TIME Middle East

Fears of Religious Conflict After Synagogue Killings

Israel Palestine Jerusalem Attack
Ultra-orthodox Jewish men look on at the scene of an attack on Israeli worshippers at a synagogue in the ultra-Orthodox Har Nof neighborhood in Jerusalem on Nov. 18, 2014. Jack Guez—AFP/Getty Images

The dead include three American citizens, one British citizen and one Israeli police officer

Two Palestinians from East Jerusalem burst into a West Jerusalem synagogue on Tuesday morning, killing five Israelis and wounding seven others with knives and axes in an attack that is being viewed by both sides as a potential turning point in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

That conflict, simmering since the end of a seven-week long war this summer between Israel and Islamist militants in Gaza, has reached boiling point in recent weeks. There have been a string of Palestinian stabbing attacks targeting Israelis so far this month, resulting in the deaths of four Israelis. Palestinians accuse Israel of ratcheting up tensions around Jerusalem’s Temple Mount, or Noble Sanctuary, an area sacred to both Jews and Muslims, and say the building of Israeli homes in the West Bank and East Jerusalem has provoked Palestinian ire.

But Tuesday’s attack in a crowded synagogue where worshippers has just begun their morning prayers is the most serious attack in recent weeks. Both Israelis and Palestinians noted the choice of target and the skyrocketing tensions over Jerusalem’s holy sites – the Temple Mount or Noble Sanctuary houses the Dome of the Rock and the Al-Aqsa Mosque, and has the Western Wall at its base. Many expressed concerns that this may be morphing into a religious war more than a struggle over land.

“We don’t want to see ourselves as Jews as being in a war with Islam – a religious war would be a disaster from every perspective,” said Israel’s President, Reuven Rivlin, in comments to reporters, broadcast live as the news was unfolding. “We have a long-standing dispute between Jews and Arabs, between Israelis and Palestinians, but we must not allow this to be twisted into a war between religions.”

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas condemned the attack but also demanded “an end to the ongoing incursions into the Al-Aqsa Mosque and the provocative acts by Israeli settlers as well as incitement by some Israeli ministers.” Rivlin applauded Abbas’ condemnation but said he was not doing enough, adding, “We’re hearing imams who are using every opportunity to incite against Israel.”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had harsher criticism for the Palestinian leader, saying that the attack was a direct result of incitement by Hamas as well as by Abbas. Netanyahu’s ultra-nationalist Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman took it a step further and accused Abbas of deliberately trying to turn the conflict into a religious war between Muslims and Jews. Abbas recently characterized Jews as having desecrated the Temple Mount, which Lieberman said legitimizes attacks like the one on Tuesday.

Zakaria al-Qaq, a lecturer in national security at Al-Quds University which has campuses in Jerusalem and in the West Bank, said he was concerned that the atmosphere in the region – including the rise of the Islamic State in various enclaves in Iraq and Syria – was pushing the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to take on a more religious hue.

“I’m afraid that today’s events will be a sort of turning point in terms of dragging the conflict towards having a different label on it, and it will look more like a religious conflict,” says Al-Qaq. Even though reports surfaced Tuesday that the attack may have been carried out by the Palestinian Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), a secular nationalist group, al-Qaq said people were already drawing their conclusions about what this new stage of the conflict would look like. It would not necessarily be a third Intifada, or uprising, as some have predicted, but an unprecedented religious war.

“Regardless of whether the perpetrators are secular or religious, they have decided to use a place of prayer to inflame the religious identity of the conflict, moving it from Palestinian-Israeli to Muslim-Jewish,” Al-Qaq says. “If there will be any retaliation from any side, even just a radical group of Israelis who decide to attack a mosque that will inflame the situation very seriously. If you put it in the regional context, looking at Sunni vs. Shia tensions and the rise of ISIS, and just days ago in northern Israel, a riot pitting Muslims against Druze, we see that this is how the ball is rolling now – everything being dictated by religion.”

Receiving the first reports of the attack around 7 a.m., police rushed to the scene and shot dead the two Palestinians, who were from the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Jabel Mukaber. Chaim Weingarten, a volunteer for ZAKA, an Israeli organization that arranges for religious burial following terrorist attacks, said he felt it as if “ISIS has arrived in Jerusalem.” He explained what he saw in comments provided to the media by ZAKA: “This was an extremely difficult scene. The terrorists used live fire and a butcher’s knife. The terrorists cut off the arm of a worshiper wearing tefillin (phylacteries). Horrific images that leave me with very difficult emotions.”

Israeli police said that three of the dead were originally from the U.S. and one was from Britain. An Israeli police officer died from his injuries hours after the attack, bringing the death toll to five, a spokeswoman at Hadassah hospital told CNN. Among the victims of the attack is an Israeli-American rabbi, Moshe Twersky, 59. He was the head an English-speaking seminary, or yeshiva, and is the son of a renowned rabbi and Harvard professor, Rabbi Yitzhak (Isadore) Twersky of Boston, and well as the grandson of Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik, one of the founders of Jewish Modern Orthodoxy.

Tuesday’s attack came after a Palestinian bus driver, Yusuf Hasan al-Ramuni, was found hanging in his bus on Sunday. Israeli forensic officials ruled it was a suicide and said there was no evidence of foul play, but Palestinians believe it was a murder staged to look like a suicide, and held protests on Monday in response.

Ghazi Hamad, a senior Hamas official in Gaza, said in a BBC interview that attacks like Tuesday’s should be anticipated.

“Everyone expected that this would happen,” Hamad said. “Every day Jerusalem is boiling, every day there is a new crime against a Palestinian citizen. We didn’t see any effort of the Israeli government to stop the settlers from attacking the al-Aqsa mosque. They should open their eyes and see there is a revolution in Jerusalem, there is an uprising.”

In the aftermath of the killings, Israeli media reported clashes between Palestinian and police near the East Jerusalem homes of the two alleged attackers.

TIME Israel

At Least Four Killed in Terror Attack on Jerusalem Synagogue

Israel Jerusalem Palestine Synagogue Attack
Israeli emergency personnel take the body of an Israeli man out of a synagogue after a terror attack in the neighborhood of Har Nof, western Jerusalem on Nov. 18, 2014. Ilia Yefimovich—Getty Images

At least three victims were American-Israeli citizens

At least four people, including three American-Israeli dual-citizens, were killed at a Jerusalem synagogue Tuesday, authorities said.

The attack, which occurred at 7 a.m., was carried out by two Palestinian assailants armed with knives and axes, in the Orthodox community of Har Nof, Israeli police spokesman Mickey Rosenfeld told CNN. Police shot and killed both of them, he added. One police officer was injured and remains in critical condition.

The attack is reported to be the deadliest attack against civilians in Israel in several years. All four of the confirmed dead were rabbis, including 59-year-old Moshe Twersky, the New York Times reports.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said, “We will respond with a heavy hand to the brutal murder of Jews who came to pray and were met by reprehensible murderers.”

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry urged Palestinian leadership to condemn the attack. “They must begin to take serious steps to restrain any kind of incitement that comes from their language, from other people’s language, and exhibit the kind of leadership that is necessary to put this region on a different path,” he said.

TIME Israel

Palestinians Stab Two Israelis to Death

Israeli soldiers stand near a knife at the scene of a stabbing attack near the West Bank Jewish settlement of Alon Shvut
Israeli soldiers stand near a knife at the scene of a stabbing attack near the Jewish settlement of Alon Shvut in the West Bank on Nov. 10, 2014 Ronen Zvulun—Reuters

The attacks come amid heightened tensions between Israelis and Palestinians

Palestinians in Tel Aviv and the occupied West Bank stabbed to death an Israeli soldier and a woman in separate attacks on Monday.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called the stabbings acts of terrorism and pledged to stamp out “terror being directed at all parts of the country,” Reuters reports.

Tensions have been running high in the past few weeks, with Palestinians in some Arab communities taking to the streets in stone-throwing protests after Israeli police shot and killed a Palestinian who attacked them with a knife.

The militant group Islamic Jihad claimed as a member the Palestinian man who stabbed three people outside a Jewish settlement in the occupied West Bank, including the woman who died.

The Palestinian man who stabbed to death an Israel solider at a Tel Aviv train station on the same day was identified by police as a resident of the West Bank with no criminal record.

[Reuters]

TIME Israel

The ICC Won’t Prosecute Israel for Its Deadly 2010 Gaza Flotilla Raid

Netherlands International Court Israel
This May 22, 2010 photo provided by the Cyprus-based Free Gaza Movement shows one of the human rights group's ships, the Mavi Marmara, as it sets sail from Turkey carrying aid and hundreds of pro-Palestinian activists to the blockaded Gaza Strip. Associated Press

"An investigation into this incident would not be of ‘sufficient gravity’ to justify further action"

The International Criminal Court (ICC) will not prosecute Israel for its raid on a Gaza-bound flotilla in 2010 that killed nine Turkish activists.

ICC Chief Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda said there was a “reasonable basis to believe war crimes … were committed,” but she would not pursue an investigation because the case was not of “sufficient gravity.”

“I have concluded that the potential case(s) likely arising from an investigation into this incident would not be of ‘sufficient gravity’ to justify further action by the ICC,” Bensouda said in a statement.

The nine activists were killed when Israeli forces boarded the largest of the six participating ships, the Mavi Marmara, as it tried to breach an Israeli blockade.

The flotilla’s stated aim was to deliver humanitarian aid to Palestine.

Israel said the complaint was “politically motivated;” lawyers who brought the case say they plan to launch an appeal.

TIME portfolio

From Belfast to Baghdad, See the World’s Dividing Walls

When Lieutenant-Colonel Harald Jäger made history by opening the Bornholmer Strasse checkpoint of the Berlin Wall at 11.30 pm on November 9, 1989, without any orders, an eager young photography student named Kai Wiedenhöfer was nearly 300 miles away in the city of Essen.

At that time, the lensman was unaware that Jäger had effectively ended the separation of East and West Berlin that had existed since 1961; one that had restricted the free movement of citizens between the Soviet administered east of the city and the Allied administered west.

But that evening, one of Wiedenhöfer’s professors called with simple instructions: get to Berlin as fast as you can. The wall is coming down. This is huge: “We jumped into a car and raced all the way to Berlin,” Wiedenhöfer tells TIME. “[We] got to Potsdamer Platz at about four or five in the morning.”

Potsdamer Platz, Berlin, Germany, 1989. Kai Wiedenhšfer

Over the following days, Wiedenhöfer captured the activity as the wall was gradually dismantled. He was there when East German security guards watched crowds of East Berliners stream through to the west on foot and in their Trabants, and when West Berliners welcomed them on the other side.

But now, 25 years after the wall came down, it seems more and more separation walls are going up. The Guardian estimates that at least 6,000 miles of barriers have been built worldwide in the last decade alone. Wiedenhöfer says he sees this fact as flying in the face of globalization’s promise to remove all barriers.

So in 2003, encouraged by a colleague at a Swiss newspaper, he started photographing the walls separating Palestinian territories from Israel. Later, he visited the towering peace lines of Belfast, the monolithic edifice of the Baghdad Wall and the 22-foot high Melilla border fence (which separates the Spanish exclave from surrounding Morocco), among many others.

West Berlin, Germany, 1989. Kai Wiedenhšfer

It was a project that took seven years, and one that was sometimes fraught with difficulty. In a few locations, safety was a concern. In others, access could pose problems. Wiedenhöfer also received criticism for portraying, as some saw it, only one side of a story (by photographing, say, one side of a wall). “I have no personal involvement in these conflicts,” he explains. “For me it’s mostly to get the best angle of the barrier or the best light situations.”

It is the visual similarity of Wiedenhöfer’s work that is perhaps most striking, though. When placed beside one another, his images seem to blend into a tableau of partition and separation, in which Belfast becomes almost indistinguishable from Baghdad.

It might not be so surprising, he says, because what he found in each place was often the same: “When you build a border, or fence, the life [of the area] mostly dies down and people move away.”

“This is a phenomenon you see in every place.”


Kai Wiedenhöfer is an award-winning photographer based in Berlin. His book Confrontier is available now.

Richard Conway is reporter/producer for TIME LightBox.


TIME Jerusalem

Tensions Mount in Jerusalem After Latest Attack

An ultra-Orthodox youth stands in front of the vehicle of a Palestinian motorist who rammed into pedestrians at the scene of an attack in Jerusalem, Nov. 5, 2014.
An ultra-Orthodox youth stands in front of the vehicle of a Palestinian motorist who rammed into pedestrians at the scene of an attack in Jerusalem, Nov. 5, 2014. Ammar Awad—Reuters

Two are dead in Israel after a driver plowed his van into a queue of commuters waiting for a tram Wednesday, marking the latest deadly incident amid escalating religious tensions around one of the country’s heavily disputed sacred sites for both Jews and Muslims.

Police said the motorist Wednesday slammed his vehicle into the light rail stop in east Jerusalem first, backed out and proceeded to drive off, hitting several cars along the way. He then got out of the car and attacked a group of civilians and police officers on the side of the road with a metal bar before authorities shot and killed him.

The attacker was identified by authorities as Ibrahim al-Akari, a 38-year-old Palestinian who had recently been released from prison after serving time for security offenses, police said. Security camera footage appeared to show al-Akari darting through a crowded intersection before he was shot.

The attack Wednesday bore similarities to an incident two weeks ago in which two Israelis were killed by a Palestinian assailant who was then killed by Israeli police.

Hamas, the Palestinian militant group that controls the Gaza Strip, confirmed that al-Akari was a member of the group, and said in a statement that al-Akari, “whose blood watered the land of the occupied holy city of Jerusalem, preferred but to retaliate for the blood of his people and the sacredness of the Al-Aqsa Mosque and Jerusalem.”

The Temple Mount/Noble Sanctuary compound, which includes the Dome of the Rock and al-Aqsa Mosque, is at the center of rising tension as a movement for Jewish right to prayer there gains a foothold in political spheres. Israel forbids non-Muslims from praying on the compound. Jews pray instead at the Western Wall, a retaining wall of the ancient demolished Jewish temple.

Last week, Rabbi Yehuda Glick, who managed a center aimed at advancing Jewish rights at the Temple Mount, was leaving a Jerusalem conference he convened called “Israel Returns to the Temple Mount” when Moataz Hijazi, a Palestinian dishwasher at the conference building who had previously spend 12 years in Israeli prisons, pulled up on a motorbike and shot him. Police shot the 32-year-old Hijazi 22 times in his home the following morning.

Supporters of Glick say the attack on him should be a watershed moment. At a prayer rally for Glick Saturday, Jerusalem city council member Aryeh King called on the Israeli government to “wake up and strengthen the Jewish presence on the Temple Mount.”

Up a stone staircase from the Hijazi home, a young man named Amar, 25, said Hijazi reminded him of himself, caught between making money in an Israeli job and nursing a deep grudge toward Israel. He declined to give his last name for fear of losing his job cooking in a Tel Aviv restaurant. He said he works in an Israeli restaurant because he cannot find any other work but, “I would take a life sentence for the sake of Al-Aqsa,” he said.

Since Israel conquered Jerusalem’s Old City from Jordan in 1967, Muslims have been able to access the site at all times, while non-Muslims have limited visiting hours. Jews may not pray on the site. King Abdullah of Jordan has warned that changing the agreement could jeopardize the 20-year-old peace treaty between his country and Israel. On Wednesday, Jordan recalled its ambassador for consultations.

TIME Israel

Amnesty International Accuses Israel of War Crimes in Gaza

PALESTINIAN-ISRAELI-CONFLICT-UNREST
A Palestinian boy looks up during a rain storm while walking through a neighborhood destroyed during the 50 day conflict between Israel and Hamas, in the Shejaiya neighbourhood of Gaza City on October 19, 2014. Mahmud Hams—AFP/Getty Images

Israel says it is conducting its own investigations

Amnesty International has accused the Israeli military of war crimes in Gaza during a war earlier this year against Hamas.

In a new report, Amnesty described eight cases in which residential Palestinian homes were attacked without warning, which resulted in the deaths of 104 people including 62 children.

The Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs denied the war crime charge, adding that “investigations are currently underway by several bodies inside and outside the Israel Defense Forces, into over 90 incidents. Two criminal investigations are underway.”

On July 8, the Israeli military launched “Operation Protective Edge” in response to rocket fire from Hamas. The fighting lasted seven weeks and more than 2,200 people were killed, almost all Gaza civilians.

“Israeli forces have brazenly flouted the laws of war by carrying out a series of attacks on civilian homes, displaying callous indifference to the carnage caused,” said Philip Luther, Director of the Middle East and North Africa Programme at Amnesty International. “Even if a fighter had been present in one of these residential homes, it would not absolve Israel of its obligation to take every feasible precaution to protect the lives of civilians caught up in the fighting.”

The report contains numerous accounts from survivors describing frantically digging through the rubble and dust of their destroyed homes in search of the bodies of children and loved ones.

At least 18,000 homes were destroyed or rendered uninhabitable during the conflict.

TIME Photojournalism Links

Photojournalism Daily: Nov. 4, 2014

Today’s daily Photojournalism Links collection highlights Marcus Bleasdale’s work on child marriage in Tanzania, East Africa, where four out of 10 girls marry before their 18th birthday. The photographs, made on assignment for Human Rights Watch, draw attention to young girls and women who have been pressured or forced to marry as adolescents and undergo female genital mutilation. It’s a blunt, compelling look at the hardships these girls face.


Marcus Bleasdale: Child Marriage in Tanzania (Human Right Watch)

Lynsey Addario: Amid Record Waves of Refugees, Italy Finding Limits to Its Compassion (National Geographic News) These photographs from Sicily show how the island has become the entry point for migrants trying to reach Europe by sea.

Tanya Habjouqa: Widows of Syrian ‘Freedom Fighters’ (The New York Times Lens) These pictures document the poverty and uncertainty faced by Syrian widows and their families in Jordan.

Luca Locatelli: Where Ferraris Are Born (Wired Raw File) Inside the famed car factory in Maranello, Italy.

Twelve Views on Israel (Le Monde) Pictures from a project, This Place, for which 12 international photographers were invited to document Israel. NB The post is in French. Also published on TIME LightBox in April 2014.


Photojournalism Links is a compilation of the most interesting photojournalism found on the web, curated by Mikko Takkunen, Associate Photo Editor at TIME. Follow him on Twitter @photojournalism.


TIME Israel

Sen. Ted Cruz: Obama’s Unprecedented Attack on Israel

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during a press conference in Jerusalem, Oct. 13, 2014.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during a press conference in Jerusalem, Oct. 13, 2014. Menahem Kahana—EPA

Cruz is the junior U.S. Senator from Texas.

Voters should challenge the administration's views on Election Day

This week, the world was treated to yet another embarrassing display of the Obama administration’s incompetent foreign policy.

According to The Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg, various anonymous officials referred to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as both “a chicken****” and “a coward.” While these indefensible comments have received the lion’s share of media attention, the substantive remarks about Iran were even more troubling. Goldberg wrote that another senior official claimed that due to their pressure on Netanyahu, it is now “too late” for Israel to stop Iran from amassing an “atomic arsenal.”

White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest told the White House press corps on Tuesday that the President likely does not know who did this, and there is no effort underway to find out. Other officials have signaled that these persons may be disciplined in ways that are have not been disclosed. But, regardless, they will continue to serve at the pleasure of the President because, as Earnest said, such things happen almost every day in this administration.

In other words, this is no big deal.

With all due respect, this is a very big deal. This is an unprecedented attack on a critical ally of the United States at a moment of international crisis. It is a de facto admission to the mullahs in Tehran that the Obama administration thinks it is too late to prevent them from acquiring nuclear weapons. It is an inexcusable betrayal of the national security of the American people.

Do the Democrats agree with what Obama administration officials are saying about Israel and its leaders? Do they also concede that a nuclear Iran is inevitable? If not, will they call on the President to identify and fire the persons making these assertions? These questions should be asked—and answered—before Americans head to the polls next Tuesday.

It is my hope that Congress can unite to reverse this administration’s approach by defending our allies and standing up to hostile actors in the world. When the White House acts recklessly, Congress should swiftly act to defend our nation. We will not be able to do so if the Senate is led by Harry Reid acting as a rubber stamp for President Obama. Either the Democrats should denounce the Obama Administration’s dangerous policies or the voters should send them home in November.

As disgraceful as these comments were, at least they bring crystal clarity to the choice we face as a nation on November 4th. Choose wisely.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Israel

Provocative Israeli Cartoon on Deteriorating Relations With U.S. Evokes 9/11

It was published days after a White House official reportedly called Netanyahu "chickens--t"

A cartoon published Thursday by the left-leaning Israeli daily Haaretz has sparked controversy for its blunt attempt to depict deteriorating relations between conservative Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and U.S. President Barack Obama.

The cartoon shows Netanyahu flying an airplane aimed at a tall building topped with an American flag, which resembles one of the Twin Towers that were attacked on Sept. 11, 2001.

The cartoonist, Amos Biderman, told the Times of Israel that the image was intended to imply that Netanyahu was leading to “a disaster in Israel-U.S. relations on the scale of 9/11.” But it has drawn criticism in the U.S. and in Israel, with Vox writing that “it so breaches the very basics of good taste that it is astounding.”

Relations between Netanyahu and the White House have been notoriously poor, and the Israeli leader moved earlier this week to accelerate planning for new settler homes in East Jerusalem despite the Obama Administration’s opposition. On Tuesday, the Atlantic quoted one unnamed White House official calling Netanyahu “chickens–t.”

White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest later said the official’s comment did not “accurately reflect at all” the administration’s view about Israel.

Read next: Sweden Becomes the First E.U. Member to Recognize a Palestinian State

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