President Biden arrived in Israel on Wednesday afternoon at around 3.45 pm for his first Middle East trip as president. The red carpet was literally rolled out and there were welcome speeches by interim prime minister Yair Lapid and President Isaac Hertzog on his arrival. Traffic was totally diverted to clear the way for his entrance into Jerusalem.
His administration arrived last week to prepare the way for him and according to an unconfirmed Channel 12 news report: “Numerous US transport planes have flown in over recent days, carrying, among other cargo, US President Joe Biden’s armor-plated limousine, ‘The Beast’, and a fleet of 10 armored limousines that will be used to transport Biden’s entourage.” Two presidential helicopters and six US Army Black Hawk choppers have also arrived.
During the visit, Biden will receive the Israeli Presidential Medal of Honour from President Herzog in recognition of his “true friendship with the State of Israel, the people of Israel, and the Jewish People; his uncompromising decades-long commitment to Israel’s security; his contributions to deepening, strengthening, and enhancing the strong and unwavering alliance between Israel and the United States of America; and his struggle against anti-Israeli and antisemitic hatred around the world,” said the President’s office
Outcry over award
There has been an outcry from a number of quarters about Biden receiving the award which was initiated by previous President Peres in 2012 who came up with the idea to award individuals or organisations who had made an outstanding contribution to Israel or to humanity, through their talents or services.
President Biden will hold bilateral meetings with Israeli leaders Prime Minister Yair Lapid and President Isaac Herzog, and meet with opposition chairman Benjamin Netanyahu. He is also scheduled to visit an Iron Dome battery, tour the Yad Vashem Holocaust museum, and hold a virtual meeting with Lapid, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, and UAE President Mohammed bin Zayed.
Israeli officials have said that the main rationale behind Biden’s trip is to promote “regional integration” between Israel and its Arab neighbours but yet Israel has been doing very well on her own, since Trump’s coordinating of the 2020 Abrahamic Accords, as attested to by the number of new ventures between various Arab states (Morocco, Bahrain, UAE and Sudan recently) and Israel.
No doubt the US State Department and Biden administration is anticipating that their “man” will open the way for a renewed vigour in the “peace” negotiations, which will in turn pave the way for their long-anticipated “Palestinian state” in the biblical heartland of Judea and Samaria!
Israel is in a particularly vulnerable space right now after the disintegration of their fragile coalition under Naftali Bennet as they head towards elections on November 1 (the 5th elections in less than 4 years). Yair Lapid, the interim prime minister, is liberal minded without much political experience and will no doubt be hoping to use Biden’s visit to give him a higher international and local profile. And he has agreed to a number of “gestures” that the US administration has requested as a means of “improving the atmosphere” between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.
These facts are not lost on the Biden administration and they are using the present situation to advance their agenda in various areas. One of these is the announcement of their their intention to re-open the US Consulate in east Jerusalem that was shut down during the Trump administration, when the US Embassy was relocated to Jerusalem. This “new-old diplomatic installation” is slated to serve Arabs only – and would, in everything but name – be an embassy to Palestine: The US also recently upgraded the status of the Office for Palestinian Affairs, restructuring the chain of command and removing it from under the auspices of the US Embassy in Israel.
This office presently operates from west Jerusalem and moving it to a dedicated east Jerusalem facility would essentially give a powerful diplomatic nod to the redivision of Jerusalem.
Violation of US law
In addition, Biden’s visit to east Jerusalem is a “first-of-its-kind” visit due to it being an official visit that has not been coordinated through normal diplomatic channels and which will not be accompanied or attended by representatives of the State of Israel. A visit of this kind constitutes a violation of US law, which recognises Jerusalem – in its entirety – as the united capital of Israel and the government of Israel as the sole recognised sovereign in the city.
Israel’s present government is playing their part in various gestures too. Ahead of Biden’s visit, defence minister Benny Gantz ordered no less than six outline plans for Palestinian Arabs to be approved for construction in Area C. Among other things he also approved an increase in the quota of workers from the Gaza Strip who can enter Israel to work and trade by another 1 500, as well as the opening of a new crossing to be called Salem in northern Judea and Samaria, for the purpose of the entry of Israeli Arabs into the city of Jenin.
The White House has also announced that Israeli representatives will not be allowed to attend Biden’s visit to the Augusta Victoria Palestinian Arab hospital in east Jerusalem on Friday, despite pressure by senior Israeli officials to reverse the decision. He is expected to meet with Palestinian civil society activists, according to Israeli officials and is also expected to announce $100 million (R1.7 billion) in US assistance to the Palestinian Arab hospitals network in east Jerusalem, according to an Axios report.
Following the visit, the American leader will head to Bethlehem for a meeting with Palestinian Authority (PA) chairman Mahmoud Abbas.
A group of Zionist organisations in Israel and abroad recently joined forces in a campaign calling on the US administration to refrain from exploiting Israel’s unstable political environment to extract far-reaching concessions that would be detrimental to Israel’s vital interests. The campaign also calls on the Israeli government and Interim Prime Minister Lapid not to sell out Israel’s security and sovereignty.
‘Between the straits’
Biden’s visit coincides with the time which means “between the straits”, a time when Jews remember the catastrophic events that took place between the 17th of Tammuz (beginning on the eve of the 16th July) and the 9th of Av three weeks later.
The 17th day of Tammuz, known as Shiva Asar BeTammuz, is believed to be one of the four fasts that the Prophet Zechariah predicts will one day morph from sadness into joy and gladness. He refers to it as “the fourth fast” because it takes place in Tammuz, the fourth month of the Jewish year, counted from the springtime month of Nissan. The main two events speak of serious idolatry and a security breach by their enemies as they broke through their walls of defence, leading to the destruction of the temple 3 weeks later: It is calculated that after Moses went up to Mount Sinai and the people became impatient, they crafted a golden calf on the 16th of Tammuz, which they worshipped the following day, on the 17th of Tammuz. Upon seeing their disastrous actions, Moses shattered the tablets and begged God for forgiveness.
The other event took place In 69 CE, on the 17th of Tammuz. The Roman destroyers breached the walls of Jerusalem and began a period of burning, looting, murder, and destruction, which culminated with the Temple complex burning on 9 Av, three weeks later.
The three weeks between 17 Tammuz and 9 Av are marked by national mourning for the tragic events that happened at this time of year. Religious Jews do not hold weddings, enjoy music, or cut their hair. The sadness intensifies in the final nine days, which begin with Av 1, and are further increased during the actual week of the 9th of Av (this year from the eve August 6 into the day of the 7th).
It is also significant that the initiating event that ultimately led to the destruction of the temple and the exile of the Jewish people was a struggle between two jealous brothers. The Talmud (Yoma 9b) relates that the second temple was destroyed because of the sin of “sinas chinam” – unjustified hatred. This event was a sign, both to the people of that time and for all generations, of the inseparable connection between their relationship with God – symbolized by the temple at the time – and their relationship with their fellow men.
Some events that took place on the 9th of Av: it was decreed the Israelites would not enter the land, the first and second temples were destroyed, Beitar (the stronghold of the Bar Kochba rebellion) was captured, and Jerusalem was ploughed under.
As the anniversary of the most tragic events in Jewish history, the 9th of Av is the most important day of mourning in the Jewish year. Other than Yom Kippur, it is the only fast day in the year that lasts a full night and day.
The Torah is taken out and the portion of Deuteronomy 4:25-40 is read which speaks about the Lord scattering the Jews among the nations for their sins but then also hearing their cries and bringing them back to their beloved land again in His mercy.
But from there you will seek the Lord your God, and you will find Him if you seek Him with all your heart and with all your soul. When you are in [a]distress, and all these things come upon you in the latter days, when you turn to the Lord your God and obey His voice (for the Lord your God is a merciful God), He will not forsake you nor destroy you, nor forget the covenant of your fathers which He swore to them. — Deut 4 29-31
And so we can declare with the Prophet Zechariah: For You, God, with fire you burned her, and with fire you will rebuild her, as it is said, “And I will be for her, says God, a wall of fire around her, and I will be a glory within her.” Zech. 2:9
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