Tea with Topol

By David E. Kaplan

If the 1999 movie ‘Tea with Mussolini’ with its all-star cast that included Maggie Smith, Judi Dench and Cher was a treat, it was not half the treat for this writer as having  – in the flesh – tea with Topol, Israel’s iconic award-winning movie star. I enjoyed this experience in 2010 when interviewing him as the editor for the Hilton Israel Magazine and thought back to this encounter after reading recently that there are plans for a remake of the Norman Jewison 1971 music classic “Fiddler on the Roof”. The lead role of Tevye was played by the inimitable Chaim Topol.

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Tea With Topol. The writer (right) with Chaim Topol enjoying tea during the interview at the Hilton Tel Aviv in 2010

One could understand the mixed responses reflected in today’s media – from jubilation to questioning “Why?” and even the accusation of “sacrilege”. While most would welcome the perpetuation of the musical message of  Sholem Aleichem’s shtetl tales of ‘Tevye the Dairyman’ trying to marry off his daughters to the best catch – but a remake?

While today the role of Tevye is considered synonymous with Topol, back in 1966, preceding the movie, the young Israeli had to audition for the role in the West End production of Fiddler and what is more, he knew very little English!

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A Star Is Born. Poster of Fiddler on the Roof with Chaim Topol as Teyve.

“My English vocabulary at the time consisted of a few words such as “hungry”, “tired”, “where”, “when” and “how much?”

What did he do?

“I quickly found myself an English teacher in Tel Aviv and for four days underwent a crash course; learnt all the Fiddler songs in English and then presented myself in London.”

How did it “play” out, I asked?

“Well, the agent came forward and took me in to meet the producers and the director and announced: “Mr Topol is here.”  It was quite bizarre – I had all these people not only looking at me but through me. I was thirty years old, clean shaven with a short haircut and they were gaping at me – mouths open.  “Where is the ‘old man’?” they were clearly thinking. They felt cheated.

“Anyway they told me to hop onto the stage – they could surprisingly see I was young enough to hop –  and sing. And sing I did. I started with “If I were a rich man”, followed by “Sabbath Prayer,” “Tradition”, “Anatevka”, and finally with “Sunrise, Sunset” and it was clear where this was going. Well versed in auditions, they usually stop you halfway through the first song as they quickly make up their minds one way or another.

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Quintessential Tevye. Topol as Tevye the Milkman.

“They like you,” whispered the agent between the third and the fourth song and it was evident I was no longer auditioning but entertaining. They had made up their minds and they were loving it!

“Where it got even more bizarre was when I finished, and they asked me how I had perfected these songs. Where do you know Fiddler from?”

Now it was my turn to be astonished.

“Don’t you know that I have been performing Tevye in Tel Aviv?”

“No, first we are hearing of it.”

“So how come you invited me from the stage in Tel Aviv to audition here in London?”

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If I Were A Rich Man.Topol as Teyve appealing to the Almighty: “Dear God, you made many, many poor people.…what would have been so terrible if I had a small fortune.”

And then one of the producers said, “Well, my secretary had seen your performance in Sallah Shabati, for which you won a Golden Globe and suggested we try “the old man from Tel Aviv.”

And this explained their gaping mouths during the initial introduction. They were expecting an 80-year-old man not the image before them of abounding energy with a Mediterranean suntan!

Topol’s performance in Fiddler on the Roof, earned him a Golden Globe for Best Actor and a nomination for the Oscar and the film went on to be seen by over a billion worldwide. “It was quite ironic,” notes Topol with his broad smile,  “that my portrayal of a Mizrachi Jewish immigrant in Sallach Shabati would lead to the most iconic Ashkenazi role of Tevye in Fiddler on the Roof.”

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Movie Magic. The 1964 satire about new immigrants Sallah Shabati with Topol in the lead became the most successful film in Israeli history until that time.

As a young teenager in Cape Town, South Africa, I recall the impression Topol as Tevye made on my parents who had seen the West End production in London in 1967, days before the outbreak of the Six Day War. They raved about it but no less memorable was their recollection when Topol announced from the stage that this:

 “Will be my last performance as I am leaving for Israel – my country  is about to be engulfed in war.”

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Israel Calling! A young Chaim Topol at the time of the West End production shortly before the Six Day War in 1967.

Only a little over two decades after the Holocaust, the future of the Jewish people was again threatened and uncertain and the eyes of global Jewry was on the Middle East as Israel stood alone against the mighty armies of the Arab world about to invade from all fronts.

Topol’s rendition of “Sunrise, Sunset” took on a more poignant meaning as did the theme of the production.  For while Tevye must cope with the strong-willed actions of his three older daughters, who wished to marry for love with each one’s choice of a husband moving further away from the customs of their Jewish faith and heritage, there lurked a far greater concern. Near the end of the musical, the Tzar’s constable arrives in the Shtetl of “Anatevka” telling everyone that they have three days to pack up and leave.

From Tevye in 1906 to Topol in 1967 the nature of Jewish destiny – from pogrom to war –  remained a crying constant!

Did Topol at the time realise that Fiddler would turn out to be such a success and the turning point in his career?

“No, not at all. Let me tell you a story. A well-known local TV producer in England, who was not Jewish, met me at a party just before the opening and said “Topol, if I had enough money I would buy the show and close it down. I would rather it closed before it opened. It’s not going to be good to present this image of Jews.” He was genuinely concerned.

“Then, after the rousing response of the opening night, he came backstage and said, “Yes, okay, you had a mostly Jewish audience tonight, so they laughed and cried, but wait until you are left with the normal theater-going crowd. I give you two months – tops, no more?”

“Well, after three months he brought his parents and they too cried and laughed and he came backstage with them after the performance and said, “Damn good, bloody damn good. Would you like to appear on my TV show and sing some of the songs?”

Not only his viewers but the people the world over enjoyed its universal appeal.

“It touched people. Think of it, we took the show to Japan, a totally different culture with a tiny Jewish community and the people there loved it. It is interesting the impact that entertainment can have on people.

“When I left on the El Al plane on the first day of the Six Day War with doctors and other returning Israelis, who do you think came up begging me with tears in his eyes to take him along?  None other than the same British TV producer who had initially dismissed Fiddler as too parochial and then inviting me onto his show! Something about Fiddler had changed his perceptions and perspective. Of course, I could not get him on that flight but that didn’t stop him. He found his own way and on the third day of the War, he arrived in Israel and stayed for six months.”

 Regarding an earlier war, Israel’s War of Independence in 1948, Topol spoke about his part in another blockbuster, Cast a Giant Shadow, filmed in Israel and starring Kirk Douglas, Frank Sinatra, Yul Brynner, Senta Berger and John Wayne. “Even Kirk’s young son Michael Douglas appeared in this film, as a jeep driver. “

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Touch Of Topol. Class cameo role for Topol as Sheik Abou Ibn Kader (right) with Kirk Douglas (centre) in Israel’s War of Independence movie, ‘Cast a Giant Shadow’.

This film was also very personal for Topol.

“I was raised on kibbutz Mishmar David, named after the hero of this movie Col. David (Mickey) Marcus, an American officer who came to fight and command our forces in our War of Independence. His portrait stared at us every day in the cheder ochel (dining room). Most of the action and the tragic end of Mickey took place in the area where I lived.”

Topol took the part of an Arab, Sheik Abou Ibn Kader and “we had a scene where we were standing around a map that Mickey Marcus – played by Kirk – had drawn in the sand relating to an impending battle. Kirk was holding forth, “You will attack from here, and you will come in from there and so on,” when I interrupted by mucking up the map and saying something to the effect that you are talking nonsense. Someone then asked: “Why are you listening to him?”

My line in response as the Sheik was:

“If one of my men spoke to me that way I would take out my knife and make him a eunuch.”

Well, Yul did not approve of this line and made a noise by scraping something so that the sound engineer asked me to repeat the line. Again Yul made a noise, and this went on and on.

The director argued with Yul but you try stopping the man that led The Magnificent Seven! Everyone was laughing and in the end the director gave up as we could not waste any more time.

Time on a set is money.

Weeks later, after we finished filming, I received a call to come to London for one reason only – to dub over the one line: “If one of my men spoke to me that way I would take out my knife and make him a eunuch.” There is no shortage of reasons to visit London, but this was a first and I have no doubt will remain so!”

To the question of dealing with the trappings of stardom, Topol replied:

“Easy. Look at me. I am as you see me – a casual Israeli. I was not born into a tux (tuxedo). When I attended Hollywood parties, I felt I was on stage – another role to play. They probably thought me a bit of a bore as I never drank or smoked. Mia Farrow, who I co-starred with on The Public Eye, tried to get me to join her downing beers with chasers. I had to disappoint her. I preferred my mint tea just like I am drinking now.”

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Delightful Duo. A romantic comedy with Mia Farrow and Topol.

So while Topol has never throughout his illustrious career been short of good roles, the role that tops it all was without doubt, Tevye in Fiddler on the Roof.

A billion people could not all be wrong!

On concluding the interview, how fitting on the walk from the lounge to the elevator, Topol broke into the Fiddler melody, “Sunrise, Sunset”.

“Is this the little girl I carried?
Is this the little boy at play?
I don’t remember growing older,
When did they?
When did she get to be a beauty?
When did he grow to be so tall?
Wasn’t it yesterday when they were small?
Sunrise sunset, sunrise, sunset,
Swiftly flow the days,
Seedlings turn overnight to sunflowers,
Blossoming even as they gaze…
Sunrise sunset,…”

 

 

 

 

While the mission of Lay Of The Land (LOTL) is to provide a wide and diverse perspective of affairs in Israel, the Middle East and the Jewish world, the opinions, beliefs and viewpoints expressed by its various writers are not necessarily ones of the owners and management of LOTL but of the writers themselves.  LOTL endeavours to the best of its ability to credit the use of all known photographs to the photographer and/or owner of such photographs

Heroes for life – Changing lives around the world!

By Rolene Marks

For many young Israelis, service to others is part of their DNA. In fact, Israel is renowned for its incredible spirit of volunteerism and you would be hard pressed to find anyone who doesn’t give of their time and energy in some form or another. Also part of the Israeli culture is compulsory service in the army and for many finishing their time in uniform, the question remains – what do you do when you finish serving your country? The solution is simple.  You take what you have experienced and learnt, and serve communities around the world.

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Return To Roots. A Heroes for Life volunteer Belihon Elbatzau connecting with youngsters in his place of  birth neighbourhood  in Gondar/Ethiopia  (Photo: Lior Sperandeo)

This is what many who have served their compulsory time in the IDF (Israel Defense Forces) do once their service is over.  A year of travel and exploration is just what is needed after three years of compulsory service for males and two to three years for females. After stringent routines and following orders, losing yourself amongst the wonders of the world is a welcome respite.

Many escape to the serene hills and mountains of Nepal, or to the exotic jungles of South America and Ashrams of India to explore new territories and cultures and fall in love with the people they meet.

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True Colours. Heroes for Life volunteers painting in a village in Nepal. Photo: courtesy

Travelling to far off destinations where many of the inhabitants live below the poverty line or in areas where they are disadvantaged has an impact on the lives of these former soldiers who want to share their knowledge and expertise and uplift the people that they meet.

This is where Heroes for Life is making a significant difference.

Heroes for Life is an extraordinary organization that has a simple vision – to turn Israel into a superpower of helping developing countries, notably of running volunteer humanitarian projects in four different countries across the world. They want to help others through Tikkun Olam (fixing the world) and strengthen the image of Israel and the IDF around the world.

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Israel Cares. Heroes for Life volunteers Ofir Shalgy and Guy Arnon with children at a South African orphanage. (Photo: courtesy)

Heroes for Life, was founded in 2013 by three IDF officers who had served in the same elite unit. Like most soldiers, they travelled once they had completed their army service. After witnessing the gross poverty in some of the countries that they visited, they decided to start an organization founded on a very simple principle –  help make the world a better place.

And so far, they are exceeding expectations!

From Gondar in Ethiopia to Buenos Aires in Argentina, Israel’s finest sons and daughters are fulfilling a different kind of mission – Tikkun Olam. The aim was to initially start off with four countries but this has expanded rapidly and they are now improving lives in six. In September 2018, Heroes for Life began to work with blind and mute children in Mexico, helping to teach English, math and basic life skills, like personal hygiene. A similar project already exists in Kathmandu, Nepal.

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Making A Difference In Mexico. Heroes for Life volunteer teachers in a rural village in Mexico. Photo: courtesy

Mission In Life

Back in 2015, Heroes for Life inaugurated a project in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Every December, volunteers travel to the slums of San Fernando in Buenos Aires. Volunteering lasts for two weeks and is focused on educational activities with children from the slum. Volunteers engage in renovation and painting projects that are planned and executed by the delegation (for example the delegation of 2015, built a dining room for the children of the neighbourhood) and teaching children a variety of classes such as English, math, music, life values and principles and personal hygiene.  This is similar to what Heroes for Life have done in Mumbai, India. Volunteers also repaired a shelter-residence in 2018 in Guatemala City, Guatemala.

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Helping Hand. A Heroes for Life volunteer and a new young friend in Argentina. Photo: courtesy

These soldiers do not expect ‘thank-you’s’ and recognition – the work and happy faces is all the reward that they need but their projects have caught the interest of the global media. Heroes for Life has been featured in the media from Argentina to the Arab world proving that the ethos of the IDF which is to respect human life is a message that transcends borders.

For these everyday heroes, it looks like it is mission accomplished.

For more information about Heroes for Life visit: http://hfl.org.il/en/

 

 

 

 

While the mission of Lay Of The Land (LOTL) is to provide a wide and diverse perspective of affairs in Israel, the Middle East and the Jewish world, the opinions, beliefs and viewpoints expressed by its various writers are not necessarily ones of the owners and management of LOTL but of the writers themselves.  LOTL endeavours to the best of its ability to credit the use of all known photographs to the photographer and/or owner of such photographs

Lay of the Land Weekly Newsletter – 11 JUNE 2020

Unveiling the contours and contrasts of an ever-changing Middle East landscape

Reliable reportage and insightful commentary on the Middle East by seasoned journalists from the region and beyond

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The Israel Brief  

 

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What’s happening in Israel today?  See this week’s daily ‘The Israel Brief’ broadcasts on LOTL  YouTube by seasoned TV & radio broadcaster, Rolene Marks familiar to Chai FM listeners in South Africa and millions of American listeners to the News/Talk/Sports radio station WINA broadcasting out of Charlottesville, Virginia. You can subscribe to LOTL news from Israel and enjoy at a time of your convenience.

The Israel Brief- 08 – 11 June 2020

 

Articles

(1)

Israel at a Crossroad

To Annex or not to Annex?

By David E. Kaplan

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Is there an agreement that Israelis and Palestinians can shake on?

With the country evenly divided on whether to annex parts of the West Bank/Judea & Samaria as early as July 2020, considering the ramifications and repercussions, should there be more reflection before proceeding too hastily?

https://layoftheland.online/2020/06/10/israel-at-a-crossroad/

(2)

No, Israel Isn’t A Country Of Privileged And Powerful White Europeans

By Hen Mazzig

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Israel At Face Value. Smiling youngsters from the mass immigration to Israel from Africa.

The writer of Iraqi and North African descent, takes issue with a global misrepresentation of Israel as “a colonialist extension of Europe” when only “30% of Israeli Jews are descendants of European Jews”. Are the misrepresentations a calculated strategic campaign to taint Israel as an extension of a “privileged and powerful white Europe”, thereby justifying any attacks on it?

https://layoftheland.online/2020/06/08/no-israel-isnt-a-country-of-privileged-and-powerful-white-europeans/

 

 (3)

The Arab Voice

Arab writers from the Middle East and beyond, weigh in on the economic crisis facing countries in the region and the proposed plan of Israeli annexation

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https://layoftheland.online/2020/06/10/the-arab-voice-june-2020/

 

 

 

 

While the mission of Lay Of The Land (LOTL) is to provide a wide and diverse perspective of affairs in Israel, the Middle East and the Jewish world, the opinions, beliefs and viewpoints expressed by its various writers are not necessarily ones of the owners and management of LOTL but of the writers themselves.  LOTL endeavours to the best of its ability to credit the use of all known photographs to the photographer and/or owner of such photographs

The Israel Brief- 08 – 11 June 2020

 

The Israel Brief -08 June 2020 – Israel COVID Update. Annexation protests. Killer of Sgt. Amit Ben Yigal caught.

 

 

 

The Israel Brief -09 June 2020 – COVID updates. Gantz to visit Jordan. Argentina adopts IHRA definition of antisemitism.

 

 

 

The Israel Brief -10 June 2020 – COVID updates. High Court ruling on settlements puts a spanner in annexation. Israeli police spokesperson pushes back against far left blaming Israel for tactics that killed George Floyd.

 

 

 

The Israel Brief -11 June 2020 – COVID updates. Netanyahu meets Maas. New Ambassador to UK announced.

 

 

 

 

 

 

While the mission of Lay Of The Land (LOTL) is to provide a wide and diverse perspective of affairs in Israel, the Middle East and the Jewish world, the opinions, beliefs and viewpoints expressed by its various writers are not necessarily ones of the owners and management of LOTL but of the writers themselves.  LOTL endeavours to the best of its ability to credit the use of all known photographs to the photographer and/or owner of such photographs

 

 

 

 

 

The Arab Voice – June 2020

Arab writers from the Middle East and beyond,  weigh in on the economic crisis facing countries in the region and the proposed plan of Israeli annexation

 

Now Is Not The Time For Chants About Jerusalem!

By Kheir Allah Kheir Allah

Al-Arab, London, May 29

Despite the chants coming from senior members of Hezbollah, who vow that we will all soon be praying in Jerusalem, there is only one truth in the region, at least in the foreseeable future: Israel was, and still is, the sovereign in Jerusalem. And it is not going to vanish overnight. There is, unfortunately, nothing other than this reality. Announcing that we will pray in al-Aqsa will not change the truth.

Before Hassan Nasrallah and his aides prepare to pray in Jerusalem, it is necessary to look at some figures related to Syria and Lebanon.

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Breaking The Bank. Anti-government protesters smash a window of a Lebanese bank during protests against the deepening financial crisis at Hamra trade street, in Beirut, Lebanon, January 14, 2020. (Hussein Malla/AP)

Today, 86% of Syrians live below the poverty line, while Iran considers how to recover the estimated $30 billion it spent in the country to protect the Bashar Assad regime. Syria needs at least $500b. to rebuild itself.

Who exactly is going to come to Syria’s help, given the current financial crisis caused by the coronavirus epidemic and the drop in the price of oil? Frankly, no one.

In parallel to the figures coming out of Syria, we’re also witnessing alarming figures in Lebanon. The Lebanese banking sector is quite literally on the verge of collapse, and the country’s education system is about to be obliterated. People who want to pray in Jerusalem forget that hunger and poverty threaten a million Lebanese citizens.

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Crumbling Buildings To Crumbling Currency. A Syrian man holds up a 2,000-pound banknote, featuring President Bashar Assad, in front of damaged buildings, in Duma, Syria. (Mohammed Badra / EPA)

This is what the regional director of the World Food Program and his representative in Lebanon, Abdullah al-Wardat, warned of. Wardat said that a million Lebanese are at risk of falling below the food poverty line this year, noting that the program is preparing to provide emergency food assistance to support some 50,000 Lebanese families exposed to the repercussions of the current economic crises.

Yes, before praying in Jerusalem, there is hunger, there is suffering, there is death, and there is a need for real political leadership that speaks truth to its people. Syria and Lebanon are in shambles. Nevertheless, there are those who want to pray in Jerusalem.

This does not mean, of course, that the Israeli occupation of the holy city can be justified. It also does not mean that we should condone Israel’s desire to perpetuate its occupation of Jerusalem and the West Bank. But before delivering promises to pray in Jerusalem, it might be wiser to think of ways to avoid a disaster in Lebanon and Syria. The numbers don’t lie. They show the raw and harsh truth unfolding around us. People must confront these figures before making empty promises.

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State Of Syria. A Syrian laments the steep drop in his country’s currency at a festival in Damascus. (Louai Beshara/AFP/Getty Images)

Turning Israel into a ploy or a distraction undermines the magnitude of both our problems at home, as well as the plight of the Palestinian people.

Kheir Allah Kheir Allah

(Translated from Arabic into English by Asaf Zilberfarb)

 

PA Counter-proposal to US Peace Plan Calls for Demilitarized State

 By Mohammad Al-Kassim

The Media Line, 09 June 2020

PM Shtayyeh: Israel must ‘face the consequences’ over Netanyahu’s planned annexations in West Bank.

The Palestinian Authority will declare an independent, demilitarized state in the entire West Bank and Gaza Strip, with parts of Jerusalem as its capital, if Israel goes forward with plans to annex parts of the West Bank, PA Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh said on Tuesday.

This would mean the transition from “a temporary authority” to “the imposition of a state on the ground, and Palestine will be a state along the pre-1967 borders and its capital will be East Jerusalem,” he told members of the foreign press in Ramallah.

Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu says annexation could start as early as July 1. If so, Shtayyeh said the PA would make a “constitutional announcement” and establish a “constituent assembly,” saying that Israel would have to face the consequences.

Annexation “would kill any possibility of peace with Israel,” he explained, and erode “the Palestinian, regional and international consensus” on a two-state solution. Israel, he warned, must now “feel the heat of international pressure.”

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Anxiety Over Annexation. Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh addresses the issue of annexation on Palestine TV, June 8, 2020 (Screenshot of Palestine TV)

He said the PA had sent a plan for Palestinian statehood to the Middle East Quartet – the United Nations, the United States, the European Union and Russia − in response to the Trump Administration’s own peace plan, which sees as much as 30% of the West Bank being annexed by Israel.

“We submitted a counter-proposal to the Quartet a few days ago,” Shtayyeh said.

The PA plan provides for the creation of a “sovereign Palestinian state, independent and demilitarized,” with “minor modifications of borders where necessary,” he noted.

Responding to a question from The Media Line, the PA prime minister insisted that the EU’s backing for the Palestinians was solid.

“We know the decision-making process in Europe is complicated. European decision-making is built on consensus. And we know that there are one or two countries in Europe who are not in line with others,” he stated.

“But I want to assure you,” he continued, “that it’s the first time that European decision-makers are actually debating two things: One is sanctions on Israel and freezing… agreements, as well as cancelling some research programs…. The second thing being discussed in Europe is recognizing Palestine. These measures are important to us because at the end of the day, we have to break the status quo. For us, this is not lip service.”

Shtayyeh made clear that the PA was not going anywhere.

“On the issue of dissolving the Palestinian Authority, look, let’s not fool ourselves: The PA is not a gift from anybody. The PA came into being because of the sacrifices of the Palestinian people since 1965 [when the PLO began its militancy campaign]. So we are not waiting for somebody to give us less or more. It’s not a gift. And you don’t give a gift back,” he said.

He called the PA a “national interest” for Palestinians.

“For us, the issue is not to dissolve the PA, throw away the keys and go home,” he explained. “But if Israel wants to destroy the Authority with the measures it is taking, we know how to resist it. And that is why I’m saying that the status quo cannot be maintained.”

Shtayyeh called Israeli annexation an “existential threat” for the Palestinians.

“It’s a serious violation of signed agreements between us and Israel, a total breach of international law. It’s a threat to regional security, in particular to Jordan, and it is part of the systematic destruction of a future Palestinian state,” he said.

“Frankly, this peace process has a reached a serious impasse,” he continued, “and I think the situation is irreversible.”

Shtayyeh told a packed hall of reporters from around the world that Israel had already implemented small steps on the ground in the Jordan Valley in preparation for annexation.

“There are a number of measures that Israel started to take [in order] to implement its annexation plan,” he stated.

“First, they started sending utility bills to the people and villages in the Jordan Valley – electricity and water… and the sign that usually says ‘Beyond this point is Palestinian Authority domain’ has been removed,” he said.

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Is This Water Under The Bridge? The previous coordinator of government activities in the territories (COGAT) Maj. Gen. Yoav Mordechai (left) and the Palestinian Authority’s Civil Affairs Minister Hussein al-Sheikh sign an agreement to revitalize the Israeli-Palestinian Joint Water Committee in 2017. (Courtesy COGAT)

On Monday, a demonstration by about 500 people took place in downtown Ramallah against Israel’s annexation plans.

“The anger is there, the dissatisfaction is there, the frustration is there, and all that is a recipe for more problems,” Shtayyeh said.

He reaffirmed the PA’s position against Washington’s involvement in the peace process.

“The whole world has been waiting for President [Donald] Trump to come up with an initiative,” the prime minister said. “He came up with a proposal that has been totally rejected by the Palestinians, the Arabs, the Europeans [and] the rest of the world. Even Israel objects to certain elements.”

Shtayyeh believes a new approach to peace is necessary.

“There has to be a serious paradigm shift, from bilateralism to multilateralism,” he stated. “We want a serious break of the monopoly of Washington over the process. Washington cannot be an honest broker. You need a different broker. An international mechanism.”

Israel would not have moved in the direction of annexation without US approval, he added.

“Unfortunately, annexation has been based on maps provided by the Trump Administration,” he said, “so the maps provide some sort of [American] legitimacy to the Israelis.”

Mohammad Al-Kassim

(Translated from Arabic into English by Asaf Zilberfarb)

 

Barack Obama And The Middle East Revolutions

By Hassan Al-Mustafa

Al-Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, May 26

I was asked a lot about the reason for which former US president Barack Obama was blind in his support for the Arab revolutions, a characteristic of his presidency that almost destroyed his country’s relations with the Arab world.

The short answer to this question is that in Obama’s worldview, spreading freedom and democracy is paramount to anything else. Indeed, Obama’s worldview was shaped directly by the writings of scholars like Fareed Zakaria who believe that in order to fight terrorism, the Western world must first understand the reasons for its emergence. According to Zakaria, terrorism occurs due to the absence of democracy and the presence of oppression at the hands of dictatorial regimes. This idea clearly appealed to Obama, leading him to support the Arab revolutions with full force.

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Strategizing At The Sphinx. President Obama during a tour of the Great Pyramids of Giza following his Cairo speech in June 2009 lending his support to the youthful revolutionaries. (MANDEL NGAN / AFP-GETTY IMAGES)

Was Zakaria’s idea correct? Have the Arab revolutions succeeded in bringing freedom and democracy to the Middle East, thereby eliminating terrorism?

The answer here is very obvious. It suffices to look at the Muslim Brotherhood, the biggest winner of these revolutions, which failed miserably in governance in both Tunisia and Egypt.

The most ironic part is that this failure could be attributed, in large part, to the strong tailwinds and backing that the movement received from leaders like Obama. In trying to eradicate terrorism through support and containment, Obama may have only helped spread terrorism. In seeking to replace one dictatorship with another, his vision for the Middle East was doomed to fail from the very beginning.

Hassan Al-Mustafa

(Translated by Asaf Zilberfarb)

 

 

 

While the mission of Lay Of The Land (LOTL) is to provide a wide and diverse perspective of affairs in Israel, the Middle East and the Jewish world, the opinions, beliefs and viewpoints expressed by its various writers are not necessarily ones of the owners and management of LOTL but of the writers themselves.  LOTL endeavours to the best of its ability to credit the use of all known photographs to the photographer and/or owner of such photographs

 

 

Israel at a Crossroad

To Annex or not to Annex?

By David E. Kaplan

Annexation will mean Apartheid,” warns Benjamin Pogrund, a former South African living in Jerusalem since the 1990s and who was a great friend and ally of anti-Apartheid icon Nelson Mandela and a courageous crusader with the pen against Apartheid. Why is this voice sounding alarm today so important? Simply put,  a respected political analyst who has the proven moral stature earning his spurs in some of the darkest days in the struggle against Apartheid, Pogrund has consistently, persuasively, and publicly, resisted the comparison of past South African Apartheid with the present political landscape in Israel. Despite taking flak – in sometimes disrespectful language –  he persistently argues in books and articles and lectures in many countries that whatever inequalities or injustices transpires in the West Bank it is NOT Apartheid.

That is today; tomorrow has him worried!

It also has worried many of the Middle East countries that Israel has successfully improved relations with – a champion achievement. These moderate Arab countries are sounding alarm bells of the consequences of a unilateral annexation in large parts of the West Bank without offering Israeli citizenship to the Palestinians who live in these areas.

Joel C. Rosenberg writing in The Jerusalem Post writes, ( June 2) reveals that “Not a single one of my Arab contacts are telling me they will be fine with Israeli annexation. To the contrary, all of them are telling me this will seriously rupture relations with Israel. What’s more, they are baffled by the timing.”

Citing an Arab official in a Gulf state:

I can’t understand why Israel is doing this now. Arab relations with Israel are so good, better than ever. The prospect of historic breakthroughs with the Gulf states are improving every day. The last thing we need is new tensions with the Israelis. We have too much on our plates. The COVID crisis has been devastating. Our attention is totally focused on protecting the health of our people and re-opening our economies. Who benefits from creating a new crisis now?”

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Mutual Cooperation. Through crises of security to health, cooperation between Palestinians and Israelis continue as seen here with Palestinian health workers handling a Coronavirus test sample of Palestinian workers as they cross back from Israel at a checkpoint in Tarqumiya on March 25, 2020. (Wisam Hashlamoun/Flash90)

Also worried over the Israeli government’s plans to annex parts of the West Bank are some of the most prominent and respected names in British Jewry, saying such a move would be an existential threat to Israel. Among 40 signatories expressing “concern and alarm” in an unprecedented letter to Mark Regev, Israel’s Ambassador to the UK, are:

Sir Ben Helfgott, one of the best-known Holocaust survivors in Britain; the historians Sir Simon Schama and Simon Sebag Montefiore; the former Conservative foreign secretary Sir Malcolm Rifkind; the lawyer Anthony Julius; the philanthropist Dame Vivien Duffield; the scientist Lord Robert Winston; the former MP Luciana Berger; the Times columnist Daniel Finkelstein and the author Howard Jacobson.

The signatories assure that their concerns are “shared by large numbers of the British Jewish community, including many in its current leadership, even if they choose not to express them”.

Writing as “committed Zionists and passionately outspoken friends of Israel,” they fail  to see the annexation as “a constructive step.”

Rather, they view it instead, as  “a pyrrhic victory intensifying Israel’s political, diplomatic and economic challenges without yielding any tangible benefit.”

Noting the “grave consequences for the Palestinian people”, they warn that Israel’s international standing would suffer as the annexations would be  “incompatible with the notion of Israel as both a Jewish and democratic state.”

Why so? Primarily because annexing land and not its population has been tried before and we know where that ended up!

Apart from the damage to Israel’s international reputation – pointing out that the UK government will oppose the annexation plan and would bolster calls for boycotts and sanctions against Israel –  the signatories  further warn of “The impact on diaspora Jewry and its relationship with the state of Israel.”  They counsel that “The British Jewish community is an overwhelmingly Zionist community with a passionate commitment to Israel. We proudly advocate for Israel but have been helped in doing so by Israel’s status as a liberal democracy, defending itself as necessary but committed to maintaining both its Jewish and democratic status.”

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Seeking Solution. Is there a way forward for Palestinians and Israelis to forge a genuine peace?

This is a serious warning from serious people – Jews and Zionists committed to Israel’s destiny – physically, spiritually and ideologically.

Hard-hitting, the letter concludes  that this policy “not only lacks merit but would pose an existential threat to the traditions of Zionism in Britain, and to Israel as we know it.”

While it would come as little surprise for the EU to condemn such a move, individual European nations are making headline news in pressurising Israel to nix annexation, notably Germany, one of Israel’s staunchest friends and a supporter in the EU. The German Foreign Minister, Heiko Maas, FM is expected to visit Israel shortly to warn against annexation. There is little doubt that if Israel proceeds as the Prime Minister is so indicating, the pressure for sanctions will mount, and Israeli diplomacy will instantly shift from an advance position  – a success that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu can deservedly take huge credit for –  to one of defence.

Is this what the Israeli public want and is prepared for?

Of course, there will be those supporters of annexation who would argue, like Brutus in Shakespeare’s’ Julius Caesar that:

 “There is a tide in the affairs of men.
Which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune
.”

In other words, Israel has a window of opportunity with a supportive American administration, so best to act now than wait and lose the initiative.

As Brutus hammers home to point:

 “And we must take the current when it serves,
Or lose our ventures.”

While these wise words may impress theatre audiences, for Brutus it would lead him to perish at the Battle of Philippi.

It proved “A march of folly”, typically where leaders pursue policies contrary to their own interests.

Are Israelis, who must endure the consequences, prepared to take the risk?

At least half of the country’s people think not as reflected in a recent poll by the Israel Democracy Institute think-tank. While some in the media chose to headline, “Half of Israelis support annexing parts of the West Bank’, it no less meant that half do not or have serious doubts.

Houses in the Israeli settlement of settlement of Kedumim are seen in the Israeli-occupied West Bank
Close Encounters. Can Israeli settlements and neighbouring Arab villages find a way forward for a prosperous and secure future for all?

This was further evidenced by the thousands of Israelis Jews and Arabs who protested at Rabin Square last Saturday night against the proposed annexation.

And what of the financial implications?

As reported in The Jerusalem Post on the June 9, David Brodt, a former Finance Ministry director-general, warns that the cost to annex parts of the West Bank would cost the Israeli taxpayer NIS 67 billion per year. He bases his dire prediction using a small representative group of the Palestinian population that will potentially be included in the annexation focusing on the increases to the budget of the National Insurance Institute, the Education Ministry and the Welfare Ministry.

As with the costs of the Corona crisis that was not anticipated and hence unpredictable, what would be the added costs to security in the case of heightened tensions?

As Israel marches hastily into a future of unknown consequences, would it not be prudent that “We, the people…” collectively think through the plan so that if and when annexation may take place, it occurs not in haste but after thoughtful consideration?

Is that too much to ask for?

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While the mission of Lay Of The Land (LOTL) is to provide a wide and diverse perspective of affairs in Israel, the Middle East and the Jewish world, the opinions, beliefs and viewpoints expressed by its various writers are not necessarily ones of the owners and management of LOTL but of the writers themselves.  LOTL endeavours to the best of its ability to credit the use of all known photographs to the photographer and/or owner of such photographs

 

No, Israel isn’t a country of privileged and powerful white Europeans

By Hen Mazzig

This article was originally published in the LA Times and is republished with kind permission.

 Along with resurgent identity politics in the United States and Europe, there is a growing inclination to frame the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in terms of race. According to this narrative, Israel was established as a refuge for oppressed white European Jews who in turn became oppressors of people of colour, the Palestinians.

As an Israeli, and the son of an Iraqi Jewish mother and North African Jewish father, it’s gut-wrenching to witness this shift.

I am Mizrahi, as are the majority of Jews in Israel today. We are of Middle Eastern and North African descent. Only about 30% of Israeli Jews are Ashkenazi or the descendants of European Jews. I am baffled as to why mainstream media and politicians around the world ignore or misrepresent these facts and the Mizrahi story. Perhaps it’s because our history shatters a stereotype about the identity of my country and my people.

Israel, the world’s only Jewish state, was not established for just one type of Jew but for all Jews, from every part of the world — the Middle East, North Africa, Ethiopia, Asia and, yes, Europe. No matter where Jews physically reside, they maintain a connection to the land of Israel, where our story started and where today we continue to craft it.

The likes of Women’s March activist Tamika Mallory, Temple University professor Marc Lamont Hill and, more recently, Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) falsify reality in their discussions of Palestinians’ “intersectional” struggle, their use of the term “Apartheid” to characterize Israeli policy, and their tendency to define Israelis as Ashkenazi Jews alone.

No, Israel isn’t a country of privileged and powerful white Europeans1

 

I believe their misrepresentations are part of a strategic campaign to taint Israel as an extension of privileged and powerful white Europe, thereby justifying any and all attacks on it. This way of thinking signals a dangerous trend that positions Israel as a colonialist aggressor rather than a haven for those fleeing oppression. Worse, it all but erases the story of my family, which came to Israel from Iraq and Tunisia.

For most of history, the Mizrahim have been without sovereignty and equality in the Muslim world. In Iraq, despite being “equal citizens” on paper, my family experienced ongoing persecution. The first organized attack came in 1941, the brutal Farhud, a Nazi-incited riot that claimed the lives of hundreds of Jews and forced the survivors to live in fear. My great-grandfather was falsely accused of being a Zionist spy and executed in Baghdad in 1951. My mother’s family was permitted to emigrate that same year, but with only one suitcase.

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From Roots To Riots. Nazi influence in Baghdad fanned anti-Semitic sentiments inciting riots that claimed the lives of hundreds of Jews who had lived in Iraq since Babylonian times. The writer’s great-grandfather was falsely accused of being a Zionist spy and executed in Baghdad in 1951.

Any erasure of the Mizrahi experience negates the lives of 850,000 Jewish refugees just like them, who, even in the successor states to the Ottoman Empire of the early 20th century, were treated as “dhimmis,” an Arabic term for a protected minority whose members pay for that protection, which can be withdrawn at any time. Demographic ignorance also works to deny the existence of almost 200,000 descendants of Ethiopian Jews who were threatened by political destabilization in the early 1990s and airlifted to Israel in a daring rescue operation.

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Flight To Freedom. Jewish immigrants from Iraq arrive in Israel in 1951. (Photo: Government Press Office)

One of Judaism’s central themes is a story of national liberation in the face of imperial powers. Israel is a place where an indigenous people have reclaimed their land and revived their ancient language, despite being surrounded by hostile neighbours and hounded by radicalized Arab nationalists who cannot tolerate any political entity in the region other than their own. Jews that were expelled from nations across the Middle East, who sacrificed all they had, have been crucial in building and defending the Jewish state since its outset.

Without a doubt, the creation of Israel provided a haven for Jews who survived the Holocaust and extreme oppression in Europe. However, we cannot acknowledge that history at the expense of Mizrahi Jews, who with so many others, regardless of skin colour, shared the desire for a Jewish state long before the establishment of Israel.

 

 

About the writer:

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Hen Mazzig, an Israeli writer and activist of Iraqi and North African descent, is editor-at-large at the J’accuse Coalition for Justice. @HenMazzig

LAY OF THE LAND WEEKLY NEWSLETTER – 5 JUNE 2020

Unveiling the contours and contrasts of an ever-changing Middle East landscape

Reliable reportage and insightful commentary on the Middle East by seasoned journalists from the region and beyond

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Articles

(1)

A Walk In The Park

With man frequently at war with nature, not so Israeli sculptor whose art finds harmony with the surrounding environment

By David E. Kaplan

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Monumental Marvel. Dani Karavan’s “White Square” on the crest of a hill at Edith Wolfson Park in Tel Aviv.

Blending sculpture, architecture and the landscape into unique and monumental pieces,  Dani Karavan’s “White Square” at a park in Tel Aviv, is an ode to the essence and spirit of his city, depicting its history, reflecting its ethos and engaging its people, especially young children.

https://layoftheland.online/2020/06/02/a-walk-in-the-park/

 

(2)

The Intersection of Hatred

By Rolene Marks

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Murder In Minnesota. Memorial to George Floyd at the spot where he was murdered by Minneapolis police.

As Israelis join in the global protests against racism in the USA following the murder “in plain sight” of George Floyd by four white policemen, the writer explores how this horrific murder is being exploited by nefarious organizations to blame Israel and why American synagogues are suddenly being viciously targeted.

https://layoftheland.online/2020/06/04/the-intersection-of-hatred/

 

(3)

The City of Jaffa is in the State of Israel!

Open letter by Stephen Schulman

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A Pint In Palestine? Not exactly; these restaurants and pubs are in the ancient port of Jaffa in Israel.

While South African food journalist Ayesha Mukadam sadly laments “lost traditions” relating to dishes in her Muslim community in Cape Town, she has little problem in “losing”  facts of history and geography, when she shares a recipe in her article in the Daily Maverick from a resident from Jaffa who she describes is “from Palestine” instead of Israel. Stephen Schulman takes issue in an open letter to the newspaper.

https://layoftheland.online/2020/06/01/the-city-of-jaffa-is-in-the-state-of-israel/

 

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LOTL Cofounders David E. Kaplan (Editor), Rolene Marks and Yair Chelouche

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The Intersection of Hatred

By Rolene Marks

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“I Can’t Breathe”. George Floyd’s last words have become the slogan of global protests.

George Floyd. Remember his name. George Floyd was murdered. We all watched him lynched before our very eyes as a police officer, Derek Chauvin, knelt for nine minutes with this knee on Floyd’s neck. Crying that he could not breathe, pleading for his mother while 3 other officers stood by and did nothing. They preferred that the crowd disperse, rather than stopping the carnage.  Bystanders called out in horror and paramedics begged to help him, to no avail and no mercy.  Floyd who was in police custody for allegedly using a counterfeit $20 dollar note to pay for a purchase, died. He died before our eyes in some sick kind of murder pornography film.

Sadly, George Floyd is another name added to the increasing list of black men and women who have died as a result of police brutality in the United States of America. The role of the police is to serve and protect and Chauvin and his 3 accomplices have made an ever increasing chasm between civilians and law enforcement worse, much worse.

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And people are angry. All over the United States and across major cities around the world, including Tel Aviv in Israel, people are taking to the streets to say enough is enough. This needs to end. Some protests are extremely peaceful. There have been very moving images of people of all races embracing each other and police officials laying down their “arms” to hug protesters and march alongside them.

But many of these images are not peaceful at all. The images are shocking. Cities are being looted and businesses have been destroyed. Crowds are turning against each other and the police in rage and at least 11 people have lost their lives in vain.

This has created an opportunity for the most insidious to stir up even more racial tension. There have been several accounts of white supremacists infiltrating so that they can physically act out their racist prejudices.

ISRAEL-US-POLITICS-RACE-UNREST
Solidarity From Israel. Demonstrators in support of US protesters over the death of George Floyd on June 2, 2020, in Tel Aviv. (Photo by JACK GUEZ / AFP)

This has not been limited to the right. Far left ideologues like Antifa (the self-proclaimed anti-Fascist movement) and the Boycott Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement have joined and stirred the ranks of looters and chaos mongers. At the outset of the protests, these opportunistic hate-groups managed to instigate violence, looting and destroying businesses. These businesses provide much needed employment in an economic climate that has been dealt a significant blow as a result of Coronavirus shutdowns.

Just as nefarious has been the exploiting and hijacking of the memory of George Floyd and the pain felt by many for their own political agendas. BDS used the opportunity to take to social media and allege that Israel is to blame for the methods used by Chauvin to kill George Floyd. They blamed Israeli counter-terror training used around the world for the methods used by Chauvin. There is no proof that Chauvin has ever encountered Israelis or was trained by them.

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Blame The Jews, Again. Hateful cartoons suggesting Jews were responsible for the murder of George Floyd as a result of US police officers being trained by Israeli Police.

In Los Angeles, rioters also felt the need to deface a synagogue. The Congregation Beth Israel, one of the oldest in Los Angeles was daubed with the words “F*** Israel, Free Palestine”. Commenting on this, Richard S. Hirschhaut, the Los Angeles Regional Director of the American Jewish Committee, said in a statement to the Jewish Journal, “It is deplorable that certain protesters in Los Angeles today resorted to violence and vandalism.”

“The epithets scrawled on the synagogue wall do nothing to advance the cause of peace or justice, here or abroad,” he added.

Fighting racism by propagating antisemitism is utter hypocrisy. One form of prejudice cannot be fought by allowing for another. This is not justice for George Floyd and the countless others who have been murdered as a result of racism.

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Spillover Effect. The synagogue Congregation Beth El on Beverly Blvd in Los Angeles Graffiti was vandalized and spray-painted with the writing “Free Palestine” and “F**k Israel”.

At the centre of this, is the concept of intersectionality that alleges that all suffering is equal; however, there is a glaring double standard when it comes to Jews.

Jews have always been inextricably linked with civil rights movements across the world.  Jews marched in Selma in the USA for equal rights and for years fought Apartheid in South Africa, and those are just two examples.  Wherever there has been injustice, Jewish communities around the world have been engaged in combatting it. Propagating hatred to promote a divisive and hate-filled agenda only serves to polarize people and create barriers, especially at a time when listening to each other is more important than ever.

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It is this interaction that will honour the memories of those who have lost their lives as a result of hatred and brutality the world over. We should endeavour to meet at the intersection of tolerance and understanding, rather than exclusion and discrimination. This will honour those social justice giants on whose mighty shoulders we stand.

George Floyd. Remember his name.

Seeing the Wood from the Trees

Recognising the dangers today averts disasters tomorrow

With Israel embattled and imperilled by venomous word and deed, 2020 “Yakir Ha’Ir Tel Aviv” Award recipient and prominent civil rights activist Jonathan Danilowitz, airs his views and his concerns

What makes us tick? What is it,  deep inside us that gives us the drive to fight on, to survive, to win and to protect ourselves, our loved ones and our families? Surely, it’s that inherent determination that Mother Nature, in her gift of the survival of the fittest, implanted in our being. It’s the ambition and motivation to survive that keeps us from falling and failing, even at the darkest hour before the dawn.

We, humans, are mostly rational, usually logical, reasonable and cogent. We also have feelings, emotions and the ability to reason. We are exposed to information all the time and most of us have the ability to judge, to evaluate and most importantly – to critique the “facts” to which we are exposed.

And yet, we sometimes fail, badly. We “shoot ourselves in the foot” by acting against our own best interests. That normally happens after an error of judgement, but sadly, too often, it happens to someone who “cuts off their nose” just to spite their face. In any event, in doing so, that person harms not only his or herself but very often also their family, friends and/or the surrounding community.

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Why do it?

Why would anyone pick up that knife to cut off their nose? Extending the analogy – why would anyone knowingly harm themselves and worse – their family? It could only be because, like shooting oneself in the foot, they have made a serious error of judgement. They have been misled and misinformed by accepting “fake news” as fact. This sometimes happens to serious, thinking people (people like you, dear reader), who really have good intentions and the desire to help others. The pertinent example is the ongoing Arab-Israel conflict; a conflict that has been ongoing from way, way before the State of Israel was re-established in 1948 within the borders of the historic Land of Israel.

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Wolf In Sheep’s Clothing. What is the difference between the murderers and the financers of the murders?

It isn’t within the scope of this essay to review the historical facts (real or imagined) concerning the conflict. For the sake of argument let us assume that each side has been wronged; let us assume that both sides are right in their demands. And let’s go even one step further: let us assume that the Arabs are always right, and that Israel is always wrong. (Yes, there are people who still believe that.)

Now imagine that you want to be fair and decent. Obviously, you’ll side with right against wrong. But imagine too, that by doing so, you are shooting yourself in the foot. Now try to envisage how ghastly and tragic that would be if you are even partially mistaken about who is right in the conflict!

Mideast Israel Palestinians Prisoners Glance
Sponsoring Murder. The Sbarro pizzeria following a suicide bombing that killed 15 civilians, including 7 children and a pregnant woman, and wounded 130. As of 2019, the “Sbarro terrorists’ have received $910,823 in “pay-for-slay” funding. Female terrorist Ahlam Tamimi, who planned the event, and today a free resident in Jordan, said she has “no regrets.”

Can you accept that the supposedly “right” party – in this case, the Palestinian Authority – actually pays murderers a monthly salary for having slaughtered innocent civilians? Those suicide bombers are considered to be martyrs and are canonized? Can any modern, educated, 21st-century civilized human being actually believe that such heinous government-level support of terrorism can be “right”?

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Blood Money. The Palestinian Authority increases terrorists’ stipends despite claiming it is on the verge of bankruptcy.

If we are to genuinely embark on the road to peace, basic norms of civilizations need to be adhered to. Otherwise, we are setting aside reason to take a leap of faith into a certain “Danger Zone”.

The signs along this journey are clear and visible for all to see.

We have been warned!

 

 

 

 

About the writer:

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Jonathan Danilowitz is a human, civil and animal rights activist who made Israeli caselaw history when he successfully sued Israel’s national airline, El Al, for failure to recognise his same-sex partner as his common-law spouse. The Supreme Court ruling is considered to be one of its most important decisions, and is featured in the Museum of the Court in Jerusalem. He is also the author of ‘Flying Colors’,  an intimate and revealing look of a flight attendant “thirty years at thirty thousand feet – from Apartheid to Israeli gay rights”.  He is a 2020 recipient of the City of Tel Aviv Yakir Award.

 

 

 

While the mission of Lay of the Land (LotL) is to provide a wide and diverse perspective of affairs in Israel, the Middle East and the Jewish world, the opinions, beliefs and viewpoints expressed by its various writers are not necessarily ones of the owners and management of LOTL but of the writers themselves.  LotL endeavours to the best of its ability to credit the use of all known photographs to the photographer and/or owner of such photographs