Hating one Middle Eastern country has never garnered the ANC votes or won it any international favour.
There is something foul about SA’s foreign policy. It stands continuously with the anti-Western bloc of dictators, fascists and human rights abusers. It has a horrendous track record of voting at the UN General Assembly and the UN Human Rights Council that is diametrically opposite to post-apartheid’s values of freedom and nondiscrimination.
It votes against measures that sanction human rights abusers and praises the “diversity” of totalitarian dictatorships. It abstains on the appointment of a special rapporteur on violence against the LGBTI community and on resolutions condemning human rights abuses in Syria.
It keeps consistently but deafeningly silent about all the horrors and atrocities committed in Africa, Asia and the Middle East, as well as on the mistreatment of women, minorities and children. It sits Janus-faced on the international stage, facilitating the work of despots offshore, while proclaiming the values of human rights back home.
There is but one country at which South Africa directs all its opprobrium and judgment. It is the most undeserving country of such hostility but is so targeted because the governing party irrationally believes this will win it votes locally and power internationally.
The ANC is dangerously wrong on both accounts: hating Israel has never garnered it votes in any election, and targeting Israel internationally only isolates South Africa itself. It carries out an inverted foreign policy that bashes the ‘Jew of nations’ and applauds the scoundrels.
The ANC owes the public an explanation about why it does this.
Last week, South Africa’s Minister of International Relations and Cooperation, Lindiwe Sisulu, recklessly steered into dangerous territory when asked about her country’s relations with Israel. She spoke of removing the South African ambassador to Israel and of kicking out the Israeli ambassador to SA. She even declared that the ANC will dictate university policy on Israel.
She forgot about SA’s esteemed constitution and rule of law, and that the ANC sits below, not above it.
Our constitution was carefully written by wise people who recognised that freedom of religion, speech, association and academia are fundamental values that ensure the longevity of a democratic state. Any unjust attempts to undermine those values, as Sisulu and her faction seem intent on doing, will unravel the very structures of the democratic state her predecessors fought for.
On the issue of cutting ties with Israel and allowing the antisemitic BDS fringe movement to capture foreign policy, Sisulu and the ANC should proceed with extreme caution. South Africa is focused on rebuilding its standing in the international community and hoping to be taken seriously on international affairs.
While still a member of the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and SA) bloc, it parts company with every other member on Israel. Every BRICS country besides South Africa is constantly improving ties and friendships with the Jewish state. South Africa stands at odds with these world powers, including many African and Arab countries that work more closely than ever with Israel.
Moreover, South Africa needs Israel’s help to solve local problems such as water scarcity, access to electricity and agricultural solutions that would take millions out of poverty and turn our deserts into fields of plenty. Millions of South Africans would not take kindly to their future being stolen by petty short-term interests. Nor will they appreciate the negative effect this will have on local job creation and our already struggling economy.
Cutting out Israel only cuts out SA’s future.
If South Africa attempts to throw out the Israeli ambassador, it will send a signal that it wishes to disconnect the proudly South African Jewish community from their spiritual, religious and historical homeland. The government should take heed that Jews will never allow their bond with the Jewish state to be broken. Nor will committed Christians, who make up the majority of South Africa’s religious communities.
Antisemites may be pleased that their irrational hatred of Jews has resulted in a downgrade in relations with Israel, but the majority of South Africans will not be pleased with the uncertainty and instability it will bring.
It is time for principled business people, government officials, political parties and civil society to stand up to the ANC’s desperate and hypocritical obsession with the Jewish state. Our future depends upon it.
Rowan Polovin is chair of the SA Zionist Federation’s Cape Council.
Reflecting on the challenges of Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow
Many of Israel’s enemies challenge her right to exist as the Nation State of the Jewish people. They deny the historical rights of the Jewish people to the Land of Israel. They deny the archeological evidence that justifies our claims to this land. They deny the irrefutable links of the Jewish people to Jerusalem. They deny our right to self-determination.
I’m not referring to isolated individuals.
I’m not referring to minor league academics who believe their warped and failed political agendas give them the right to change the historical facts and to recreate a narrative that conveniently ignores the context.
I’m referring to organizations within the international community including the General Assembly of the United Nations, the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) and UNESCO. These organizations are in flagrant violation of the mandates under which they were established and have dedicated themselves to delegitimizing Israel’s right to exist.
Around 80% of the resolutions adopted by the UN General Assembly condemn Israel!
Does the international community really believe that if Israel ceased to exist, 80% of the world’s most serious conflicts and issues would simply dissipate?
What has permanent agenda item 7 of the UNHRC done to enhance human rights?
Have UNESCO’s outrageous resolutions regarding Jerusalem and its relevance to Jews done anything to change the historical evidence that supports the centrality of Jerusalem to Jewish life? They have however, had some success in creating doubt thereby delegitimizing our right to statehood. These resolutions fuel the wave of antisemitism currently engulfing even the so-called “more affluent countries” of the world.
Israel is the land where our patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, lived and interacted with the same God we worship today. This is where they are buried. This is where the visions of our Prophets were inspired. This is where we built our Temples. This is where our language was born. King David established Jerusalem as the capital of Israel 3,000 years ago. This land, its seasons and even its rainfall have been sourced in our century-old prayers long before the emergence of those who claim this land belongs to them.
William Albright, an archaeologist of international repute wrote “there can be no doubt that archaeology has confirmed the substantial historicityof Old Testament tradition.” To deny Jewish rights to the Land of Israel is contrary to the fundamentals of Judeo-Christian tradition.
We lived in exile for nearly 2,000 years. We were scattered amongst the nations of the world. We weren’t always made to feel welcome. Our heritage was ridiculed. Our loyalties were questioned. We suffered through inquisition. We were the victims of pogroms and blood libels. Only three generations ago we suffered an unparalleled, surgically coordinated genocide that claimed the lives of one third of our people.
For centuries we were the eternal and ultimate scapegoats for the mismanagement and personal greed of despotic rulers. Even today Jewish communities in the diaspora remain soft targets for terror. Their institutions require sophisticated security systems. The number of antisemitic incidents has escalated to an inconceivable level. Who – even just a few years ago – would have believed this sad state of affairs would come about during our lifetimes?
More than 70 years have passed since the establishment of the State of Israel. It seems to me that for too many people, the penny has yet to drop. We’re not going anywhere. We’re here to stay.
At the time of its creation 70 years ago, Israel was home to only 5% of world Jewry. Today 45% of world Jewry resides in the State of Israel. Jews from more than 90 different countries have returned to become useful citizens in a country we can proudly call our own. Our loyalties are no longer questioned. We speak the language of our forefathers – the indigenous language of this land. Our national aspirations could not have become a reality without the belief that this land is our land.
Although Israel has lived under threats of annihilation during her entire existence, we have a strong and resourceful military to protect us. We are now a country that more than pays its way as a sought-after ally and trading partner.
Given the number of failed states that populate our planet, challenging our right to a country of our own is not only an affront to us and our heritage but also to what this country has achieved in the short space of 70 years.
Which country is always the first to provide aid to countries following natural disasters around the world? We don’t only talk about Tikkun Olam. We deliver!
Israeli technology is at the source of everything that opens and closes. From military innovations to cyber security, from medical technologies to life-saving pharmaceuticals, from communications to driverless vehicles, from wastewater recycling to water desalinisation.
You name it. Israel has done it.
But we can’t afford to rest on our laurels. The military threats remain. We have a responsibility to narrow the gap between the more and the less fortunate amongst us. We have a responsibility to those Jews still living in the diaspora.
The international community may have forgotten its responsibilities to us, but we shouldn’t forget our responsibilities to mankind:
Given the chance, we can make this world a better place in which to live.
Given the chance, we can advance life expectancy in many African countries by up to 30 years.
Given the chance, we can easily replicate in other countries what we have so successfully achieved here in Israel.
Given the chance, we can alleviate many of the dangers resulting from global warming.
Given the chance, we can provide solutions to the diminishing food supplies for growing populations in developing countries around the world.
There are challenges ahead. We have a responsibility to respond.
About the Author
Harris Zvi Green was born in Cape Town, South Africa and immigrated to Israel nearly 50 years ago. An accountant by profession, he served as the Chief Financial Officer of a number of Israel based hi-tech companies. Harris is a founding member of Truth be Told (TbT), an organization engaged in public diplomacy on behalf of Israel.
3000 years of history are waiting to be discovered by you in 3minutes
Serving on the border between Israel and Gaza, Yahya Mahamid – an Arab Muslim soldier – writes this eyewitness account of what it is like to stare down the rioters that Hamas have encouraged to break through the border. These riots have been taking place since March 2018.
Sitting with my back to the metal barrier, I take a second to adjust my helmet when all of a sudden, I hear a loud bang against the barrier.
It has started. The weekly Friday riots on the Gaza border.
I adjust my Kevlar vest, take a breath and stand up to take a look at the other side – all while trying to keep as much of my body under cover.
I am shocked to see mothers going hand and hand with their children. Yes, these are children that are not older than 10 -13 years of age, coming to the weekly protest as if it were a normal Friday activity.
Our orders are clear. Respect human life and the purity of our arms. This is nothing new – after all it is the IDF Code of Ethics that we abide by and that’s how we always operate.
I take my sharpshooter scope and start scanning the crowds looking for anything that looks suspicious such as bombs and guns. While looking through my scope, I start smelling the familiar smell of burned tires. I know that tear gas will soon follow so I put on my gas mask and look at the madness that is assembling in front of my eyes.
The adults, who I assume are mothers and fathers, sit on the green grass hill enjoying some cold drinks and snacks, while their kids are running towards the security fence, throwing rocks and anything they can get their hands on at us soldiers.
One rock hit the barrier.
I take cover after another rock hits the barrier again. I could have sworn that these rocks travel almost as fast as my bullet. I adjust my protective glasses and take another peak; we can’t have the security barrier getting damaged. This could have disastrous ramifications.
The violence is escalating.
I stand up again to take a look at the crowd that’s growing like a hate tumor on steroids and suddenly I hear an explosion. I look through my scope again, while looking through the black and grey crowd.
I see him.
He is sitting, dressed in a large blue hoodie, looking straight at me. I take a look at him through my scope to get a closer look and he is just sitting there, looking straight at me like he’s staring into my soul. He’s not older than 10 years old.
I will never forget the look on his face, like he has a million questions on his mind, not reacting to the screams, tear gas, burned tires and the electrified atmosphere that is filled with anger.
He just sits there, looking at me like he wants to ask me “when this madness will end?”
I look at him, wave, and give him the OK sign, hoping to make my first Gazan friend.
Maybe something positive can come out of this ugliness.
He gets up and gives me an innocent smile and waves. I smile back. Another bomb follows immediately after – above us this time and we are told to retreat behind cover.
I don’t see him again, but I hope the situation will improve for both of us one day.
I call him Little Blue Hood.
About the author:
Yahya Mahamid is a former educator for Stand With Us. This self-described “Muslim Arab Zionist” currently serves in the IDF.
Obsessed with Israel, South Africa ‘Downgrades’ into the abyss of absurdity
By David E. Kaplan
While South Africa speaks of downgrading its diplomatic ties with Israel, smarter countries to its north like Sierra Leone are benefiting from Israel’s amazing technology. Since March, the Jewish State is providing school children at St. Joseph’s Girls’ School in Sierra Leone’s capital of Freetown with clean drinking water extracted from the air.
Sound impossible? Not for Israel where the word “impossible” is absent from the Start-Up Nation’s lexicon.
The technology comes in the form of an atmospheric water generator known as the “GEN-350,” and is produced by the Israeli company Watergen which can produce up to 900 liters of water per day.
Situated in Rishon LeZion in central Israel, Watergen was set up in 2009 by entrepreneur Arye Kohavi, a former combat reconnaissance company commander in the Israeli Army.
The technology developed by Kohavi and his cadre of engineers, uses a series of filters to purify the air. After the air is sucked in and chilled to extract its humidity, the water that forms is then treated and transformed into clean drinking water. The technology uses a plastic heat exchanger rather than an aluminum one, which helps reduce costs.
Head Above Water
So, while in 2016 when a water conference to deal with the water crisis in South Africa was nixed because of the participation of Israel – considered the world’s no. 1 expert on water management – other countries in Africa like Sierra Leone are literally ‘tapping’ into Israel’s expertise in water technology.
“Watergen is currently operating in many African countries,” said Yehuda Kaploun, president of Watergen USA, “and even more announcements about other countries in Africa using our machines and technology will be forthcoming.”
With a weight of just 800 kilograms, the GEN-350 is easily transportable and can be installed easily. The GEN-350 units are provided with an internal water-treatment system and need no infrastructure except a source of electricity in order to operate.
Watergen’s efforts to make fresh, pure water available around the globe earned the company its place on the World Economic Forum’s list of the world’s top technology pioneers in 2018.
Yet, South Africa prefers to listen to BDS that says, “Israel water technology is not unique or special; such technology is widely available through other more friendly countries.”
So where are those other counties Lindiwe Sisulu, South Africa’s Minister of International Relations and Cooperation – the wording a clear misnomer – who is championing the campaign to downgrade her country’s diplomatic relations with Israel?
Rather than turn to Israel for help, will Cape Town prefer the dubious honor of becoming one of the few – if not the first – developed cities in the world to run out of water?
Would BDS SA try influence Sierra Leone to follow silly Sisulu’s lead, where water pollution in the West African country is one of the leading causes of death and which has an average life expectancy of 56 years, one of the lowest in the world. Approximately half of the population has no access to clean drinking water, and a little less than three-quarters of urban dwellers have a safe water supply available for use.
Sierra Leone’s water sources – primarily consisting of ponds, unprotected wells and freestanding water – have been contaminated by mining and chemicals used in the agricultural industry. Water-borne infections and parasites have increased the probability of Sierra Leoneans contracting diseases such as typhoid fever and Hepatitis A.
Does BDS South Africa prefer contaminated water than to being contaminated by contact with Israel?
Other than being antisemitic, BDS’s arguments – do not hold water!
There is a line from Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s, ‘The Rime of the Ancient Mariner’ that reads:
“Water, water everywhere, Nor any drop to drink…”
The image is of a sailor on a becalmed ship, surrounded by salt water that he cannot drink.
Today, because of Israeli ingenuity, there is potential water everywhere.
From the remote corners of India and Vietnam, to the palm-lined streets of Miami-Dade County, Watergen is doing what was once thought unthinkable – extracting safe, inexpensive potable water from the air we breathe.
“We created a product that can really be the next major source of drinking water,” says Maxim Pasik, Executive Chairman of Rishon LeZion-based Watergen.
Fired up after his visit to Africa in mid-2017, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu – re-elected this May 2019 – announced that year to the world from the podium of the UN when he addressed the General Assembly, about Israel transforming air into water. He was thinking specifically how Watergen’s revolutionary product could be used in various parts of Africa.
Watergen’s cutting-edge and patented GENius technology provides a low cost, abundant and renewable source of fresh and clean drinking water by extracting it directly from the atmosphere. It is a plug and drink solution, requiring only electricity and no infrastructure. The company has also sought alternative energy sources for areas with little or no electricity.
For every community size, “We can provide drinking water from the air in the most cost effective, efficient manner to produce the healthiest, and cleanest tasting drinking water,” says Pasik. The Large-Scale unit produces up to 6,000 liters of clean drinking water each day, the mid-scale GEN-350 unit up to 650 liters each day, and the Genny home unit up to 30 liters each day, all based on an average temperature of 27°C with relative humidity of 60%.
Providing fresh pure water directly from the atmosphere, “at prices that are up to ten times cheaper than local filtered well water (at developing world prices), we are talking about a game changer formany tens of millions who only have access to contaminated drinking water,” says Pasik.
Regarding rural areas where there might be no access to electricity, the company has come up with a battery-operated solution. Using a reverse osmosis process for filtration and purification, the battery-operated device has a water purification capacity of 1,200 liters a day, so it can serve villages or areas that need water in emergency situations.
With unsafe water being responsible for more death than war, Israeli ingenuity provides a lifeboat. Instead of searching below for solutions, Watergen found it above – in our atmosphere – and devised a way to ‘tap’ into this unlimited resource.
Watergen hopes to improve the quality of life of billions who suffer from poor water sanitation or accessibility to safe drinking water. “This is a humanitarian issue,” says Pasik. “We would like to maintain peace between people and save people’s lives. The project is priceless and is huge.”
Proud that “this solution comes from Israel,” he adds proudly “This is a Kiddush Hashem (Hebrew for sanctification of God’s name) and tikkun olam (Hebrew for repairing the world)”.
Which only goes to show that sometimes the solutions to problems are staring us right in the face!
Out Of Thin Air
By 2025, two-thirds of the world will face drinking water shortages.
Watergen’s systems can solve this problem and help sustain life moving forward.
If Moses brought forth water for the People of Israel in the desert by striking a stone, today’s Israelites are striking water from the air
Brunei recently announced death by stoning for adultery and gay sex.
“Death by stoning” in this day and age?
Well not that surprising given that this is the sentence dished out by the Mullah’s of Iran to women accused – only accused, mind -and not given a fair trial even in the event of being raped by her attacker.
But it is Israel that is hauled before the court of liberal public opinion for its abuse of human rights!
It is Israel that the likes of BDS, Jews for a Just Palestine, and other so called humanitarians who find every conceivable opportunity to demonize her, be it for marking the anniversary of the Balfour Declaration or the U.S’s moving her embassy to Jerusalem and any other issue that becomes the topic of the moment that could in any way be associated with Israel!
I grew up in apartheid South Africa and well remember the degradation and humiliation of having to take the lady who worked for us and helped raise our children to the “pass office” in downtown Johannesburg to obtain that most valuable of commodities, a simple rubber stamp that would allow her to remain in Johannesburg for another year.
Something that had to be repeated annually.
There are no words to explain that humiliation and degradation – that was Apartheid. Yet Israel is labeled an apartheid state, a country where every citizen is afforded the very same right to education, healthcare, political emancipation, labor relations – in fact every aspect of life that is enjoyed by its entire population regardless of being Jewish, Christian, Muslim, or whatever faith they choose to follow.
The U.S. recently recognized Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan Heights, the territory captured by Israel in the 1967 aggressive war against Israel, but we hear calls to return this territory back to Syria, a country embroiled in a civil war that has claimed over half a million lives. One must wonder what the fate of the 20,000 Druze living in that territory would be or to be more realistic how many would survive under the Syrian regime? The irony is that those hell bent on the destruction of Israel care less for the carnage going on in the Arab world but hide behind the hackneyed term of “human rights” to justify their mission of destroying the Jewish state, which we all know reads the destruction of the Jews.
On March 31st, the President of Brazil paid an official state visit to Israel, cementing a relationship initiated a short while back by the visit to Brazil by the Israeli prime minister. Brazil, a key member of the BRICS group of countries (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) forges close relations with Israel as do China, India and even Russia – but who is the “odd man” out from this group, no prizes for guessing.
Not only the odd man – but openly hostile to any contact with Israel – are we missing something here?
About the author
Allan Wolman is a recent immigrant to Israel from South Africa. Matriculating from Parktown Boys high School in Johannesburg, in 1967, he joined1200 young South Africans to volunteer to work on agricultural settlements in Israel during the Six Day War. After spending year in Israel, he returned to South Africa where he met and married Jocelyn Lipschitz. The couple have three sons.
Allan ran one of the oldest travel agencies in Johannesburg – Rosebank Travel which he still runs together with his son in Johannesburg.
In March 2019, Alan and his wife immigrated to Israel and live in Tel Baruch between Tel Aviv and Herzliya.
The art of abdicating responsibility for the firing of rockets onto Israeli civilian infrastructure was elevated to a level that only be described as something out of a Monty Python sketch as arch terror group, Hamas, blamed weather conditions for their recent launching. Really, you cannot make this up!
Hamas, who are charged with governing the Gaza strip, are responsible for the recent spate of rockets that have been fired towards Israeli territory in the last couple of weeks, culminating in a tense escalation.
On the 25th of March, a rocket was fired from the Gaza strip, reaching far into Israeli territory and decimating a house on the moshav, Mishmeret, and injuring a family of seven. Thirty other homes were damaged by shrapnel from the rockets. Israel threatened a strong response and bombed strategic targets in the Gaza strip, including leader of Hamas, Ismail Haniyeh’s secret headquarters. No civilians were killed which is testament to the conduct of the IDF to strike with pinpoint precision while doing the utmost, including warning with pamphlets, text messages and phone calls, to avoid any loss of life.
The response to this was another barrage of rockets into Israel’s southern communities.
While Hamas would rather have you believe that rockets are self-launching, it cannot detract from the important fact that they are responsible for reigning in rogue elements within the Gaza strip and their inability to control terror groups like Islamic Jihad can plunge the volatile area into another war. Islamic Jihad, like Hamas, is a proxy of Iran and the regime, aiming to gain a closer foothold to Israel is looking to Gaza to do this. Iran is using their proxies on both Israel’s Southern and northern borders to provoke a war. Hamas are in talks with Qatar and Egypt with regards to easing the humanitarian crisis in the strip, but other groups are itching for a showdown with Israel.
This places Hamas in a bit of a quandary. They don’t want to engage in a war with Israel (hence the epic excuses for their rockets launching) BUT still want to be seen at the vanguard of Palestinian resistance.
Hamas would also rather distract from growing protests in the Gaza strip. Across this beleaguered patch, the citizens are taking to the street to protest that enough is enough. Enough with high taxes. Enough of high unemployment. Enough of poverty while the leaders of Hamas live the high life and using much needed international aid to fund their terrorist escapades. Journalists and human rights activists have been rounded up and tortured and Hamas goons have invaded people’s homes in attempts to squash these protests. The leadership of Hamas has to show that they are still in control of the strip – and while rockets are a distraction from their internal issues, they are reluctant to provoke Israel into a full-scale conflict, so they hedge their bets carefully when they strike. However, I don’t think that they were ready for Israel’s no-nonsense response……
As Israel approaches a crucial election that could very well be a game changer, Iran is wont to challenge the mettle of Israel. Could this be a tactic to disrupt the upcoming elections?
These dangerous cat and mouse game coincided with the one-year anniversary of the March of Return protests and annual Land Day commemoration. Over the last year, Hamas have encouraged thousands of Gazans to protest at the border with Gaza. These are NOT peaceful protests.
Hamas leader, Yahya Sinwar, spoke of breaking through the border fence and “ripping the hearts out of the Jews”. Hardly Kumbaya, but rather a sinister call to murder. Sinwar’s words were backed by tires being burnt, creating an ecological disaster, Molotov cocktails and rocks being thrown at IDF troops, animals set alight and the launching of incendiary devices attacked to kites, balloons and kestrels. These incendiary devices burnt thousands of dunnams of valuable agricultural land and fauna and flora and constitute a war crime against Israel.
But it is all about the optics!
Hamas and other terror elements provoke in order to get a response, hopefully one that racks up as many civilian casualties as possible. To this end, Hamas ensured that children are on the front line, and for the anniversary, closed all the schools so that they could participate. I ask you, do responsible adults encourage children to be active in conflict zones? Civilian casualties mean pity, opprobrium for Israel and front-page headlines. With global interest in the conflict waning, Hamas are desperate for column inches. This one-year anniversary march could have ignited the region but thanks to the diplomatic efforts of Egypt, Israel and yes, Hamas, disaster was averted. The caveat? Calmer protests for the easing of restrictions on the Gaza strip by both Egypt and Israel. The people of Gaza deserve better than to have violence and conflict inflicted on them by the proxies of a tyrannical regime. In the meantime, IDF troops are maintaining their positions on the border should conflict erupt.
As the situation in Gaza deteriorates into a humanitarian disaster, the time has long since passed for Hamas to accept their role and responsibility for this. Blaming Israel is convenient and easy, blaming global warming and weather phenomenon’s for almost igniting war, is, well, just plain cowardice.
Igniting fires and tension, an inspiring South African couple in Israel responds to terror by sponsoring clubhouses at military bases
By David E. Kaplan
At midnight on the 25th March 2019, I recall the last sound I heard before dropping off to sleep was a clap of thunder.
Five hours later, I awoke to another BOOM! This time it was not thunder but the deafening sound of a missile having landed nearby destroying a house near Kfar Saba in the centre of Israel, injuring seven.
It was a reminder that the murderous intent of those who govern Gaza extends far and wide.
It further reminded the writer of a visit to a number of army basses close to the Gaza border a few months earlier organised by ‘English-Speaking Branch of theAssociation for the Wellbeing of Israel’s Soldiers’.
There were fifty in our group who were invited to the official opening of two new army-base clubhouses, sponsored by Dave and Rae Kopping, a couple originally from South Africa. It also provided an opportunity to learn firsthand how the Israeli civilian population in the small towns and kibbutzim near Gaza were coping under the constant threat from attack from belowthe ground from tunnels and above the ground from rockets, mortars and inflamed kites and balloons.
As I write recalling that visit, I cannot fail to reflect that the loud BOOM that awakened my family last week and had us scurrying off to the bomb shelter was nearly a daily occurrence to the brave and resilient Israelis living in the south.
While Israel battles politically to get its ‘house’ in order regarding Gaza, Dave and Rae Kopping ‘enlisted’ in their own way to provide club ‘houses’ for soldiers at IDF bases near the border.
They began four years earlier following Operation Protective Edge in 2014 when the IDF had to protect Israeli civilians facing a daily barrage of missiles from Gaza for 50 days. The Koppings showed their heartfelt gratitude by donating a clubhouse at the Palmachim Airforce Base for the Drone and Helicopter Pilots. “They operate under enormous pressure, protecting us from this constant threat,” said Ray at the official opening. “They deserve a special place to unwind and relax.”
Four years later, what had changed was not the political but geographic landscape with expansive swathes of black cutting across the North Western Negev countryside caused by incendiary balloons and kites sent from Gaza and landing on fertile fields. This was all too apparent from the bus window as we saw once green fields now black from the fires caused by the balloons and kites.
As my companion on the bus remarked “how sad that kid’s kites and balloons in Gaza are weapons of death and destruction.”
As a running commentary to the visual horror playing out on a blackened somber ‘stage’, our guide related how much livestock and natural wildlife had perished in the fires.
The Kopping clubhouses replete with comfy couches, coffee tables, kitchenettes, TVs and sound systems, honour – like the earlier one at Palmachim – the memory of the Kopping’s daughter Greer-Rose Sandler who sadly passed away fourteen years earlier from an illness, and Rae’s brother Isaac Melcer, who was killed in the Sinai during the Yom Kippur War in 1973. “He was a tank commander who served under General Ariel Sharon,” reveals Rae, “and had only been married a year.”
“What better way to honour their memory,” adds Dave, “than to know that Greer-Rose and Isaac’s names will be forever associated with those who protect Israeli citizens from harm.”
The day proved an eye-opening window into the life – with all its complexities – of the civilian population living ‘Under Fire’ near Gaza, and the role the brave soldiers play in providing protection. Entering the first base, ‘X’, we noted with surprise that far outnumbering the parked tanks, were giant bulldozers.
We did not have long to wonder why!
Earth-moving equipment usually associated with construction elsewhere, were used here to counter destruction “as we dig up the earth in search of terror tunnels,” explained a young soldier. A recent immigrant from the UK, he related a recent incident when they were out nearby on patrol.
“We were walking along single file in the fields, when we passed a plastic pipe protruding from the ground. There was nothing unusual about this, as the area is always scattered with farming equipment.” That was until one soldier, keeping up the rear, “looked back and noticed a slight sudden twitch of the pipe.”
“That’s odd; there’s no wind,” he thought!
“Rega (“wait”),” he bellowed.
Doubling back, the patrol discovered it was an oxygen tube for the terrorists deep below who were digging a tunnel, and “we radioed in for the bulldozers.”
Relieved by their discovery, “We also knew from our intelligence there were fourteen more tunnels to locate.” Last year, the IDF destroyed a 2km long Hamas tunnel that entered 900 meters into Israeli territory. The problem is, “The terrorists need to be on the job for us to detect any subterranean movements.”
Such is the day in the life of a soldier protecting Israel’s southern communities – a game of cat and mouse.
The name of the 2014 war, “Protective Edge” had a resonance about it as “protection” is what this conflict is about. On a personal level this was brought home when a soldier asked, “Anyone want to try on our bullet proof gear?”
Some did, and were surprised by the weight, and left wondering how soldiers patrolled for hours wearing it in the blazing heat. There was sadness as we were reminded “that one of our comrades, Staff Sgt. Aviv Levi, was killed last week, by sniper fire.” He had been wearing the very same bulletproof jacket! The answer to the predictable question of how the bullet lethally penetrated – “special bullets made in Iran” – was met by a collective sigh.
Moving on to the second base, ‘Y’, we saw from the moving bus, more fields black from fire – a patchwork of this new type of warfare of kites and balloons, which much of the world media presents as “child’s play”.
Passengers flicked away with their cameras in disbelief.
Arriving at the base, we were escorted by young male and female soldiers to the new Kopping clubhouse for the official opening. Members of the Kopping family spoke as did some soldiers, who explained how tense this new warfare was.
Said one soldier, “We know how terrified the civilian population is of terrorists coming up through tunnels who could murder them. It is our job to find these tunnels and prevent this.” A responsibility fraught with anxiety, all the soldiers appreciate after tough days on patrol, “we now have a clubhouse where we can relax and unwind.”
Another female soldier expressed how proud she was to be serving in a combat unit, and this writer could not escape the thought that their peers elsewhere in the Jewish world would be at universities…. here they were immersed in the “university” of life – protecting “our family – Israel.”
Later, seated for lunch in the army dining room, a young soldier, an immigrant from the Argentine, addressed our group:
“These are tough times for the civilian population and for the soldiers. It is a tough war, but we are trained, and we are equipped, and we are inspired – not only do we know WHAT we are doing but WHY we are doing.”
Yes, these are “tough times”, but so are these ‘kids’ – tough and proud – proud of their country, proud of their units, proud of their service, and proud of each other’s capabilities. The camaraderie was palpable. There was much food for thought to ‘digest’ beyond the lunch!
Witness To War
Our tour concluded with a visit to the Black Arrow Memorial, west of kibbutz Mefalsim near the Gaza Strip.
Operation Black Arrow (In Hebrew: “Hetz Shachor”) was an Israeli military operation carried out in Gaza on 28 February 1955 while under Egyptian control. It was in retaliation to Fedayeen terrorism unleashed by President Gamal AbdelNasser who broadcast on August 31, 1955:
“Egypt has decided to dispatch her heroes, the disciples of Pharaoh and the sons of Islam and they will cleanse the land of Palestine….There will be no peace on Israel’s border because we demand vengeance, and vengeance is Israel’s death.”
As we stood at the Black Arrow Memorial, we saw balloons flying from Gaza in the distance then descend on fertile Israel fields and suddenly there was a blazing fire. We were witnesses to war. Over six decades later, the message from Gaza remains:
“…vengeance is Israel’s death.”
For more information on the English-Speaking Branch of the Association for the Wellbeing of Israel’s Soldiers, contact volunteer Ian Waldbaum at Tel: