The untold horror of how Danes forced German POWs to clear mines after WWII

A little known slice of post-Holocaust history — the use of captured German soldiers to clear mines from the Danish coast immediately after the end of World War II — has been brought to light by a Danish-German film that dramatizes a story heretofore rarely discussed even by Danish academics.

“Land of Mine” (“Under Sandet”) is a feature film that is based around the forced deployment by the Danish government of more than 2,000 German prisoners of war, many of them still teenagers, to clear some two million land mines laid by Germany along Denmark’s western coast during the Nazi occupation. According to the most recent research, nearly half of these POWs were killed or injured — in some cases, left with permanent, serious disabilities — during the operation.

The Danes did not resist the decision, which was made by the British military that controlled the area and violated the Geneva Convention prohibition against making prisoners of war do dangerous work.

The operation has been described by some as a “death march,” since the Germans were required to periodically march through the mine fields to make sure all the mines had been cleared.

In the wake of the film’s release, the Danish newspaper Politiken ran a major piece revisiting those historical events. The paper reported that according to the official historiography, in the days after Denmark’s liberation there was a meeting between Maj. Holland Stanley of the British army, a number of Danish officers and the German commander in Denmark, Gen. Georg Lindemann, at which it was decided that German soldiers with experience in defusing mines would be in charge of clearing the mine fields. Lindemann agreed to order soldiers from the German engineering corps who were already on their way home to return to Denmark and help clear the mines.

The prisoners were brought by the British to a prison camp in Southern Jutland, and in a three-day course were taught how to neutralize mines. The work began in Jutland, and later was also carried out on the Danish island of Zealand.

The British insisted that the Germans clear the mines before they left Denmark because they had the required experienced personnel, because otherwise the Danes would have to spend years trying locate and clear the mines (in fact, the last mine was removed from Skallingen in 2012), and because many of the mines had been planted on farmland that was vital to rehabilitating the country after the war.

The Politiken article notes that many Danes justified the operation after the fact by making reference to the atmosphere in post-World War II Denmark, which had just emerged from German occupation and believed that since Germany had laid the mines, it should clear them.

Although the operation was reported in the press at the time, no one questioned whether it violated international law. There was general agreement that the Germans had no rights and could not expect mercy so soon after the war’s end.

Some now view the operation as Denmark’s biggest war crime, the newspaper noted, while others argue that the German soldiers were not in fact prisoners of war. Knud Christiansen, who was part of the Danish team that supervised the mine-clearing, says that the German soldiers volunteered for the mission because they believed that it would help them return to Germany more quickly, and that they received incentives, such as better food and a small salary. In an interview with Politiken, Christiansen denied that Denmark forced the soldiers to clear the mines.

In his 1998 Danish-language book “Under Tvang” (“under duress: mine clearance on the Jutland West Coast 1945,” the jurist and historian Helge Hagemann raised serious accusations against the Danish policy. He wrote that the German team was not properly trained for the mission and worked under time and emotional pressures.

According to Hagemann, the Germans were treated “like dirt,” hundreds died or were left with permanent disabilities, making the claim that they volunteered for the mission an unlikely one.

Header: German POWs held by British and Canadian troops after WWII. Credit: AP.

Trump gives US military back for internationally-banned landmines in full-frontal assault on Obama-era regulations

Trump has reversed a 2014 order that banned the use, production, stockpiling, and transfer of anti-personnel mines, saying that the ban posed an unacceptable risk to US troops, White House Press Secretary Stephanie Grisham announced on Friday.

Landmines are an important tool that our forces need to have available to them in order to ensure mission success and in order to reduce risk to forces,” Defense Secretary Mark Esper declared in a press conference shortly before the official announcement, acknowledging the need to account for “both the safety of [mine] employment and the safety to civilians and others after a conflict.”

Under the new rules, the US military will be free to use landmines “in exceptional circumstances,” including “future potential conflicts,” according to a State Department cable leaked on Thursday, which was reportedly written to give US diplomats suitable language for explaining the decision to their shocked colleagues. The rule excludes mines lacking a feature that allows them to automatically deactivate or self-destruct after 30 days, the cable specifies.

The move has left even military experts dumbstruck. “The United States has not used landmines in a new theater of military operations for nearly 30 years – since 1991,” Arms Control Association executive director Daryl Kimball told Vox.

And the decision has provoked the ire of peace activists and groups like Amnesty International, which issued a statement condemning the move as “a massive step backwards” and pointing to a 1997 international treaty that banned the munitions. Upwards of 130,000 people have died from landmine injuries since the ban took effect, according to watchdog group Landmine Monitor – most of them civilians.

However, the seemingly self-sabotaging effort to bring back the deadly devices makes perfect sense when seen as part of the continuum of Trump dismantling his hated forebear’s legacy, no matter what the implications for the country.


Defense Ministry holds missile test over central Israel

Israel on Friday conducted a fresh weapons test, launching an undisclosed missile into the skies over central Israel, the Defense Ministry said.

The ministry refused to comment on the nature of the missile being tested, leading to speculation that it was a long-range ballistic missile, which Israel does not publicly acknowledge owning.

The rocket test required incoming flights en route to Ben Gurion Airport to be temporarily diverted.

The Friday morning launch came a month and a half after a similar trial in December, which the ministry also said tested a rocket engine.

Israel does not acknowledge having ballistic missiles in its arsenals, though according to foreign reports, the Jewish state possesses a nuclear-capable variety known as the Jericho that has a multi-stage engine, a 5,000-kilometer range and is capable of carrying a 1,000-kilogram warhead.

Paris descends into chaos as riot police beat firefighters. Macron’s comic hypocrisy.

Several thousand firefighters protested understaffing, the threat to their government pensions and a lack of recognition of their work, including risk premiums that match those of the police and the gendarmerie.

Police decried the fact that many protesting firefighters had abandoned the prearranged route, and it didn’t take long before the march descended into clashes with riot police.

Police repeatedly deployed a variety of crowd control grenades despite several controversies stemming from their use against both the Yellow Vest protesters and the pension reform protesters.

Professional firefighters represent just 16 percent of the 247,000 firefighters in France, with the remainder comprising volunteers and military personnel. Tuesday’s march was the second national demonstration by the professional firefighters unions in less than four months; the strike movement began back in June 2019 after proposed reforms to the national pension scheme were announced.

The reforms attempt to overhaul France’s pension system into a universal system that will see pay-outs calculated from whole careers rather than the current last five years of activity. The pension age will also be increased from 62 to 64.

”Le cynisme n’a plus de limite…”

French President Emmanuel Macron has been accused of blatant hypocrisy, after he was photographed with a t-shirt satirizing his own government’s violent crackdown on anti-austerity protests.

Macron paid a visit to the International Comic Book Festival in Angouleme, southwestern France on Thursday – but his appearance likely had the opposite of its intended effect on France’s increasingly discontented electorate.

A photograph taken during the festival shows the French leader holding up a t-shirt showing a cartoon cat with a bleeding, patched-up eye. Under the feline reads: LBD 2020, an allusion to the infamous “defense ball launcher” (LBD) used by French riot police, as well as the name of the comic book festival (BD 2020).

The photo-op gaffe sparked outrage from Macron’s critics. Left Party leader Jean-Luc Melenchon said the incident showed that the French president “trivializes police violence.”

French police have been accused of using excessive force to quell anti-austerity and Yellow Vest protests across the country. More than 20 protesters have lost eyes in demonstrations against Macron’s deeply unpopular reforms.

The photograph also enraged law enforcement. Yves Lefebvre, a senior police union official, described the incident as “scandalous,” local media reported.

Responding to the outrage, Macron suggested that the photograph shows how in France’s “free society,” the president can hold up a t-shirt with which he does not agree.

France’s economy caves under pressure of massive protests

France’s real GDP fell 0.1 percent in the fourth quarter, a dramatic drop after an expansion by 0.3 percent in July-September, according to a report published by the French national statistics bureau, INSEE, on Friday. While the agency said that GDP slid just “slightly,” the results are well below the earlier projected 0.2 percent growth.

This brings the full-year economic growth to 1.2 percent in 2019, down from 1.7 percent a year earlier.

The unexpected slowdown comes due to a decline in both exports and imports, which fell 0.2 percent. One of the negative factors was changes in inventories, meaning that companies are using stocks rather than boosting production. If it had not been for the latter, the French economy would have grown 0.3 percent, analysts say, and it may even see growth in the first quarter of this year.

Massive rallies and protests across France could also take a toll on the economy. Strikes are estimated to cost the French economy 0.1 percent. Political uncertainty slashed the GDP by 0.2 percent, according to the chief economist at Allianz Group, Ludovic Subran.

Italy, the Eurozone’s third largest economy, also posted weak results for the last quarter of 2019 on Friday. Its GDP shrank by 0.3 percent during this period, marking the worst quarterly performance since early 2013.

The contractions of two of the EU’s biggest economies have raised concerns over Europe’s economic health on the day Britain leaves the bloc.

Meanwhile, the EU’s official statistical office said that the Eurozone economy is only one percent larger than a year ago.

The final quarter of 2019 was weak both for the 19 members of the Eurozone and the entire EU, as the GDP for both gained just 0.1 percent, down from 0.3 percent in July-September.

Top intel officers fired, jailed for sending Palestinian agent on tehina errand

In a bizarre and highly irregular case, senior officers in an elite intelligence unit were harshly punished on Friday for ordering unnecessary missions by a Palestinian agent and later lying about it, the Israel Defense Forces said. The operations: buying tehina in the West Bank (Judea and Samaria).

One lieutenant colonel was removed from his position and another was sentenced to 28 days in prison for ordering the missions. Other senior officers involved in the affair received official censure, but no other punishments.

Earlier this month, the Channel 12 investigatory news program Uvda interviewed an officer from Military Intelligences’ Unit 504, responsible for cultivating and operating human assets in enemy countries, who revealed that on at least two occasions he had been ordered by his commanders to use one of his spies to purchase jars of the sesame seed paste as a gift for the IDF’s chief intelligence officer.

The commanders who ordered the tehina mission also initially lied about the matter, saying they had asked the officer to have his agent purchase the tehina while carrying out other operations. This was found to have been false, and the investigation concluded that the agent was sent for that purpose alone.

IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi had ordered the probe. The findings of the investigation were presented to Kohavi this week, leading to his decision to punish those involved.

“The chief of staff determined that he viewed the incidents with the utmost severity, that they represented a gross violation of the IDF’s ethical and professional code. The chief of staff stressed that operational activities, which are at the heart of the IDF’s operation, should be considered sacred, and that they should be carried out only for essential security needs,” the military said in a statement.

Four officers in Unit 504 were censured to varying degrees for their role in the unnecessary operations, as was IDF Chief Intelligence Officer Brig. Gen. Yuval Shimoni, whom the probe found had not ordered the mission but had not done enough to prevent it.

Military Intelligence chief Maj. Gen. Herzl Halevi awards the commander of Unit 504 with an official commendation in March 2018. For security reasons, the commander’s identity is classified. (Israel Defense Forces)

A lieutenant colonel in the unit was removed from his position and will be forced to leave the IDF “as he initiated bringing the containers of tehina on two occasions as a present to the senior officer. In addition, the officer provided partial and misleading information during an investigation of the incident,” the IDF said.

The other lieutenant colonel, who actually ordered the operation, was sentenced to 28 days in prison as he knew the mission was “not for the unit’s operational needs,” the military said.

The head of Unit 504, a colonel, received official censure in his records despite not being directly involved in the matter.

A major who took part in the mission also received official censure for “being negligent in checking the purpose and need [of the operation],” the IDF said.

Shimoni, who received the tehina, was found not to have been involved in ordering the operation or even knowing that a mission had been undertaken specifically to purchase the sesame paste, but was nevertheless formally rebuked for “not checking how it was brought to him and not taking steps to prevent activities such as these,” the military said.

The IDF noted that Shimoni had also provided the funding for the operation.

In its statement, the military stressed that the affair should not cast a pall over Unit 504’s ordinarily exemplary record.

“This was a severe and extraordinary event, which does not negate the quality of the unit, which routinely carries out the most complicated operations with great success, receiving many honors, and which has earned several medals of commendation,” the IDF said.

Please note: The central intelligence chief was reprimanded for receiving the boxes of tahini, but not checking how they were brought to him or taking precautions to prevent such actions in the future. He did not initiate or preside over the activities, nor did he know that an operation was being conducted for this purpose. However, he paid for the boxes.

Ayelet Shaked: ‘Applying sovereignty will prevent a Palestinian state’

Former Justice Minister MK Ayelet Shaked (Yamina) on Friday morning said that applying Israeli sovereignty to Judea and Samaria will prevent the creation of a future Palestinian state.

“The choice is between Yamina and applying sovereignty – and voting for any other party and a Palestinian terror state,” Shaked said. “In the ‘deal of the century’ if we begin by applying sovereignty, we won’t reach the point of a Palestinian state.”

“If we begin by negotiating a Palestinian state, we’ll reach Oslo C, with eastern Jerusalem in the hands of terrorists and buses exploding,” she warned.

Shaked’s warning echoes her Thursday statement that Israel “must not delay” – applying sovereignty over Judea and Samaria and the Jordan Valley must to be applied as soon as next week.

“What has been agreed upon is a huge thing, recognition by an American president of the Israeli right to sovereignty in the Jordan Valley, northern Dead Sea, and the Jewish towns” in Judea and Samaria. “That’s been achieved, there’s no argument about it, and it’s going to happen.”

The comments followed an interview given by Jared Kushner, US President Donald Trump’s senior adviser and son-in-law, who said that the administration believes that Israel should wait until after the March 2 election to apply Israeli sovereignty over Judea and Samaria.

“This is an opportunity that comes once in 52 years,” she said then. “If we delay it now, who knows when there will be another opportunity? We will do everything we can to make sure the decision is brought for government approval next week.”

Also on Thursday, a senior Israeli official and confidant of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu downplayed the apparent split between the US and Israel regarding the timetable for the application of Israeli sovereignty over large swaths of Judea and Samaria.

“What has been agreed upon is a huge thing, recognition by an American president of the Israeli right to sovereignty in the Jordan Valley, northern Dead Sea, and the Jewish towns” in Judea and Samaria, he said. “That’s been achieved, there’s no argument about it, and it’s going to happen.”

Naama Issachar is not Anatoly Sharansky

Naama Issachar was jailed in a Russian prison not because she struggled for freedom as the refuseniks did back in the 1970’s, but because she was caught with drugs in her luggage.

It could be justifiably argued that the sentence she received was out of all proportion to the crime that she had committed and that her arrest was primarily motivated by political considerations. However, the manner in which she is being feasted, as through she were Anatoly Sharansky who had just crossed the Glienicke Bridge to freedom after nine years in a Soviet jail, would seem to suggest that someone has lost their sense of values.

Naama Issachar is not a hero, but a stupid young woman, who was actually trying to smuggle marijuana into Israel. The quantity was minimal – just 9 grams, but if she had been apprehended by customs at Ben Gurion airport while in possession of cannabis, she would have been fined 1,000 shekels.

Of course, Naama Issachar is only a pawn in the game. Perhaps the Russians arrested her and gave her a heavy sentence with the intention of using her as a bargaining chip in the hope of exchanging her for the Russian hacker, Aleksey Burkov.

However, what is more shameful is the manner in which Benjamin Netanyahu has used her case to further his personal political interests prior to the forthcoming elections.

Photographs of Bibi and Putin with Naama’s mother, Yaffa, in the prime minister’s residence last week and of Bibi and Sara at Moscow airport today with Naama and Yaffa have only one purpose: to show the Israeli public how our prime minister, whether with Trump in Washington or Putin in Moscow, can intercede with world leaders on behalf of the Jewish People and get results.

One can forgive Bibi for his attempts to manipulate the media and move the focus away from the indictment that has been filed against him this week in a Jerusalem court on charges of fraud and breach of trust, but not the TV, digital and newspaper editors who shamelessly allowed him to do so.

Original: Michael Boyden for The Times of Israel

‘Trump loves you Israelis so much, he may love you to death’

A peace agreement, as was clear from the very start, won’t emerge from the diplomatic plan presented by Donald Trump’s team this week. Annexation of some of the West Bank settlements? Maybe, but at the end of the week, this outcome too looks a lot less clear than it did when the plan was presented by the U.S. president at midweek.

Despite the high ratings for the live broadcasts, and the quasi-festive atmosphere in the television studios in summing the week up, it appears the plan’s implications will be far less dramatic than they seemed when the document was presented in Washington.

Above all, it was another massive airlift that Trump granted his friend, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The political effect has yet to become clear – maybe it will turn out minimal when Israelis cast their votes on March 2 for the third time in 11 months (a matter that Trump found endlessly amazing).

Ever since the two leaders’ joint press conference Tuesday, the immediate question has been Israel’s steps toward annexation. That evening, in leaks to the media and in a remark (subsequently erased) on the Twitter account of one of Netanyahu’s spokespeople, it was said the decision to annex the Israeli settlements in the West Bank, including the Jordan Valley, would be brought before the cabinet this  Sunday.

Here is where a battle of titans broke out in the president’s peace team. The U.S. ambassador, David Friedman, a definite supporter of the settlers, was at the outer right flank of the administration’s team the whole time it was being crafted. In an attempt to get the settlers and hawks on board, Friedman promised them heaps of goodies.

According to a number of sources, the ambassador suggested the possibility of swift annexations. Also, Tuesday afternoon, some of Netanyahu’s people briefed journalists about immediate annexation; Netanyahu himself talked about this Tuesday night with reporters traveling with him. Still, some of these journalists understood that he was leaving an opening for a postponement.

At this stage Jared Kushner intervened. On Wednesday night, the president’s son-in-law and adviser, the main person behind the plan, said he hoped Israel wouldn’t annex settlements before the Knesset election. Kushner’s statement was preceded by talks between the administration and Kahol Lavan chief Benny Gantz, who had met with Trump in Washington on Monday. In those talks the Americans were told that a green light from Trump for an immediate annexation could scuttle the entire plan.

It seems Friedman had to toe Kushner’s line. Ultimately so did Netanyahu, who decided to postpone a move to bring an annexation bill to the cabinet (if he indeed intended to do so in the first place). Now there’s doubt on whether the annexation will happen before the election.

This is making it harder to market the plan to Israel’s deep right, which with every passing moment is noticing more defects in the “deal of the century.” More important is the fact that Kushner put on the brakes when the Mack Truck called Trump was about to hurtle into the abyss, dragging the Israelis and the Palestinians down with it.

Annexation is the key question because more than the U.S. president’s statements it can affect events on the ground. Even the imposing of Israeli sovereignty doesn’t necessarily need a physical process of building more fences and guard posts. But as Trump’s positions were also known to the Palestinians beforehand, here the decision took on the hue of an irreversible step.

The joint press conference by Trump and Netanyahu sufficed to exhilarate observers from the Israeli right, despite the reservations that have been expressed ever since by the settler leaders. Trump looked as smug as he usually does at his election rallies, undoubtedly under the influence of the enthusiastic cheers from the audience, which represented the furthest right and the most religious extremes (both Jews and evangelical Christians) of the political spectrum in Jerusalem and Washington. Netanyahu, who was visibly thrilled, managed to be relatively restrained in his remarks, perhaps under the influence of the news from the court back home.

Trump and Netanyahu presented a reversed version of the Oslo accords, this time without the Palestinian bride. According to the approach they took in their speeches, the vision will be implemented at any price – and to hell with the ramifications. But the captains of Oslo dreamt of reaching a peace agreement that would end the conflict between the two peoples, and they failed – in part because they did not give sufficient weight to the Palestinian terror organizations’ intention to block the historic move.

Now, despite the lip service paid to it in the official text, peace is not the aim but rather perpetuation of the settlement project in the territories. And this, in the way that it is planned, also entails denial of the fulfillment of the Palestinians’ national rights. Thus, despite the stipulation of a Palestinian state as a goal down the road, the vision of two states will be buried – and the road will be paved to the establishment of a single, bi-national state.

Michael Singh of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy wrote this week that the Oslo process underwent a slow disintegration because of the change in the way the United States and key Arab states see the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In their view, the conflict has become less important because the main issue is joint Israeli-Arab coping with other threats, from Iran and from Shi’ite and Sunni terror organizations. In addition, he believes that the vision of two states is appealing less to the Israelis. They would prefer maintaining the status quo and the continued control of settlements to the price and the uncertainty entailed in signing a peace agreement.

However, annexation, if it does happen in the end, is not maintenance of the status quo. It could exact a price – and in extreme circumstances it could also lead to a return to the days of bus bombings. The plan also gives an opening for other lunatic ideas, among them the transfer of the Triangle and its Arab Israeli inhabitants to the territories of the future Palestinian state (which in actuality will never arise). This looks like an unnecessary jab at the Arab public in Israel. Netanyahu, who was deeply involved in the formulation of the plan, is liable to pay a price for this if it leads to an increase in the percentages of Arab Israelis who go out to vote in the Knesset election.

Excerpts: HAARETZ

WHO declares a global emergency over spread of coronavirus

The World Health Organization in Geneva Thursday declared coronavirus a public health emergency of international concern, after the first fatality outside China occurred in the United States.

So far, 7,700 people have contracted the disease, more than 170 in all the provinces of China, and 170 have died, all all of them in China until the first case in the US.

Israel’s Minister of Health Rabbi Litzman has banned all incoming passenger flights from China.

Trump’s peace map: 15 Jewish enclaves inside a Palestinian state

According to the Trump plan for an eventual Palestinian state alongside Israel, 15 Jewish locales in Judea and Samaria would remain as enclaves: Hermesh, Mevo Dotan, Elon Moreh, Itamar, Brachah, Yitzhar, Ateret, Ma’ale Amos, Miz, Carmei Tzur, Telem, Adora, Negohot, Bet Haggai and Othniel.

”Deal of the Century” – Photoshop, own work.

According to the new US “peace plan”, these [15]  Jewish communities [marked with spots on this archipelago map] will become “enclaves in the Palestinian State”.

These towns are also the home of the most brave of Israeli Jews. Those who have some familiarity with Judea and Samaria know that, the more isolated you go to live, the more you have to be brave. And the more isolated these communities are, the more essential for Israel’s security and memory they become. 

There live the Jews who were ready to risk everything, home, life, children, sleep. They live far off the safety tracks, away from the fence, away from the blocs, away from the busy streets. Every time they get into a car, they take risks. They are the home of 13,000 Jews.

The Israeli army during the Second Intifada, or “Oslo War”, created a “SSZ”, a special security area of four hundred meters around the settlements most at risk of terror attacks. The first to obtain it were Mevo Dotan and Hermesh lying in a deadly triangle including Jenin, Tulkarem and Nablus.

Mevo Dotan today is the nothern and most isolated Jewish town in Samaria. Going there is a long trip in a no man’s land. You live civilization far back beyond the 1967 border.

Everybody knows that if you forfeit these small, isolated Jewish towns outside the largest of the bourgeoise blocs, the whole of Judea and Samaria will be lost. Eretz Israel will be in danger. Palestinian Arabs with weapons will be free to circulate in areas 3-5 kilometers from Rosh Ha’Ayin, Shoham, and Petach Tikvah, from Modiin, Afula, Efrat and Jerusalem.

These Jewish enclaves are like the “tower and stockade” kibbutzim established from 1936 to 1938 in isolated regions far from other Jewish settlements. Ein Gev, the first modern Jewish settlement on the eastern shore of the Sea of Galilee, could be reached only by sea for several years.

These small communities keep terrorists from taking over the area and serve as buffer zones for the larger Israeli cities. Without many of these settlements, Israel’s strategic space would shrink to Kalkilya.

Only passionately convinced people would visit this Jewish towns. […]. And I warn Israel: don’t freeze and abandon these communities! These are not “enclaves”, but the heart of Eretz Yisrael.

Excerpts from an article written by Giulio Meotti for Arutz Sheva, Israel.

Header: Friends of the Fogel family, who were stabbed to death in the settlement of Itamar in 2011, embrace after the murders.

European Parliament ratifies Brexit deal

Britain’s departure from the European Union was set in law Wednesday as the bloc’s parliament voted to ratify the move, AFP reports.

In the wake of the vote, the UK will leave the EU at midnight Brussels time on Friday.

MEPs voted by 621 votes to 49 to pass the withdrawal agreement, which sees Britain leave the EU institutions but remain under most EU rules during a transition until the end of the year.

Following the vote, MEPs burst into a chorus of “Auld Lang Syne”, a traditional Scottish song of farewell.

Britain and Europe will apply EU rules on trade and free movement of citizens until the end of the year, while negotiating a free trade agreement.

Johnson’s government hopes more trade with the United States and Asian powers can help offset the costs of Brexit.

Israel to allow 400 Ethiopian Jews to immigrate ahead of elections — report

The government is planning to bring to Israel 400 members of an Ethiopian community of Jewish descent, to reunite them with family members already living in the country, Channel 12 television news reported Wednesday.

Members of the Falash Mura community will be flown in before coming elections on March 2 and a “senior government” figure is likely to travel to Ethiopia to personally oversee the developments, a source familiar with the plan told the outlet.

The Falash Mura are Ethiopian Jews whose ancestors converted to Christianity, often under duress, generations ago.

There are approximately 8,000 tribe members in Ethiopia with close relatives in Israel who are waiting to immigrate.

The planned mass immigration will include about 60 families who have been divided, due to either their parents or children already living in Israel, a key criteria for inclusion in the program.

Funding for the plan is already available following an earlier government decision from 2018 to bring members of the Falash Mura to Israel, the report said.

Groundwork for the plan was done by Immigration and Absorption Minister Yoav Gallant, with behind the scenes efforts from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, according to the report.

Others involved included the Interior Ministry, the Population and Immigration Authority and MK Gadi Yevarkan, an Ethiopian-Israeli lawmaker who recently jumped ship from the Blue and White party to Likud.

Final approval for the plan is expected to come soon from the Justice Ministry.

Because the Interior Ministry does not consider the Falash Mura to be Jewish, they cannot immigrate under the Law of Return, and therefore must get special permission from the government to move to Israel.

The Campaign for Ethiopian Jews’ Aliya said in a statement it welcomes the development, but urged “not being satisfied with a small, limited amount of immigrants.”

“It is absurd that immigrating 400 Jews from Ethiopia is a difficult and complicated procedure, while in Eastern Europe thousands of people immigrate every month without careful scrutiny,” the statement said.

The campaign noted that the government had already previously decided to bring 1,000 members of the Ethiopian Jewish community who have family in Israel to the country. So far only 600 have been brought, the statement said, “so in practice, this is just the continuation of an existing decision.”

The campaign also noted that a Netanyahu government in 2015 decided to bring all members of the Jewish community in Addis Ababa and Gondar from Ethiopia to Israel and urged the government to fulfill that decision.

The Ethiopian-Israeli community says the process for immigration approval is poorly executed and inaccurate, dividing families. At least 80 percent of the Falash Mura tribe members in Ethiopia say they have first-degree relatives living in Israel, and some have been waiting for 20 years to immigrate.

About 140,000 Ethiopian Jews live in Israel today, a small minority in a country of nearly 9 million.

Some 22,000 of them were airlifted to Israel during Operation Moses in 1984 and Operation Solomon in 1991. But their assimilation has not been smooth, with many arriving without a modern education and then falling into unemployment and poverty.

2018 saw widespread, sometimes violent protests by Ethiopians in Israel after the police killing of an unarmed teen, the latest in series of incidents of racism and police brutality against Ethiopian-Israelis.

While Ethiopian Jewish immigrants from the Beta Israel community are recognized as fully Jewish and did not need to undergo conversion upon arriving in Israel, immigrants from Ethiopia belonging to the smaller Falash Mura community are required to undergo Orthodox conversion after immigrating.

In November 2019, a top state rabbinical body decided to reinforce the recognition of members of Ethiopia’s Beta Israel community as Jewish, after an earlier decision on the matter failed to stop some officials from continuing to question their heritage.

The decision by the Chief Rabbinate Council came over 45 years after then-chief rabbi Ovadia Yosef ruled that members of the Beta Israel community were Jewish, in a groundbreaking decision that paved the way for tens of thousands to be airlifted to Israel.

However, some have continued to question or refuse to recognize members of the community as Jewish, sparking accusations of racism. In 2018, a kosher winery faced an angry backlash after it emerged that it was not allowing Ethiopian workers to touch the wine because of fears they were not Jewish, which would make the wine not kosher.

In November 2015, the government unanimously adopted a plan to bring all the remaining members of Ethiopia’a Jewish community to Israel by 2020. But the plan faltered within months, when the Prime Minister’s Office refused to implement it because the NIS 1 billion it said was needed to fund the absorption process was not in the state budget.

In 2017, the Finance Ministry launched the first step of the plan, allocating funds for 1,300 to emigrate to Israel. All 1,300 arrived in the country just before the end of that year, on flights sponsored by the International Christian Embassy, as part of its program to support Jewish immigration to Israel.

The plan was thrown into doubt again in 2018 after the government passed the 2019 state budget with no allocation for Ethiopian immigration. The immigration and its funding reportedly is slated to be discussed at a future inter-ministerial meeting; no date has been set.

Header: Members of the Falash Mura community reunite with their families at the Ben Gurion airport, outside Tel Aviv on February 4, 2019. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

Citizens wait for Netanyahu at Ben Gurion: ‘Bibi, king of Israel’

In Moscow, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Russian President Vladimir Putin meet this morning for a formal briefing on President Trump’s Mideast initiative and the talks in the United States.

The meeting takes place after last night Putin signed Naama Issachar’s pardon request. At the outset, the Russian President said, “We have responded to the request for pardon for Naama. Wishing her all the best for her and her family.”

Netanyahu told Putin, “Mr. President, all our visits and talks are important. This visit signifies an even greater warming of our relationship. First, I want to congratulate you on the historical things you said on your important visit to Israel. We will all remember your exciting speech at the unveiling ceremony of the monument of Leningrad heroes. You talked about your family, your personal suffering, and the huge sacrifice of the Russian People in the war against the Nazis. Then you made another exciting speech at Yad Vashem at a ceremony marking 75 years since the liberation of Auschwitz.

“Secondly, we’ve been talking about some of the things related to the region. We have had several conversations with our American friends in connection with these things and I want to update you on some developments that are out there.

“Thirdly, I want to thank you on behalf of all the people of Israel for your quick decision to grant pardon to Naama Issachar. This is something that excites us all and our gratitude is felt by all the citizens of Israel, with all our heart,” added Netanyahu.

“Mr. President, you are actually the first leader I talk to after my visit to Washington on President Trump’s Deal of the Century. I think a new and perhaps unique opportunity has been created here, and I’d like to talk to you and of course hear your insights and see how we can combine all the forces for security and peace. In any case, I must say that Russia-Israel relations are the strongest, firmest, and best ever. I want to thank you Mr. President for your personal dedication and leadership in this matter as well as in other matters,” the Prime Minister said.

Putin emphasized that “one should not forget that they found drugs in Naama’s suitcase”, and noted that a significant part of his decision to grant Naama pardon was the letter from her mother that he received from the Jerusalem Patriarch.

The El Al pilot who flew Prime Minister Netanyahu’s plane from Moscow to Israel thanked Netanyahu for his efforts to return Naama Issachar to Israel.

Netanyahu and his wife, Sara, greeted Naama in front of the cameras, along with Yaffa Issachar, after pushing for months for her release, which comes weeks before national elections in Israel.

The four then crossed the tarmac and boarded the plane without stopping to make a formal statement or answer questions from the many reporters in attendance.

“Let’s go home, let’s go home,” the prime minister said.

It was a unique event, where journalists from all major Israeli news outlets provided extensive coverage and television channels interrupted their regular broadcasts for the release of a young woman who committed a criminal offense, but whose fate — widely viewed as a disproportionate punishment — has gripped an entire nation.

Netanyahu earlier met Russian President Vladimir Putin and thanked him for his speedy decision to pardon and release Issachar.

“I want to thank you in the name of the entire Israeli people for your quick decision to grant a pardon to Naama Issachar. This moves all of us and our gratitude is on behalf of all Israeli citizens, from the heart,” Netanyahu said at the beginning of their meeting in the Kremlin.

During a whirlwind visit to the snowy Russian capital on the heels of his three-day trip to Washington, Netanyahu told Putin he also wanted to discuss “regional matters” with the Russian leader, days after the release of US President Donald Trump’s peace plan.

Putin, in his remarks, expressed warm wishes for Naama Issachar and her family. He noted that she was liberated due to the efforts of her mother Yaffa, but mentioned twice that she was found carrying drugs.

“I wish her all the best for her and her family,” he said.

Earlier on Thursday, the Russian prison service formally announced that Issachar had been released.

“Due to the presidential decree on pardoning, Naama Issachar has been freed from prison,” the prison service said in a statement.

Putin pardoned Issachar on Wednesday, with the Kremlin saying a presidential decree pardoning her on “humanitarian principles” was effective immediately.

Earlier, an Israeli official said Issachar’s release was the result of a Russian goodwill gesture toward the United States, stressing that Israel did not give Moscow anything in return.

“There was no deal with Russia. Naama’s release was done as a gesture by President [Vladimir] Putin to the US,” a senior official in an inter-ministerial committee dealing with the case told reporters in Netanyahu’s entourage.

US envoy: Israel ‘does not have to wait’ to annex settlements

US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman said Tuesday that Israel was free to immediately annex West Bank settlements, minutes after the long-awaited release of US President Donald Trump’s proposal to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

In a briefing with reporters, Friedman, a long-time supporter of the settlement enterprise, said that the four-year settlement freeze included in Trump’s offer did not apply to the existing settlements, which would become part of Israel, according to the plan.

“Israel does not have to wait at all,” he said, when asked whether there was a “waiting period” over when the country could extend Israeli sovereignty to the settlements.

“The waiting period would be the time it takes for them to obtain internal approvals and to obviously create the documentation, the calibration, the mapping, that would enable us to evaluate it, makes sure it’s consistent with the conceptual map,” he added. “If they wish to apply Israeli law to those areas allocated to Israel, we will recognize it.”

Shortly after a White House press conference in which Trump laid out the broad terms of the proposal, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told reporters that he will bring the annexation of the Jordan Valley and all West Bank settlements for a vote in Sunday’s cabinet meeting.

The 50-page plan provides for an eventual Palestinian state in much of the West Bank, minus the Jordan Valley and a network of enclaves carved out to include all of Israel’s settlements and slivers of land connecting them. The state is predicated on conditions including demilitarization, the recognition of Israel as a Jewish state, and ongoing overall Israeli security control in the West Bank.

Israeli right-wing politicians, including Yamina’s Naftali Bennett and Ayalet Shaked, and settler leaders reacted to the Trump announcement by calling for the annexation of the settlements and Jordan Valley areas as soon as possible.

The Palestinian leadership, which has cut off ties with the Trump administration since it announced it would move the US embassy to Jerusalem, has already rejected the deal.

In a conversation with the press, Friedman said that Israel had committed to no development in the areas of the West Bank that the Trump team said would comprise a future Palestinian state.

“They’re committed to negotiating a two-state solution with the Palestinians over the next four years, even if the Palestinians reject it in the short run,” he said. “The area that is allocated to the Palestinians will be frozen. There will be no Israeli building there.”

“It will be there to preserve the territorial integrity of the two-state solution. Hopefully, the Palestinians will rise up and claim their prize,” he added.

The Trump official said the US decided to release the plan now because both Netanyahu and his political rival, Blue and White leader Benny Gantz, had endorsed the plan, and Washington wanted to put it out before Trump was bogged down with the re-election campaign later in the year.

“We spoke to the prime minister and said, ‘We’re sort of running out of time, we’d like to do this while the president has the opportunity to give this all the attention that it deserves before he goes full-press with the election season,” Friedman recalled.

After Netanyahu expressed approval, he said, the US team briefed Gantz and his staff on the details of the plan.

“I found that both the Gantz group and the Netanyahu group were fully in favor of the plan and both wanted it to come out,” Friedman said. “Our feeling was, since we had two people, one of them is certain to be the prime minister of the next government, if they’re both in accord and they’re both willing to support it, then we’ve depoliticized the issue.”

He added: “It really wasn’t anything but having achieved an agreement with the two leaders of the country that they were both going to support it, and we could put it out in a non-political way.”

Likud source: Jonathan Pollard will be brought to Israel before election

After the unveiling of the Trump peace plan and the expected imminent release of Israeli-American backpacker Naama Issachar from Russian prison, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu could soon pull another rabbit out of his hat, ahead of the Knesset elections: bringing Jonathan Pollard to Israel.

A source in Netanyahu’s Likud party has told Zman Yisrael, The Times of Israel’s Hebrew-language sister site, that Netanyahu is aiming to have the former spy land on the tarmac at Ben Gurion Airport a week before the March 2 vote.

Pollard, who served 30 years in prison for providing sensitive intelligence to Israel, made a public appeal to Netanyahu in August and asked him to intervene on his behalf to urge US President Donald Trump to commute his parole, so he could care for his sick wife.

Pollard, a former civilian US Navy analyst, was given a life sentence in 1987 for passing secrets to Israel. His imprisonment was a longtime point of tension in Israeli-US relations, with Israeli and Jewish leaders petitioning their US counterparts for years in order to secure his release.

After his release in November 2015, Pollard was given a five-year probation period, during which he is not allowed to travel outside the United States. The parole terms also require him to stay in his New York home from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m., to submit any computer he uses for inspection, and to wear a GPS monitoring device at all times.

In 2017, a US federal appeals court rejected Pollard’s request to lift his parole conditions.

The 63-year-old was granted Israeli citizenship in 1995 and says he wants to settle in the Jewish state with his family.