Israel Celebrates Independence
Israel Celebrates Independence
April 25, 2001
Israelis today are remembering the country’s nearly 20,000 military personnel killed since late 1947 while defending the Jewish State. Educational TV is screening the names of each and every one of the dead. Other channels are running moving documentaries on the lives of several of the deceased soldiers. The memorial ceremonies and cemetery visits will end tonight at 8:00 PM, when the annual Independence Day celebrations begin. The government has ordered the complete sealing off of all routes between pre-1967 Israel and Yasser Arafat’s Palestinian autonomy zones. The total closure will remain in force until early Friday morning. Security forces are stationed in large numbers throughout the country in order to prevent threatened terror attacks by Palestinian militants. Officials are especially concerned that Hizbullah militia forces in South Lebanon may try to disrupt Israel’s 53rd Independence holiday by launching an assault along the border. The concern comes as Prime Minister Ariel Sharon confirmed earlier media reports that Iran has begun building a rocket base in Lebanon “from which they can fire rockets that can reach the center of the country.” He also said he will send Foreign Minister Shimon Peres to Cairo to discuss a recently-formulated Egyptian-Jordanian peace proposal, but added that he will stick to his demand for a complete halt to Palestinian violence before any serious negotiations begin.
Sharon met last night with the families of four Israelis being held by the Iranian-backed Muslim militia in Lebanon. Noting that it was exactly 200 days since three Israeli soldiers were kidnapped by Hizbullah forces along the border, he pledged to keep up pressure on the radical group to release the abductees. A father of one of the captured young men told reporters that he and his family were distraught that they have not even received confirmation from Hizbullah that their son is still alive: “We did not think it would be such a long and difficult journey with so much helplessness. We haven’t had any word, or even half a word about the condition of our boy.”
Meanwhile Hizbullah forces are being hailed for their “brave resistance to Zionist occupation” at a two day Islamic world conference taking place in Iran. The gathering was called by the Islamic dictatorship to express international Muslim support for the violent Palestinian uprising. Hizbullah leader Sheik Hassan Nasrallah issued a new threat at the conference, warning that “the Zionist military should wait for surprise attacks by Palestinian resistance groups.” (For more information on growing Hizbullah links to radical Palestinian groups, see the May ISRAEL NEWS DIGEST). The anti-Israel conference was set up by Iran to coincide with Independence Day. Delegates from Muslim countries around the world are attending the event, including members of the Palestinian Hamas and Islamic Jihad movements and the PLO. Supreme Iranian leader Ayatollah Khameini addressed the conference last night, pledging that the jihad war against Israel will continue. He drew enthusiastic applause when he charged that “the Zionists worked closely with the Nazis and exaggerated statistics on the Jewish killings during the war.” Khameini further maintained that, in “an attempt to place in the heart of the Islamic world an anti-Islamic state in the guise of supporting the victims of racism, the Zionist groups forced large numbers of non-Jewish eastern European hooligans to move to Palestine to bolster the Zionist presence there.”
Violence continued in various parts of the disputed territories overnight. Three Palestinian mortar shells were fired at an Israeli civilian settlement in the southern Gaza Strip, causing some damage but no casualties. A Jewish civilian driver was wounded in a drive-by shooting last night near Ramallah. Two other cars were fired upon in the same area this morning, but no injuries were reported. Palestinian forces kept up their recent fierce assaults on army positions along the border with Egypt. Israeli soldiers returned the fire. A 40 year old Palestinian man was shot and killed yesterday as he rushed at soldiers after climbing over the border fence from the Gaza Strip. Army officials said he refused orders to halt after warning shots were fired into the air. Palestinian officials said the man was known to be mentally disturbed.
The government announced last night that it will not allow Israelis to travel into Palestinian-controlled Jericho to gamble at an Austrian-run casino there. A statement from the Prime Minister’s office said that in light of the continuing security crisis and the threat of more kidnappings or killings, the area will remain off limits to all Israeli citizens, Jewish or Arab. The statement came after news reports claimed that FM Peres had agreed to allow Israelis to return to the casino in an attempt to help the struggling Palestinian economy get back on its feet, in return for Palestinian guarantees that the area would remain quiet. Before the Palestinians launched their violent revolt last autumn, Arafat’s government received a hefty portion of the estimated $680,000 a day casino profits, with most of the money coming from Israeli pockets. News that the Sharon government would allow Israelis back into Jericho angered some cabinet ministers, with Tourism Minister Rehavam Ze’evi saying it was “absurd to accept Palestinian assurances of quiet in Jericho, and contribute to their financial resources, while they are still shooting at us in Gilo and the Gaza Strip.” Meanwhile tourism officials reported a 62% drop in foreign visitors to Israel in March from the same period a year ago, when Pope John Paul visited the land. The negative statistic came as Israel’s national airline, El Al, said it will be forced to halt flights to many foreign destinations over the next year, including to Chicago and Copenhagen, because of the steep tourism slump and a rise in fuel prices. The struggling airline will also sell off a portion of its aging aircraft fleet in an attempt to stay afloat.
In the midst of all the bad news, light can still be seen. This report came on Tuesday from Tony Sperandeo, the leader of a Messianic congregation that meets in the town of Kfar Sava–which has been the scene of several terror attacks in recent weeks. His report concerned Sunday’s suicide blast that left an Israeli doctor dead and a teenage boy seriously wounded. But another Kfar Sava teen was spared potential injury or death by prematurely getting off of the bus. Here is a portion of the report:
“Everybody in the fellowship is safe and we praise God for it. Many heard the blast of the bomb and some had their windows shaken. Two members of the fellowship were sitting in a bus right behind the bus that exploded, just a few minutes distance, and saw the people lying on the street.”
“But the closest to being directly involved was Assi, a brother from our cell group. Assi is 16 years old. He was riding the same bus that exploded. He was supposed to get out at the same station where the terrorist blew himself up. While riding in the bus, Assi felt sick and asked to get off just one stop before his. While calling his dad to pick him up, he heard the blast and saw the bus explode.
“A miracle? Yes we believe in a God of miracles in a land of miracles.”