Dear Federation and Community Leaders,
There’s a lovely initiative to honor the memory of our friend Yigal Iluz (hy”d), who fell in battle against Hamas terrorists during the attack on Ofakim on October 7th. The community is writing a Torah scroll in his honor, and they intend to bring the scroll next Simchat Torah. I’ve already made a gift for this mitzvah, and I encourage you to do the same here.
Closer to home, we noted that Rutgers President Holloway told the Board of Trustees the other day that his office received more than 12,000 emails calling for the cancellation of a vile hate-filled event on campus. Thank you to all those who sent the emails, expressing the Jewish community’s concern about the disgraceful event. He called receiving the emails akin to being ‘electronically harassed.’ See here for a definition of harassment, so you can figure it out, and remember that free speech should never be held as a double standard to dismiss real fears of Jew-hate and threats to safety on campus.
As fighting continues, seven more soldiers have been killed, bringing the total number of IDF casualties since the ground offensive began to 104 (and 433 since October 7). See details of all the fallen soldiers here. The IDF says it has killed 7,000 Hamas members or allied terrorists since fighting began. More than 22,000 targets in the Gaza Strip have been struck since the beginning of the war, 3,500 of them since the end of the ceasefire. See this infographic video of eliminated senior commanders.
Cypriot law enforcement agencies, in cooperation with the Mossad, have thwarted an Iranian cell that planned to carry out attacks against Israeli and Jewish targets in Cyprus. Cypriot security services have arrested the attackers, and considerable information was obtained about the cell’s operations, the targets of the attack, and Iranian plans to kill innocents in Cyprus and elsewhere.
The Israeli Government has approved a $5 billion multi-year plan to rehabilitate and develop the region around the Gaza Strip. The approved outline aims to ensure “the safe and lasting renewal and development of the region with significant demographic growth, which constitutes a prosperous and attractive focus and magnet for economic resilience, quality education, investments, and advanced and innovative agriculture.” A new authority has been set up to implement the plan, known as “Tekuma.” The Israeli government has also set up a small team of top officials and representatives from the defense establishment to discuss post-war plans for Gaza. The team, which has met four times already, is reportedly led by National Security Adviser Tzachi Hanegbi and Strategic Affairs Minister Ron Dermer and includes representatives from the Israel Defense Forces, the Mossad, and the Shin Bet, and Israeli Ambassador to the US Mike Herzog.
Israeli universities will officially begin the academic school year on December 31, following a two-month delay amid the IDF’s war in Gaza (where some 30% of university students have been called to reserve duty).
Israel Defense Forces (IDF) Operations
Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called on Hamas terrorists to surrender to Israeli troops, urging them not to sacrifice their lives for the terror group’s chief in Gaza, Yahya Sinwar. The comments followed remarks by Israel Defense Forces Chief of Staff Herzi Halevi that there were signs that Hamas was collapsing, and as several images and videos circulated over the past week of dozens of men, many of them Hamas operatives, surrendering and being detained by Israeli troops inside Gaza. Intense fighting continues across Gaza. The IDF says it almost has complete control over the northern part of the Strip, and is consolidating its gains over the major city of Khan Younis in the south. See footage of the latest fighting here. Since fighting began, 1,593 soldiers have been wounded, 255 of whom suffered severe injuries. Watch this video of a wounded soldier being evacuated by helicopter. Hamas continues to launch missile and rocket fire toward Israel from southern Gaza, including from humanitarian zones. The IDF released satellite photos showing the proximity between UN facilities and these launch sites. The IDF is releasing directions in Arabic for safe passage within the battle zones and has deployed high-tech mapping software to reduce noncombatant deaths. It has reiterated that “the people of Gaza are not our enemies.” These efforts were recognized by US National Security Council Spokesman John Kirby, who said “It’s not the Israel Defense Forces’ strategy to kill innocent people. It’s happening, I admit that, and each one’s a tragedy,” while Hamas “is deliberately hiding themselves in residential buildings, in hospitals, [and] in tunnels.” He emphasized that Israel goes beyond what “a modern military would do to minimize civilian casualties.”
US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken also acknowledged Israel’s efforts to reduce civilian casualties. In an interview with CNN, he said that Hamas “intentionally embeds itself with civilians… and it’s very, very challenging for Israel to do what it needs to do to make sure this never happens again.”
There are increasing signs that the Gazan population is losing patience with Hamas, and for the first time, civilians are speaking out against its leadership. Former Hamas communications minister Yousef al-Mansi (now held by Israel) heavily criticized the current leadership of the terror organization in Gaza as a group of “crazy people” led by Yahya Sinwar, in footage of his interrogation published by the Shin Bet. In the recording, al-Mansi says, “They destroyed the Gaza Strip. Set it back 200 years. There is no opportunity to live.”
Hamas rocket attacks on Israel remain far lower than earlier in the war but continue to strike Israeli cities daily. In the north, Hezbollah also continues its medium-level rocket and other fire against Israeli targets. It says that the total toll of its members killed since the beginning of the war is 100. The tally includes Hezbollah members killed by IDF strikes in southern Lebanon, in response to repeated attacks on the border, as well as several killed in Syria. Israeli defense officials estimate that this figure is higher, and Hezbollah is covering up the true number of fatalities among its ranks.
It is believed that 138 hostages remain in Gaza, although in recent days the IDF has confirmed the deaths of 18 of them, due to new intelligence and findings obtained by troops operating in Gaza. A further 105 hostages were released from Hamas captivity in Gaza during the ceasefire: 81 Israelis, 23 Thai nationals, and one Filipino. In exchange, Israel released 240 Palestinian security prisoners, all women and minors. Earlier, four hostages were released, one hostage was rescued, and two bodies were recovered. Yesterday, the IDF revealed that a special forces operation was conducted to try to rescue a group of hostages in Gaza following precise intelligence information, but the mission was not successful. Two soldiers were severely injured and the hostages were not rescued. Former Hamas hostages Mia and Itay Regev speak out.
According to US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Israel, not the US, will decide when to end its war against Hamas in Gaza. His comments came in the wake of reports that Washington has been exerting pressure on Israel to wrap up operations by the end of the year.
Prime Minister Netanyahu spoke with Russian President Vladimir Putin yesterday about the war against Hamas and the situation in the region. Netanyahu expressed his dissatisfaction with the positions expressed against Israel by Russian representatives at the UN and in other forums and voiced sharp criticism of the dangerous cooperation between Russia and Iran.
A delegation from the European Union Parliament toured the Gaza border town of Kibbutz Kfar Aza where some of the worst atrocities on October 7 took place. Knesset Speaker Amir Ohana led the tour for the delegation headed by Security and Defense Subcommittee chair Nathalie Loiseau from France and Foreign Affairs Committee chair David McAllister from Germany. They were joined by MPs Rasa Juknevičienė of Lithuania, Gheorghe-Vlad Nistor of Romania, Attila Ara-Kovács of Hungary, and Carina Ohlsson of Sweden. “What we’ve seen here in Kfar Aza we will never forget,” said Loiseau in remarks to the press at the end of the tour through the burnt buildings in the border town where over 50 were murdered and at least 17 were taken hostage on October 7.
- Video: The legality of Israel’s actions in Gaza
- An Exchange of Views on Progressives and the link between antisemitism and anti-Zionism
With prayers for peace,