Tel Aviv terror, refusing to seal Israel's separation barrier, & choosing babies' sex in the West Bank

April 08, 2022

Israeli forces in search of a terrorist on the rampage in central Tel Aviv last night


Hamas' espionage campaign against Israelis shows "new levels of sophistication" according to Israeli intelligence. Above: a fake Facebook profile set up by Hamas-linked hackers to entice Israeli soldiers



[Note by Tom Gross]

Palestinians in Jenin chanted "Allah is great" and handed out sweets to "celebrate" the shooting dead of young Israelis on a night out in central Tel Aviv yesterday evening, the end of the Israeli workweek.

Video here.

There were similar scenes in other Palestinian cities, where shots were fired in celebration.

The attack took place in Dizengoff Street, a popular area filled with restaurants and bars in Israel's most cosmopolitan city. Many hours after the attack, the gunman was still on the loose and Israeli security forces - including at least 1,000 police officers and additional IDF soldiers, and Fauda-style undercover units - were searching the area going house to house in case he was holding people hostage.

I attach five articles below. Since the first article below was published, the terrorist was killed in a shootout with Israeli police in Jaffa early this morning.

Both the Israelis killed were in their 20s, as was the Palestinian gunman (Raad Hazem, 28), whose father was a senior figure in western-funded Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas' Fatah movement. Several young Israelis remain injured in critical condition as doctors try to save them.

Update: A third victim of the Tel Aviv attack has died of his wounds. He is father of 3, Barak Lufan, 35, who represented Israel as a kayaker at the 2008 and 2012 Olympic games.



1. Israel Shooting in Tel Aviv Leaves at Least Two Dead, the Fourth Attack in Recent Weeks (Wall Street Journal)
2. Gunman in Tel Aviv Bar Attack Is Shot and Killed (New York Times)
3. Exposed: Hamas espionage campaign against Israelis shows 'new levels of sophistication' (Haaretz)
4. Why nobody wants to seal Israel's West Bank separation barrier (Haaretz)
5. Arab-Israelis flock to West Bank to choose babies' sex (AFP)




Israel Shooting in Tel Aviv Leaves at Least Two Dead, the Fourth Attack in Recent Weeks
The attack in Tel Aviv comes after a wave of terrorist incidents in the past few weeks that have put security forces on high alert
By Dov Lieber
Wall Street Journal
Published April 7, 2022 6:42 pm ET

At least two people were killed and eight others injured after a gunman opened fire at pub goers in central Tel Aviv, in what appears to be Israel's fourth terrorist attack in a little over two weeks.

The attack occurred on the popular Dizengoff Street, where bars and cafes were packed at the start of the Israeli weekend, which begins on Thursday night.

"This incident is still happening...Do not come to the scene," police spokesman Eli Levi said in a live interview on Israel's Kan News Channel. The live footage showed the streets full of what officials said is more than 1,000 members of Israeli security forces, including police, regular and special military forces, who ran from scene to scene looking for the gunman.

"It was packed in the businesses," Mr. Levi said. "We are going from business to businesses, home to home to check if any terrorist is hiding."

Police said they are investigating whether the incident is terrorism-related, and haven't yet identified the shooter. "The first signs indicate we are talking about a terror attack," said Tel Aviv District Commander Amichai Eshed, in a televised press conference at the scene of the attack.

Ichilov Hospital in Tel Aviv said it is treating four people with serious injuries from the attack, as well as two injured moderately and two lightly.

Israel has been hit by a wave of terrorist attacks in which 11 people have been killed since March 22. Israeli security forces were already on high alert in response to two attacks in recent days by Arab citizens of Israel who were inspired by Islamic State, according to Israeli security officials and one Palestinian from the West Bank. The attacks, though they occurred in the span of a week, weren't connected, but possibly inspired by each other, the officials said.

Israel's police and military had significantly boosted their presence in Tel Aviv due to the previous attacks.

Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett traveled to the country's military headquarters in central Tel Aviv to follow the situation, his office said.

Sirens blared in central Tel Aviv as police and ambulances raced to the scene of the attacks, and soldiers and police could be seen running with guns drawn. Videos posted to social media showed people in the streets calling out to bystanders to draw their weapons. Mr. Bennett told Israelis to carry weapons after the terrorist attacks in the past few weeks.

Israeli security officials have worried that tension could boil over in Jerusalem, where tens of thousands of Palestinians are expected to travel to the Aqsa Mosque for the first Friday prayers of the holy month of Ramadan.

Israel earlier this week said it would allow all Palestinian women, children and men over age 50 to go to the Aqsa Mosque for Friday prayers, but said the approval would depend on the security situation.



Gunman in Tel Aviv Bar Attack Is Shot and Killed
By Patrick Kingsley
The New York Times
Published April 8, 2022, 1:00 a.m. ET

JERUSALEM - Israeli security forces on Friday morning shot dead a Palestinian gunman who had fled the night before after killing two people and wounding 13 others outside a busy bar in central Tel Aviv. The gunman's attack was the latest in the deadliest wave of terrorism in Israel since 2016.

The police said the shootings in Tel Aviv had occurred just after 9 on the last night of the Israeli workweek, outside a bar filled with people enjoying the start of the weekend. The gunman initially escaped, prompting security forces to embark on a nine-hour manhunt. They ordered residents to stay home as they combed the city in search of the gunman, effectively placing central Tel Aviv under a lockdown.

At 6 a.m. Friday, Israel's internal security service, the Shin Bet, said police forces had killed the gunman in a shootout near a mosque in Jaffa, the southernmost district of the Tel Aviv municipality. The Shin Bet later said the gunman was a 28-year-old from the West Bank, which Israel has occupied since capturing it from Jordan in 1967.

The shooting outside the bar was the fourth lethal attack in Israel in less than three weeks, and brought the total death toll since March 22 to 13. The assault heightened fears of an even more intense surge of violence over the next 10 days, when the rare convergence of Ramadan, Passover and Easter is expected to raise tensions further between Israelis and Palestinians.

Ten casualties were taken to Ichilov Hospital in Tel Aviv, two of whom later died and four of whom were in critical condition, the hospital said. Five others were either physically or psychologically hurt, the police said.

Video from the scene showed a man wearing dark clothing approaching a seating area outside Ilka Bar on Dizengoff Street, and then opening fire with what appeared to be a handgun before escaping.

The attack set off surreal chaos in the heart of Israel's most cosmopolitan city, as crowds ran to take shelter in nearby apartment buildings, bar basements and elevators, some of them knocking on the doors of strangers to find shelter. Many were stuck there overnight.

In the mayhem, one wounded man, Mark Malfeyev, said he initially had not realized he was hurt. After hearing the shots outside the bar and seeing its window shatter, he started sprinting for shelter, unaware he had been shot in the back. "Then I saw a lot of blood," Mr. Malfeyev said in a video filmed from his hospital bed and broadcast by Kan, the Israeli public broadcaster.

Soldiers in full combat gear then ran through the city center searching for the suspect, many of them filmed live by journalists who jogged beside them. Other video showed soldiers going from apartment to apartment, knocking on doors as they searched for the gunman.

Medics at the scene said it summoned memories of past attacks in Israel, including a wave of violence between 2000 and 2005, known as the second Palestinian intifada, or uprising, that killed at least 1,000 Israelis and 3,000 Palestinians.

"It's been like this since I was born," said Shragi Kirschenbaum, a medic for United Hatzalah, an emergency medical service that treated victims at the scene. "I am 37 years old -- I don't think I had a year without a war or some kind of terror attack."

Yisrael Weingarten, a paramedic with Magen David Adom, another emergency medical group, treated some of the victims, and said he witnessed "a large commotion at the scene, with dozens of people running in the streets," and saw six people "lying on the sidewalk."

The attack on Thursday occurred 10 days after a gun attack in Bnei Brak, a city just east of Tel Aviv, in which a Palestinian attacker killed three Israelis and two Ukrainians.

That episode came just two days after a gun attack in which two Arab citizens of Israel, armed with heavy automatic weapons, fatally shot two police officers in Hadera, a coastal city in northern Israel.

The string of deadly attacks began March 22, when an assailant stabbed three people and rammed another with his car in a city in southern Israel, killing all four. Before the March 22 assault, there had also been two other nonlethal stabbing attacks in the space of a week in Jerusalem.


A rash of violence. The recent wave of terrorism across Israel has become one of the deadliest periods in the country in several years. A shooting on April 7 was the fourth lethal attack since March 22, and brought the total death toll in recent weeks to at least 13 people.

Concerns of more attacks. The violence has heightened fears of more attacks this month, when the rare convergence of Ramadan, Passover and Easter is expected to raise tensions further between Israelis and Palestinians.

Why these attacks are different. Before this, recent violence in Israel was generally carried out with knives, so this current surge in the use of firearms has been of particular concern to security officials, because it implies a different level of forethought and resources.

Most attacks in recent years have been carried out with knives, so the surge in the use of firearms has been of particular concern to security officials, because it implies an unusual level of forethought and resources.

At the time of the attack, the Israeli prime minister, Naftali Bennett, was visiting the Israeli Army headquarters in a nearby district of Tel Aviv, and was briefed there about the assault.

The backgrounds of the recent attackers have varied. Three of the attackers have been Arab citizens of Israel who were believed to support the Islamic State, the extremist group that is not part of the Palestinian nationalist movement. Two gunmen in Tel Aviv and Bnei Brak were Palestinians from the Jenin area in the northern part of the occupied West Bank.

One of them, the shooter in Tel Aviv, had no history of militant activity, Israeli officials said. The gunman in Bnei Brak had previously served 30 months in an Israeli jail for conspiracy to commit manslaughter and for throwing objects at vehicles.

No Palestinian militant group claimed responsibility for any of the attacks, but some groups, including Hamas, the Islamist militant group based in the Gaza Strip, praised them and said that they were a natural response to the Israeli occupation. Israel has occupied the West Bank since 1967 and, with Egypt, has maintained a blockade of the Gaza Strip since 2007.

While the Palestinian Authority manages about 40 percent of the West Bank, the Israeli Army still conducts daily raids even in areas run by the authority, and Israel operates a two-tier justice system in the territory -- one for Israeli settlers and one for Palestinians.

Mr. Kirschenbaum, the medic, said he took heart from the presence of both Arab and Jewish emergency responders at the scene. "We're all working together against terror, to save lives," he said. "Jews and Arabs together," he added.

(Rawan Sheikh Ahmad contributed reporting from Haifa, Israel.)



Exposed: Hamas espionage campaign against Israelis shows 'new levels of sophistication'
By Omer Benjakob
April 8, 2022

Hackers affiliated with Hamas have targeted Israelis through a complex cyber espionage campaign over the past six months, making use of fake Facebook accounts, social engineering techniques and advanced malware to hack into Israeli soldiers and police officers' phones and computers, Israeli cyberdefense firm Cybereason revealed Wednesday, describing it as a "new level of sophistication" for Hamas.

Cybereason's research team has long followed Hamas-linked hackers. Over the past six months, they found that one of the two main hacking units belonging to the group was involved in an "elaborate campaign that targeted Israeli individuals and officials. The campaign is characterized as an espionage campaign aiming to steal sensitive information from PCs and mobile devices belonging to a chosen target group of Israeli individuals working for law enforcement, military and emergency services."

According to their findings, which they shared with both Facebook and Israel's defense establishment, the hackers use social engineering techniques to find their victims and lure them, as well as fake Facebook profiles "to trick specific individuals into downloading trojanized direct message applications for Android and PC, which granted them access to the victims' devices."

The so-called trojan horse program that was downloaded to their devices, researchers say, is much more advanced than malware software deployed by the group in the past, targeting both computers and mobile devices. The spyware provided hackers with full access to the computers or phones, including their microphones and camera, and even included "operational security" mechanisms intended to prevent detection and automatically updated itself, one researcher explained.

After reviewing the report, Facebook took down all of the accounts.


This is not the first time Hamas has made use of catfishing techniques for cyber needs: In 2017 and 2018, Hamas hackers were revealed to be posing as young women to try to lure Israeli soldiers to chat with them on dating apps like Tinder. Once in communication with their targets, the hackers would infect their phones.

Since then, Hamas' has learned how to make more believable fake accounts, one Cybereason researcher explained. "They set up fake accounts, but while usually such accounts are quite easy to spot, in this case they would seem very real to an untrained eye."

The fake accounts, all of which pretended to be Israeli women, were set up months in advance. "They were extremely active accounts, they were very well versed in Israeli politics and current events, they chatted with their victims and posted in perfect Hebrew, with none of the tell-tale signs of fake foreign accounts.

"After gaining the victim's trust, the operator of the fake account suggests migrating the conversation from Facebook over to WhatsApp. By doing so, the operator quickly obtains the target's mobile number. In many cases, the content of the chat revolves around sexual themes, and the operators often suggest to the victims that they should use a 'safer' and more 'discrete' means of communication, suggesting a designated app for Android." For example, some targets were asked to download a fake messaging app called "Wink Wink Chat."

"In addition, they also entice the victims to open a .rar file containing a video that supposedly contains explicit sexual content. However, when the users open the video they are infected with malware," Cybereason's report explains. According to the researchers, the victims were specifically targeted during their work hours with the hopes of infecting their work computers.

At the end of 2020, Cybereason revealed what was then the most sophisticated cyber espionage operation carried out by Hamas. The hackers behind that operation were Molerats, a group also known as The Gaza Cybergang, that has historically targeted Israelis, but has also gone after the Palestinian Authority and the Arab world. But this time around, it remains unclear which of Hamas' cyber units are behind the latest campaign.

According to Cybereason, Hamas' revamped toolset and playbook was made most clear by the fact that they targeted Israelis as opposed to their usual Arabic-speaking targets in places like Jordan or Saudi Arabia.

This week also marks OpIsrael, an annual cyberattack on Israel by pro-Palestinians hacktivists. Industry sources say that while the annual attack can cause some damage -- for example, websites targeted by so-called denial of service attacks may incur financial losses -- generally speaking the Hamas operation is of a different magnitude and poses a much more severe threat.

In response to this report, Israel's cyber authority referred Haaretz to the IDF's spokesperson unit, that said that "no substantial damage" was caused as a result of the operation, which they said "did not manage to penetrate the IDF's system." The army spokesperson added that, said "Hamas' cyber units are under constant surveillance and preventive actions are taken against their efforts in cyberspace." They further said Hamas' cyber forces have only "basic technological abilities which are limited to creating fake profiles on social media platforms."



Why nobody wants to seal Israel's West Bank separation barrier
By Yaniv Kubovich
April 6, 2022

The well-known breaches along the security barrier between Israel and the West Bank, and the ease with which Palestinians can enter Israel without permits, have become a familiar recurring subject of debate and rancor following terrorist attacks. But defense officials say the situation is being carefully managed -- and that it is not the result of any security failure, as has been widely represented.

Defense officials say the situation involves risk assessments, setting priorities for resources and maintaining a balance between security tensions within the Palestinian Authority.

"At an early stage, since the building of the barrier, the IDF and Shin Bet [security service] came to realize that it was impossible to control every breach in the barrier or chase every [pemitless] Palestinian. So they decided that if we can't control the situation, let's manage it in a controlled manner," said a security official who until recently participated in decision-making in security forums on illegal entry.

Following last week's deadly terrorist attack in Bnei Brak, IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Aviv Kochavi visited the place where the gunman crossed into Israel from the West Bank and said the IDF is bolstering intelligence efforts, reinforcing military units in the West Bank and along the "seam line" between it and Israel, and boosting aid to police.

"We will continue and we will act in every way in order to stop the terrorist attacks. That is our mission." But Kochavi did not mention upgrading the barrier or preventing illegal entry.

Security officials told Haaretz that it is no accident that the political and security leadership is not committing to hermetically sealing the movement of people entering Israel illegally from the West Bank. While public-facing statements from senior security and political leaders following attacks say the breaches must be sealed, behind the scenes and in meetings defense officials believe it would be a mistake to consequently prevent the entry of some 50,000 workers into Israel. They consider the situation to be under control.

"This fence, even when it was first being built, was not meant to prevent the movement of terrorists who were planning on carrying out an attack in Israel. Whoever wants to leave will succeed," said a defense official involved in decision-making on how forces along the separation barrier operate.

"We thwart terrorists through intelligence from the Shin Bet, with the hope that their arrest will come even before they reach the fence," he said.


Defense officials said the main goal of constructing the separation barrier was to make it possible to control the area after the Second Intifada terror attacks; to stop the theft of cars; and to make it difficult for the many workers without permits to freely leave from the point closest to their homes.

"We realized very quickly that it wasn't possible to make the fence impenetrable. A large part of the fence is quite basic in construction and can be cut with simple pliers."

Until a few years ago, defense officials would diligently chase after every breach, but with a barrier that is over 500 kilometers (310 miles) long, the IDF found itself dealing with a problem that diverted its resources, troops and attention from more important missions, said the official.

"Every time we closed a breach in the fence, the next day there was a breach 100 or 200 meters away. The more cuts there were, the weaker and more ineffective the fence became," said the defense official.

This early realization led the defense establishment to decide that, since the existing infrastructure and budget made it impossible to completely control illegal entry from the West Bank into Israel, it would be better to ensure security forces could manage the problem, even if only partially. This is all with the understanding that tens of thousands of illegal workers would enter Israel daily without work permits, added the official.

The official said this means assuming control at the points where there are breaches, as well as "to know, even if it's not precise, how many illegal workers pass through, where, and how many came back." He added that it also means "you are leaving agricultural gates open. There are almost no fences around them and it is possible to leave easily."

But, he added, "At the same time, you decide which breaches you are able and willing to contain."

The official said this is not an official position that will be stated in public -- only in private meetings in which officials are required to present their positions on the issue.

"The army and the Shin Bet know where the problematic areas are where they will not allow Palestinians to cross," the official said. "Last year, it was decided to prevent passage in the Bat Hefer region, where people entered illegally with criminal intent -- breaking into houses, stealing cars, harassing women in nearby communities."

"The fear was that a criminal incident would become nationalistic. So they reinforced troop presence there," he said.

Contrary to the view that the breaches are not under control and that any Palestinian who wants to cross into Israel simply cuts the fence somewhere near their home, defense officials argue that on the other side of the barrier things are much more organized than the Israeli public is aware of.

"Every day, tens of thousands of Palestinians go to work through these holes without permits," an official said. "There are hundreds of kilometers of separation barrier. The breaches are not everywhere and still those tens of thousands of workers know how to reach the passageway they need. They arrive in organized rides from inside the West Bank, and waiting on the other side are taxis, buses and private drivers who pick them up."

"Even when the breach is closed, the next day everyone knows how to get to a new point has been opened," he said. "I can't say if this is coordinated by a particular person, but it is much more orderly and organized than what is commonly thought."

The commander of the district brigade is ultimately responsible for preventing Palestinians without permits from entering Israel.

"There is a directive from the Central Command to prevent workers without permits from entering Israel," said a defense official. "Each brigade commander interprets this request differently. One may decide that the operations along the fence will leach large forces away from areas with higher security tensions. Another may decide that preventing the entry of Palestinians from an area under his command would lead to confrontations with IDF forces."


"Strengthening the fence in a way that doesn't allow anyone to cross it means manpower that the IDF doesn't have -- and the IDF is busy with much more significant threats," said a senior security official. "Replacing this fence, manning it with soldiers and technology -- this demands a budget of hundreds of millions, if not more. When we assess where best to put each shekel, construction of the barriers in Gaza and on the northern border are far more urgent."

For defense officials, this isn't just a matter of money or operational priorities. Behind closed doors, they say that preventing these 50,000 Palestinians a day from working in Israel could create even worse security problems in the long run.

"Palestinians in the West Bank are fed up with terror," one said. "What interests a Palestinian from Ramallah, Jenin, Qalqilyah or Tul Karm today is earning a living ... Religious, nationalist issues no longer manage to bring the masses into the streets, and certainly not confrontations and armed struggle against the IDF."

"If a third intifada develops, it will be due to economic distress, a situation where they don't have food in the refrigerator for their children and don't have anything to get up for in the morning," he added.

Palestinians working in Israel illegally earn 1.5 billion shekels ($470 million) a year, defense officials say, and this money has a major impact on the entire Palestinian economy. If this money were taken away, a senior official who has contact with Palestinian officials said, the Palestinian Authority could collapse economically, and all the Palestinians who used to work in Israel "would be in the streets with no hope."

"Since 2018, the Palestinian public has taken to the streets to protest mainly over issues of funding, salaries, the cost of living," he added. "That's also what preoccupies Hamas in Gaza nowadays."

As a result of the Bnei Brak attack, permitless workers were barred from Israel on the eve of Ramadan, which badly hurt both the workers and the merchants they would otherwise have patronized, he said. "When I speak with merchants and PA officials, they tell me very clearly that this attack hurt them. Very few people will support this attack openly."



Arab-Israelis flock to West Bank to choose babies' sex

Israeli laws strictly regulate selecting a child's sex, and Israeli women must have had four children of the same sex in order to implant embryos; 'we are barely asked anything in the West Bank,' the couple says

Palestinian doctors and technicians work at the IVF laboratory at the Razan Center fertility clinic in Nablus, and in other clinics in the West Bank

April 7, 2022

Palestinian fertility clinics in the West Bank are a magnet for would-be Arab Israeli parents seeking boys -- even when risky procedures can endanger the lives of both mother and child.

Israeli laws strictly regulate selecting a child's sex. So the couple drove three hours from their home in the suburbs of Jerusalem to a clinic in Nablus on the West Bank.

In the waiting room of the Dima Center, Yasmine, 27, glanced nervously at baby portraits on the wall, momentoes from grateful families who successfully conceived through the clinic's in-vitro fertilization (IVF) program.

British-trained clinic director Amani Marmash estimated she holds about 20 consultations a day, half with Palestinians from the West Bank.

The other half are, like Yasmine, Arab citizens of Israel, whose forebears remained in what became Israel after 1948, while others fled or were driven out.

Doctors said that most of their patients sought boys to carry on the family name and provide financial support.

"We are looking for a brother for our two daughters," said Jacki, 34. Both he and his wife provided pseudonyms because the subject of IVF remains taboo in their culture.

Israel has the highest rate of IVF per capita in the world and offers the treatment free of charge to women citizens up to the age of 45. Women undergoing IVF take hormones before having eggs surgically removed and fertilized outside the womb. The resulting embryos are then implanted in the uterus.

In Israel, as in many other countries, the process is strictly regulated. Israeli women must have had four daughters in order to implant only male embryos. In the West Bank, "we are barely asked anything," says Yasmine.


On its Facebook page, the Dima Center highlights a 99.9 percent chance of success in gender selection, without saying that the overall success rate of conception by IVF is much lower.

"Select your baby's gender with the Dima Center and, God willing, your family will be completed with a boy and a girl," reads one post.

IVF has a 60 to 65 percent success rate, in the best cases, Marmash told AFP. To make up for this, two to three "embryos are transferred into the uterus", said doctor Salam Atabeh, who also works at the clinic.

This practice contradicts international recommendations for just one or two embryos to be implanted, with the exception of three in women aged 40 and older.

A 2019 report on private clinics in the West Bank by the UN Population Fund (UNFPA) found doctors implant three to five embryos in 70 percent of cases, a practice that presents health risks for both mother and child.

Yasmine chose to implant three embryos to lift her chances after a first-round failed. Should the second attempt fail too, Yasmine said she would not hesitate to try a third time.

The operation can cost between 10,000 and 15,000 shekels (2,700 and 4,100 euros), a fortune for many Palestinians. The high cost encourages them to maximize the chances of pregnancy with each attempt.

Dr. Atabeh said he takes care to inform his patients of the risks: ovarian hyperstimulation, premature labor, multiple births, as well as potential dangers for the child.

One gynecologist told AFP she sees a dozen patients a month in an Israeli hospital for complications related to IVF procedures performed in the West Bank.

Although rare, ovarian hyperstimulation can lead to hospitalization of the patient for breathing difficulties, nausea, or kidney failure, the doctor said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

And after a multiple-birth pregnancy, common when more than two embryos are transferred, newborns can spend weeks in intensive care.

"Some babies are handicapped for their whole lives," she said, citing blindness, deafness, and flaws in brain development.

"When women come back with triplets and complications, Israel pays for it, not the clinics in the West Bank," she said.

In Ramallah, Hadeel Masri, who heads the women's health and gynecology unit at the Palestinian health ministry, said the cash-strapped Palestinian Authority's inability to fund a public IVF option had left the sector entirely in private hands. "We're just exposing women to these risks," she said.

Bassem Abu Hamad, professor of public health at Al-Quds University and a co-author of the UNFPA report said the clinics implant up to five embryos because they "need better results to make more money, it's business," he said.


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