Over 80 people were treated for respiratory problems on both sides of the Israel-Jordan border Dec. 4 following a massive oil spill that flooded the highway leading into Eilat. The vast majority of those affected were in Jordan. The leak, near the village of Be'er Ora, was caused by a leak from the Trans-Israel Pipeline, that runs between the Red Sea port of Eilat and the Mediterranean hub of Ashkelon. Be'er Ora sits in the sparsely populated Arava region, home to multiple nature reserves that protect indigenous flora and fauna, including rare acacia trees and over 280 deer. The Environmental Protection Ministry said that it has so far removed 6,000 tons of contaminated soil from the Avrona nature reserve, in an attempt to contain the impact of the disaster. The Eilat Ashkelon Pipeline Company now says the flow of oil has been halted, and that the breach was likely due to a "maintenance failure." The Environment Ministry has dispatched its "Green Police" to investigate the cause of the incident. Ministry official Guy Same said the spill could take years, to fully clean up. (Times of Israel, Times of Israel, Dec. 6; Times of Israel, ThinkProgress, Dec. 4)
US Secretary of State John Kerry met with Jordan's King Abdullah II in Amman last week to disucss the conflict over the Haram al-Sharif (Temple Mount) in Jerusalem, and the war on ISIS. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also attended the meeting, where he reportedly urged Jordan to take greater responsibility in preventing violence at the holy site. Jordan, which signed a 1994 peace treaty with Israel, recalled its ambassador Nov. 5, citing the "unprecedented escalation in Jerusalem." In March 2013, Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas signed a deal with King Abdullah, entrusting him with the protection of Islamic holy sites in Jerusalem. The deal confirmed an informal agreement dating back to 1924 that gave the kingdom's Hashemite rulers custodial rights over the holy sites. Under the terms of the Israel-Jordan peace treaty, the Temple Mount remains under Jordanian custodianship through the Waqf authorities. On Friday Nov. 16, Israel eased restrictions and allowed men of all ages to pray at al-Aqsa mosque for the first time in months. (Times of Israel, Nov. 17; AFP, Nov. 16; BBC News, Nov. 13; Al Arabiya, Nov. 12; JP, Nov. 5)
Two Palestinians armed with a pistol and axes attacked a synagogue in Jerusalem's Har Nof district during morning prayers on Nov. 18, killing four Israelis. A police officer later died of his wounds. The two assailants were shot dead. (JP, Nov. 19; Ma'an, Nov. 18) Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas condemned the attack, but in the same statements reiterated its "demands an end to the ongoing incursions into the al-Aqsa Mosque and the provocative acts by Israeli settlers as well as incitement by some Israeli ministers." Hamas, Islamic Jihad, the PFLP, and the Popular Resistance Committees all praised the attack. (Ma'an, Nov. 18)
Israeli Housing Minister Uri Ariel (of the religious HaBayit HaYehudi or Jewish Home party) alarmingly said Nov. 4 that Israel will eventually replace al-Aqsa Mosque with a Jewish temple. According to the Middle East Monitor, Ariel told radio station Kol Berama, voice the ultra-orthodox Shas movement, the status quo cannot continue at al-Aqsa as it "was built in the place of the holiest place for Israel." Ariel said that construction of a third Jewish temple at the site is the primary demand of the Torah, "as it is at the forefront of Jewish salvation." This was apparently Ariel's response to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's call for "all Knesset members to calm tensions regarding the Temple Mount and show responsibility and restraint." We have not heard that Netanyahu has scolded Ariel or disavowed his comment.
At Egypt's border with the Gaza Strip, local Bedouin families are emptying their homes, loading belongings into vans as soldiers look on from armored cars. At eight border villages, 680 houses—homes to 1,165 families—are being demolished to create a "security zone." Residents were ordered to evacuate on 48 hours notice. Some monetary compensation is being offered, but no provisions for new housing have been made, and landlords are jacking up rents in the Sinai in response to the sudden demand. Dynamite as well as bulldozers is being used to demolish the villages. The operation will result in a buffer 13.5 kilometers long and 500 meters wide. But some Bedouin pledge to resist relocation. A woman at Ibshar village said: "I'm not leaving my house even if they kill me. I was born and raised in this house. If they want the terrorists, they know where they are. There’s no need to force us from our homes." (Middle East Eye, Nov. 6; Reuters, Nov. 5)
A group of Israeli settlers set fire to some 100 olive trees owned by Palestinian farmers near Nablus as the 2014 olive harvest began last week. "A group of settlers from the Yitzhar settlement located near Huwara town in Nablus set fire to the town's olive fields, causing the destruction of 100 trees," said Ghassan Daghlas, the Palestinian Authority official in monitoring settlements file in the northern West Bank. The attack sparked clashes between the settlers and local residents, which ended upon the arrival of Israeli forces. Around 20,000 Jewish settlers live near Nablus in 39 Zionist-only settlements. Palestinian residents complain of repeated attacks by settlers, who usually enjoy the protection of the Israeli forces (Al-Akhbar, Oct. 22) At Deir al-Hatab, near Nablus, the olive harvest has been spoiled by constant incrusions from settlers at Elon Moreh. The Palestinian farmers are allowed access to their lands only in coordinaiton with military expoort—just a few days per year. They were barred from their lands entirely between 2002 and 2007. (Haaretz, Oct. 26)
Palestinian protesters clashed with Israeli police at East Jerusalem's al-Aqsa mosque compound Oct. 9, leaving three officers lightly injured, according to police. Israeli authorities said the clashes erupted after several dozen masked Palestinians began throwing stones, fire crackers and other pyrotechnical devices at police when al-Aqsa mosque opened for prayers. Police chased the demonstrators towards the mosque, where they barricaded themselves inside and continued hurling objects toward the police, authorities said. Palestinian sources said the clash erupted after dozens of Israelis tried to invade the mosque while marking the Sukkot feast. They said soldiers threw tear-gas bombs, concussion grenades and rubber-coated bullets at the Palestinians in the complex and even into the interior of the mosque. (IMEMC, Al Jazeera, Oct. 8)
The Israeli military's Civil Administration on the West Bank has filed plans for establishing a new settlement in the Jordan Valley, where thousands of Bedouins will be forced to relocate. The Civil Administration is advancing several such plans. The current plan was drawn up without consulting the residents themselves, and is part of the Civil Administration's attempt to concentrate the Bedouins living in the West Bank's Area C in "permanent sites," with a view to annexing most of this area to Israel and leaving it free for settlement expansion. The new settlement for the relocated Bedouin, to be named Ramat Nu'eimeh, will be built in Area C near Jericho, in the Jordan Valley, and is slated to house about 12,500 people from Bedouin communities in the Jordan Valley and the Ma'ale Adumim area.