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Did You Know? Surprising Facts about Israel and the Middle East

August 30, 2018

by: Joshua Spurlock, The Mideast Update

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Global news headlines cover the Middle East—and Israel in particular—on what feels like a daily basis. With the abundance of information in near constant circulation, many people have reason to view themselves as experts on the Jewish state. However, there are facts about Israel, the Palestinians and the Middle East that are unknown to most. In these cases, ignorance is dangerous.

Yasser Arafat, Chairman of the PLO
(Photo: gpophotoeng.gov.il)

For example, did you know that the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), which is the semi-governmental entity the Palestinians use for international affairs and peace talks with Israel, was originally a terrorist organization founded before Israel regained control of Judea and Samaria, or the so-called West Bank? Yes, History.com notes that the PLO was founded in 1964, three years before the Six Day War, at a time when Egypt and Jordan controlled Judea and Samaria, the Gaza Strip and east Jerusalem. This makes you realize the extent of the “Palestine” the PLO was planning to liberate in 1964 (hint: it’s all of Israel) and shines a light on who’s really to blame for the decades of negotiation stalemates between the sides.

So what else might you not know about the Middle East? Did you know that…

Egypt Blockades Gaza

Rafah border crossing between Gaza and Egypt
(Photo: Gigi Ibhrahim/Flickr/wikimedia.org)

An oft-forgotten reality when the news media discuss the Gaza Strip is that Israel only controls some parts of the Gaza borders. Egypt commands the entire southern border for Gaza and assists Israel in maintaining the blockade of the coastal enclave. This is important, because Egypt is publicly on the Palestinians’ side in the conflict with Israel. At the same time, they apparently recognize the blockade is critical to stopping terrorists from arming themselves and subjecting the region to further mayhem.

While Haaretz reported the border crossing to Egypt was to be opened the entire month of Ramadan [Muslim holy month of fasting] in 2018, prior years were quite different. The Ma’an News Agency cited the United Nations in saying the crossing was only opened for 44 days in all of 2016 and just 21 days in 2015. In other words, Israel’s not alone in realizing that Gaza is a powder keg that needs to be contained as long as terrorists control it.

The Palestinian Authority President Was KGB

Russian president Putin and PA president Abbas
(Photo: Vasily Smimov/shutterstock.com)

One of the world’s most fearsome spy organizations during the Cold War—Russia’s KGB—was not only assisting the Palestinians in their conflict with Israel. They apparently recruited—or at least claimed they did—the man who is now the Palestinian Authority president: Mahmoud Abbas. Gideon Remez, an associate fellow in the Truman Institute at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, told The Mideast Update that he and his research partner Isabellla Ginor discovered that Abbas was included in a list of KGB-affiliates as an agent in Damascus under the code name “Krotov” or “mole.” Remez and Ginor, authors of The Soviet-Israeli War, 1967–1973, uncovered Abbas’s secret in documents from KGB archivist-turned-defector Vasily Mitrokhin, although it doesn’t clarify what Abbas did for the KGB, if anything.

“As he was always involved in Fatah/PLO political rather than armed activity, this was presumably the area in which he could benefit the KGB—whether by informing on trends and connections within the Palestinian establishment or by exerting influence in a pro-Soviet direction, or both,” explained Remez.

This still has relevance today, as Remez expressed concerns about Russia being overly involved in the peace process between Israel and the Palestinians. While Russia and the Palestinians denied that Abbas was a KGB agent, Remez believes they overdid it, indicating there is fire behind the smoke. While that’s not enough to disqualify Abbas as a negotiating partner with Israel, Remez holds it “does call for some caution.”

Said Remez, “Whether he still is beholden to Moscow, or Moscow can threaten unpleasant disclosures about him as a blackmail tool… it would be definitely undesirable from Israel’s viewpoint for Russia to assume exclusive or primary sponsorship of Israeli-Palestinian negotiations.”

Netanyahu, the Longest-serving Israeli PM

PM Benjamin Netanyahu (Photo: Ashernet)

In July next year, Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu will be the longest-serving prime minister in the history of the modern State of Israel, according to a report by the Hamodia newspaper. Elections can be called at any time in Israel, but if they stay on schedule for November 2019, Netanyahu will overtake David Ben Gurion for the longest leadership time. In fact, the report noted that back in 2016, Netanyahu eclipsed Ben Gurion’s record of 2,790 days for the longest continuous service as prime minister. Both men served two separate stints as Israel’s leader.

What’s more, Hamodia noted that if Netanyahu can make it to the next elections, he will be the 21st-longest-serving political leader of any democratic country.

King David Prayed about Hamas

David slaying Goliath
(Photo: public domain/wikimedia.org)

King David was no stranger to enemies from Gaza, as the Philistines once ruled that territory. However, he (presumably unknowingly) prayed about Israel’s modern Gazan enemies: the Hamas terrorist organization. In Psalm 18:48, David thanks the Creator for saving him from איש חמס (ish hamas) or “man of violence.” While Hamas is an acronym meaning “The Islamic Resistance Movement” and the word for “zeal” in Arabic, a “Word of the Day” column in Haaretz says it also means “violence” in Hebrew. Not only is that disturbingly apropos, it also means modern Israeli soldiers can pray King David’s prayers in his original words and express much the same intent.

If any of the above surprised you—or even if it didn’t—keep studying and learning more about Israel and the region. You never know what you don’t know—or why it could matter!

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