The Israel Brief- 22-25 February 2021

The Israel Brief – 22 February 2021 – Israel opens up slowly. Oil spill wreaks havoc on Israeli coastline. SNL anti-Semitic joke no laughing matter.




The Israel Brief – 23 February 2021 – Blinken and Ashkenazi speak again. Khameini talks of “Zionist clown”? At least 70% of Israelis received1st vaccine.




The Israel Brief – 23 February 2021 – Israel to give vaccines to other countries. Oil spill clean up. US Ambassador to UN vows to fight anti-Semitic BDS groups.








The Israel Brief – 24 February 2021 – Israel to open by April? Sales of seafood banned due to oil spill. NBC Nurses hatred.

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 (0&EO)

A Tale of Two Judokas – the Israeli and the Iranian

It took bravery, grit and defiance – not against a single competitor but an entire autocratic regime!

By David E. Kaplan

He may have won Silver this February on the mat in Tel Aviv but for Iranian judoka, Saeid Mollaei, he had already – off the mat – won Gold for sportsmanship and integrity. It was in defiance of submission to State muscle and all because of one Israeli – Sagi Muki from Netanya! Mollaei, who now represents Mongolia, competed in Israel this February 2021, winning a silver medal in Tel Aviv. He took second place in the under-81kg category after losing to Uzbekistan’s Sahrofiddin Boltaboev. It was more than simply historic – it was inspirational for this Iranian to be competing in Israel.

Silver in Tel Aviv. Iranian-born Mongolian judoka Saeid Mollaei (left), wearing the silver medal, greets Uzbekistan’s gold medal winner Sharofiddin Boltaboev after the finals of the men’s under 81kg category of Tel Aviv Grand Slam 2021 in Tel Aviv, on February 19, 2021. (JACK GUEZ / AFP)

When Mollaei fled his home country of Iran back in 2019, it could not have been an easy decision to make. He was well aware of the sacrifices he was making – both professional and personal; but his conscience would not allow him do otherwise!

Defying orders, he would not withdraw from an international competition just because he may end up facing in the final an Israeli – Sagi Muki.

Man on a Mission. A motivational speaker, Israeli judoka Sagi Muki is proud to speak on issues from judo to values.

That ‘battleground’ – on and off the mat –  was the Tokyo 2019 World Championships that Israeli Sagi Muki went on to win the title in his weight category. The then reigning world champion, Saeid Mollaei, was ordered by the Iranian Deputy Sports Minister, Davar Zani, to withdraw from a preliminary bout in order to avoid meeting the Israeli in the final. He defiantly defied the order and went on to compete although he eventually lost in the semifinals so did not have to face Muki who won the gold.

Message from the Mat. Israeli Sagi Muki (left) and Iranian Saeid Mollaei (right)  make the case for friendship.

Muki praised Mollaei for his bravery and referred to him as  “an inspiration”.

Afraid to return to Iran, Mollaei went into exile in Germany but was then subsequently granted citizenship of Mongolia and was hoping to compete for his adopted country in the 2020 Olympic Games.

So was Muki for Israel, with whom the writer met in Tel Aviv in 2019 to interview, while preparing for the Olympics. The coronavirus pandemic had other ideas!

Sagi Muki (right) and the writer, David Kaplan during the interview in 2019 in Tel Aviv.
 

Asking Muki what impact the experience had on him , he replied:

I know what it takes to get to the top and for Saeid  to be prepared to sacrifice it all on a matter of principle was humbling and truly inspirational – a true judoka champion on and off the mat. Today, we are friends for life. We met at the Paris Grand Slam, February 10, 2020 and I posted on Instagram a photo of us embracing. He was World Champion in 2018 the year before I became champion and so with the photo, I added the caption:

2 World Champions; but before that 2 good friends

Brothers in Arms. Meeting in Paris, Sagi Muki (right) announces to the world on social media his friendship ‘for life” with Iranian  Saeid Mollaei (left).

This is the message I want to convey to the world. That first of all, we are all human beings; that it does not matter where we are from, we can still be friends.”

And as to the question what was the response in going public with  your friendship, Muki answered:

Overwhelming encouragement from all over the world and particularly from Iranians, who like Saeid are unafraid to upload messages of support on social media.”

Opening his Facebook page on his cellphone, Muki reads a few of the messages from Iran.

““Hi Sagi Muki; The Iranian people love  your people and your country.  We want peace and friendly relationship with yours.”

Muki reads his reply:

Me and all Israeli people love you back.”

And then a flurry of comments from around the world, some in Arabic.

He then read another two:

  • I am from Iran. You are like my brother” and
  • Iranians refuse to be enemies with Israel.” 

This was a far cry from what happened earlier in 2019 in Tokyo when Muki faced off an Egyptian in a semi-final bout on the way to winning the World Championships. That one fight made more international news than was warranted when one bodily movement was less about judo and more about politics!

In his toughly contested semi-finals on his way to becoming judo world champion, Muki encountered Egyptian judoka Mohamed Abdelaal, who refused to shake his hand at the end of the match. Television viewers around the world stared in disbelief  at the Israeli offering to shake Abdelaal’s hand and Abdelaal turning his back and walking away. It was an embarrassing moment for Egyptian sport that led to its sporting body having to apologize.

Unshakable Hate. Israeli Judoka Sagi Muki (left) won against Egyptian fighter Mohamed Abdelaal (right) at the 2019 World Judo Championships who walks off refusing to shake hands with him.

Muki, who received the gold medal after defeating Belgian judoka Matthias Casse in the championship round later in the day, said afterward that he was “sorry” that Abdelaal didn’t shake his hand but that he was nevertheless pleased “that I was able to show the beautiful face of Israel.”

Asking him how did he feel by the Egyptian’s unsportsmanlike behaviour, Muki replied:

I felt so disappointed because I wanted to show the world that through judo – larger things can happen beyond our sport.  I grew up in a home to respect people – this is so important to me – it’s in my upbringing but it’s also integral in judo philosophy. He not only disrespected me but far worse, he disrespected the sport and his country. I wanted to show that Israel extends its hand in peace; that it does not matter who you are, your race, religion or country; we must respect everyone.”

An ambassador for Israel and the sport of judo, Muki – before the Covid-19 pandemic, gave motivational addresses in Israel and abroad. He talked about his recovery from serious injury, which could so easily have prevented his return to the sport.  He speaks of “Positive Transformation” stressing  that “where there is the will, there is a way” and that “Everyone has challenges in life, it is how you tackle them. This is important for young Israeli schoolkids to hear.” But he also talks about positive transformation  in attitudes  “that while the Egyptian refused to shake my hand, other Arab countries – like Abu Dhabi  – are now welcoming Israeli teams and how an Iranian is now my friend for life. These are important messages, particularly when I address university students in the USA. I do not want to be seen as a guy who competes only for medals. I recognise the power of judo; its outreach potential and that it can impact and influence millions all over the world. Therefore I want to use this platform as a bridge between people.”

Meanwhile back in Tel Aviv after the February 2021 competition, CNN reported Mollaei saying Israel had been “very good to me since I arrived,” and that the Israeli judo team “have been very kind. That is something I will never forget.”  Amplifying  his feelings, the Iranian ended off with “TODAH” – “thank you” in Hebrew..

Israel’s Channel 12 touchingly reported that Mollaei said to his friend and competitor Muki:

 “Maybe we’ll meet in the finals of the Olympics” referencing the XXXII Olympiad still known as Tokyo 2020.

Time and the pandemic will tell.

The message of these two friends and sportsmen is exquisitely expressed in the words the Iranian:

I am friends with Sagi Muki. He supports me and I thank him for this. It doesn’t matter who wins, what matters is friendship.”





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

And Then They Came for Us

Big Tech censorship is hurting the freedom of speech.

By Rolene Marks

One of the great barometers of any democracy is the right to free speech. The freedom of speech is ingrained and protected by law or constitutions in any self-respecting democracy. Many of us are familiar with the tenet made famous by Voltaire, “I disapprove with what you say but I will defend to death your right to say it”. The ability to engage in polite albeit robust discourse, where we may disagree with each other is one of life’s great intellectual pursuits.

Today, many of these opportunities to engage in discourse have moved on to social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter and the like. Social media provides an excellent opportunity for us not just to engage; but to educate as well and that is something that Lay of the Land is committed to. We are not only focused on bringing you excellent, original content and news headlines from Israel but we want to introduce the world to those stories. We, like many, rely on these platforms to help our writers and content receive the exposure they deserve.

In the last few months, an ominous trend has surfaced. “Big Tech” companies (this includes the giants like Facebook, Twitter and others) have started to restrict the online exposure of any pages, groups and individuals who may post “political” content. Of course another reason could be to try and hold off for more advertising, although the former is more likely the reason that people are being censored. Big Tech company owners certainly do not need to be making more money!

As the US election race between Trump and Biden heated up, so did the engagement on social media platforms. This was one of the most polarizing elections in many, many years. Debate on social media veered quickly from differences in opinion to all out abuse from both sides.

Social media giants Facebook, Twitter and others (also referred to as “Big Tech”) took the decision to censor or de-platform many who they believed flouted the laws on common decency. Many of these people were far rightists and it took moments for them to find alternative platforms like Parler to congregate. They were quickly de-platformed by platform hosts like Apple, Amazon and others.

Freedom of speech is sacrosanct in a democracy and one hopes that people are able to make up their minds about issues, no matter how loathsome they might find the other side.

There is a fundamental difference between hate speech and free speech. Any speech that endorses violence or hatred against opposing viewpoints or minority communities needs to be dealt with in the strongest terms and within the law.

In the age of extremely short and competitive news cycles, the importance of balanced reporting has never been more critical. Social media has become another arm for news networks and journalists to share information and a good barometer of measuring where public opinion is holding. Sometimes the barometer shows high temperatures!

The problem is that Big Tech companies are not too crazy about networks or journalists that do not meet their increasingly more “woke” agendas. They have embarked on a policy of restricting groups, individuals or business that they think may be overtly political and have descriptions that raise an alert in their algorithms. Oh how I miss the days we dealt with people rationally and did not have to fight an algorithm!

One prime example of this is Facebook. In the last few weeks, the social media giant has clamped down on groups, pages and businesses. This has become personal.

Many of us, including Lay of the Land rely on social media platforms to grow exposure – and also to educate. Our exposure and reach has been significantly impacted and restricted – as have many fundraising organisations who have felt the pinch because certain wording in their description may not fit in with Facebook’s monitoring algorithms.

Silhouettes are seen in front of the logo of US social media Facebook in Brussels, February 14, 2020. (Kenzo TRIBOUILLARD / AFP)

The words Zionism may not be immune.

In a leaked email dated 10 November 2020 and written by a Facebook employee; hinted that they may review their policy on allowing the term “Zionist.” Pro-Palestinian groups argue that such a move would endanger free speech on Israel issues.

In the email dated Nov. 10, the unidentified employee wrote to an unidentified source: “We are looking at the question of how we should interpret attacks on ‘Zionists’ to determine whether the term is used as a proxy for attacking Jewish or Israeli people. The term brings with it much history and various meanings, and we are looking to increase our understanding of how it is used by people on our platform”. Only this policy significantly impacts the ability to explain and educate about Zionism as well. It is ironic that the social media platform that is now acting as the thought police; also received a “D” rating for banning Holocaust denial.

Facing Off. In response to the Australian government introducing a law that will make tech giants pay for news content, Facebook responded by banning all Australian news content from its platform taken the ‘battle’ to a whole new level.
 

And then there is Australia. Last week Australians searching Facebook for their news updates were instead shown notifications saying ‘no posts’ were available. Attempting to share news links brought up a message saying, ‘this post can’t be shared’.

This was Facebook’s petulant response to a policy initiated by the Australian government to charge the social media giant for news content on their site, an agreement that has been reached with Google.

But the shock move also stopped some government messages from being shared, including from emergency services providing essential information on the Covid-19 pandemic, fires, and help for victims of domestic violence. It also impacted on various charities; foodbanks and at least one missing person’s page were also caught up in the ban.

Other countries weighed in, showing their support for Australia. US President Biden has also commented on the “arrogance” of Big Tech. The United Kingdom and European Union states are also debating instituting the same legislation in their countries. Australian Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, accused Facebook of committing an “act of war on a sovereign state”.

Facebook v Australia. This isn’t cricket. Front pages of Australian newspapers featuring stories about Facebook in Sydney, Friday, Feb. 19, 2021. In a surprise retaliatory, Facebook blocked Australians from sharing news stories, escalating a fight with the government over whether powerful tech companies should have to pay news organizations for content. (AP Photo/Rick Rycroft)

It is extremely dangerous when Big Tech becomes powerful enough to wage an information war on sovereign states. We as news consumers and free thinking human beings deserve the right and access to information which gives us the ability to make informed decisions.  Big Tech companies, worth billions, certainly can afford to pay the tariffs!

Perhaps Facebook could spend their energy in monitoring hate speech more effectively than dictating what information people should be allowed to access.

This time it has become personal. Draconian, unchecked censorship by Big Tech who are flexing their muscles; is hurting businesses and steadily eroding free speech.

First they came for the politicians, then they came for those that they disagree with, then they came for the sovereign states. And then they came for us.

The question is when will this end?





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

Tel Aviv is Alive, Well and Pedaling

By Stephen Schulman

These times are troubled and turbulent with the Covid-19 Virus taking its toll, reaping illnesses and deaths and like the rest of the planet, Israel has not been immune. There have been and still are lockdowns with businesses closed, people losing their livelihoods, being confined to homes, and much attendant suffering.

Nevertheless, in spite of restrictions on movement and being limited to a certain radius from their homes, Israeli citizens have been allowed a respite; to leave their domiciles for sporting activities and exercise provided that it is not done in groups. Throughout the length and breadth of the country many people have taken advantage of this proviso and with gusto, have filled the paths and trails from Kiryat Shmona in the north down to southerly Eilat.

North to South. The writer participating in the Israel Road Cycling Challenge that crosses the Golan, connecting over 850 miles (1400km) of single track and dirt tracks from the snowy peak of Mt. Hermon in the north to the sun-soaked Red Sea city of Eilat.

Alongside their pedestrian paths, many cities and local councils with a growing awareness and appreciation of this sport have also paved parallel cycle lanes and Tel Aviv and its metropolis is no exception to the rule. Moreover, possessing a cosmopolitan ambience with a round the clock activity, with its flat topography, large parks, seaside promenade, multitude of cycling lanes and many hire bike stations, the city has become a Mecca for cyclists. In this difficult period, there has been a two wheeled renaissance as many Israelis have discovered and rediscovered the joys of cycling. Bicycle shops are bustling, the demand is great and many disappointed customers have found that cycles are in short supply.

Two-Wheel Fun in the Sun. Ideal weather for most the year, Israelis  have taken to cycling in a huge way. (Photo via Shutterstock)

Tel Aviv boasts a great cycling path that runs alongside the sea. It starts from the Old City of Jaffa, continues along the Herbert Samuel beach promenade to the Old Port of Tel Aviv, then turning north via Reading power station stretches until the Tel Baruch beach and then goes even further, ending at the marina in Herzlia. This picturesque route is daily thronged with cyclists of all ages and all sizes riding a wide variety of bikes ranging from folding models with small 20 inch wheels and laid back balloon tired boulevard cruisers to expensive top range mountain and road bikes. It has become so popular that on Friday and Saturday mornings there is something akin to a traffic jam!

Coasting Along. Taking in the breeze off the Mediterranean, cycling on Tel Aviv beach promenade.

Tel Aviv off-road pedallers wishing to be closer to nature and get away ‘far from the madding crowd‘ do not lack for choice. The Yarkon River that runs through Tel Aviv with its effluence at the Old Port has single tracks aplenty. In many places, the path winds through bamboo growing along its banks and it is an inimitable experience speeding down tunnels created by their leaves and stems growing together over your head.

Cycling Comrades. The writer Stephen Schulman (right) with his cycling companion Adrian Wolff.

To their credit, the mayor and the city council identify with and encourage sport. In addition to the annual marathon, there is the Tel Aviv Rondo – the largest cycling event in the country. Every September, (except for lockdown 2020!) on an early Friday morning, well over 10,000 pre-registered cyclists assemble at the Exhibition Grounds to complete a well organized, closed off 20 km loop in the city. Experienced riders are permitted 3 circuits and even the young are well catered for with an 8km route. Nothing can compare to the experience of riding down the freeway with the wind at your back and before you, a colorful phalanx of thousands of joyful pedallers stretching far into the distance!

Sea Breeze. A group cycling tour of the coast seen here at Herzliya marina.

There are many other organized cycling events throughout the country ranging from off-road charity rides to pelotons for serious ‘roadies’. Even hilly Jerusalem has its devoted riders and hosts both off and on road events. Possibly the biggest and most traditional is the annual Ride around the Kinneret (Sea of Galilee) where, on a November Saturday morning, with the sea on their right, thousands of cyclists, both young and old, from all over the country congregate to complete the more demanding 65 km circuit to then relax and picnic with family and friends on the large lawns beside the lake.

Peddling Pleasure. Seen here some years ago at the One-to-One Charity Ride Round the Sea of Galilee in aid of children who were victims of terror attacks, is the writer (left) together with former South Africans living in Israel.

Israel offers a great choice of well mapped and marked cycling routes, many of which have been planned and executed by the local and regional authorities together with a growing number of volunteer enthusiasts. A Trans-Israel cycling path is also under development.

 In the Holy Land, the range and variety of landscape is unparalleled. My cycling buddy and I have been on challenging descents on the Golan Heights, climbed single tracks in the verdant and wooded Galilee and bounced over rocks in the arid and dusty Negev Desert. But what gives us even greater pleasure is watching the growing number of keen cyclists. In our well over two decades of pedaling, we have been witnesses to how once limited to a relatively small number of groupies; the sport has mushroomed into a national pastime.

Tough at the Top. The writer participating in a grueling assent of the majestic Golan Heights.

Cycling has also become firmly ensconced within the national consciousness.  We now proudly possess a national cycling team – Israel Start-Up Nation – that has successfully competed in many prestigious international events including the Giro d’Italia  and the legendary and grueling Tour de France. About two years ago, the team, dressed in their blue and white jerseys – the color of the Israeli flag – rode in a peloton across Israel and was greeted by enthusiastic and cheering crowds along the way. How do I know? I was among them!

From Jerusalem to Rome. Elia Viviani of Italy wins the 2nd stage of the Giro d’Italia, in Tel Aviv on May 5, 2018. ( Roy Alima/FLASH90)

With the aid of mass vaccinations and some public cooperation, Israel is now slowly emerging from the lockdown and attempting to return to a normalcy.

Hopefully, the road to full recovery will not only lead upward but also be full of fellow cyclists!  

Hello from Israel. There has been a “cycling revolution” in Israel in recent years with Israel Start-Up Nation / Israel Cycling Academy competing in both the Giro d ’Italia and the Tour de France.
 



About the writer:

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Stephen Schulman is a graduate of the South African Jewish socialist youth movement Habonim, who immigrated to Israel in 1969 and retired in 2012 after over 40 years of English teaching. He was for many years a senior examiner for the English matriculation and co-authored two English textbooks for the upper grades in high school. Now happily retired, he spends his time between his family, his hobbies and reading to try to catch up on his ignorance.





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- 21 February 2021

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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What’s happening in Israel today?  See this week’s daily ‘The Israel Brief’ broadcasts on LOTL  YouTube   by seasoned TV & radio broadcaster, every Monday to Thursday and on our Facebook page. 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

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Articles

(1)

The Magnificent Seven

A peek into G-d’s ‘Cook Book’ for healthier living

By David E. Kaplan

Produce of the Promised Land. Considered as gifts from G-d to His people, but what are their health value?

While studies have revealed that the ‘Seven Species’ from the Bible carried unique health benefits for the Jews in the ancient land of Israel, is there any scientific evidence today that they are beneficial for us in the modern era?

The Magnificent Seven

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(2)

Casualties of Conflict

The frightening phenomenon of Palestinian Child Soldiers

By Rolene Marks

Stollen Summers. A summer camp in Gaza where kids are dressed in military fatigues with toy firearms.

While the world commemorated February 14-19 as Childs Soldiers Week, it went by largely unnoticed, a world preoccupied by other priorities. The writer explores why Palestinian children are being forced to become child soldiers by terror groups herding them into the frontlines – a flagrant abuse of their personal and human rights, not to mention their safety!

Casualties of Conflict

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(3)

New Land, New Life

Making it in Modiin

 Part II

By Shelley Berman

Certified Israelis. The Bermans from South African proudly display their new Israeli ID documents.

Aliyah – immigrating to Israel –  is increasingly  on the radar of Jews around the world. In this second of a  2-part “Aliyah on the Agenda?” series, the writer  relates her experiences in the transition from Glenhazel in South Africa to Modiin in Israel.

New Land, New Life

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(Part 1 : Aliyah on the agenda?)

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

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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 (0&EO)

The Israel Brief- 15-18 February 2021

The Israel Brief – 15 February 2021 – Israel starts to emerge from lock down – all the updates. Beth Din Arabia – absolutely historic. Bensouda replaced at ICC.



The Israel Brief – 16 February 2021 – Israel starts to open up! Hamas rule women not to travel without male companion. Child Soldiers Week.





The Israel Brief – 17 February 2021 – Israel asks Russia to help with humanitarian issue in Syria. Blinken: diplomacy an option with Iran. Jerusalem of snow!



The Israel Brief – 18 February 2021 – Biden and Bibi phonecall. Syrian prisoner negotiation. Fauci lauds Israel’s vaccine rollout.





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 (0&EO)

The Magnificent Seven

A peek into G-d’s ‘cook book’ for healthier living

By David E. Kaplan

When one thinks of ‘The Magnificent Seven’,  one’s mind conjures  up the immediate image of death and mayhem in a faceoff of firearms on an arid Mexican landscape. Its reference here is quite the opposite – about life’s longevity not its sudden end – more specifically –  the seven culinary treasures from the bible that prescribe a healthy life.

The Magnificent Seven. Wheat, barley, grapes, figs, pomegranates, olives and dates (date honey) symbolically represent the connection of the Jewish people and their land. These are considered as gifts from G-d to His people, the original produce of the Promised Land.

On their long journey to the Holy Land, G-d promised the People of Israel “a land of wheat and barley, and vines and fig-trees and pomegranates; a land of olive-trees and honey (dates)” (Deuteronomy 8:8).

Commonly known as the Seven Species’ (Shiv’at HaMinim), all have deservedly earned a mystical status amongst the Jewish People. Simply listed, they are:

wheat, barley, grape (wine), fig, pomegranates, olive (oil) and date (honey).

Kings and Priests (Cohanim) were anointed with holy olive oil, and the sanctification (the Kiddush) of the Shabbat (Sabbath) as well as of other Jewish holidays is conducted traditionally over a glass of wine. Throughout the centuries, special blessings (Berakhah) have been devoted to the ‘Seven Species’ which have appeared as symbols of prosperity, peace and wealth, and their images have decorated coins, stamps, state symbols and more.

While symbolically and religiously significant, it is their dietary and health value that is even more ‘illuminating’ today. After all, G-d promised:

Thou shalt eat and be satisfied…”, and “… bless the LORD thy G-d for the good land which he hath given thee.” (Deuteronomy 8:10).

Heavenly Advice

Is there any truth to the platitude,we are what we eat’,” and hence worth being guided by the Lord’s cookbook?

Beyond their religiously symbolic value, is there any evidence that the ‘Seven Species’ from the bible are blessed with healthy attributes?

Studies have revealed that some of the ‘Seven Species’ carried unique health benefits for the Jews in the ancient land of Israel. Supported by medical findings, it is now established that these foods – when consumed in moderation – provide remedies no less beneficial for us in the modern era.

The bible speaks of grains, fruits and oil – all of which can be found in any modern food pyramid and are essential for a balanced and healthy diet.

Olive is all Heart

Olives – which are indigenous to the eastern Mediterranean Basin, played an important role in the daily diet of local residents from time immemorial. Olives were either consumed as pickled or as an oil extracted by a mechanical trapetum (ancient stone olive grinder).

While superior quality (‘pure’) olive oil was used by kings and priests for religious and civil ceremonies as well as for the lighting of the Menorah in the first and second Temples,  from a dietary perspective, the high fat content of olives makes this fruit an important source of energy and it is assumed that olives and olive oil provided a significant portion of the daily caloric needs of the ancient Mediterranean population.

Everyone’s Favourite. Hard to pass without sampling, olives at Jerusalem’s famous Machane Yehuda market.

Much of the fats derived from olive oil are monounsaturated fats, which in contrast to polyunsaturated fats, carry only one double bond in their fatty acid chain, meaning they are less prone for peroxidation (an undesired process which in turn increases the risk for cardiovascular diseases).

Consumption of monounsaturated fats has been reported to lower the levels of the “bad” (low-density lipoprotein, LDL) cholesterol, and while still debated, monounsaturated fats may also increase the levels of the good” (high density lipoprotein, HDL) cholesterol. Both effects – decreasing of the ‘bad’ cholesterol and increasing the ‘good’ cholesterol levels – are known to be beneficial for our health while preventing cardiovascular diseases. Since the quality of the cholesterol in our body is no less important than its quantity, the heart-protective power of olive oil is not only due to its unique fat composition, but also can be attributed to its high potent antioxidants content, mainly polyphenols, a unique compound that may prevent harmful oxidation of the good and bad cholesterol

Old as the Hills. A 1500 year old olive tree in the Galilee region of Israel believed to have been planted by Jewish farmers in the 4th century CE.

Prof. Michael Aviram, Head of the Lipid Research Laboratory in the Technion Faculty of Medicine and a member of Rambam Medical Center in Haifa, is a leading expert in cholesterol and heart disease research with a special interest in oxidative stress and the role of antioxidants in cardiovascular disease. According to Prof. Aviram, the unique phenolics and phytosterols which are present in olive oil, as well as in olive leaves, provide the potent antioxidant and cardio protection effects of the olive.

Gung Ho. Energized researcher of The Seven Species, Prof. Michael Aviram in his office at the Technion. (photo credit: Courtesy)

Research also showed that olive oil antioxidants may also act as antithrombotic, anti-inflammatory and anti-carcinogenic agents.

And to ‘take one’s weight of our minds’, it appears that monounsaturated fats – the kind found in olives – may encourage weight loss. Olive oil consumption has been shown to breakdown fats inside fat cells and rid belly fat.

People who have the highest olive consumption eat fewer calories overall and are rarely overweight. Blood tests show they have higher levels of serotonin, a so-called satiety hormone that makes us feel full.

Olive oil is also used in many skin care products, where it acts as a natural moisturizer. Since research has shown that application of olive oil may prevent the formation of skin cancer in mice, one may wonder if ancient priests and kings – when selecting olive oil for their ceremonies – may have suspected its healthy potential!

A Hearty Snack

There is no other fruit like the pomegranate. Peel the thick reddish skin and inside, you will find a multitude of bright red sweet and sour arils, stacked carefully in a white and spongy pulp casing.

This complex and unique fruit holds a special place in Jewish tradition – a symbol for prosperity, beauty and wisdom. Pomegranate-like handles decorate the Torah scrolls and during the traditional Rosh Hashanah dinner, Jews all over the world ask the LORD: “May our merits be numerous as the seeds of the pomegranate.”

Pomegranates are unlike any other fruit,” asserts Prof. Aviram. “They are packed with some of the most potent antioxidants known to man and have remarkable dietary benefits for protection against cardiovascular diseases”. He speaks passionately about his life-long work of unveiling the health benefits of various fruits and vegetables of which some are of the ‘Seven Species’. “We discovered in our research that certain cardiovascular conditions may be linked not only to the “bad” cholesterol (LDL) levels in the blood, but also to its quality – its oxidation state. Thus, people who have normal levels of “bad” cholesterol may still be at risk for developing atherosclerosis if their LDL molecules are oxidized.” Since we are constantly exposed to oxidizing stress in our daily life from smoke, chemicals, bacteria, viruses and other pollutants, our body’s need for antioxidants is immense.

Seeing Red. A pomegranate orchid in Israel.

Prof. Aviram argues that “What we really want at the end of the day is to reduce oxidative stress in our body in order to have less oxidized “bad” cholesterol. One way of doing it is by inhibiting the production of oxidized “bad” cholesterol by dietary antioxidants. We found that pomegranate juice contains high levels of antioxidants even more than red wine, olive oil and cranberries and that it can slow down LDL oxidation and its retention in the arterial cell wall.”

Yet, before rushing to order your juice, “it should include the peel and the membranes,” says Prof. Aviram “and not just the arils. The former offers the richest source of unique polyphenols and antioxidant properties.”

Go FIGure

The fig tree — with its distinctive leaves and were used as clothes by Adam and Eve – is a ubiquitous part of the Israeli landscape. In biblical times the fig was eaten fresh or as a seasoning, in addition to being used to make honey and alcohol. The fig itself, ripe in midsummer, is best eaten straight from the tree in the late afternoon after being baked naturally by the sun. Dried figs covered in sugar are today a popular snack.

Like pomegranates, figs too are rich in unique polyphenols and antioxidants, of which some, according to Prof. Aviram may also play a role in preventing atherosclerosis  in which an artery-wall thickens as a result of invasion and accumulation of white blood cells (WBCs) (foam cell) and proliferation of intimal-smooth-muscle cell creating a fibro-fatty plaque.

Israeli figs. Figs are also high in fiber and are known to stimulate the digestive system.

Figs are also high in fiber and are known to stimulate the digestive system. They are rich in simple sugars and minerals, and while fresh fruits can be picked from native and cultivated trees during early and midsummer, dried figs, which are rich in calcium, can be found in the markets all year round. Additional studies are still required to reveal all the secrets of this extraordinary fruit.

A Taste of Honey

Dates in biblical times mainly grew in the Jordan Valley, but with modern irrigation techniques the palms have also taken root near the Dead Sea and further south in the Arava. In the biblical era dates were made into honey, and many believe the notion of the “land flowing with milk and honey” referred to date honey. Today, dates are a popular sweet snack before or after meals and are exported to Europe where they fetch premium prices.

It’s a Date. A date orchid in Israel’s southern desert near the Red Sea coastal city of Eilat.

Two of the soft date varieties growing in Israel – the Halawy and Medjool – are indeed as sweet as honey. Not only sweet, dates also contain a variety of complex sugars, fiber, polyphenols and other antioxidants. Research from Prof. Aviram’s laboratory discovered that consumption of both Medjool and Halawy dates by healthy individuals, led to a significant reduction in their blood triglyceride levels, an observation that was attributed to their nutritional fiber content.

Furthermore, a diet supplemented with Halawy dates, have shown a significant decrease in the oxidative stress in the blood of trial participants, possibly due to its impressive antioxidative capacity which results from its unique content of polyphenols.

Demand for Dates. Dates have replaced citrus fruits and peppers as one of Israel’s top agricultural exports.

Interestingly, while the dates are sweet, the blood’s glucose levels and the body mass index of non-diabetic patients were not negatively affected. “We have begun investigating the connection between date consumption and fat levels in the blood and the results are encouraging.” Further research is planned to study the effect of different varieties of dates, which possess different profiles of antioxidants on oxidation of “bad” cholesterol (LDL) and other lipids in the blood.

‘Wheat’ Your Appetite

While wheat and barley may have provided man in biblical times with much of their carbohydrate requirements, it is a role that persists to this day. Wheat remains one of the most important cereal grains in the world and while in addition to barley’s robust flavor, it’s claim to nutritional fame is based on its being a very good source of molybdenum, manganese, dietary fiber, and selenium, and a good source of copper, vitamin B1, chromium, phosphorus, magnesium, and niacin.

Fertile Fields. Wheat ready to harvest at Yavne’el Israel.

Barley grains and flour are still important ingredients in many health foods. The seeds are rich in nutritional fiber, and they have low glycemic index. Whole-grain barley may be helpful for regulating blood sugar and lowering cholesterol levels. Owing to their importance in nutrition and health, most of the meals in the Jewish tradition start with the consumption of bread and with the special blessing of “ha’motzi lehem min ha‑aretz” (Who brings forth bread from the earth).

So when the weather’s cold, a big pot of soup simmering on the stove warms the heart as well as the hearth and adding some whole grain barley to the pot will improve your health along with the flavour of whatever soup or stew you’re cooking.

Heartwarming

Bread is not the only food to be blessed. A special blessing, “bo’re p’ri hagafen” (Who creates the fruit of the vine) is also dedicated to wine, which is known for its special role in the Kiddush on Shabbat and Jewish holidays. While excessive consumption of wine and other types of alcoholic beverages can be detrimental to health, studies reveal that a moderate consumption of red wine is good for the heart.

Fruit of the Vine. Vineyards in Israel’s Upper Galilee.

According to Prof. Aviram, red wine – unlike white – contains a variety of antioxidants including different polyphenols, which may reduce the level of oxidized “bad” cholesterol in the blood. One explanation for the “French paradox” – the surprisingly low mortality from coronary heart disease among the French people, who are known for their high animal fat diet – is their consumption of red wine with meals. Whether it is due to the red wine’s alcohol content, the specific Polyphenol content found in the region, or due to a completely different reason, is still need to be determined. It is still hoped that certain studies will show major health benefits from wine that may reduce the risk of certain types of cancer, Alzheimer’s and other life-threatening diseases.

A Healthy View of Life. A view of the Jezreel Valley winery in Israel. Red wine is believed to reduce the level of oxidized “bad” cholesterol in the blood (Credit: Courtesy)

The ancient Israelites who were promised a “land flowing with milk and honey” (Deuteronomy 31:20) came to a land blessed with the ‘Seven Species’. Thousands of years later, we are beginning to understand the unique value of these species and can only wonder what other remedies these plants can offer – not only for modern “Israelites” – but also the rest of the world.

This also might explain why when people the world over say “CHEERS” before bringing wine or beer to their lips, Jews prefer to toast – Le Chaim (to life).



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 (0&EO)

New Land, New Life – Making it in Modiin – Part 2

Aliyah – immigrating to Israel –  is increasingly  on the radar of Jews around the world. In this the second of a  2-part ‘Aliya on the Agenda?’ series, Shelley Berman  relates her experiences in the transition from Glenhazel in South Africa to Modiin in Israel.

(Part 1 – Aliyah on the Agenda?)

We approached the whole investigation with a positive determination to find a way. In terms of practicalities, one important change was that after three visits to our children here, things were much more familiar. I was no longer so afraid of the change. I was overcoming my fear of the unknown.

Upon our return to South Africa, things moved at lightning speed. Before we had even had a serious discussion between ourselves about when or how to market and sell our home in Glenhazel, word was out in our community that we were making Aliyah, and within a week our home was sold to the daughter of an acquaintance.

The planning was exhausting and draining, both physically and emotionally. Clearing out and packing up our possessions was an arduous task, but we tackled it with the same precision that we tackled everything else. List  after list was drawn up, and all the admin of tying up our affairs was dealt with.

The 29th of December 2018 is a day that will be forever etched in my memory; the day that I left South Africa, my homeland, the land of my birth. It was with such a heavy heart that we bade farewell to family and friends. A very difficult goodbye was to my mother-in-law, who was in the Jewish old-age home in Johannesburg.

But the hardest of all was to our son and daughter-in-law and their children. By then they had been blessed with twins, and saying goodbye to those children before leaving for the airport was just gut-wrenching. Our final moments at the airport saw the four of us clinging to each other in an embrace that I wanted to never end, and left us running for the boarding gate in a haze of tears, literally at the last minute. It is my fervent hope that at some time in the future, they will decide that Aliyah is on their agenda too.

From Glenhazel to Modiin

The morning of Sunday 30 December 2018 dawned bright and clear as we disembarked at Ben Gurion Airport. My heartbreak and sadness lifted as I felt such enormous pride stepping onto Israeli soil. As a staunch Zionist ever since I was a teenager, this was, in its own way, a dream come true.

As we walked into the airport, we saw a familiar face standing and holding a sign that read “BERMAN FAMILY”, and my heart soared. Telfed – South African Zionist Federation in Israel – had notified us that he would be there to welcome us, and had sent me his picture in advance. What a thoughtful and helpful gesture that was!

Red Carpet. Ian and Shelley Berman are welcomed at the airport by Avraham (left)  – the representative from Telfed and the Jewish Agency – who guided them through all the bureaucracy.

Avraham guided us through all the bureaucracy at the airport, and we exited Ben Gurion as Israeli citizens, with our temporary Israeli Identity Documents and an envelope of cash given to us by the Israeli government. My sense of gratitude was, and still is, immense. I soon realised that our whole Aliyah journey would become a journey of gratitude.

We soon settled into life in Modiin. My daughter had found an apartment for us to rent, and we had signed the lease, trusting her judgment. It is a lovely apartment, and perfect for our needs. My daughter and son-in-law have been a solid rock of support to us. I am so grateful to them, not only for being there for us every step of the way, but for being the trail blazers who led us to take this journey.

With their help within the first few weeks, we had set up and moved into our apartment, and dealt with all of the bureaucratic red-tape that goes with making Aliyah. So many people had ‘warned’ us about how difficult it all is, and how we should expect problems here, there and everywhere. Nothing could have been further from the truth.

Fell into Step

Every step of the way, we found people to be helpful, obliging and caring. We were welcomed and congratulated as new olim (immigrants), wherever we went. Every government department that we visited ran like a well-oiled machine. This was so refreshing for us, coming from a place where those offices are notoriously inefficient and unhelpful.

Of course, the language was a challenge, but we managed to get by with my imperfect Hebrew. We were pleasantly surprised to discover that most Israelis do speak at least some English, and in all government offices we were able to find someone who could help us in English when my Hebrew couldn’t cut it.

It only took a few weeks before we had received our permanent ID cards and drivers’ licences, and we had bought a car. Now, it’s all very well to have a car and a valid licence, but you may be wondering about the actual reality of driving here. Well, more about that later.

Certified Smiling Israelis. Newly arrived South Africans proudly flash at Ben Gurion Airport their temporary Israeli  ID documents on the path to receiving passports.

Things were going so well for us when we got a shattering phone call. My husband’s mother was seriously ill. We booked tickets and boarded a flight the next morning. Who would have believed that we would be winging our way back to Johannesburg, just four weeks after leaving?

Sadly, we lost our beloved Bobba Ros three days after we arrived. My husband sat shiva (week long mourning) with his siblings, and we returned to Israel enveloped in grief. This loss was a very hard aspect of our Aliyah. We had not yet found a shul that we felt we could call our own when my husband now needed a daily minyan (quorum of 10 Jewish adults). It was so hard for him to tackle this, and he had to do it alone.

Life  soon settled into a routine, and we felt calm and happy. Ulpan was going well, and we were both improving our Hebrew. Our grandsons were nearby, and our daughter was expecting her third child.

Walk in the Park. The Bermans with their grandkids in a local park in Modiin.

On Track

I found a part-time job teaching English at a school in Tel-Aviv, in a maternity replacement position. This was an eye-opener for me. Israeli teenagers are very far removed from what I was used to. But it was a great experience. The school was lovely, and my colleagues were very helpful.

Dealing with the Israeli Ministry of Education was a challenge, but eventually I was able to get my degrees recognised and I was so proud to be working and earning, only ten weeks into our Aliyah journey.

Taking the train to Tel-Aviv to go to work was such a treat for me. Israelis complain about the public transport system. They should only know how good they have it here. I still marvel at the efficiency and  the safety of the trains.

Getting crushed in the crowds on the station platform, and walking through the streets of Tel Aviv among the throngs of Israelis  – all talking on their cell phones  – made me so proud and happy to be a part of this society. This aspect of my day, which so many consider to be drudgery, gave me so much pleasure.

I was working three days a week, and going to ulpan (school for intensive study of Hebrew) twice a week, when I saw an ad for English teachers at an adult English school in Modiin. I sent them my CV, and they called me to invite me to an interview. After a lengthy interview process, I got the job.

Deciding Destiny. Only three months in Israel, new immigrants Ian and Shelley at a voting station in Modiin about to vote in a national election.

So now I was working three days a week in Tel Aviv, going to ulpan two mornings a week, and teaching English to adults three evenings a week. I was also, and still am, a very involved and dedicated Bobba, and spend as much time as possible with my precious grandchildren. (Our Israeli granddaughter was born six months after our arrival, and BH the three children keep us on our toes). I suppose you could say that I was very busy. But I was loving every minute of it.

The temporary school job soon came to an end, and life settled into a very comfortable routine. My work teaching adults was very satisfying, and I was really happy there. In terms of convenience, the school is in the mall, right opposite our apartment, so I couldn’t ask for more.

Towards the end of our first year, my husband was lucky to find a job that he really enjoys. He has a background in the retail world, and found a job at Superpharm, also in the mall. He is happy there, and we count our blessings that he found a job without too much difficulty. Many of the predictors of ‘doom and gloom’ led us to believe that it would be almost impossible for him to find work, because of his age and his lack of Hebrew. Thankfully, this was not the case at all.

Modiin Mall. The Azrieli Mall in Modiin where both Ian and the writer have found employment.

Shul and Socialising

One of the bigger challenges that we faced was finding a shul (synagogue) with a community where we would fit in. We came from a small, close-knit community in Johannesburg, where our shul was almost like an extension of our home, our community like family. We knew that we would never be able to replace this in Israel, and it remains a challenge for us. However, we have  joined a shul, an Anglo community in Modiin, where we feel really comfortable, even though most of the members are a lot younger than us. We were just starting to really enjoy shul, when Corona became the buzz-word and attending shul has become a distant memory. I really hope that we will be able to return to shul soon, as this is an important element to integrating as olim (new immigrants), and being accepted socially.

One of my biggest fears was my concern about making friends and building a social life. We knew exactly one other couple here (who have become good friends). While I was never a social butterfly, I do have numerous very close friends who have been my friends for many years. While they will always be irreplaceable in my life, I am also so grateful to the people who reached out and extended a hand of friendship to us here. We have been very lucky to build up a nice circle of good friends in Modiin, but Corona has made it difficult to cement new friendships. Please G-d, now that we have all been vaccinated, we will be able to start socialising again soon. 

Shades of South Africa.  In a familiar culinary posture,  Ian is ‘braaiing’ (barbecuing)  on his balcony in Modiin on Yom Ha’atzmaut. (Independence Day 2020)

Of course, shul and socialising are not the only aspects of our lives that have been affected by Corona. In March 2020, I was put on Halat, another buzz-word. Basically, unpaid leave. While I am still officially employed, I have not been working since the start of the pandemic.

Once again, I am deeply grateful to the State of Israel, for the incredible assistance offered through Bituach Leumi, or National Insurance. Registering with them and submitting my unemployment claim was a huge operation, but, with the help of my brother (who made Aliyah thirty years ago), fluent in Hebrew and familiar with the system, this too was overcome.

I have always been a busy, active person. I have always worked. It is not in my nature to sit around and do nothing. I have tried dabbling in a bit of content-writing, and would love to build up a practice for extra English lessons. It is my fervent wish that I will be able to get back to work soon. Now that the vaccination campaign is well under way, hopefully Burlington English will be allowed to reopen and I can go back to the job that I love.

Icing on the Cake. December 2020 saw the Bermans celebrating their 40th wedding anniversary in Israel.

Shot in the Arm

Which brings me to yet another aspect of life as an Israeli for which I am deeply grateful. Vaccinations! I am proud to say, ‘Gam Ani Hitchasanti’, I have also been vaccinated. Nowhere else in the world would I have been amongst the very first group of people to be invited by my healthcare provider to have the vaccine.

Our healthcare provider proved another eye-opener. As South Africans, we were used to paying huge sums of money every month for private medical insurance. Sadly, it is a country where private health insurance is a necessity, not a luxury. We still marvel at the world class medical care available to us here, for a very small contribution. Sure, the Hebrew does sometimes make it daunting, and a little difficult to navigate the system, but we manage. And there is always help available if you need it.

When it comes to all the officialdom and red-tape, if you are really stuck and need help, the ladies at the Olim centre in Modiin are wonderful. I have reached out to them on a few occasions, and they are always willing to help.

In the Driver’s Seat

Unfortunately, the one difficulty that nobody could help me to overcome, was my fear of driving on the ‘wrong’ side of the road. This was something that I had to tackle all on my own, and I did. I never used to be a nervous driver. In Johannesburg, with some of the notoriously worst taxi drivers in the world, I drove without hesitation. I zapped around in my little car with the utmost confidence.

Sea Breeze. Closer to the sea than they were living in Johannesburg, “Modiinics” Shelley and Ian enjoying a night out at the Hertzliya Marina.

Do I now feel the same way here? No! But I am getting there. It has taken practice and perseverance, and I’m pleased to say that I can take myself wherever I need to go. But do I enjoy driving here? Suffice it to say that I could probably write a book entitled “101 Reasons Why I Don’t Like Driving In Israel.”

Thankfully, the aspects of life in Israel that I don’t like are few and far between, and insignificant in the big scheme of things. I have been cooking for forty years, but had never cooked on gas before. It took a lot of getting used to, and I still don’t like it, but I deal with it.

The water is so different. It is much harder, and is filled with minerals. The kettle gets all gunky and has to be descaled regularly, while the dishwasher leaves horrible streaks on everything. In the winter, everything is Wet Wet Wet, and I’m NOT referring to the popular soft rock band. Hang up your towel after your shower. Tomorrow night it will still be damp, while the mould spores are growing prolifically on the bathroom ceiling.

These are minor irritations. You get used to them. You learn to adapt. Yes, even I, so resistant to change, have learned to adapt. When I consider the bigger picture, I have so much to be grateful for. Over the last two years, there has not been a single day when I have questioned or doubted our decision to make Israel our home.

Face the Music

I have recently discovered the music of the late Tom Petty. When I listened to the album, Wildflowers, there were three songs with lines that spoke to me, that could in fact have been written for me and my Aliyah journey.

You belong somewhere you feel free”. For me, this is Modiin, Eretz Yisrael. To have the freedom to go out for a walk alone, late at night, without fear of being attacked; to see my grandchildren riding their bikes freely through the streets, with gay abandon; to live in a home with one lock on the front door, with no security gate, no alarm, and no electric fence; you cannot put a price on such freedom!

Aliyah is not for the faint-hearted. I will never make light of the enormity of the undertaking. It is without a doubt the most difficult thing I have ever done. But, to quote Tom Petty again:

 “What lies ahead, I have no way of knowing” But….

I’m not afraid anymore!”

Belonging in Israel. The lyrics by Tom Petty of the Heartbreakers that so resonated with the writer.





(Part 1 – Aliyah on the Agenda?)



About the Writer:

Shelley Berman and her husband, Ian, made Aliyah from South Africa in December 2018. She has always been a staunch Zionist with a strong love for Israel. With a degree in English and an English teacher by profession, she is passionate about education. She has also always loved writing, and has worked as a content writer. She is dedicated to her family, and is a proud mother and grandmother.





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 (0&EO)

Casualties of Conflict

The frightening phenomenon of Palestinian Child Soldiers

By Rolene Marks

The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) 

Video clip revealing kids receiving military training at a Hamas summer camp.

Children are usually the first casualties of conflict. The world is currently commemorating Child Soldiers Week – however it is more a “blink and you miss it” occasion as this frightening phenomenon doesn’t seem to feature high on the list of global priorities and has a fancy coloured ribbon or trendy hashtag attached.  In the Middle East, this is not restricted to victims of conflict but also another phenomenon which is more often than not ignored. Palestinian children, often robbed of their rights to live normal childhoods and dreams and aspirations of future careers, are forced to become child soldiers by terror groups like Hamas, Palestinian Jihad, Fatah and others who force them into the frontlines. This is a flagrant abuse of their personal and human rights, not to mention their safety.

Taught in TerrorA horrifying spotlight on Palestinian Child Soldier Week 2020.

As  defined in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child states, a “child soldier” is:

 “…any person below 18 years of age who is or who has been recruited or used by an armed force or armed group in any capacity, including but not limited to children, boys and girls, used as fighters, cooks, porters, messengers, spies or for sexual purposes”.

The definition is not limited to a child who is taking or has taken a direct part in hostilities.

Palestinian baby in the colours of Hamas perched for the cameras on top of tires about to be burnt in a protest at the Gaza border with Israel.

Palestinian children in particular, are extremely vulnerable to being exploited.  Palestinian children grow up on a steady diet of incitement and hatred; indoctrinated into their impressionable young minds from an early age. The Palestinian children learn from an early age, the phrase ” اذبح اليهود”  (“Slaughter the Jews”) in Arabic.  This refers specifically to “Jews” which includes Israelis.  That wording is very deliberate – and also refers to Jews outside of Israel.

The chilling images of cartoonish Mickey Mouse type characters like Farfur the mouse or Nahul the bee on children’s television shows have shown us that abuse of this kind starts young. This indoctrination carries on into the formative school years.

God Willing. Assud, the ‘holy war’ rabbit promoting death to Jews under the protection of Allah.

Summer holidays bring with them, an opportunity to go to camp. This is not an opportunity for Palestinian children to learn arts and crafts and sing songs around the campfire. Instead, approximately 10 000 children will be schooled as auxiliaries and militia members and attend grueling basic training boot camps. There, children will learn to march, engage in combat maneuvers, weapon operation, and terrorist tactics, with the intention of carrying out attacks by who they are trained to see as the “enemy”. Their enemy is Israel, Jews and those who identify as Zionists. Their aim is to “wipe out the Zionist entity”. Children are then recruited to the frontline, alongside terror group leaders.

Summer Camp. An inside look at a summer camp in Gaza where the kids are dressed in military fatigues with plastic firearms.

Children from as young as 9 and up to the age of 17 have been pushed into combat, to fight and die alongside the adults. This is not restricted just to engaging in combat – children, as well as the elderly and women are used as human shields and it is not uncommon to hear Hamas and their ilk boasting about the use of their civilians as cannon fodder. While in some cases the youngest of these casualties has been covered up with older, fake ages on casualty lists, Hamas and PIJ have been proud of the teenagers that have been “martyred” in battle. To be “martyred” often means being awarded rock star status with their images on posters around the neighbourhood and streets and other buildings named in their honour.  

Stolen Childhood. A tweeted photo of children playing with toy guns who, it claimed, were attending a Hamas-run pre-school. 

Exploiting their innocence, terror groups have recruited children to become suicide bombers, stabbers or rock throwers. These children often do not fully understand the consequences of this; and believe that they are fulfilling a noble cause.

​Children used as “suicide stabbers” are a tactic often employed by Fatah. Encouraged by an economy of hate; where terrorists and their families are paid monthly stipends and a steady diet of incitement, there has been a significant increase in children being recruited for this. This has been referred to as “pay for slay” and for the Palestinians to show that they are sincere about peace, this practice needs to end. 

Hamas launches a festival in Nablus with symbolic rockets aimed at Israel. (Photo: Atef Safadi)

In order to stab and viciously murder men, women and children at the age of 17, one has to have been brainwashed for years prior to that.

Terror leaders often encourage children to engage in violent riots.  They are taught by radical organizations to throw stones at passing cars and people. This is not an innocuous act; several Israelis have been killed or severely maimed by this kind of action. The “romantic” image of the rock wielding Palestinian against the perceived Israeli Goliath also has very real consequences. Thousands, if not tens of thousands, of stone-throwing incidents occur every year at the behest of Palestinian organizations. Children are systematically used as riot fodder. Seen as great occasions of resistance, schools are closed and children are bused to the front lines to be used as a modern day shield-wall.  This was a regular occurrence during the “March of Return” where thousands of Palestinians would riot at the border fence between Israel and Gaza. The disabled were also bused to the frontline and on several occasions, rioters set donkeys alight. Quite often, children are bribed to rush security fences and try to sabotage them. What did this achieve? Absolutely nothing.

Stolen Childhood. A tweeted photo of children playing with toy guns who, it claimed, were attending a Hamas-run pre-school. 

The parents are fully aware and know that their teenage children are in a danger zone and may be severely harmed; but still encourage them; knowing that they may not return home safely.

Children are also used as terror labourers. Terror organisations like Hamas within the Gaza strip have built an underground network of tunnels for the purposes of smuggling weapons and launching attacks on Israeli civilians. These tunnels are usually built with a child labour force, operating in lethal sweatshop conditions. By 2012, over 9 children had been buried alive and killed while digging tunnels and there has been no indication that this practice has stopped.

“Our Children Love Martyrdom”. This Hamas photo glorifies ‘Child Soldier Deaths’ as the highest calling.

Using children as combatants in conflict is one of the grossest forms of child abuse and there needs to be more of an international outcry – and action to put an immediate stop to this practice. Children deserve to enjoy their childhood and their youth without become human weapons of terror. Any sincere path to peace depends on this.

Hamas indoctrination of Kids: Bombs more precious than children








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 (0&EO)

Lay of the Land Weekly Newsletter- 14 February 2021

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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What’s happening in Israel today?  See this week’s daily ‘The Israel Brief’ broadcasts on LOTL  YouTube   by seasoned TV & radio broadcaster, every Monday to Thursday and on our Facebook page. 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

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Articles

(1)

Distorting the Truth

Struggling to face its country’s complicity in Shoah,  Lithuanian leader ‘Blames the Jews’!

By Dr. Efraim Zuroff

False Claims. Lithuania MP Valdas Rakutis  asserts on Remembrance Day that Jews share blame for Holocaust

The Nazis and local collaborators killed over 90 percent of Lithuania’s pre-war Jewish population of more than 200,000  yet on 2021 International Holocaust Remembrance Day,  Lithuanian lawmaker,  Valdas Rakutis, accuses its once Jewish community of alleged collaboration with Nazi and Soviet regimes.

Distorting the Truth

(Click on the blue title)



(2)

Helping Hand into the Arms of All

Tel Aviv rolls out COVID vaccines for illegal foreign nationals and asylum seekers

By David E. Kaplan

Call to Arms. From French nuns to foreign workers, lining up in Tel Aviv for Covid vaccine.

Despite not having inoculated half Israel’s population, Tel Aviv has started administering vaccines free of charge to the city’s foreign nationals, many of whom are undocumented asylum seekers.  No borders or boundaries when it comes to a pandemic, Israel also sent vaccines to Ramallah for Palestinian healthcare workers.

Helping Hand into the Arms of All

(Click on the blue title)




(3)

Aliyah on the Agenda?

Leaving South Africa for Israel

By Shelley Berman

“We are Home”. Ian and Shelley Berman are welcomed by their daughter and grandkids.

What made the Bermans in Johannesburg who “had everything we needed” – close family, lovely home, good jobs, warm community and good friends, leave and resettle in Israel? In the first of a 2-part series, the writer recounts her journey from decision to “settling down” – adjusting to a new country and different culture.

Aliyah on the Agenda?

(Click on the blue title)




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

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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 (0&EO)