World

MIDDLE EAST CRISIS UPDATE: 1 DECEMBER 2023

Blinken visits Israel, presses leaders to obey international law; warfare truce extended for another day

Blinken visits Israel, presses leaders to obey international law; warfare truce extended for another day
A handout photo made available by Israel's Government Press Office shows Israeli President Isaac Herzog (R) during his meeting with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken in Tel Aviv, Israel, 30 November 2023. (Photo: EPA-EFE / GPO / Haim Zach)

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, meeting with Israeli leaders on Thursday, stressed the need to comply with international law once fighting resumes in Gaza, a shift in tone that underscored increasing US concern about the humanitarian toll of the campaign to destroy Hamas.

Late on Thursday afternoon, two of the 10 hostages expected to be released under the day’s extended ceasefire were transferred by Hamas to the Red Cross and arrived in Israel, according to the Israeli military. Hamas was expected to hand over additional hostages to the Red Cross later in the day, the army said.

Israel and Hamas agreed to lengthen their truce for at least another day, allowing for the release of more hostages held in Gaza. 

The pause in the fighting and hopes for further diplomatic progress have boosted Israel’s stocks and currency. Tel Aviv’s main equity index has jumped almost 20% in dollar terms this month. The shekel is poised for a 9% rally against the dollar, the best performance among currencies tracked by Bloomberg.

In Jerusalem, gunmen from the eastern, mostly Arab part of the city killed three Israelis before being shot themselves, Israeli police said. Hamas claimed the attack.

Latest developments

Blinken’s shift in tone during Israel visit underscores US concern

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, meeting with Israeli leaders on Thursday, stressed the need to comply with international law once fighting resumes in Gaza, a shift in tone that underscored increasing US concern about the humanitarian toll of the campaign to destroy Hamas.

Civilians in the north of Gaza have fled to the south to escape fighting, and under the current ceasefire agreement, Israel is letting in increasing supplies of humanitarian aid. While encouraging further extensions to the truce, the Biden administration continues to back Israel in its struggle against Hamas after gunmen infiltrated Israel on 7 October, killing more than 1,200 and taking some 240 people hostage.  

“The secretary reaffirmed the United States’ support for Israel’s right to protect itself from terrorist violence in compliance with international humanitarian law and urged Israel to take every possible measure to avoid civilian harm,” spokesperson Matthew Miller said after a meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. 

Blinken reinforced the message in a social media posting on X, saying that in the meeting with Netanyahu, “I emphasized the need for Israel to take every possible measure to avoid civilian harm.” 

More than 15,000 people have died in Gaza since the war began, according to the Hamas-run Health Ministry.

An Israeli official, speaking on condition of anonymity on Wednesday before Blinken arrived, said Israel intended to make sure there were enough safe zones for civilians ahead of an anticipated relaunch of the military operation in Gaza that is likely to spread to the south. The official said Israel sees eye to eye with the US and the rest of the world that the war is with Hamas and not with civilians Israel doesn’t want to harm. 

Israel and Hamas extend their truce for another day

Israel and Hamas agreed to lengthen their truce for at least another day, allowing for the release of more hostages held in Gaza.

The two sides announced the extension minutes before their ceasefire was due to end at 7am local time on Thursday, underscoring the fraught nature of the negotiations. 

Hamas support surge in West Bank undermines Netanyahu

As Palestinians celebrated Israel’s release of prisoners outside Ramallah’s sand-coloured municipality last Friday, green Hamas flags dotted the crowd and young men donned green caps, the latest signs of the Islamist group’s growing popularity on the West Bank.  

Support for Hamas was also evident outside the city’s Abdel Nasser Mosque a few hours earlier, when hundreds of worshipers protested after morning prayers against the war Israel is waging against its forces in Gaza.  

“Hamas in the West Bank is becoming more popular, more relevant and more powerful, and in return the Palestinian Authority is further marginalised and less popular,” said Ghassan Khatib, a former Palestinian labor minister and lecturer at the territory’s Birzeit University. “You cannot eradicate Hamas. As long as there is no addressing of the political root of these rounds of violence, it will continue.”  

Ophir Falk, Netanyahu’s foreign policy adviser, said that Hamas’ removal from Gaza was a prerequisite for peace. Former Palestinian Authority spokeswperson Nour Odeh sees that view as misguided.

“You cannot pretend Hamas doesn’t exist,” she said. “You can’t pretend Islamic Jihad doesn’t exist. They’re not a small nuance. And it’s not about their military power. It’s about the fact that in a situation of complete paralysis politically, complete ineptitude and a breakdown in international engagement, here’s a group that has released prisoners, that has fought back and punched hard.” 

A survey published this month by the Arab World for Research and Development (AWRD), a Palestinian polling group, found 83% of 391 respondents on the West Bank were supportive of what it described as “Palestinian resistance” on 7 October. 

“People feel like we got some revenge,” said Khalid Rodil, a West Bank teacher. “Hamas is standing up for us.”

Hamas is less favourably viewed in Gaza, where its rule has been marred by persistent allegations of corruption and incompetence — 64% of 668 people canvassed there in the AWRD poll backed its strike on Israel.   

El Al presses ahead with flight-plan overhaul amid war

Israel’s El Al airline said it had made major operational changes to maintain services following the attacks on Israel by Hamas in October and the conflict in Gaza that followed.  

The flagship carrier has overhauled its route network, adding some destinations and removing others, while bolstering cargo flights as other operators pulled back, it said in a statement. El Al has introduced a voucher programme allowing passengers to book future flights, with 10% of the proceeds going toward assisting war victims in Israel.

The changes are part of a broader effort to stabilise El Al’s business after the war discouraged tourism to the region and forced the airline to reroute aircraft from overflying hostile areas. Most foreign airlines have stopped flying to Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion airport and aren’t expected to return before year-end. 

Read more: Flights get longer as airlines are forced to skirt war zones

Altogether, traffic at Ben Gurion was down about 80% from levels expected before the war, El Al said. The airline added about 150 flights, including to New York, Bangkok and Madrid, in the first few weeks after the beginning of the war to help people leave the country or bring home security and rescue personnel, as well as equipment and medical teams. 

The cargo effort is also helping to maintain outside connections, bringing in essential equipment. El Al said it had converted one passenger aircraft for cargo use. 

As it adds services, El Al has also suspended flights to destinations including Istanbul, Marrakesh in Morocco, and Sharm el-Sheikh in Egypt. The carrier brought forward seasonal route closures to locations including Tokyo, Dublin and Nice in France, while postponing new services to Mumbai and Delhi. 

Wave of hate crime unleashed by Israel-Hamas war is testing the world

Three college students of Palestinian descent out walking over the Thanksgiving break were shot in Vermont. A synagogue in Berlin was hit with Molotov cocktails. And a mosque in Ottawa was smeared with excrement.

Reports of crimes targeting Jews, Muslims and Arabs have risen in the US, Germany, Canada and beyond since the 7 October Hamas attack on Israel, and the Israeli military’s retaliatory operation in Gaza. 

While previous conflicts in the Middle East also sparked a backlash outside the region, this time it is more intense and the wave of hate may be far from cresting, according to advocacy groups, former law enforcement officials and analysts.

What’s new is “the virulent nature” of the attacks, said Michael Levitt, chief executive of the Canada-based Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Centre for Holocaust Studies. The Council on American-Islamic Relations, a Muslim civil rights organisation, described an unparalleled “tsunami” of anti-Muslim hatred.

Homes and businesses have been vandalised in addition to places of worship. There have been assaults, threats and acts of intimidation at universities and on public transport. Tensions have crept into workplaces. A six-year-old Muslim boy of Palestinian descent was stabbed to death in Illinois. 

Part of the violence is linked to tensions rippling through diasporas. But the conflict has also been magnified through social media platforms like TikTok and Elon Musk’s X, and co-opted by hateful individuals on the far-right. 

Here’s a look at how some of the divisions are playing out in seven key countries.

In Germany, 994 incidents of anti-Semitism were documented from 7 October-9 November by RIAS, an independent group funded by the federal government, a 320% increase from the same period a year prior. While authorities have  not released official data about anti-Muslim hate crimes since the war began, they are also pervasive, according to community groups. 

In South Africa, the country’s Jewish Board of Deputies logged more than 80 anti-Semitic incidents over the past month, compared to an average of six a month before the war, including an attempt to run a rabbi’s car off the road. It noted that there had been explicit calls on public platforms for Jews to be attacked in their homes, workplaces and even in schools.

An unprecedented schism has opened between South Africa’s strongly pro-Palestinian government and the nation’s one million Muslims on the one side, and members of its 52,300-strong Jewish community on the other, as the country continues to grapple with how best to heal divisions caused by apartheid rule. 

In Melbourne, Australia — which has the most Holocaust survivors per capita outside of Israel as well as a large Muslim community — police do not officially code hate crimes, but a review of incidents from 9 October-13 November found 78 incidents relating to anti-Semitism and 16 to Islamophobia.   

In New York City, offences against Jews in October tripled from a year prior to 69, making up the bulk of the hate crimes investigated by the New York Police Department. Anti-Muslim and anti-ethnic attacks also increased, totalling 15, up from three a year before. 

In London, where hate-crime data is publicly available, at least 434 people have been arrested for hate crime and public order offences since 7 October, the Metropolitan Police said. Offences spiked in October and stayed high in November, the force said in a statement, with 909 anti-Semitic crimes recorded from 7 October to 25 November — a 1,112% change compared to a year earlier. There were 420 Islamophobic offences, up 259%. Police are seeking more than 60 unnamed individuals

In Buenos Aires in the five weeks through 15 November, anti-Semitic acts totalled 45, a figure equal to what the Argentine capital has registered for entire years in the past decade, according to data from DAIA, one of the country’s top Jewish organisations. The government’s anti-discrimination office doesn’t collect data on anti-Muslim hate crimes and its census doesn’t include data on the Muslim population.

The country is home to Latin America’s largest Jewish community, approximately 220,000 people, and stands to become Israel’s top ally in the region once President-elect Javier Milei, who said he intends to convert to Judaism, takes office on 10 December.  

In Toronto, Canada’s biggest city and home to its largest Jewish and Muslim populations, there were 78 reports of hate crimes from 7 October to 20 November, compared to 37 in the same six weeks in 2022, a rise of 111%. That figure includes 38 anti-Semitic acts compared to 13 in the same period last year as well as 17 acts targeting Palestinian, Muslims or Arabs versus one last year. Canada routinely ranks among the most racially tolerant societies in the world. But the increase in hate crimes is surfacing simmering tensions. DM

Read more in Daily Maverick: Israel-Palestine War

Gallery

Comments - Please in order to comment.

Please peer review 3 community comments before your comment can be posted

A South African Hero: You

There’s a 99.7% chance that this isn’t for you. Only 0.3% of our readers have responded to this call for action.

Those 0.3% of our readers are our hidden heroes, who are fuelling our work and impacting the lives of every South African in doing so. They’re the people who contribute to keep Daily Maverick free for all, including you.

The equation is quite simple: the more members we have, the more reporting and investigations we can do, and the greater the impact on the country.

Be part of that 0.3%. Be a Maverick. Be a Maverick Insider.

Support Daily Maverick→
Payment options

MavericKids vol 3

How can a child learn to read if they don't have a book?

81% of South African children aged 10 can't read for meaning. You can help by pre-ordering a copy of MavericKids.

For every copy sold we will donate a copy to Gift of The Givers for children in need of reading support.