The First Israeli in the Winter Paralympics Refuses to Compete on Shabbat

As a strictly Orthodox Jew, the paralympic skier Sheina Vaspi was relieved when she obtained a religious exemption to compete in the Beijing Paralympics while wearing a skirt. But when one of the events she had qualified for was rescheduled for Saturday of last week, Vaspi chose to forfeit her spot so as not to violate the Sabbath. Despite this disappointment, as David Waldstein writes in a profile of Vaspi, she is grateful to have “made history [as] the first Israeli to participate in the Winter Paralympic Games.”

“It is very important for me to represent my country the best I can,” Vaspi said, “especially because I did not go into the army. My grandfather died in one of the wars that Israel had and my uncle fell in one of the wars, too. I feel very, very proud to be the first Israeli to represent the country in the Paralympics.”

Military service is compulsory in Israel, but Vaspi was excused because she lost a leg in a car accident when she was ten. She said that perhaps the attention she will garner from competing in the Beijing Games will open the gates for other Israeli athletes, many who never considered the possibility of competing until her breakthrough.

Vaspi, twenty, grew up in the north of Israel, where skiing is a rare adventure for a lucky few, available on one mountain for two or three weeks a year, depending on the weather. As a girl, she could see Mount Hermon from her home, but never dreamed of skiing it.

But then one day, when she was fifteen, the Erez Foundation, which assists soldiers and children with special needs, . . . invited her to ski. Vaspi was uncertain about accepting, until her father, a farmer, religious teacher, and tour guide in Africa, showed her a video of people doing “crazy things” on the slopes.

“I said, ‘Yes, I want that,’” Vaspi said in English.

Read more at New York Times

More about: olympics, Orthodoxy, Shabbat, Sports

Hamas Has Its Own Day-After Plan

While Hamas’s leaders continue to reject the U.S.-backed ceasefire proposal, they have hardly been neglecting diplomacy. Ehud Yaari explains:

Over the past few weeks, Hamas leaders have been engaged in talks with other Palestinian factions and select Arab states to find a formula for postwar governance in the Gaza Strip. Held mainly in Qatar and Egypt, the negotiations have not matured into a clear plan so far, but some forms of cooperation are emerging on the ground in parts of the embattled enclave.

Hamas officials have informed their interlocutors that they are willing to support the formation of either a “technocratic government” or one composed of factions that agree to Palestinian “reconciliation.” They have also insisted that security issues not be part of this government’s authority. In other words, Hamas is happy to let others shoulder civil responsibilities while it focuses on rebuilding its armed networks behind the scenes.

Among the possibilities Hamas is investigating is integration into the Palestinian Authority (PA), the very body that many experts in Israel and in the U.S. believe should take over Gaza after the war ends. The PA president Mahmoud Abbas has so far resisted any such proposals, but some of his comrades in the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) are less certain:

On June 12, several ex-PLO and PA officials held an unprecedented meeting in Ramallah and signed an initiative calling for the inclusion of additional factions, meaning Hamas. The PA security services had blocked previous attempts to arrange such meetings in the West Bank. . . . Hamas has already convinced certain smaller PLO factions to get on board with its postwar model.

With generous help from Qatar, Hamas also started a campaign in March asking unaffiliated Palestinian activists from Arab countries and the diaspora to press for a collaborative Hamas role in postwar Gaza. Their main idea for promoting this plan is to convene a “Palestinian National Congress” with hundreds of delegates. Preparatory meetings have already been held in Britain, Lebanon, Kuwait, and Qatar, and more are planned for the United States, Spain, Belgium, Australia, and France.

If the U.S. and other Western countries are serious about wishing to see Hamas defeated, and all the more so if they have any hopes for peace, they will have to convey to all involved that any association with the terrorist group will trigger ostracization and sanctions. That Hamas doesn’t already appear toxic to these various interlocutors is itself a sign of a serious failure.

Read more at Washington Institute for Near East Policy

More about: Gaza War 2023, Hamas, Palestinian Authority