Israel’s decision on Saturday to shut its borders to all foreign tourists for two weeks is likely to reduce the number of tourists in Israel and the occupied territories this December by up to 40,000, or nearly 60 percent of what was expected, according to a government estimate.

Wiatt F. Bowers, an urban planner, had planned to leave Jacksonville, Fla., for Tel Aviv on Wednesday but had to cancel — the fifth time in 18 months that he had to scrap a planned trip to Israel. He will rebook, but doesn’t know when.

Foreign tourism, which brought a record 4.55 million tourists to Israel in 2019, had already nearly vanished. Between March 2020 and September 2021, nonresident foreigners were barred from entering Israel — and, by extension, the occupied territories, where entry and exit are controlled by Israel.

In Bethlehem, where tourism is the main industry, income consequently fell more than 50 percent, said the mayor, Anton Salman, in a phone interview.

Elias al-Arja, the chief of the Arab Hotel Association, which represents about 100 Palestinian hotels in the occupied territories, said he was concerned less about the short-term effect of the sudden travel ban than about the long-term message of unpredictability it sent to potential visitors.

“The disaster isn’t the groups who canceled over the next two weeks,” Mr. al-Arja said. “How can I convince people to come to the Holy Land after we promised them that you can come, but then the government closes the border?”

Reluctance to travel, though, could mean an upswing in other sectors if the new variant is not as harmful as people fear. Jessica Moulton, a senior partner at McKinsey & Company in London, said previous spending patterns during the pandemic showed that some money people would otherwise use for travel would instead be spent on dining.

She estimated that the roughly $40 billion that British consumers saved on travel last summer was used for shopping and eating out.

At the moment, Ms. Moulton said, “to the extent that Omicron decreases travel, which will happen as we head into Christmas, that will benefit restaurants.”

In Switzerland, where travelers from Britain and 22 other countries must now quarantine, the effect of the policy change on hotels was immediate.

“The majority of travelers from England — between 80 to 90 percent — have already canceled,” said Andreas Züllig, head of HotellerieSuisse, the Swiss hotel association.

Ms. Wallace, who canceled her trip to the Cambrian Hotel in Adelboden, was one of several people who changed their reservations at the hotel after the Swiss government made its announcement on Friday, just one week before the slopes open.

“This obviously has an impact on our very important winter and Christmas business,” said Anke Lock, the Cambrian’s manager, who estimated that 20 percent of the hotel’s December bookings were at risk.

For now, though, most guests are watching and waiting, Ms. Lock said: “We’ve changed the bookings from guaranteed to tentative.”

Extreme uncertainty about the economy may turn out to be the only certainty.

Patrick Kingsley contributed reporting from Jerusalem, Melissa Eddy from Berlin and Léontine Gallois from Paris.

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World Omicron Fight Hindered by Fragmented Response

ROME — In a wrenchingly familiar cycle of tracking first cases, pointing fingers and banning travel, nations worldwide reacted Monday to the Omicron variant of the coronavirus in the piecemeal fashion that has defined — and hobbled — the pandemic response all along.

As here-we-go-again fear and resignation gripped much of the world, the World Health Organization warned that the risk posed by the heavily mutated variant was “very high.” But operating once again in a vacuum of evidence, governments chose approaches that differed between continents, between neighboring countries, and even between cities within those countries.

Little is known about Omicron beyond its large number of mutations; it will be weeks, at least, before scientists can say with confidence whether it is more contagious — early evidence suggests it is — whether it causes more serious illness, and how it responds to vaccines.

In China, which had been increasingly alone in sealing itself off as it sought to eradicate the virus, a newspaper controlled by the Communist Party gloated about democracies that are now following suit as Japan, Australia and other countries gave up flirting with a return to normalcy and slammed their borders shut to the world. The West, it said, had hoarded vaccines at the expense of poorer regions, and was now paying a price for its selfishness.

announced that government employees, health care workers and staff and students at most schools must be vaccinated by Jan. 22.

tied to a single soccer team — and Scotland reported six, while the numbers in South Africa continued to soar.

Experts warned that the variant will reach every part of the world, if it hasn’t already.

The leaders of the world’s top powers insisted that they understood this, but their assurances also had a strong whiff of geopolitics.

President Xi Jinping of China offered one billion doses of Covid vaccine to Africa, on top of nearly 200 million that Beijing has already shipped to the continent, during an address to a conference in Senegal by video link.

The Global Times, a Chinese tabloid controlled by the Communist Party, boasted of China’s success in thwarting virus transmission, and said the West was now paying the price for its selfish policies. “Western countries control most of the resources needed to fight the Covid-19 pandemic,” it wrote. “But they have failed to curb the spread of the virus and have exposed more and more developing countries to the virus.”

told France Inter radio on Monday that variants would continue to emerge unless richer countries shared more vaccines. “We need a much more systemic approach,” she said.

“zero Covid” strategy.

China has steadfastly kept a high wall against visitors from the rest of the world. Foreign residents and visa holders are allowed in only under limited circumstances, leading to concerns by some within the business world that Covid restrictions were leaving the country increasingly isolated.

Visitors must submit to two-week quarantines upon arrival and face potential limits on their movement after that. Movements are tracked via monitoring smartphone apps, which display color codes that can signal whether a person has traveled from or through an area with recent infections, triggering instructions to remain in one place.

In other parts of Asia, people are less focused on eradicating the virus than just surviving it.

“This news is terrifying,” said Gurinder Singh, 57, in New Delhi, who worried about his shop going under. “If this virus spreads in India, the government will shut the country again, and we will be forced to beg.”

Reporting was contributed by Declan Walsh from Nairobi, Patrick Kingsley from Jerusalem, Carlos Tejada from Seoul, Sameer Yasir from Srinagar, India, Lynsey Chutel from South Africa, Aurelien Breeden from Paris, Elian Peltier and Monika Pronczuk from Brussels, Megan Specia from London, Christopher F. Schuetze from Berlin, Emma Bubola from Rome and Nick Cumming-Bruce from Geneva.

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As Secular Peace Effort Stutters in Israel, Religious Mediators Hope to Step In

JERUSALEM — The rabbi stood before the grave of the imam, weeping as he gave his eulogy. In life, Rabbi Michael Melchior said, Sheikh Abdullah Nimr Darwish had promised him that he would never leave his side. In death, the sheikh had left him feeling as bereft as an orphan.

Sheikh Abdullah died in 2017, four years before the Islamist party he helped found, Raam, became the first independent Arab faction to join an Israeli government coalition. But the sheikh’s funeral and his unlikely friendship with Rabbi Melchior, as well as their below-the-radar attempts at religious-based peacemaking between Israelis and Palestinians, were all part of an unexpected, decades-long back story of an effort by some Islamists to find a place within Israeli politics.

For Mansour Abbas, a politician standing in tears to the rabbi’s right that day, the sheikh’s death was one of several pivotal way stations in his journey to lead Raam into Israel’s government.

“At Sheikh Abdullah’s funeral and Rabbi Melchior’s speech, it hit me — that I need to be committed to Sheikh Abdullah and Rabbi Melchior’s joint approach,” said Mr. Abbas, who became Raam’s leader in 2018 and entered Parliament two years ago. The speech and the funeral “made me go from being a supporter and minor contributor to it to someone wishing to strengthen it and push it forward,” he said.

violent clashes in May. And Israel had just ended a brief war with Hamas, the militant group that holds sway in the Gaza Strip.

Both Raam and Hamas have roots in the same Islamist movement. And Raam’s leading influence, Sheikh Abdullah, was convicted and imprisoned in the 1980s for links to a militant Islamist group.

To those in and around Raam, its new role makes more sense in the context of Sheikh Abdullah’s spiritual journey since he left jail, when he had an ideological about-face and sought to use Islamic teachings to justify a more peaceful approach.

helped legitimize the idea of Arab participation in government by pursuing Raam’s support.

are fighting to restore momentum to a formal peace process that petered out in 2014. To them, Mr. Abbas’s political maneuver was a natural outgrowth of a long-term project of religious-based peace building begun by Sheikh Abdullah.

“My sheikh went through several stations in his life,” said Sheikh Raed, citing Sheikh Abdullah’s break with militance after leaving prison in the 1980s.

“The whole religious dialogue,” Sheikh Raed said, “started from that point.”

Born in 1948 in an Arab town in what became Israel, Sheikh Abdullah flirted briefly with Communism as a young man before turning more seriously to Islam.

In the 1970s, he founded the Islamic Movement, a group based in Israel that aimed to encourage the Muslim minority to deepen its faith and, ultimately, to create a society governed by Islamic law. The group also had a militant wing that carried out arson attacks on Israeli property.

But in the 1980s, he surprised his followers by pushing to establish better relations between Arabs and Israelis, within both Israel and the occupied territories.

participation of the Islamic Movement’s political wing, later known as Raam, in Israeli parliamentary elections. That caused a split in the movement, with some members forming a now banned splinter group that rejected participation in the Israeli parliamentary process.

But Sheikh Abdullah continued on a path of moderation, writing a book that rejected any religious justification for suicide attacks. He also began to work on several peace-building projects with Rabbi Melchior, then a deputy foreign minister in the Israeli government.

communal violence in the city of Acre, in northern Israel.

In 2014, they coordinated to avoid religious violence in mixed Arab-Jewish cities when the Jewish day of atonement, Yom Kippur, fell on the same day as the Islamic celebration of Eid al-Adha, and tried to taper conflict during a low-level intifada the next year.

Mr. Abbas became involved in the initiatives and later developed a close relationship with Rabbi Melchior, speaking with him several times a month.

To the rabbi, these religious-based peace initiatives offered a way to move on from the secular-led diplomatic efforts of the 1990s and 2000s, which he said failed in part because they did not sufficiently include religious elements from the two populations.

“The traditional and religious population felt that the peace was part of the uprooting of what they felt was their sense of belonging, of their DNA, of their identity, of their narrative,” Rabbi Melchior said.

After Sheikh Abdullah’s death, Sheikh Raed took up his mantle. He worked with Rabbi Melchior to defuse another crisis in 2017, when the installation of metal detectors at the entrance to the Aqsa Mosque compound in Jerusalem almost set off another uprising.

In 2020, Sheikh Raed released a lengthy religious tract that provided a theological justification for Raam’s joining an Israeli government. Several months later, Mr. Abbas joined the current governing coalition.

During the coalition negotiations, Mr. Abbas gave a televised speech in Hebrew, largely pitched at Israeli Jews, in which he called for coexistence and presented himself as a citizen of Israel. Analysts later said it played a pivotal role in positioning him as an acceptable partner for Jewish-led parties. The speech was his own, but he spoke beforehand with Rabbi Melchior about its content, both men said.

To some Palestinian citizens of Israel, Mr. Abbas is a sellout for helping put right-wing Jewish politicians in power in exchange for what critics perceive as only token victories.

Ayman Odeh, the leader of the left-wing party Hadash, said Mr. Abbas’s approach was transactional, positioning Palestinian citizens of Israel as servants and subjects instead of as true citizens with collective rights.

“I don’t want to work as a politician under a Jewish supremacy,” said Mr. Odeh, whose party includes a mix of Arabs and Jews. “I fight for deep equality on both a civil and national level between the two peoples.”

But to advocates like Sheikh Raed and Rabbi Melchior, Mr. Abbas’s decision was a hopeful byproduct of a long process of religious peace-building that seeks to place Palestinians and Israelis on a more equal footing, and which political leaders would do well to amplify.

“If the religious element is not inside the peace camp, and not included fully, it just won’t happen,” Rabbi Melchior said. “I, for one, do not want to exclude the secular — not from our society and not from the peacemaking,” he added. “I just want to expand that sense of peace.”

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In Israel, Blinken Pushes U.S. Support for Rebuilding Gaza

JERUSALEM — Israel will launch a “very powerful” response to any new attacks by Hamas militants, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned on Tuesday, thanking the United States for bolstering his country’s air defenses during a visit by the top American diplomat that sought to promote peace.

Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken, in his first trip to the Middle East during the Biden administration, was met by a country on edge following more than 10 days of war with Hamas that ended with a tenuous cease-fire late last week.

In brief but blunt comments after their private meeting, Mr. Netanyahu said he was grateful that the Biden administration consistently affirmed Israel’s right to defend itself after coming under rocket attack by militants in the Gaza Strip. He said he and Mr. Blinken had discussed how to curb Hamas, which controls Gaza, and how to help rebuild and otherwise improve the lives of the two million Palestinians who live there.

“If Hamas breaks the calm and attacks Israel, our response will be very powerful,” Mr. Netanyahu told reporters after the meeting, standing next to Mr. Blinken.

77,000 people who were forced from their homes during the hostilities and are sheltering in schools maintained by the United Nations.

Hundreds of thousands of people have been cut off from electricity and clean water, and pockets of Gaza have been reduced to piles of rubble after nearly two weeks of Israeli airstrikes.

rebuild our relationship” with the Palestinian people and the Palestinian Authority. He was to meet later Tuesday in Ramallah with President Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh of the Palestinian Authority.

In seeking to prop up the authority, the Biden administration aims to sideline Hamas, the militant group that controls Gaza, which the United States considers a terrorist organization. Hamas and the Palestinian Authority are bitter political rivals, and it is far from assured that the militants will cede any of their grip over Gaza.

In a series of discussions with Mr. Blinken throughout the afternoon, Mr. Netanyahu and other Israeli officials also homed in on what they described as another urgent threat to their stability: Iran.

With American and Iranian diplomats separately meeting with world powers in Vienna, officials have in recent days noted progress in negotiations to bring both sides back into compliance with a 2015 nuclear deal.

the Trump administration jettisoned in 2018, in hopes of imposing stricter limits on Iran’s nuclear, missile and military programs.

Mr. Netanyahu said the original deal “paves the way for Iran to have an arsenal of nuclear weapons.”

riots erupted at Al Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem, one of the holiest sites in Islam.

“We believe that Palestinians and Israelis equally deserve to live safely and securely to enjoy equal measures of freedom opportunity, and democracy, to be treated with dignity,” Mr. Blinken said.

“Healing these wounds will take leadership at every level of society,” he said.

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Israeli Police Round Up More Than 1,550 Suspects in Mob Violence

JERUSALEM — More than 1,550 people have been arrested over the past two weeks, the Israeli police said on Monday, on suspicion of involvement in the recent outbreak of mob violence between Arabs and Jews that convulsed cities across Israel.

Announcing the start of an even more concerted arrest campaign, the police said in a statement that thousands of police and border police officers had spread out across the country “to bring the rioters, criminals and all those involved in the disturbances to justice.”

Micky Rosenfeld, a spokesman for the police, said that 70 percent of those arrested were Arab citizens of Israel while 30 percent were Jewish. About 150 suspects have already been charged, the police said.

“The majority of incidents that took place were carried out by Arab Israelis who took to the streets and attacked Jewish civilians and police officers,” he said.

the worst intercommunal violence Israel has seen in decades, the outburst of assaults, arson and vandalism spread to other mixed cities in northern Israel and the Arab towns of the Galilee, while Bedouin Arabs torched and ambushed Jews’ cars with stones on the roads in the southern Negev desert.

Over several nights, Arab and Jewish gangs sought out targets. Several victims on both sides were beaten unconscious; one Jewish man was badly burned; and at times the unrest turned lethal.

looming eviction of six Palestinian families from homes claimed by Jewish landlords has contributed to the unrest, and where the police continue to disperse sporadic protests.

The police have come in for harsh criticism from both Jewish and Arab witnesses and victims of the mob violence. Many said they had tried to call the police as their properties came under attack during the disturbances but got no response.

Mr. Rosenfeld said that at that time too many incidents were occurring simultaneously and that it was impossible to place an officer by every door.

The government called in hundreds of border police officers from the occupied West Bank to restore order in Lod.

When crime involved only Arab citizens, as both perpetrators and victims, the police showed little interest, said Ms. Touma-Sliman, the lawmaker, adding, “we’ve been pleading for years for them to take action.”

Only now, she said, when the violence affected the Jewish population, were the police talking about gathering video footage from security cameras and using other technological means to locate and identify suspects.

“I have lost confidence in the police,” she said. “They will have to earn it.”

On Monday alone, the police said, they had arrested 74 suspects, including dozens who had thrown stones, fireworks and firebombs and assaulted officers in Jerusalem and Arab-populated areas of central Israel. They said they had also seized illegal weapons, including an M16 assault rifle, and ammunition.

Three Israeli Jews, including a minor, 16, were charged on Monday for what the prosecution called the “attempted terrorist murder” of an Arab Israeli driver in Bat Yam, a Tel Aviv suburb. He was dragged from his car and beaten almost to death at the height of the intercommunal violence.

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Iran, a Longtime Backer of Hamas, Cheers Attacks on Israel

The leadership of Iran, engaged in a long shadow war with Israel on land, air and sea, did not try to conceal the pleasure it took in the most recent Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Over the 11 days of fighting this month, Tehran praised the damage being done to its enemy, and the state news media and conservative commentators highlighted Iran’s role in providing weaponry and military training to Palestinian militants in Gaza to hammer Israeli communities.

Iran has for decades supported Hamas, the Palestinian militant group that controls Gaza and whose own interests in battling Israel align with Iran’s. Experts say that over the years, Iran has provided Hamas with financial and political support, weapons and technology and training to build its own arsenal of advanced rockets that can reach deep into Israeli territory.

But in the assessment of Israeli intelligence, Hamas made its decisions independently of Iran in the latest conflict.

sabotaging of Iran’s nuclear facilities. While Iran’s leaders have made no secret of their desire to punish Israel for the wave of attacks, they have struggled to find an effective way to retaliate without risking an all-out war or derailing any chance for a revised nuclear accord with the United States and other world powers.

So the conservative factions in Iran that had been urging payback for the Israeli strikes seized on a chance to portray the thousands of rockets fired by the Gaza militants as revenge.

a devastating response from Israel’s vastly superior military, whose airstrikes killed scores of militants, destroyed 340 rocket launchers and caused the collapse of 60 miles of underground tunnels.

While the Israeli strikes may temporarily set back the military capability of Iran’s Gaza allies, Israel’s international standing does seem to be taking a beating with cracks in the once rock-solid support of Western allies.

Iran watched in dismay last year as four Arab countries — the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Sudan and Morocco — normalized ties with Israel and declared Iran the biggest threat to regional stability. In the months before the Gaza fighting, Tehran lobbied intensely to prevent other Arab countries from following suit.

outraged Arab public opinion, could dim the prospects of any more countries in the region normalizing relations with Israel anytime soon.

hit civilian neighborhoods.

They celebrated the violent clashes erupting across Israeli cities between Jewish and Arab residents. And they felt that the Israeli strikes on Iran, including the assassinations of a top nuclear scientist and a leader of Al Qaeda, had been at least partly avenged.

“It feels like we had rage stuck in our throats against Israel, especially after the assassinations. And with every rocket fired, we gave a collective, deep sigh of relief,” said Mehdi Nejati, 43, an industrial project manager in Tehran who moderated a daily Clubhouse chat on developments in Gaza.

There was also much boasting on social media about Iran’s role in enabling militants to amass more advanced rockets.

While Israel will have to continue to contend with Iran’s influence in Gaza going forward, Tehran’s support for the militants there is just one of the many factors standing in the way of a longer-term peace, said Mr. Javedanfar, the political analyst.

“Confronting Iran is only going to be part of the solution for Israel’s challenge in Gaza,” he said. “A bigger part of the challenge can be solved with smarter Israeli policies in Jerusalem.”

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Before Rage Flared, a Push to Make Israel’s Mixed Towns More Jewish

LOD, Israel — Years before the mixed Arab-Jewish city of Lod erupted in mob violence, a demographic shift had begun to take root: Hundreds of young Jews who support a religious, nationalist movement started to move into a mostly Arab neighborhood with the express aim of strengthening the Israeli city’s Jewish identity.

A similar change was playing out in other mixed Arab-Jewish cities inside Israel, such as nearby Ramla and Acre in the north — part of a loosely organized nationwide project known as Torah Nucleus. They say that their intention is to uplift poor and neglected areas on the margins of society, particularly in mixed cities, and to enrich Jewish life there. Its supporters have moved into dozens of Israeli cities and towns.

“Perhaps ours is a complex message,” said Avi Rokach, 43, chairman of the Torah Nucleus association in Lod. “Lod is a Jewish city. It is our agenda and our religious duty to look out for whoever lives here, be they Jewish, Muslim or Hindu.”

abruptly exposed.

In Lod, hundreds of the city’s Arab citizens took to the streets, throwing stones, burning cars and setting fire to properties, venting their rage against one primary target: The mostly young, Orthodox Jewish families who had arrived in recent years, saying they wanted to lift up the working-class city and make it more Jewish.

organized on social networks and sought out Arab victims in Lod and other cities, beating an Arab man almost to death in the Tel Aviv suburb of Bat Yam.

Lod, which traces its history to the days of Canaan and is known as Lydda in Arabic, has a particularly fraught history centered around the creation of the state of Israel in 1948. Most of the original Palestinian residents of the city were expelled and never allowed to return.

Bedouins — the seminomadic Arabs from Israel’s Negev desert — arrived in the following decades as did families of Palestinians from the West Bank who had collaborated with Israel, seeking refuge.

to tone down the volume on the Muslim call to prayer from minarets in the city and his right-hand man is a founder of Lod’s Torah Nucleus.

Arab resentment is compounded by a lingering fear of displacement, house by house.

About eight years ago, Torah Nucleus built a pre-army academy and a religious boys’ elementary school next to the long-established school for Arab pupils on Exodus Street in the heart of Ramat Eshkol.

These Jewish institutions were the first to be set on fire on May 10. The trouble started after evening prayers, witnesses said. Arab youths raised a Palestinian flag in the square and demonstrated in solidarity with Palestinians in Jerusalem and Gaza. The police dispersed them with tear gas and stun grenades.

Angry Arab mobs then went on a rampage, burning synagogues, Jewish apartments and cars in Ramat Eshkol. One group approached another Torah Nucleus neighborhood, where a Jewish crowd had gathered.

There, the four Jewish suspects in the shooting claimed, they fired in the air in self-defense as Arab rioters began to rush at them, throwing stones and firebombs, according to court documents.

The funeral for the victim, Mr. Hassouna, the next day devolved into new clashes as the mourners, the building contractor Mr. Salama among them, insisted on passing through Exodus Street with the body in defiance of police instructions.

That night, gangs of Jewish extremists, some of them armed, came from out of town to attack Arabs and their property, according to witnesses. Mr. Salama said he was hit by a stone while sitting in his garden. Gunshots were heard on both sides.

One Jewish apartment in Ramat Eshkol was burned to cinders after Arab intruders broke open a hole in the wall. The family had already left. A neighbor, Nadav Klinger, said the charred flat would be preserved as a museum.

Elsewhere in Lod, some veteran Jewish and Arab neighbors said their good relations remained intact and agreed that the influx of religious Jewish professionals had lifted the city up.

Ayelet-Chen Wadler, 44, a physicist who grew up in a West Bank settlement, came to Lod with her family 15 years ago to join the Torah Nucleus community.

“I was raised to try to make an impact,” she said. “Just by living here, you make a difference.”

A week after the peak in the violence, about 30 of the 40 Jewish families who had evacuated their homes in the Ramat Eshkol neighborhood had returned.

“I believe we can get back to where we were before, but it might take some time,” said Mr. Rokach, the chairman of the Torah nucleus in Lod, condemning the revenge attacks by Jews from outside.

“Nobody’s leaving. Quite the opposite. As we speak, I just got a WhatsApp message from a family looking for a home here. Nor are the Arabs leaving.”

Myra Noveck contributed reporting from Jerusalem.

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A Look Inside Israel’s ‘Fortress of Zion’ Military Command Beneath Tel Aviv

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It was a little past midnight on Friday, and Israel’s Supreme Command Post was racing to complete as many strikes as possible in the final hours before a cease-fire with the Palestinian militant group Hamas was to take effect at 2 a.m.

On a wall covered with huge screens, a three-dimensional diagram of a high-rise building with one of its apartments marked in red popped up. On another screen, a live video from the air circled above a building in Gaza that looked a lot like the one in the diagram.

This room is the nerve center of a bunker dubbed the “Fortress of Zion,” a new Israeli Army command post deep underground beneath its headquarters in the heart of Tel Aviv. It is designed to command the kind of high-tech air wars that have supplanted ground invasions fought by tanks and infantry battalions.

The latest conflict with the Palestinians was the first time the sprawling facility was used during wartime. It was also the first time the army allowed foreign journalists inside one of the most fortified and secretive installations in the country — an effort to showcase Israel’s military and technological prowess but also to counter criticism over civilian casualties.

The first noticeable thing upon entering the bunker is the silence. None of the drama and tragedy of war is apparent, and people appear alert, focused and calm.

The command post is built for operations based heavily on intelligence and carried out from the air or by small groups of special forces. It compiles information from disparate agencies into one database and translates it into operational terms.

It is a place where people are measured by the number of approved targets — warehouses, tunnels or weapons that the military can attack. When a senior officer approves one, it is added to a “Targets Book” that the chief of staff reviews once a month.

Over the last two decades, the “targets” have increasingly been people — like senior Hamas figures.

The military is well aware of the criticism of its tactics, and the loss of innocent lives, which have drawn condemnation from inside and outside the country.

One senior officer, aiming to show that Israel had tried to minimize civilian deaths, points to detailed aerial photographs of an operation that he said had been canceled because its target was a Hamas facility near a Gaza hospital. He said many others had been similarly canceled out of concern for civilian casualties.

The head of the Intelligence Division’s Targets Branch, identified as Lt. Col. S. because the military does not allow the intelligence officers to be named in the news media, said he did not think soldiers became coldhearted by reducing people to “targets.”

Another commander working in the bunker said, however, “You can’t kill someone without something dying in you, too.”

Maj. Gen. Nitzan Alon, a former director of operations for the Israeli military, said he understood that the distance from the battlefield and the treatment of people as “targets” could create indifference to human lives.

“This is part of the commander’s challenge,” he said, to ensure that the operation is effective and “to know that there are human beings at the other end.”

Israel also regularly accuses Hamas of hiding its facilities and weapons inside or near civilian buildings, effectively using civilians as human shields.

During regular times, 300 to 400 soldiers work there around the clock. When Israel decided to launch its air assault on Gaza, thousands from military headquarters above ground joined the bunker. Also present were members of intelligence agencies like the Mossad and Shin Bet, Israel’s domestic intelligence agency, and Foreign Ministry and police representatives.

For 10 days, they commanded operations from the bunker. Most of them scarcely left.

Inside the nerve center, about 70 people were arrayed on different levels so that everyone could see the screens on the wall. Most were in military uniforms and under 25, and those out of uniform were mostly older.

They sat at tables with computers, landline phones or more obscure communication devices. Some of their keyboards fed data into the wall screens — a detailed breakdown of attacks carried out and damage done to Hamas.

Israel estimates that it destroyed 15 to 20 percent of Hamas’s rocket arsenal and some weapons production facilities. It claims to have killed about 200 Hamas operatives and eliminated 30 percent of the tunnels under Gaza used for sheltering militants, housing command systems and moving weaponry around.

The nerve center also had a map with locations of ground forces and military aircraft throughout the Middle East.

In the hours just before cease-fire, it was clear that Israel was eager to deal powerful final blows to Hamas. One screen tracked rocket launches from Gaza and a possible hit on a kibbutz in southern Israel.

At 2 a.m., the commander echoed the chief of staff’s order to cease hostilities. But no one was going home. The post remains on combat alert until Israel determines that the fragile cease-fire will last.

“Fortress of Zion” took 10 years to design and build. Dug deep into the earth, it is protected from a variety of threats, including nuclear attacks. It has enough energy, food and water to function even if its occupants cannot get to ground level for a long time.

It is an extension of an old command post, nicknamed “the pit,” that was expanded several times but was deemed too small and gloomy and had electricity and sanitation problems.

More important, Maj. Gen. Aharon Haliva, the current director of operations for the military, said, “Over the years, the Israel Defense Forces’ needs have changed.”

The huge ground wars of decades gone by gave way to more frequent but smaller operations — known as the “war between the wars.” And that shift meant relying more on technology and a digital network to pool intelligence, General Haliva said.

The bunker is connected via technology to another underground command post for Israel’s political leaders near Jerusalem, the Air Force’s underground headquarters and the Shin Bet’s command center.

The complex includes a gym, a synagogue, a kitchen and dining rooms, and a bedroom for guests with a row of clocks from different parts of the world, Tehran among them. There is also a lounge with food and nonalcoholic drinks — the only spot where soldiers can use their cellphones.

One floor is occupied by the army’s high command, including a private bedroom for the chief of staff with simple furnishings mirrored throughout the bunker.

Various military and intelligence departments feed the nerve center with information and have a representative physically present. The combined operation allows for a large number of strikes in an almost continuous stream.

Some efforts were made to give the windowless bunker a pleasant atmosphere, decorated with pictures of scenic places in the country and a famous quote by Israel’s found father, David Ben-Gurion, that reads: “In the hands of this army, the security of the people and the homeland will now be entrusted.”

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Life Under Occupation: The Misery at the Heart of the Israel-Gaza Conflict

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An eviction in East Jerusalem lies at the center of a conflict that led to war between Israel and Hamas. But for millions of Palestinians, the routine indignities of occupation are part of daily life.

David M. Halbfinger and


JERUSALEM — Muhammad Sandouka built his home in the shadow of the Temple Mount before his second son, now 15, was born.

They demolished it together, after Israeli authorities decided that razing it would improve views of the Old City for tourists.

Mr. Sandouka, 42, a countertop installer, had been at work when an inspector confronted his wife with two options: Tear the house down, or the government would not only level it but also bill the Sandoukas $10,000 for its expenses.

Such is life for Palestinians living under Israel’s occupation: always dreading the knock at the front door.

six Palestinian families from their homes in East Jerusalem set off a round of protests that helped ignite the latest war between Israel and Gaza. But to the roughly three million Palestinians living in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, which Israel captured in the 1967 war and has controlled through decades of failed peace talks, the story was exceptional only because it attracted an international spotlight.

For the most part, they endure the frights and indignities of the Israeli occupation in obscurity.

Even in supposedly quiet periods, when the world is not paying attention, Palestinians from all walks of life routinely experience exasperating impossibilities and petty humiliations, bureaucratic controls that force agonizing choices, and the fragility and cruelty of life under military rule, now in its second half-century.

Underneath that quiet, pressure builds.

If the eviction dispute in East Jerusalem struck a match, the occupation’s provocations ceaselessly pile up dry kindling. They are a constant and key driver of the conflict, giving Hamas an excuse to fire rockets or lone-wolf attackers grievances to channel into killings by knives or automobiles. And the provocations do not stop when the fighting ends.

No homeowner welcomes a visit from the code-enforcement officer. But it’s entirely different in East Jerusalem, where Palestinians find it nearly impossible to obtain building permits and most homes were built without them: The penalty is often demolition.

shot and killed a teenager who was wandering among the rock-throwers and spent tear-gas canisters.

Al Mughrayyir was one of the few villages still mounting regular Friday protests. They began after settlers cut off access to some of the villagers’ farmland. The boy’s death became a new rallying cry.

The army says it raids Palestinian homes at night because it is safer, and ransacks them to search for weapons, in routine crackdowns aimed at keeping militance in check.

But the raids also inspire militance.

Mr. Abu Alia seethed as he described seeing his son outside in the dark, “afraid, crying because of the soldiers, and I can do nothing to protect him.”

“It makes you want to take revenge, to defend yourself,” he went on. “But we have nothing to defend ourselves with.”

Stone-throwing must suffice, he said. “We can’t take an M-16 and go kill every settler. All we have are those stones. A bullet can kill you instantly. A little stone won’t do much. But at least I’m sending a message.”

Settlers send messages, too. They have cut down hundreds of Al Mughrayyir’s olive trees — vital sources of income and ties to the land — torched a mosque, vandalized cars. In 2019, one was accused of fatally shooting a villager in the back. The case remains open.

For Majeda al-Rajaby the pain of occupation never goes away. It slices straight through her family.

A twice-divorced teacher, Ms. al-Rajaby, 45, is divided from her five children by the different ways Israel treats Palestinians depending on where they are from.

She grew up in the West Bank, in Hebron. But both her ex-husbands were Jerusalem residents, allowing them to travel anywhere an Israeli citizen may go. The children were entitled to the blue IDs of Jerusalem residents, too. Hers remained West Bank green.

Both her husbands lived in Shuafat refugee camp, a lawless slum inside the Jerusalem city limits but just outside Israel’s security barrier. West Bankers are not allowed to live there, but the rule is not enforced.

She had thought she was marrying up. Instead, she said her husbands “always made me feel inferior.”

After the second divorce, she was left on her own, with her green ID, to raise all five children with their blue IDs. The distinction could be life-threatening.

When a daughter accidentally inhaled housecleaning chemicals, Ms. al-Rajaby tried to race her to the closest hospital, in Jerusalem. Soldiers refused to let her in. As a teacher in Shuafat, she had a permit to enter Jerusalem, but only until 7 p.m. It was 8:00.

Her children are older now, but the distinction is just as keenly felt: Ms. al-Rajaby allows herself to be excluded from joyful moments and rites of passage so her children can enjoy advantages unavailable to her.

She stays behind on the Palestinian side of the security barrier while they head off to Jaffa or Haifa, or on shortcuts to Hebron through Jerusalem, a route forbidden to her. “West Banker,” they tease her, waving goodbye.

One daughter is 21 now and engaged and goes on jaunts into Israel with her fiancé’s mother. “I should be with them,” Ms. al-Rajaby said.

Last summer, Ms. al-Rajaby moved out of Shuafat to a safer neighborhood just outside the Jerusalem city limits, in the West Bank. That means her children could lose their blue IDs if Israel determined that their primary residence was with her.

“I’m not allowed to live there,” she said of Shuafat, “and my daughters are not allowed to live here.”

Constrained as she is, Ms. al-Rajaby wants even more for her children than freedom to move about Israel.

In 2006, her daughter Rana, then 7, was burned in a cooking accident. An Italian charity paid for treatment at a hospital in Padua. Mother and child stayed for three months.

The experience opened Ms. al-Rajaby’s eyes. She saw green parks, children in nice clothes, women driving cars.

“It was the moment of my liberation,” she said. “I started thinking: ‘Why do they have this? Why don’t we?’”

Today, she urges all her children to see the world, and holds out hope that they might emigrate.

“Why,” she asked, “should someone keep living under the mercy of people who have no mercy?”

Try as they might to make their accommodations with Israel, Palestinians often find themselves caught in the occupation’s gears.

Majed Omar once earned a good living as a construction worker inside Israel. But in 2013, his younger brother was spotted crossing through a gap in Israel’s security barrier. A soldier shot him in the leg.

Mr. Omar, 45, was collateral damage. Israel revoked his work permit just in case he had ideas about taking revenge — something Israel says happens too often.

He sat unemployed for 14 months. When Israel reissued his permit, it only allowed him to work in the fast-growing West Bank settlements, where workers are paid half as much, searched each morning and supervised by armed guards all day.

Which is how he came to be the foreman on a crew that remodels Jewish homes and expands Israeli buildings on land the Palestinians have long demanded as part of their hoped-for state.

In a small way, it’s like digging his own grave, Mr. Omar said. “But we’re living in a time when everyone sees what’s wrong and still does it.”

Violence is often sudden and brief. But the nagging dread it instills can be just as debilitating.

Nael al-Azza, 40, is haunted by the Israeli checkpoint he must pass through while commuting between his home in Bethlehem and his job in Ramallah.

At home, he lives behind walls and cultivates a lush herb and vegetable garden in the backyard. But nothing protects him on his drive to work, not even his position as a manager in the Palestinian firefighting and ambulance service.

Recently, he said, a soldier at the checkpoint stopped him, told him to roll down his window, asked if he had a weapon. He said no. She opened his passenger door to take a look, then slammed it shut, hard.

He wanted to object. But he stopped himself, he said: Too many confrontations with soldiers end with Palestinians being shot.

“If I want to defend my property and my self-respect, there’s a price for that,” he said.

His commute is a 14-mile trip as the crow flies, but a 33-mile route, because Palestinians are diverted in a wide loop around Jerusalem along a tortuous two-lane road of steep switchbacks. Even so, it ought to take less an hour — but often takes two or three, because of the checkpoint.

The Israelis consider the checkpoint essential to search for fleeing attackers or illegal weapons or to cut the West Bank in two in case of unrest. Palestinians call it a choke point that can be shut off on a soldier’s whim. It is also a friction point, motorists and soldiers each imagining themselves as the other’s target.

Idling and inching along, Mr. al-Azza compared traffic to blood flow. Searching one car can mean an hour’s delay. The soldiers are so young, he said, “They don’t feel the weight of stopping 5,000 cars.”

He thinks only of those delayed. “When they impede your movement and cause you to fail at your job, you feel like you’ve lost your value and meaning,” he said.

A few nights each week, delays force him to sleep at work and settle for video calls with his three children.

On weekend outings, the checkpoint takes a different toll on his family.

“I try to keep my kids from speaking about the conflict,” he said. “But they see and experience things I have no answer for. When we’re driving, we turn the music on. But when we reach the checkpoint, I turn it off. I don’t know why. I’ll see them in the mirror: All of a sudden, they sit upright and look anxious — until we cross and I turn the music back on.”

Deadly scenarios constantly play out in Mr. al-Azza’s head: What if a tire blew out or his engine stalled? What if a young soldier, trained to respond instantly, misconstrued it as a threat?

“It’s not possible to put it out of mind,” he said. “When you’re hungry, you think about food.”

No Palestinian is insulated from the occupation’s reach — not even in the well-to-do, privileged “bubble” of Ramallah, where Israeli soldiers are seldom seen.

Everyone Sondos Mleitat knows bears the scars of some trauma. Her own: Hiding with her little brother, then 5, when Israeli tanks rolled into Nablus, where she was raised.

In the dark, she said, he pulled all his eyelashes out, one by one.

Today, Ms. Mleitat, 30, runs a website connecting Palestinians with psychotherapists.

Instead of reckoning with their lingering wounds, she said, people seek safety in social conformity, in religion, in the approval gleaned from Facebook and Instagram likes. But all of those, she said, only reinforce the occupation’s suffocating effects.

“This is all about control,” she said. “People are going through a type of taming or domestication. They just surrender to it and feel they can’t change anything.”

After her uncle was killed by Israeli soldiers at a protest, she said, his younger brother was pushed into marriage at 18 “to protect him from going down the same path.”

But a nation of people who reach adulthood thinking only about settling down, she said, is not a nation that will achieve independence.

“They think they’re getting out of this bubble, but they’re not,” she said.

Mr. Sandouka earns about $1,800 in a good month. He hoped the lawyer could quash the demolition order. “I thought they would just give us a fine,” he said.

Then he got another panicked call from home: “The police were there, making my family cry.”

Khalas, he said, enough. He would tear it down himself.

Early on a Monday, his sons took turns with a borrowed jackhammer. They almost seemed to be having fun, like wrecking a sand castle.

Finished, their moods darkened. “It’s like we’re lighting ourselves on fire,” said Mousa, 15.

“They want the land,” said Muataz, 22. “They want all of us to leave Jerusalem.”

In 2020, 119 Palestinian homes in East Jerusalem were demolished, 79 of them by their owners.

When all was rubble, Mr. Sandouka lit a cigarette and held it with three beefy fingers as it burned. His pants filthy with the dust of his family’s life together, he climbed atop the debris, sent photos to the police and contemplated his options.

Moving to the West Bank, and sacrificing Jerusalem residency, was unthinkable. Moving elsewhere in Jerusalem was unaffordable.

A friend offered a couple of spare rooms as a temporary refuge. Mr. Sandouka’s wife demanded permanency.

“She told me if I don’t buy her a home, that’s it — everyone can go their separate ways,” he said.

He turned his eyes uphill toward the Old City.

“These people work little by little,” he said. “It’s like a lion that eats one, and then another. It eventually eats everything around it.”

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