July 24, 2018

In News Surrounding Israel by The Friends of Israel

Cracks emerge in Palestinian Authority’s boycott of U.S. peace plan

Leading Palestinian politicians have voiced concerns in recent days over the prospect of the United States being excluded from acting as mediator in peace talks with Israel. They do not believe that Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’ boycott on American officials— imposed in the wake of Washington’s recognition in December of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital—is proving beneficial to the Palestinian cause.

In the current diplomatic climate, officials warned, Europe cannot replace the US as an intermediary because many European capitals are reluctant to assume America’s traditional role as primary peace broker between the two sides. European leaders are also wary of ignoring the Trump administration’s demand to not abide by the PA’s push to form a new, multilateral mechanism for negotiations.

Nabeel Amro, a former Palestinian Minister of Information, explained to The Media Line that “the Palestinians want Europeans to be more involved, but we can’t force them.” While he believes that “it is right to reject the [prospective] American [peace] plan as it violates Palestinian rights, a boycott on the entire US administration is not helpful. Our relationship with the US should be about dialogue, not boycotts.”

Whereas, Amro supports the PA’s rejection of the White House’s decision to relocate the American Embassy to Jerusalem, he stressed that “there is no need to boycott the whole country. Diplomacy requires activity and movement at all levels. The US is still supporting the PA in matters of security. Why do we accept security cooperation, but not the political collaboration?”

Amro concluded by noting that the US and Russia, for example, “have been going through political tensions for years, but still officials from both nations continue to meet and talk.”

Hanna Issa, a Palestinian political analyst, believes that the US alone holds the keys to resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. “America is a great country and most of world’s governments have mutual interests with it,” he told The Media Line. “Therefore, boycotting [Washington] will not benefit the Palestinians.”

Issa highlighted that the PA does not even yet know the exact details of the White House’s plan, as it has not been published. Therefore, the PA’s rejection of the proposal out-of-hand is, in his estimation, premature and counter-productive.

Nabil Shaath, a foreign affairs adviser to Abbas, disagrees with these assessments. “We are not seeking to replace the US with the European Union,” he conveyed to The Media Line. “Abbas was clear in his speeches that we want multilateral negotiations involving European countries, Russia and China. At the same time, we refuse the US monopoly on talks and the contempt of the Trump administration for the Palestinian side.”

In this respect, Shaath explained that the Palestinians will not tolerate what they consider the President Donald Trump’s unwavering support for Israel despite its “many violations of international law, its occupation of Palestinian territories, settlement building and refusal to accept the Palestinian right of return.”

Despite its positions, Shaath contended that Ramallah is “not boycotting the American administration, [rather] we are boycotting political dialogue with the US over the so-called ‘deal of the century.’ We still speak with the US Consulate in Jerusalem on daily basis and we still have our representative office in Washington.”

To this end, the PA repeatedly has reiterated its unwillingness to engage with Trump’s peace envoys, including senior adviser Jared Kushner, US Special Representative for International Negotiations Jason Greenblatt and US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman—who, together, Shaath described as a “Zionist, extremist team.

Over the weekend, the American trio penned an op-ed in The Washington Post calling on Hamas to rejects its violent tactics and refusal to accept Israel’s right to exist. The three envoys also called on the Palestinian people to find a way out of the “hopeless treadmill” of “destruction, violence and human misery.

“The world is moving forward, but bad choices are causing Palestinians to fall further and further behind,” the op-ed read.

Responding to the article, Abd al-Lateef Qanou, a Hamas spokesman in Gaza, told The Media Line that “the US administration is completely biased in Israel’s favor and doesn’t meet our peoples’ hopes and ambitions.

“It takes the side of the occupation and is a partner in the killing of Palestinians. We do not rely on any American efforts in finding a solution to the conflict.”



Air force shoots at Gazan arson squad, as Liberman threatens war

An Israeli drone shot at a group of Gazans flying incendiary balloons into southern Israel from the northern Strip on Monday afternoon, according to Palestinian media.

The Israel Defense Forces confirmed that one of its aircraft targeted a “terror cell” launching arson devices in northern Gaza.

According to the Hamas-linked Shehab news outlet, the group was operating near the border, east of the city of Jabaliya.

There were no injuries immediately reported.

Moments later, Shehab reported that the IDF fired at two observation posts in central Gaza belonging to the Hamas terror group, which rules the Strip.

The military would not immediately confirm the report.

The airstrike and reported shelling came amid a period of heightened tensions in the coastal enclave, with Israel demanding an end to the arson attacks and Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman threatening a large military operation.

“Is the State of Israel interested in a war against Hamas in the Gaza Strip? The answer is no. Are we deterred from [starting] a campaign in the Gaza Strip? Here too, the answer is no,” Liberman said during a meeting with the IDF’s top brass on Monday morning.

Hamas agreed to a ceasefire with Israel on Friday night, after the IDF bombed dozens of the terror group’s facilities in response to a sniper attack on the border that killed an IDF soldier, Staff Sgt. Aviv Levi, 20, earlier that evening — the first Israeli killed in an attack from Gaza since the 2014 war.

Four Palestinians were killed in the Israeli strikes — three of whom were acknowledged as Hamas fighters.

That ceasefire has largely held, though there were some low-level clashes and incidents along the border in the intervening days.

On Sunday evening, an Israeli aircraft fired at a group of Palestinians launching incendiary balloons into southern Israel from the northern Gaza Strip, the army said. The Hamas-run Gazan health ministry said two people were injured in the strike. It listed the injuries as light to moderate.

Though some incendiary balloons were found in southern Israel on Sunday and Monday morning, no fires were caused by them, according to the Fire and Rescue Services.

IDF tanks also struck a pair of observation posts on Saturday in response to an attempt to breach the border and an incendiary balloon launch.

On Monday, Liberman said Israel would not tolerate fire kites and border clashes, and claimed the country had “done everything in order to prevent a war in the Gaza Strip.”

“Anything that happens going forward in the Gaza Strip is the sole responsibility of the Hamas leadership,” he said.

On Sunday, Liberman announced that Israel was prepared to fully reopen the main crossing for goods into the Gaza Strip on Tuesday if the relative calm in the territory persists until then.

“Yesterday was one of the calmest days, perhaps, since March 30,” Liberman said, during a visit to the Kerem Shalom Crossing on Sunday. “If that situation continues today and tomorrow as it was yesterday, then on Tuesday we will revive the regular procedures and also expand the fishing zone to what it was before.”

The Kerem Shalom Crossing, the only Israeli crossing for commercial goods into and out of the Gaza Strip, has been closed to everything but shipments of food, medicine and occasionally fuel since July 9.



Deputy Jerusalem mayor: Fallen Western Wall stone a message to Reform Jews

Deputy Jerusalem Mayor Dov Kalmanovich said Monday that Reform Jews should reflect on the significance of a large stone that came crashing down on the Western Wall’s egalitarian prayer plaza earlier in the day.

Kalmanovich, of the national-religious Jewish Home party, said in a statement, “We must not explain and interpret natural phenomena as signs from heaven, as the ways of the Creator are hidden,” but then added that “the timing and the location of the fall raise many questions.

“The falling of one of the Western Wall stones, so close to Tisha B’Av, and exactly at the location of the controversial prayer area, should be a red light for us all,” he said, referring to the Hebrew date of the destruction of the Second Temple, which this year was commemorated on Sunday.

“I suggest that Reform leaders, Women of the Wall, and the other quarrel-mongers examine themselves, and not the Wall.”

Women of the Wall is a group campaigning for the right for women to lead prayer services in the women’s section of the main Western Wall plaza, which currently adheres to Orthodox rules permitting only men to lead services.

The large boulder fell during the morning, near Robinson’s Arch, south of the main Orthodox prayer plaza, and landed on a platform used for nondenominational and mixed prayer. The rock, whose fall was captured by security camera footage, landed very close to a female worshiper there.

Demands for the establishment of a permanent, non-Orthodox prayer space has been the subject of heavy criticism by some religious officials.

There are already several noticeable gaps in the Western Wall, where large Herodian stones have crumbled in the past. In a notable case in 2004, large pieces of Western Wall stone fell in the mainstream prayer plaza — slightly injuring a Yom Kippur worshiper — due to erosion caused by foreign metal objects inserted into the Wall’s cracks by birds.

The fallen boulder weighed about 220 pounds (100 kilograms), Israel Radio reported.

Following the stone’s fall from one of the original Herodian rows of the Western Wall, a team of IAA experts, including archaeologists, engineers and conservationists, began careful examination of the affected area.



Inside Israel’s secret and unprecedented rescue of Syria’s white helmets

An operation of this type had never been done before.

Evacuating hundreds of people from Syria into Israel with the support of Canada, the UK, Germany and the US was an unprecedented level of international cooperation. In addition Syria is an enemy state and the war was closing in on the men and their families in need of evacuation. This was a key part of the emerging crisis over the weekend, it was not just 90 members of the White Helmets, but also their families, an estimated 800 people.

Transporting them to Jordan was not a simple issue. Jordan had refused to take in more refugees as the Syrian regime took Deraa and the border areas in late June and early July. Jordan was already hosting 1.3 million refugees over the last several years. This meant the evacuation was not just a matter of bringing people into Israel, but transferring them somewhere else. And Jordan didn’t want them remaining in the kingdom. “The US and our international partners asked the United Nations to take the central role in this critical humanitarian operation,” State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said Sunday.

Last week Syrian members of the civil defense in the shrinking rebel-held area near the Golan found out they would not be allowed to be transported north to opposition areas in Idlib in northern Syria. Up until that moment the medical volunteers, called White Helmets, were watching with concern as the Syrian regime closed in, first taking the border with Jordan and then pounding rebel-held areas with air strikes. There was no way out.

Syrian intelligence agents were already compiling lists of names, as they have throughout the war, to hunt down enemies of the regime. The Syrian regime and its supporters have called the White Helmets terrorists, Western-supported propagandists and Islamists. Russia has also criticized them, implying they fake chemical weapons attacks. When the Syrian rebels agreed to a reconciliation deal last week the White Helmets were not part of it. They could not remain under regime control or go north. They faced torture, or worse, at the hands of the regime if caught. Damascus has portrayed the operation to save the White Helmets as “criminal” and aiding “Israel and its tools.”

Washington and Ottawa were scrambling to help the organization. Western governments have aided the organization during the conflict. The US released $6.6 million in funding for the Syrian Civil Defense in June and US President Donald Trump was aware of the organization’s work. Canada’s Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland was at the NATO summit in Europe on July 11. At a dinner Freeland said the White Helmets needed to be rescued. It was a “moral obligation,” a source told the CBC. She would later call them “courageous volunteers and first responders.” Alongside the United Kingdom and Germany she sought a way to help them evacuate.

It took personal calls from Trump and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to secure the deal. Last week they “requested that we assist in evacuating hundreds of ‘white helmets’ from Syria,” Netanyahu’s office said in a statement Sunday. US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman also worked closely with the Israeli government, US State Department and National Security Council to help with the “daring rescue.” This came amidst a weekend crisis where Jerusalem was on the brink of conflict with Hamas in Gaza and had launched numerous air strikes in retaliation to Hamas killing a soldier with sniper fire.

The UNHCR was contacted by the US, alongside the UK, Canada, Germany while Jordan authorized the UN to receive the Syrians who UNHCR agreed were “at risk and seeking asylum and solutions in above mentioned countries.” While in Jordan UNHCR would work with the three governments to support a “temporary stay.” This was a key to Jordan’s agreement: A special legal assurance the White Helmets would move on to the West.

With the UNHCR on board and Jordan agreeing to host them temporarily, the operation could proceed. In the day before it began the Syrian regime and Islamic State began a massive battle not far from areas where the White Helmets and their families were sheltering. Meanwhile around 6,000 people who had been displaced by the fighting and wanted to head to Idlib were boarding buses for the north.

Bild reporter Paul Ronzheimer and photojournalist Giorgos Moutafis had been waiting on the Golan for three days by Saturday night, two of only a handful of journalists and others who knew about the operation. “The military and police cordoned off individual roads, the evacuation being screened at an Israeli military bus. Various vehicles, including minibuses were visible in the dark of night,” he wrote. From 9:30 p.m. the evacuation began and he followed the buses down to the Jordan border where he tweeted photos of them crossing over at 5 a.m.

Another problem faced at the border, according to foreign reports, was that checkpoints and fighting with ISIS, which had gone on all day Saturday before the evacuation began, hampered efforts. For that reason the number evacuated was not 800 but 422.

The rescue of the White Helmets has received widespread international attention and Israel has been praised for its role. “Thank you Israel,” tweeted Niels Annen, a German politician from the SPD. UK Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt also thanked Israel and the US “deeply appreciated” Israel’s role. But there are unanswered questions. Julian Roepcke, a journalist with Bild noted that even as people were cheering the success, the Russian air force was flying supplies from France to Latakia for Syrian-regime controlled areas. “Can be a reference to the high price that the West had to pay Putin and Assad,” he wrote.

The operation is seen as a success, but the reality is that it also reflects the failure of Western powers to stymie Assad’s offensive. Southern Syria’s rebel areas fell quickly in June and July because the US and other powers indicated they would not receive support. Morale collapsed among the rebels. All that is left of the rebellion in the south, where it began in Deraa, are memories of those days in 2011 and 2012 when protesters massed against the regime. “The rescuers became the rescued,” Nine News Australia says of the operation.

This momentary success by the four Western powers, Israel, Jordan and the UN was a rare and unique cooperation. It also seems to be a way to salvage the bare minimum of what is left in Syria. “We renew our call on the Assad regime and Russia to abide by their commitments, end the violence and protect all Syrian civilians,” the State Department said. But the regime understands it could do whatever it wants in southern Syria. The only places it has been stopped is in northern Syria where Turkey has moved in to provide an umbrella of protection around the rebels, and in eastern Syria where the US and the Syrian Democratic Forces are present after defeating ISIS.

Yet there are still people in Syria who need aid, including those sheltering near the Golan border. For Dalton Thomas, founder of FAI Relief, an apolitical organization that has been providing aid in southern Syria, the work goes on.

“The evacuation of the White Helmets signals an end of an era and the beginning of a new one: The rebuilding of Syria in the wake of the greatest humanitarian crises since World War Two.” FAI, the only health care provider of its kind left in southern Syria, seeks to stay out of politics while aiding Syrians, he says.



Helsinki summit proved Russia to be ally of Israel

While American politicians and pundits fumed at President Donald Trump’s performance at his much-anticipated meeting this week with Russian President Vladimir Putin, lost in the clamor was one small but crucial moment: Israel emerged from Helsinki a winner.

Trump said that he and Putin had reached a “really good conclusion” for Israel in regard to the situation in Syria. The Russian leader said he paid “special attention” to the Jewish state during the negotiations.

Trump’s unflinching support for Israel — perhaps a result of evangelical enthusiasm for the country, ideological nudging from his Jewish daughter and son-in-law or the continued need to rebuke all things Obama — is well documented. But Putin’s continuing support for the Jewish state is unexpected, especially since he backs Syria’s Bashar Assad, a war criminal whose prosaic regional interests often defy Israel’s.

Even more counterintuitive is the motivation behind his Jewish outreach: his raging nationalism — Putin’s deeply held belief that it is his personal duty to Make Russia Great Again.

“Russia’s President Vladimir Putin, czar in all but name, has a genius for mining the ore of Russian nationalism,” Ralph Peters of the Hoover Institution writes.

Masha Lipman‘s 2014 article in The New Yorker says Putin often frames his increasingly expansionist foreign policy around such nationalism, particularly “as a protection of ‘ours’ — and ‘ours’ are Russian, no matter where they live.”

Putin has made considerable efforts to reach out to Russian Jewish communities, both within his state’s borders and in Israel. His country’s chief rabbi, Berel Lazar, is a close confidante. According to his biographers, Fiona Hill and Clifford Gaddy, he has “encouraged Russian oligarchs – irrespective of their ethnic or religious origin – to fund the restoration of synagogues and mosques, not just churches.”

“For Putin, Russia’s multiethnic, indigenous culture … must be preserved and actively maintained for the state to survive,” Hill, senior director for European and Russian Affairs on Trump’s National Security Council, and Gaddy, a former Brookings Institution fellow, write in their book “Mr. Putin: Operative in the Kremlin.

“In Putin’s view, the Bolsheviks made a serious mistake in destroying these cultural artifacts,” which the authors say otherwise could have been “useful history for binding all the different groups together and creating a common heritage.”

Putin’s nationalism, unlike its Soviet predecessor, incorporates and claims ethnic minority groups, including Jews, weaving “ours” into the narrative governing Russia’s history and future in an effort to unite the Russian people and restore the former empire.

In a September 2010 meeting with then-Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak, Putin “in addition to stressing the importance of reaching out to Russian emigres,” write Hill and Gaddy, “talked wistfully of bringing back ‘our Jews’ who had emigrated to Israel.” They say Putin “rejected the idea that former Jewish citizens of the Russian Empire and Soviet Union might not want to come back to Russia” given previous discrimination.

A 2017 report indicated that the number of Russians emigrating from Israel to their ethnic homeland is rising.

Rabbi Boruch Gorin, a senior figure within Russia’s Chabad-affiliated Federation of Jewish Communities, indicates that Putin’s conception of Russia, unlike its Soviet iteration, includes Jews.

“I believe that he has a sort of Russian nationalism, that they call patriotism, that includes all of the ‘native’ Russians in Mother Russian ethnicity — and Russian Jews are in as well,” Gorin told JTA in an email. “He is interested in the strong (sort of best) Russian Jewish community, as a matter of Russian pride.”

When a member of the Russian Duma suggested changing the state’s constitution in 2012 to remove the inclusive “we the multinational people of Russia” in favor of the exclusive “we the [ethnic] Russian people,” Putin dismissed the idea.

“We must not do that if you and I want to have a strong single nation,” Putin said, according to Hill and Gaddy. “The fact that the [ethnic] Russian people are ­– without a doubt – the backbone [of Russia] … cannot be questioned.” To divide everyone up, he said, “this is a very dangerous path. You and I, all of us, must not do this.”

When met with legitimate accusations of historical Soviet and contemporary Russian anti-Semitism, Putin has shifted blame elsewhere, particularly on the Ukrainians. And yet, “Whatever his many other sins, even Vladimir Putin’s harshest critics concede that he’s not an anti-Semite,” writes Joshua Keating in Slate.

Asked if anti-Semitism has become less prevalent in recent years, Gorin told JTA, “sure it has.” The rabbi said it’s partly because of the huge Jewish migration from the Soviet Union, “as [now there is] nobody to hate,” but also “partly because of Putin’s positive steps toward the Jewish community.”

Experts report that anti-Semitism in Russia is in decline, and JTA has reported how the Russian judiciary has cracked down on anti-Semitic intimidation.

“The complete absence of anti-Semitism on the part of Boris Yeltsin has been well-documented, and that seems to be true for Putin as well,” David Rivera, visiting assistant professor of government at Hamilton College and former director of the Harvard Russian Institute of International Affairs in Moscow, told JTA. “Indeed, Yeltsin probably would not have chosen Putin to be his successor as president had he detected any anti-Semitism on Putin’s part.”

Marvin Kalb, a Brookings Institution fellow who authored the 2015 book “Imperial Gamble: Putin, Ukraine, and the New Cold War,” suggested that Putin’s courting of Russia’s Jews is the result of cold calculation, not emotion.

“He reaches out to the Jews of Russia for reasons relating to old-fashioned Slavic anti-Semitism and the new requirements of Russian policy in the Middle East,” Kalb told JTA in an email. “Russian nationalists have long believed that Jews are troublemakers, capable of arousing the public with anti-establishment (anti-Putin) sentiments. Better, if possible, to soothe their unhappiness with mild, agreeable words.

“Russia’s position in the Middle East is now paramount, Putin having achieved what no Tsar could before him,” he continued. “In this new power role, he tries to serve as middleman between Israel and the Arabs — and Iran. It requires balancing interests, and so far he has done very well. Putin is a cold, calculating Russian nationalist, with little love or feeling for anyone who does not share this background and beliefs.

“Historically, Jews have not been part of this world.”

Putin’s calculations have long resulted in overtures to Israel. While wrapping up a visit to Moscow in 2000, Israeli politician and former Soviet dissident Natan Sharansky received a call from the Kremlin inviting him to a private lunch with the Russian president.

Putin “said it wasn’t simple in the KGB being sympathetic to Jews,” Sharansky told the Post. “But he told me how he grew up in [a] communal apartment and there was a Jewish family there which for him were almost like relatives. He liked them very much.”

Sharansky, according to The Washington Post, said “Putin spent much of the lunch expressing … his sympathy for Israel, his distaste for anti-Semitism and the importance he attaches to Jews in Russia and the Jewish Diaspora.” The Post noted that perhaps like Israel at large, Sharansky “was impressed by Putin’s overture to Diaspora Jews — regardless of the motivation behind it.”

In 2005, Putin visited the Jewish state, meeting not only with then-Prime Minister Ariel Sharon but also with his Jewish high school German teacher who had emigrated, reportedly buying her a Tel Aviv apartment. (Putin inherited the apartment when she died; the Russian Embassy sent a representative to her 2018 funeral and covered its costs.) In 2012, Putin invited then-Israeli President Shimon Peres to Moscow for the dedication of the Jewish Museum and Center of Tolerance, telling him “we will never forget the sacrifices made by the Jewish people in the fight against Nazism, and we will never forget the Holocaust.”

A few months earlier, Putin had traveled to Israel for the dedication of a monument – the Victory Monument in Netanya – thanking the Red Army. During the visit, Putin promised that he “would not let a million Russians live under threat,” referring to Israel’s Russian-speaking immigrant population. In Moscow, months later, Putin reminded Peres of the dedication, noting: “Just recently, the two of us attended in Israel the unveiling of a monument to the Red Army, which made enormous sacrifices for our shared victory over Nazism.”

In referencing a “shared victory” between the once stateless Jewish people and a state that no longer exists, Putin is willing into existence a largely ahistorical, although strong, relationship likely to be welcomed by the Israelis: a timeless and necessary one between Jews and the Russian people, providing survival for both.

Putin and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu have met in Russia and in Israel, pursuing future “shared victories” and strengthening a fledgling symbiotic relationship. In May, Netanyahu traveled to Moscow, taking part in the once-Soviet, now-Russian Victory Day parade commemorating the Soviet defeat of Nazism.

Gorin, for one, believes Putin’s warm gestures to Jews and Israel are welcome and, like everything else he does, in service of his vision for Russia.

“Is he good for the Jews? For the organized community without any doubts he is,” the rabbi said. “For the Jews as the private citizens, [he is] good for those who admire him and bad for the Jews in opposition. Same as for the rest of [the] population.”



Lego park hosts kids from south, border communities, thanks to Aryeh Deri

Thousands of children from the South and from Gaza border communities are visiting the Lego Park event in Holon this week, thanks to the support of MK Arye Deri (Shas).

According to a statement from the governmental Ministry for the Development of the Negev and Galilee, Deri, who serves as the ministry’s head, allocated NIS 2 million last week to support cultural events in Gaza border communities, including Sderot, which have been extremely affected by rocket attacks and violence from Hamas in recent months.

The first activity planned is a set of trips for thousands of children from the affected communities to Lego Park this week. Lego Park itself donated the tickets; the government allocation is covering transportation.

Deri, in a statement, said, “After a tense weekend in the South, I instructed the Ministry… to expedite and implement the government’s decision, so that the residents of the periphery can enjoy the days of truce [between Israel and Hamas] and cultural events… This is our duty to the residents of the periphery, especially children and youth, who are coping with a wave of terror in a way that provokes [our] appreciation.”

“I am happy that the first activity will take place [on Monday],” he added, “and [I] hope that the children and the families will enjoy it.”

The head of Lego Park, Michael Zimet, said in his own statement, “We are happy about the opportunity and ability to host children from the South and Gaza envelope, for an experience that will give them a respite from the difficult events that have become routine [for them].”

Ifat Ben Shoshan from Netiv Ha’asara in the northwestern Negev, who visited the park on Monday with her eleven- and seven-year-old sons told The Jerusalem Post by phone that she was very happy about the ministry’s initiative, even though she wished that they didn’t need it.

“We’ve been in this situation for over three months,” she said regarding the tensions in the South. “We’re happy it didn’t become a war, but we can’t be sure this peace will continue all the time.

“It’s good to bring children, in times like this, to other places. We’re happy that a place like Lego Park can take in so many children from the Gaza envelope,” she said of their visit to the event. “I saw how happy my children were to come there; I saw them forget the whole situation for three hours, and for me as a mother, it was very good for my heart that a place like Lego Park opened its gates and accepted our children with so much love.”

Ben Shoshan said her children loved the experience, and that they are big Lego fans, having been a part of a local Lego group for almost a year.

“The kids yelled with joy when we got there – that says everything… for them it was three hours where they forgot that they live in a region that is so tense right now,” she said.

Arye Deri was not the only politician who helped ‘build’ a day of fun for the children on Monday. Justice minister Ayelet Shaked (Bayit Yehudi) visited the park on Monday to greet the children, posting a picture on Twitter with her Lego portrait. She said the only thing her portrait was missing was her smile.

Lego Park, which is being held in Toto Arena Holon until the end of August, is an official Lego Group-branded event and features Lego building areas, amusement rides, Lego brick art, and play areas.