West Bank Jewish numbers up 3.4% in 2017: settlers

A construction site is seen in the Israeli settlement of Givat Zeev, in the occupied West Bank December 22, 2016. (Reuters)
Updated 24 January 2018

West Bank Jewish numbers up 3.4% in 2017: settlers

JERUSALEM: The Jewish population of the Israeli-occupied West Bank grew by 3.4 percent to 435,708 in 2017, the main organization representing the settlers said on Tuesday.
The figures, released by the Yesha Council, exclude the estimated 200,000 Israelis living in occupied and annexed east Jerusalem.
The overall number of Israeli citizens has been growing by an average of two percent annually.
A statement by the council welcomed the latest growth figures while lamenting what it called a “silent freeze” in construction of settler homes.
“The government announces construction in Judaea and Samaria but we do not see the results on the ground,” it said, using the Hebrew biblical term for the West Bank.
On January 11 authorities approved more than 1,100 new West Bank homes for Israelis, settlement watchdog Peace Now said.
That followed approval of 6,742 settler building projects last year, the NGO said, the highest figure since 2013.
Israel faced sharp criticism from the administration of former US president Barack Obama over settlement construction.
But that has not been the case under his successor Donald Trump, and Israeli officials have sought to take advantage.
The Yesha Council is made up predominantly of ultra-Orthodox Jews, who account for the overwhelming majority of residents of the two biggest settlements.
They are Modiin Ilit, west of Ramallah, with a population of 70,119, and Beitar Ilit, southwest of Jerusalem, with 56,485 inhabitants.
The ultra-Orthodox comprise about 10 percent of the overall Israeli population.
The third most populated settlement in the West Bank is Maaleh Adumim, east of Jerusalem, with a mixed population of 40,996 secular and religiously observant Jews.
Israeli settlements are seen as illegal under international law and major obstacles to peace as they are built on land the Palestinians see as part of their future state.
Prominent members of Netanyahu’s right-wing government openly oppose Palestinian statehood and the settler lobby has strong political influence.
Some 600,000 Israeli settlers live in the West Bank and annexed east Jerusalem in often confrontational proximity to nearly three million Palestinians.


Jailed academic rejects offer to spy for Iran

Updated 21 January 2020

Jailed academic rejects offer to spy for Iran

LONDON: An academic currently imprisoned in Iran on charges of espionage has reportedly refused an offer to become a spy for Tehran in return for her freedom.

Kylie Moore-Gilbert, a UK-Australian dual national, made the revelation in a series of letters handed to The Times that were smuggled out of Evin prison, located in the north of the capital, where she is serving 10 years.

In the letters, addressed separately to a Mr. Vasiri, believed to be a deputy prosecutor in the Iranian judiciary, and a Mr. Ghaderi and Mr. Hosseini, who are thought to be officers in the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), Moore-Gilbert stated in basic Farsi that she had “never been a spy, and I have no intention to work for a spying organization in any country.” 

She added: “Please accept this letter as an official and definitive rejection of your offer to me to work with the intelligence branch of the IRGC.”

Moore-Gilbert, a lecturer in Islamic studies at the University of Melbourne in Australia, was arrested in 2018 after attending a conference in Tehran. 

She was tried and convicted in secret, and her letters implied that she had been kept in solitary confinement in a wing of Evin prison under the IRGC’s control.

It is reportedly the same wing being used to detain UK-Iranian Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, also incarcerated for espionage, and away from the all-female cellblock that Moore-Gilbert was meant to have been housed in.

The letters catalog a series of other mistreatments and inhumane conditions, suggesting she had been permitted no contact with her family, and that, having been denied access to vital medication, her health was deteriorating.

She also suggested that she had been subjected to sleep deprivation methods, with lights in her cell kept on 24 hours per day, and that she was often blindfolded when transported. 

“It is clear that IRGC Intelligence is playing an awful game with me. I am an innocent victim,” she wrote.

Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne met with her Iranian counterpart Mohammad Javad Zarif in India last week, where the case was discussed.

Iran’s Foreign Ministry later issued a statement claiming that the country would not “submit to political games and propaganda” over the issue.

This comes at a time when international pressure has ratcheted up on the regime in Tehran following the downing of a Ukrainian passenger plane over the capital on Jan. 8. 

Mass demonstrations nationwide followed the news that the plane had been shot down by Iranian forces. 

Olympian defects to Germany

Meanwhile, Iran’s only female Olympic medalist, Kimia Alizadeh, announced that she would not return to the country, citing her refusal to continue to be used as a “propaganda tool.”

She wrote of her decision on Instagram: “I wore whatever they told me and repeated whatever they ordered. Every sentence they ordered I repeated. None of us matter for them, we are just tools.”

It was revealed on Jan. 20 that the taekwondo martial artist, who had been living and training in Eindhoven in the Netherlands, had elected to move to Hamburg in Germany, for whom she will now compete.

Alizadeh’s defection is just one in a series of high-profile acts of defiance by Iranians outraged by the actions of the regime.

At least two journalists working for Iranian state-owned TV channels are known to have resigned their positions in protest.

One, news anchor Gelare Jabbari, posted on Instagram: “It was very hard for me to believe that our people have been killed. Forgive me that I got to know this late. And forgive me for the 13 years I told you lies.”