murder, was the first event in a series of violent confrontations that became the story of this summer. The two Palestinians, Marwan Qawasmeh and Amer Abu Aisheh, who had been suspects since the time of the kidnaping, had successfully managed to avoid capture. When Israeli troops attempted to arrest them, the pair fought back – firing their weapons as they exited the building. The first Palestinian was killed outside the building hideout, and the second was killed after going back into the house. Following the deaths there were violent demonstrations in Hebron.
On a normal day, this episode would have dominated the news. Though a few minutes after receiving a text message about the discovery and killing of the Palestinians in Hebron, my phone flashed, once again, with a new message – an Israeli Patriot missile had downed a Syrian fighter plane over the Golan Heights. This is the first time a Syrian jet has been downed by Israel since 1985. It soon became clear the aircraft was a Sukio 24, that was trying to attack the Syrian rebels and mistakenly strayed over Israeli air space. The moment the plane crossed over into Israeli territorial space the order was given to down it. 80 seconds after straying into Israeli air space the jet was hit. The pilot and navigator ejected safely. Israel has made it clear that it will not become involved in the Syrian Civil War, but, at the same time, it will not allow the war to stray into Israeli territory – in any way. Ironically, on the same day that Assad was being helped indirectly by American led attacks on ISIS forces in Syria, the Syrian Air Force suffered a loss at the hands of Israel.
Israeli and Palestinians negotiators met in Cairo today to resume talks on extending the ceasefire in Gaza. While they did not try to reach any substantive understandings, they all agreed to resume the talks after the coming holiday season, which will last a month. That means there will be at least another month of quite. It seems that this time, the Israeli army’s assessment that Hamas has no interest in resuming the fighting is correct.
On a normal day, the news from Israel would have been dominated by the arrival of Israel’s 4th advanced submarine to Haifa (after transit from Germany were it was built.) This new submarine will be used for advanced intelligence gathering. It is the most expensive weapon in Israel’s arsenal. The advanced sub is widely believed to be part of Israel’s second-strike force, (necessary in case of a successful nuclear attack on Israel), and thus fills the same deterrent role that the US Polaris fleet did during the Cold War. It is a deterrent that says to any enemy: “Whatever you do to Israel, there is still a force that will destroy you.”
On the domestic front, the Israeli Supreme Court made an important ruling last night. It struck down a Knesset Law – for the second time – that allowed for the virtual imprisonment of illegal immigrants. The court ruled that it was illegal to incarcerate the immigrants without giving them a day in court, and allowing them to make their case to receive asylum. The high court stated that Israel's “Basic Laws on Freedom and Dignity” applied to all residents of Israel, whether they were here legally, or not.
Despite all of the events of the day, as this Jewish year comes to a close, it is impossible not to reflect back on the state of Israel and Tel Aviv in this past year. There can be no question this has been a difficult year for Tel Avivians. It was a year that “the Tel Aviv bubble” was at least dented, if not burst … just a little. Earlier today I was talking to the owner of a new Youth Hostel in Tel Aviv. She told me that this summer one of her patrons commented that people were not smiling in the way they usually do in Tel Aviv.
As I mentioned above, the summer began with the kidnapping of the students in Gush Etzion. While that area is a place far from the minds of most of this city’s residents (it is in fact, only a 1-hour drive), the kidnapping, and subsequent deaths touched the residents of this city – especially those who were parents – in a way that few events have in recent years. However, it was no doubt the daily rushing to bomb shelters this summer that truly burst that bubble- On one hand, the bubble held, thanks to the virtual bubble created by Iron Dome’s successful interception all of the missiles that headed our way. On the other hand, residents of Tel Aviv realized this summer that they were not immune to the chaos that has enveloped the Middle East these past few years. As the Jewish year comes to and end, residents of Tel Aviv are confused. They realize the need – now more than ever – to reach a peace agreement with the Palestinians. Yet, they look around at the total chaos of the Middle East and wonder how would it be possible to reach a peace agreement that would endure.
One other troubling event came to light today. This Rosh Hashana begins a Shmitta year in Israel, when according to the Torah the land is to lie fallow. Since the beginning of Zionism, the Zionist Rabbis (followed by the state’s Rabbis) approved a process called “Heter Mechira” (effectively a process similar to selling Chametz on Passover, where the land is sold to a non-Jew.) The Haredim never accepted this leniency, and always purchase imported fruits and vegetables during the Shmitta year. This year, the Chief Rabbi of the I.D.F. ordered the army not to accept the arrangement, and only to buy imported fruits and vegetables – a very troubling development.
When people see each other these days they say: “Shana Tova”, which is the traditional greeting for a good year. Most people in Tel Aviv are hoping that it will be a peaceful year.