The Israel Brief- 26-29 October 2020

The Israel Brief – 26 October 2020 – Sudan and Israel to normalise ties. Israel to start testing vaccine 1 November. IDF largest drill.



The Israel Brief – 27 October 2020 – The Normalisation trend continues – could Lebanon be in the future? Israel Covid Czar steps down – who is his replacement? Israel’s ambassador to UN scolds UN Security Council.




The Israel Brief – 28 October 2020 – US election – how much does Israel feature? Czech Republic designate Hizbollah a terror organisation. Ministry of Strategic Affairs exposes bot campaign.



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

From 3 No’s to 3 Yeses

A dramatic turn-around towards peace

By David E. Kaplan

Ask an Englishman what most resonates about Khartoum, and the reply may well be “Gordon of Khartoum”  who became a national hero for his exploits in China  followed by his ill-fated defense of Khartoum against  the Mahdists in 1885.

Major-General Charles George Gordon (1833-1885) also known as Gordon Pasha and Gordon of Khartoum.
 

Ask an Israeli, and Khartoum is best  – or worst  – associated with the “Three No’s”  – “NO peace with Israel, NO recognition of Israel, NO negotiations with Israel” formulated by an Arab League summit held in the Sudanese capital shortly after the end of the Six-Day War.

Fifty-three years after the emphatic “Three No’s” Khartoum Declaration of 1967, the Israeli perception of Khartoum may now be due for a  positive reset.

The 3 No’s Conference. Sudanese President Ismail al-Azhari addressing the assembled Arab chiefs of the closing session of the Khartoum Summit Conference of Arab Heads of State in the Sudanese Parliament House on, Sept. 1, 1967. (AP Photo/Claus Hampel)

The deal brokered – if not quite yet “full diplomatic relations”  – is sounding increasingly like  “three yeses”:

YES to peace with Israel, YES to recognition of Israel, and YES to negotiations with it.”

This is good news for the Sudan, Israel and Africa. The continent can only benefit from closer ties with the Jewish state notably in areas of agriculture, hydrology, energy, hi-tech, health and security. Both Israelis and the peoples of Africa share not only similar visions for a peaceful and prosperous future but also share similarities in their dark pasts. Both have had to shake off the yoke of colonialism and persecution.  There are shared experiences to be learned, to help navigate our journeys into the future.

Face to Face. The ‘new normal’ as Sudanese military ruler General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan (right)) and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (left)  normalize relations between their countries.[Photo designed by Sudans Post]

How the atmospherics has changed since 1967.

Following the Six Day War, an upbeat Defense Minister Moshe Dayan anticipating an overture towards peace made his famous comment “waiting for a telephone call” from Arab leaders. Israelis hoped to hear – with good reason – that their neighbours were ready to talk peace. No less excited was Maj. Gen. Chaim Herzog – later Israel’s sixth State President who noted optimistically that “war had come to an end and peace would prevail along the borders.”

Bar returning to the vulnerable armistice lines of 1948 and 1949 or to a divided Jerusalem, Foreign Minister Abba Eban said that regarding peace negotiations, Israel is prepared to be “unbelievably generous in working out peace terms.” Even Israel’s tough-talking first Prime Minister, David Ben Gurion said:

 “If I could choose between peace and all the territories which we conquered last year, I would prefer peace.”

The expectation of an imminent “phone call’ from the Arab world prove a pipe dream – until October 2020!

Message Misread

What will prove good for Israel, the UAE, Bahrain and now the Sudan should also be good  – down the line – for the Palestinians.

However, rather than a ‘pat on the back’, the Palestinian leadership see the rapprochement towards Israel as a “stab in the back”.

This is a pity.

No Change. While much of the Arab world lauds the Sudan deal, Palestinians lament.

Imprisoned to the past by an aging leadership, Israel’s increasing acceptance by the Muslim world may provide the catalyst to younger generations of Palestinians to break-out from ideological incarceration. Remaining hostile today over yesterday’s issues and sentiments is a blueprint for stagnation.

Away from the senior Palestinian leadership, the once hostile neighbourhood has come to recognise the futility of persisting to view the Jewish state as  a temporary aberration. Gone is the hope that Israel will “God willing” one day disappear or buckle under the pressure of sell-by-date movements like BDS, fast-fading fatuous musicians like Roger Waters and retread terrorists like hijacker Leila Khaled. The numerous acronyms for Palestinian terror organisations established in the sixties and seventies are mostly now forgotten or a distant memory of irrelevance.

The year 2020 heralds a new dawn.

Never mind the Israeli media, most illuminating is what Arab journalists are  writing about these developments such as Linda Mnouheen Abdulaziz in Al-Arab, the influential pan-Arab newspaper published from London.

Appearing on October 16, Abdulaziz writes:

A recent opinion poll commissioned by the Arab American Institute and conducted by pollster John Zogby tested the Arab street’s reaction to the recent UAE-Israel peace deal. The poll revealed massive, unprecedented support. For example, in Saudi Arabia and Egypt, support stood at 59%, while in the UAE it stood at 58%. This data is congruent with what we’re witnessing on social media platforms, where Arabs are posting and sharing content that is welcoming of the peace treaty.”

An Iraq Surprise

Quite remarkably, Abdulaziz notes that even in Iraq, “people are commenting about the deal and expressing their desire to see a similar agreement between their own government and that of Israel. Some have gone as far as posting messages of praise and longing for Iraq’s long-gone Jewish community.”

“What is the source of this fundamental change, especially among Iraqis?” asks Abdulaziz. From an Iraqi perspective, he answers, that with no border or territorial dispute with Israel, the historical animosity, “stems from support for the Palestinian cause. But years of Palestinian political stagnation are taking their toll on public opinion. Iraqis also remember their common history with the country’s Jews – a shared language, culture and traditions. More importantly, the fingerprints of Iraq’s Jewish community are still very much felt, and certainly remembered, in Iraq. Iraqis reminisce over their Jewish compatriots as ones who were loyal to the Iraqi homeland. The name Sassoon Eskell, regarded as the “Father of Parliament” during his tenure as Minister of Finance, often comes up in these discussions. How grateful Iraqis would be to have another Eskell today, a time when their country is being robbed and depleted of its resources by internal and external thieves.”

Founding Father. Regarded as Iraq’s “Father of Parliament” Sir Sasson Eskell who once had intentions of becoming a rabbi.

For those less informed on Iraqi history, Sir Sason Eskell was the first Minister of Finance in the Kingdom and a permanent Member of the Parliament he is revered as its “Founder”. Along with Gertrude Bell and T.E. Lawrence, it was this Jew, Sason Eskell  –  knighted by King George V and conferred with the Civil Rafidain Medal by King Faisal I – who was so instrumental in the creation of the Kingdom of Iraq.

The enriching contribution of Jews in the past is now being viewed as again something that could be renewed in the future.

The King and his Jewish Finance Minister. Sir Sassoon Eskell (center, in Fez) sits directly on the left of King Faisal I of Iraq (with dark beard) in Baghdad in a photo from the 1920s. (Wikimedia Commons)

As Abdulaziz concludes in Al-Arab:

“The educated Iraqi sees peace with Israel as an opportunity for cooperation with a country that has become a pioneer in technology, science, medicine, agriculture and water conservation. These Israeli innovations could help improve living conditions in Iraq, just like they did in so many other places in the world.”

These are welcome words from the Arab world media.

Fifty-three years after the “Three No’s” from Khartoum in 1967, the resounding message today from Khartoum is – Yes, Yes, Yes!

Farewell to Fighting. Shifting sands in the Middle East as UAE delegates wave to the departing El Al plane at the end of the Israel-UAE normalization talks in Abu Dhabi, September 1, 2020. (El Al spokesperson’s office)






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

Building the Foundations of Peace

By Rolene Marks

It is often said that the foundations of peace will be built by people from the countries where there is conflict who courageously defy divisions and interact and cooperate with each other. While government officials and representatives discuss, argue and negotiate, it is groups of people from both sides of the divide who will build the foundations of peace.

This is hardly a scenario that is anticipated when we speak about the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians. The media (and other interest groups) would rather have you believe that we are two peoples perpetually at each other’s throats and while there definitely is conflict, there are also a myriad of incredible projects that are being done at  grassroots levels to encourage dialogue and cooperation.

Fall from Window Turns Tragedy into Coexistence Triumph. Little girl’s recovery at a Jerusalem hospital inspires a project for sharing medical expertise between Israeli and Arab healthcare practitioners.

In these uncertain times, when health and wellbeing is our collective focus, it is extremely critical that those who are particularly vulnerable receive the care that they need. Project Rozana is one such extraordinary organization, fulfilling those needs. Named in honour of a very special little Palestinian girl called Rozana Salawhi, who needed critical medical care, and whose mother sought to find it regardless of race, religion or political divides, Project Rozana endeavours to build bridges of cooperation between Israelis and Palestinians by using Israeli excellence and ingenuity in healthcare to treat Palestinians. It is an area of civil society that is proving that Palestinians and Israelis can cooperate on a major scale and interact on a daily basis. This is a relationship that is being built on the basis of equality and mutual respect. The intention of Project Rozana is to help Palestinian medical professionals skill up so that they can build a strong medical infrastructure and provide the best possible care for their communities.

This bridge-building project has attracted the interest of the international community, led by Hadassah Australia and has been embraced by affiliates in the United States, Canada, Israel and across the Palestinian Territories.

Building Bridges. Project Rozana is committed to building bridges between Israelis and Palestinians through the field of healthcare.

Project Rozana runs a variety of programmes to ensure that the vast skill gaps are filled.  Palestinian doctors, nurses, therapist and others, receive the best training possible to meet those needs that have been identified in consultation with the Palestinian Advisory Board. The Medical Fellowship Programme funds young clinicians from Palestinian hospitals to train in Israel under highly qualified and experienced Israeli medical specialists. This provides them with the opportunity to train in a much needed sub-specialty including paediatric rehabilitation and peritoneal dialysis (very important because of rising diabetes in the territories) and bring their skills and knowledge back to hospitals in the West Bank and Gaza.

Previous fellows completed their two-year residencies in Paediatric Intensive Care at Hadassah Hospital, Jerusalem, and in Anaesthesiology at Sheba Hospital in Tel Aviv.

West Bank coordinator of transportation for Project Rozana Naeem al-Bayda (right) with a Palestinian youngster he brought to an Israeli hospital.

Project Rozana also provides funding for critically ill Palestinian children to be treated in Israeli hospitals. This is particularly important when the specific treatment needed is not available or very limited. Children who need it, have also received surgery to deal with DSD – gender dysphoria. This is one of the most medically and socially complex of genetic disorders in the Palestinian population (and Israel’s ultra-orthodox Jewish population) and presents with ambiguous genitalia.

A baby from Gaza with congenital heart disease being treated at Sheba Hospital.

Children with DSD are subject to gender dysphoria – a condition the dissatisfaction and anxiety they experience due to their body not reflecting their gender, leads to severe psychological distress, anxiety, and depression. Parents too, are subject to stress. Children with DSD receive corrective surgery, made possible by the partnership between Project Rozana and Hadassah Hospital in Jerusalem. Mobile health clinics for women are also an area of major consideration.

Critical  under Corona

The Coronavirus global pandemic has also impacted greatly on the medical situation for Palestinians. Project Rozana has been instrumental in helping to get much needed equipment and training to navigate the crisis. Through Project Rozana, Palestinian medical professionals have received essential, up-to-date training from Israeli experts. The Australian government in cooperation with Palestinian Foreign Minister, Riyad Al-Maliki and Project Rozana, facilitated the delivery of 20 ventilators to be distributed across hospitals in the territories.

Project Rozana Helps Save Palestinian Baby’s Life.  Musab Alafandi stands over his son’s crib, checking on his breathing at Hadassah’s Hospital.

At the time of writing this article, Palestinian Chief Negotiator, Saeb Erekat, who is critically ill with Covid-19, is receiving the best possible care in Hadassah Hospital in Jerusalem and is on a ventilator and ECMO machine. As complicated and difficult the situation between Israel and the Palestinians is politically, medicine forms a vital role in helping to build bridges of peace.

Stars for Salvation. Israeli stars David Broza, Achinoam Nini, Mira Awad, ‘Hamilton’ stars and other musical celebs join Jewish-Arab youth chorus promoting a healthier future.

Peace between Israelis and Palestinians might not be instantly solved through goodwill gestures like providing top level care for a dignitary like Erekat, but the bridges built by Project Rozana that facilitates and encourages daily cooperation between Israelis and Palestinians, may be the strong foundations between people that will help make it an inevitability.







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- 25 October 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)

Passing of a Pioneer

The early years of Les Sheer who left a legacy on the landscape of Israel

By David E. Kaplan

Times were Tough. An animated Les Sheer describing life on kibbutz Timorim in the late 1940s in Northern Israel.
 

Moving from Johannesburg to a desolate hilltop in the Jezreel Valley with a young bride in the late 1940s, Les Sheer’s life mirrored the history of modern Israel. A pioneer on kibbutz Timorim to the planning and development of the Lechish Region to absorb immigrants from North Africa, Les Sheer left his mark  on the landscape and lives of many.

Passing of a Pioneer

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(2)

Herbert had a Dream

Farewell to the lyricist of the world’s longest running musical, Les Misérables

By David E. Kaplan

Making Music for Millions. Armed with pen and cigarette, Herbert Kretzmer (left) working with Charles Aznavour in 1965.
 

A man whose poignant prose are hummed by millions, Herbert Kretmer’s ‘I Dreamed a Dream’ from Les Misérables best encapsulates the life of the world famous lyricist. The writer recalls the life and times of this “great communicator” in an interview in Israel in 2015.

Herbert had a Dream

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(3)

Arab writers from the Middle East opine on shifts in attitude in Lebanon towards Israel, the failings of Palestine leadership and the suspenseful sense in the Middle East of the US election feeling like a local election.

The Arab Voice

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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

Herbert had a Dream

Farewell to the lyricist of the world’s longest running musical, Les Misérables

By David E. Kaplan

It’s quite amazing how Jews from dorps in South Africa managed to dream way beyond their small towns and make it big in the wide world,” remarked international lawyer David Kretzmer from Kochav Yair at the time of his father’s passing in 2015.

Wordsmith in Israel. World famous lyricist Herbert Kretzmer (right) with his nephew David Kretzmer in Kohav Yair, Israel in 2015.

Born and bred in the “dorp” or “one horse town” of  Kroonstad in the Orange Free State (OFS), his father Elliot Kretzmer,  would emerge as the mayor of South Africa’s largest city – Johannesburg.

Small Town, Big Visions. Historic town hall in Kroonstad, South Africa where Herbert Kretzmer grew up.

Included in this observation of meteoric rise out of rural obscurity was his uncle visiting from the UK – Elliot’s brother, Herbert Kretzmer, the world famous lyricist who died this month in London at the age of 95.

With tributes appearing in newspapers around the world of the passing of the lyricist to the world’s longest running musical Les Misérables, the writer reflects on his 2015 interview in Israel with Herbert Kretzmer then aged 89.

Herbert’s voice was a low rumble who as one journalist had described:

 “If a coffee percolator could talk, it would sound like Herbert Kretzmer.”

Charming and witty, it was a delight passing time with Herbert  over copious amounts of his nephew’s 12 year-old Chivas Regal. The stories flowed as one was taken back to the world of film and stage and a ‘Who’s Who’ of the sixties and seventies. Herbert, as a top Fleet Street journalist – “before I was a composer” – had interviewed them all. He refers to a thank-you letter from Frank Sinatra, not for composing the lyrics to a song, but for an article he wrote on the singer: “Your column was most compassionate and sensitive, and I am most grateful to you,” wrote ‘ol’ Blue Eyes’.

Herbert dismisses the missive “on a loo level,” displaying as much reverence as pride, The letter appears in his publication ‘Snapshots – Encounters with Twentieth Century Legends’, a compilation of interviews with Tennessee Williams, Louis Armstrong, Truman Capote, Cary Grant, John Paul Getty, Marlene Dietrich, Marcelle Marceau, Groucho Marx, Niel Simon, Muhammad Ali, Judy Garland, David Niven the director of Exodus, Otto Preminger, Peter Sellers and many others. A Jewish angle is frequently evident. Sellers, he notes “as a supreme example of a man smothered by his mother,” while Marcelle Marceau, “the son of a kosher butcher, was in the French resistance, and escorted groups of children to safety using mime to keep them amused during dangerous crossings.” Most these ‘living legends’ would become his friends with one exception – Leni Riesestahl, Hitler’s favourite film maker. In that interview he abandoned his urbane charm. “If I had a stance, it was adversarial.”

One could hardly blame him.

Almost all of Herbie’s patrilineal cousins, grandparents, uncles, and aunts were murdered in Lithuania during the Holocaust. According to Michael Kretzmer whose late father was the songwriter’s first cousin, the mass murder took place on the 8 August 1941 in the family’s hometown of Birzai. Noting the “unimaginable sadism, torture, and rape on the part of the eighty Lithuanian murderers, fifty of them townsfolk and neighbours, Herbie Kretzmer,” asserts Michael “was the perfect response to that enduring wickedness.”

Stargazing

Herbert’s insights of the stars were riveting. Over breakfast with Yul Brynner – “owner of the most celebrated skull  in the world” – Herbert discovered a “shy philosopher”, while Walt Disney, “the creator of the most famous rodent in the world, confided mice frightened him.”

Although journalism played a major part of Herbert’s professional life, it is as a lyricist that he will be most remembered.

Old songwriters don’t die,” he says, “they just de-compose.”

The Write Stuff

It was way back in 1953 that Herbert moved from Johannesburg to Paris where he played the piano by night in a bar in return for a meal. A fair exchange for those struggling days but Herbert was on course with destiny.

A year later, he hopped over the Channel to the heart of the global media world – LONDON  – in pursuit of his dream that would reward him with award-winning journalistic career that included stints at the Daily Express and Daily Mail.

However, while his fingers pounded the typewriter penning his world famous interviews, his mind seldom strayed from his faithful mistress – MUSIC. It was a love affair that would change his life unimaginably, “beyond my wildest dreams.”

The swinging sixties saw Herbert writing weekly songs for the BBC’s groundbreaking satirical show “That Was the Week That Was,” that helped launch the careers of such luminaries in the world of television as John Cleese and David Frost. It was no less a launchpad for Herbert who would write humorous songs such as “Goodness Gracious Me,” to more poignant melodies like “In the Summer of His Years,” a tribute to President John F. Kennedy that was written hours after his assassination on Nov. 22, 1963.

The lyricist was fired up and inspired.

It’s Personal

There were further songs, including “She” which he wrote with French singer Charles Aznavour and which topped the British singles charts for a month in 1974. (*see below the lyrics)

While speculation as the song’s meaning ranged from about a lady who’d had a particularly volatile relationship with Charles Aznavour as “She sounded like quite a handful” to intended as the theme tune for a television series called “The Seven Faces Of Women”, Herbert would later reveal otherwise.

No, it was not about Charles but a British woman with whom Herbert had recently broken up following a yearlong affair!

How telling:

She may be the song that summer sings
Maybe the chill that autumn brings
…”

Just His Cup of Tea

However the really ‘big time’ was still in the future – as they say, written in the tea leaves. This time quite literally, when Les Misérables producer Cameron Mackintosh invited Herbert to tea in June 1984, a meeting that would transform his life.

Mackintosh would later express that Herbert was instrumental in bringing Victor Hugo’s classic tale of defiance and redemption in early 19th century France to the stage in English in October 1985, five years after it had opened in Paris. “His wonderful words for Les Misérables will live on in his memory forever more,” he said in a recent statement.

While the expanded English version of “Les Misérables” had mixed reviews initially, it would emerge one of the biggest successes of 20th century theatre.

Were it not for the COVID-19 pandemic, it would still be running in London, testament to the enduring popularity of the story as well as the songs, such as “I Dreamed a Dream”, “One Day More” and “Do You Hear the People Sing?

Glowing at the Globes

Arriving at the Beverly Hills Hilton for the 2013 Golden Globes, Herbert noted that his table “was an awfully long way back,” from the stage. No matter he thought, “I will not be making that walk.”  How wrong he was when the announcement came that ‘Les Miz’ won the award for Best Musical. “I’m in pretty good nick for 87 but by my calculations it was going to take me about half  an hour to get there. But adrenalin and applause are potent drugs,” he said. So along with Claude-Michel Schonberg, the French composer who wrote the score, and Alain Boublil, who first conceived the idea for a musical version of Victor Hugo’s novel and wrote the original French lyrics, “I positively cantered to the stage.” It was there, amid the blinding television  lights “and the gratifying cheers and whoops of the audience, that something rather special happened.” 

As he stood there, catching his breath and savouring the moment  “I felt someone gently slip their arm through mine – a much appreciated gesture of support and comfort.” It was academy award winner Anne  Hathaway. “Almost 30 years ago, I wrote a lyric — ‘I Dreamed a Dream’ – and Anne sings it so beautifully in the film that it can break even the stoniest of hearts.” Recalling when he sat in his Knightsbridge flat all  those years ago, “agonizing over whether the line about ‘but the tigers come at night’ would work or not, I never dreamed of what Les Misérable would become. Like Hugo’s novel, it’s one part chase story, one part moral fable and one part love story, but when you put those elements together the result has proved irresistible.” And yet, without Herbert, there might have not been the award winning movie.

‘Les Miz’ had been ticking along very nicely – the longest-running musical in the West End (27 years), the  third-longest running Broadway musical (16 years) and the second-longest running musical in the world, with openings in every major city having garnered eight Tony Awards – and then something phenomenal happened that even Herbert could not have “dreamed” possible. “This dumpy little lady walks on to a stage and within minutes she’s a universal legend. Everything about her is stardust as she revived interest not only in the song ‘I Dreamed a Dream’ but in the show. She gave it new life.” Susan Boyle’s show-stopping rendition of Herbert’s lyrics on Britain’s Got Talent in 2009, brought Les Miz to a new audience globally. “It proved too “irresistible” not to take the stage production to the next level – Hollywood!

Nearing the much depleted bottle of scotch, I wondered how many of Herbert’s famous interviewees – captured in “Snapshots” – would have guessed that he would become as celebrated as any of them by writing the English lyrics for the stage behemoth Les Misérables.

I am not a religious man,” Herbert reflects, “but I do feel I am in some way born under a rhyming planet,” one whose celestial path passed over Kroonstad.

As a 12 year-old country boy, Herbert had a dream.

“I saw myself on a hilltop with a microphone in my hand and the wind blowing in my hair. I knew that somehow, somewhere, I would be a communicator.”

A communicator he was.

Seen by more than 70 million people in 44 countries and in 22 languages around the globe, the stage production of the world’s longest running musical, Les Misérables is still breaking box-office records well after 30 years.

The boy from Kroonstad would emerge a worthy  recipient of the Chevalier of the Order of Arts and Letters from the French government and an OBE (Order of the British Empire) from the British monarch.

The song that made him most famous  – ‘I Dreamed a Dream’  – probably best encapsulated Herbert Kretzmer’s life!

As I sat opposite the great lyrist throwing back our last scotch, all that was left to say was – L’Chaim (“to life”).


She

She may be the face I can’t forget
The trace of pleasure or regret
May be my treasure or the price I have to pay
She may be the song that summer sings
Maybe the chill that autumn brings
Maybe a hundred different things
Within the measure of a day

She may be the beauty or the beast
May be the famine or the feast
May turn each day into a Heaven or a Hell
She may be the mirror of my dreams
A smile reflected in a stream
She may not be what she may seem
Inside her shell

She, who always seems so happy in a crowd
Whose eyes can be so private and so proud
No one’s allowed to see them when they cry
She may be the love that cannot hope to last
May come to me from shadows in the past 

Charles Aznavour – She 1974



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- 19-22 October 2020

The Israel Brief – 19 October 2020 – Peace takes flight – all the updates. PA Chief Negotiator Saeb Erekat treated in Israeli hospital. Israel begins to lift lock down.



The Israel Brief – 20 October 2020 – First official delegation from UAE in Israel. Saeb Erekat still in coma despite premature reports of death. 38th World Zionist Congress starts.



The Israel Brief – 21 October 2020 – IAF strike targets in response to rocket. Zoom says no to University of Hawaii providing platform for terrorist Leila Khaled. Austrian Embassy looks after Holocaust survivors for Austrian Day.




The Israel Brief – 22 October 2020 – Peace Sudan-ly? Is the US State Department about to release a statement regarding human rights organisations? Israeli lock down lift up update.






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 – October 2020

Arab writers from the Middle East opine on shifts in attitude in Lebanon towards Israel, the failure of a Palestine leadership and the sense in the Middle East of the US election feeling like a local election.


Has the trend of normalization reached Lebanon?

By Luay Rahibani

Enab Baladi, Syria, October 4

In recent weeks, the Lebanese government began changing its approach toward Israel in a subtle yet significant way. Instead of the usual rhetoric of the “Zionist entity” or the “Zionist enemy,” the Lebanese speaker of the Parliament, Nabih Berri, referred to his country’s neighbor in the south simply as “Israel” when he announced the government’s plan to launch direct negotiations with Israel that would demarcate the land and maritime borders between the two countries. In his press conference, Berri indicated that the negotiations would take place under the auspices of the United Nations, indicating that the Lebanese army would lead the negotiations, and that the US of America would work to create a positive atmosphere for the success of the talks.

Lebanese speaker of the Parliament, Nabih Berri, referred to his country’s neighbor in the south simply as “Israel” rather than “Zionist entity” or “Zionist enemy”. (REUTERS/Mohamed Azakir/File Photo)

On the Israeli side, Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz affirmed that the talks with Lebanon would be mediated by the US, “to end the long dispute over the maritime borders between the two countries.”

This announcement can only be interpreted in a single manner: a clear concession by Beirut on its stance toward Tel Aviv. Lebanese writer and journalist Munir Rabee claims that what is happening is the result of Israeli and American pressure on Lebanon, amid the deteriorating economic crisis it is experiencing, to normalize its ties with Israel. He stressed that there is great pressure on the political forces in Lebanon to curb Iran’s influence over the country while opening up to the US and Israel.

Similarly, Nawar Shaaban, the notable military expert, argues that the French efforts led by President Macron to push for these talks will serve as a major blow to Hezbollah and will severely tarnish the movement’s reputation among the Lebanese public. Perhaps the most important impact of these talks is the promotion of the message that calm and stability in the region can be reached through negotiations rather than fighting. The demarcation of borders will inevitably lead to other agreements and security arrangements between the two countries, which means that Lebanon will de facto recognize Israel, its sovereignty, and its borders.

This view aligns with predictions of other experts that Syria, too, will consider normalizing its relations with Israel in an effort to gain international support and legitimacy.

Luay Rahibani


A failed Palwstinian leadership

By Abdulaziz al-Jarallah

Al-Jazirah, Saudi Arabia, October 9

Prince Bandar bin Sultan summarized the Palestinian case succinctly and clearly last week when he explained that while the Palestinian issue is important, its advocates are its biggest detractors. That’s because the Palestinian leadership always bets on the losing side.

This statement is an accurate diagnosis of the Palestinian situation. The Palestinians, as Bandar recounted, never miss an opportunity to make a mistake, including most recently, when they launched vehement attacks against one of their biggest supporters, the United Arab Emirates. Palestinian seminars, conferences, Friday sermons at mosques and media coverage all lashed out at the UAE and described its people in vulgar terms. This behavior is shameful. As usual, it was full of victimhood and defeat. Unfortunately, not a single Palestinian appearing on television managed to justify the harsh rhetoric directed against the people of the Gulf.

Palestinians on Temple Mount trample, set fire to picture of UAE leader in Jerusalem’s Old City, August 14, 2020. (AP Photo/Mahmoud Illean)

The Palestinian leadership has blackmailed the Arab world, and Gulf states in particular, for several decades. It has been ungrateful and unthankful for all of the support, both material and nonmaterial, it has received throughout the years.

Instead of recognizing their own failure, the Palestinians pointed fingers at the Gulf. Their behavior is immoral and embarrassing. If anything, it serves as proof that the decision to normalize ties with Israel and take a step back from the Palestinian issue was a right choice.

Abdulaziz al-Jarallah


When the US elections become local elections

ByAli Hamade

Al-Nahar, Lebanon, October 9

The United States has entered the last stretch of an electoral journey, beginning its mail-in voting process ahead of the official election date of November 3, when incumbent President Donald Trump faces his biggest challenge to date.

The coronavirus epidemic ravaging the US since the beginning of this year has caused great problems for Trump. The financial-economic crisis caused by the spread of the virus struck Trump’s momentum and allowed his Democratic rival, Joe Biden, to make remarkable progress, especially since Trump’s platform was based on remarkable outcomes during the first three years of his term.

Former vice president Joe Biden (Left) and US President Donald Trump (photo credit: WHITE HOUSE / WIKIMEDIA COMMONS)

Still, his declining popularity doesn’t mean the elections will be devoid of surprises. All possibilities are on the table, and if history has taught us anything, it is that opinion polls don’t necessarily reflect the truth.

Perhaps what’s more interesting about these elections is that they are followed not only in the US but also in the Middle East. To the average person in the region, it seems as though people on our side of the world are monitoring the election outcome even more closely than the American people are themselves. Indeed, people throughout the Middle East, the Arab world, Iran, Turkey and Israel are treating the election as a local election.

The reason is pretty obvious. Despite China’s growing military power and Russia’s increased geostrategic involvement in world affairs under Vladimir Putin, the US remains the world’s strongest economic, military and political power. Even in the Middle East, despite setbacks caused by Russia’s involvement in the Syrian civil war, the US remains the most influential power.

Washington has proven time and again that when it makes a strategic choice in the region, it has the ability to turn the tables, regardless of where its opponents stand.

President George W. Bush’s decision to invade Iraq following the 9/11 attacks, for example, changed the face of the region for several decades. Similarly, the appeasing stance enacted by President Barack Obama toward Iran, culminating in the signing of the nuclear deal, opened the door to Tehran’s great expansion toward the Mediterranean coast and the Gulf.

Therefore, people in the Middle East are closely tracking the presidential race and waiting to see its outcome. After all, the identity of the next American president may very well determine their own fate.

Perhaps the only country in the region able to separate its own fate from the fate of the election is Israel, which exerts tremendous power over White House officials through its pro-Israel lobby in Washington. Israel has managed to overcome the policy shifts enacted by successive American administrations.

As for the rest of the countries in the region, including Turkey and Iran, they have to closely monitor the polls and assess their next moves based on their assumption of who will win.

Ali Hamade



*Translations 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

Passing of a Pioneer

The early years of Les Sheer who left a legacy on the landscape of Israel

By David E. Kaplan

Johannesburg-born, Les Sheer would frequently say to people, “Thank God for Israel, for without it I would never have had the most interesting life I have had.”

Times were Tough. An animated Les Sheer addressing his guests at his 80th birthday party where kibbutz Timorim was first established in 1948 on a picturesque hilltop opposite Nahalal in the Yizreel Valley.

How right he was!

The passing of Les (“Chaim”) Sheer at the age of 93 on the 13th October in the city of Rehovot  in central Israel, brought back memories of when I attended his 80th birthday party thirteen years ago. It was an illuminating history lesson that began for his 50 plus guests of family and friends packing into a bus and learning about the pioneering life on Timorim. Included among the guests was the late South African industrialist and philanthropist and former Chairman of the Board of Governors of the Jewish Agency, Mendel Kaplan, whom Les had been his anchorman in Israel for his multifarious business and philanthropic interests. On this day, we were like schoolkids as Les held court as schoolmaster.

His personal history mirrored the history of Israel.

Young and Idealistic. Les and Tzippy Sheer on kibbutz Timorim in 1950.

The bus did not head south to where moshav Timorim is situated today near Kiryat Gat, but north to a picturesque hilltop opposite Nahalal in the Yizreel Valley. It was here in 1948 that Timorim was originally established as a kibbutz by a core group of some 20 South Africans, all members of that country’s Bnei Zion youth movement. Many of them, like Les and Tzippy Sheer, got married before leaving South Africa. The bus puffed its way up the steep serpentine hill, where perched on top, stands the modern-day  community-settlement of Timrat.

The trees on the side of the road were planted by Tzippy,” says Les proudly, manning the bus microphone. “We were paid the princely sum of one pound a day by the JNF. It was hell climbing up this hill at the time, particularly through the mud in winter, and so one of our first jobs was building a road.”

An idealistic poster of Timorim established the same year as Israel in 1948.

It was on this road – albeit it improved over time – that the bus in high gear strained its way up to Les and Tzippy’s early life in Israel.

FRONTIER LIFE

Life “at the top” then was a far cry from today’s Timrat referred to as the “Savyon of the Lower Galilee”. Savyon in central Israel is one of the wealthiest municipalities in Israel.

Learning from Les. Presenting a history lesson, Les Sheer addresses his birthday guests in front of one of the few remaining buildings on kibbutz Timorim. The plaque in Hebrew reads that the cooperative settlement was established in 1948 by discharged soldiers, immigrants from South Africa and Europe and moved in 1954 to the south of the country. The name ‘Timorim’ was taken from a carving in the shape of a palm in the Temple (1 Kings 6:29)

The group only stayed there some three years.

The cataclysmic schism that tore apart the Kibbutz movement in 1952, “splitting families and friends, affected us even though we were a community unconnected with the conflicting ideologies,” explained Les.  Even in South Africa, the ideology of Bnei Zion was politically neutral, other than the firm conviction of settling in Israel. With the sudden and dramatic splitting of kibbutzim on ideological grounds – depending which side of the Cold War lay one’s allegiance – more land was needed “and they wanted ours,” said Les.

Having a Field Day. Out in the fields on kibbutz Timorim are (L -R) Barney Rosenberg, Dov Sender and Les Sheer  age 21.

Not that it upset Les who as Merakez Meshek was responsible for the management of the settlement. “We have wonderful memories, but economically it was impractical.” The kibbutz fields were nearly a two-hour drive away by tractor, east of Afula, near the Jordanian border and “being so far away, we used to set up camp there in season spending periods of a week to ten days at a time.”

As for showers! “In our dreams!,” bellowed Les.  “We had no such luxuries. The water was brought in a mobile tank and used only for cooking, drinking and very sparingly for washing.”

“So where was the water for irrigation?” I enquired.

We farmed only “dry” crops – wheat, barley, corn and hay, all reliant on rainfall. If there was a drought, you had it.”

Life was harsh.

House on the Hill. Kibbutz Timorim in the early 1950s.

Our wives used to take turns cooking. Life was also dangerous. We always had to be watchful for Arab marauders. There was no fence separating us and Jordan and we used to have an extra person on the tractor with a rifle over and above the driver who had his Sten gun beside him. We had some close shaves, but that was frontier life.”

And to the question “What did you live in?”, Les replied:

 “Converted wooden crates that the immigrants in those days brought their furniture in. We carved out doors and windows and could house up to four in a box.”

Back on the hill, business was better. “We had a few guys who had been sheet metal workers in South Africa. They set up a business and our first order was to supply the ducting for air conditioners to the first Dan Hotel in Tel Aviv. This business became so successful; it was the precursor for Miromit (the world’s first solar heating factory), which is Timorim spelt backwards.” Another big order, reveals Les, “was to make the ducting for Peres’ textile plant in Dimona.”

All laughed at Les’ hush-hush verbal substitute for Israel’s nuclear reactor!

THE MILKY WAY

All over these hills,” Les pointed out to his guests “we had a huge herd of sheep. One day I offered to help with the milking. To this day I still do not understand why they have to do this at 2am. Nevertheless, I reported on time and was directed to the six sheep down the row. It was pretty dark as there was no electricity, only paraffin lamps. I followed their lead by squeezing the teat in a downward motion and the next moment found myself sprawled on my back. Determined not to let a sheep get the better of me, I attacked the teat again and…thump! After being kicked a third time, the boys were hysterical. They had set me up with a bloody ram!”

On another occasion, when “we were on hachsharah (preparation) on Gvat before moving to Timorim, we were working with these young guys who had just been released from the Palmach and they thought they knew everything. This was the period of the Tzena (period of austerity when Israelis stood in line for rations) and I was learning about growing fodder. This bloke comes in, sees no milk in the cooler, so opens the fridge and helps himself to some bottles. I tried to stop him.”

“What are you interfering for?” he bellowed at Les, “so I walked on into the dining room for lunch. About ten minutes later the man in charge of the cows came storming in, shouting:

 “What the bloody hell is going on here! The expert has come to do the artificial insemination of the cows and all the semen in the fridge is gone. Who the hell is responsible?”

The question needed no answer. Everyone turned to the only person in the dining room who had vomited!

The South Africans were joined by a group of survivors from the Holocaust. “They were a wonderful bunch of hard-working young people, who had lived on their wits to survive. For the most part they had missed out on an education and some of them did not even know their own birthdays. One fellow took the name of ‘Pesach Purim’, because he remembered celebrating his birthday sometime between the two chagim. (festivities)”

It was for the most part hearing about the horrors of the Shoah (Holocaust) in Johannesburg in 1945 that made Les determined to settle in the new Jewish State. “My parents were dead against it, but the Shoah was the final straw. All the memories of my schooldays came flooding back of being taunted – “Jew boy, go back to Palestine.”

At age 21, Les took their advice.

Timorim’s Trying Times. An old newspaper article including an interview with Les Sheer about pioneering life on Timorim.

Fruits of his Labour

The intervening years in the 1950s between leaving Timorim and being sent on Shlihut (emissary) to South Africa on behalf of the Jewish Agency, saw him working on a major national project for the government and the Jewish Agency impacting on the lives of thousands of new immigrants. Supported with another South African, Yitzchak Abt, Les organized a team which planned the development of the Lachish Region. This was an area of a million dunams of land stretching from Ashkelon to Beit Guvrin, encompassing the “new” Timorim that was no more a kibbutz in the north but a moshav in the south. Les was the overall strategist, Abt the expert in agriculture. Their mission – a race against time to settle the thousands of immigrants mostly from North Africa – Tunisia and Morocco –  who were pouring in and earmarked to settle in this region. The real challenge was that these new immigrants knew little about farming and yet, with large families, would have to survive by engaging in agriculture.  

From North Africa to South Israel. Immigrants from Morocco leaving the ship in Haifa port in the 1950s. Some would settle in the Lachish Region that Les Sheer was tasked to structure to absorb this new wave of North African immigration. (Keren Hayesod collection)
Israel Assisting Developing World. Les Sheer’s colleague , Yitzchak Abt, lecturing in Panama in the 1960s with a map of Lachish behind him.

Through Les’ strategic planning and Yitzchak Abt’s innovative genius in irrigation and agriculture, they succeeded with Lachish becoming home to thousands of immigrants and their children who established moshavim, kibbutzim and towns. A drive today through this region, we see greenhouses, vineyards, orchids, fields and forests – a topographic testimony to the labours of Les and Yitzchak who helped transform this once rocky and sparce terrain into Israel’s verdant heartland. What is more, so successful were their labours that their ideas emerged as the prototype of regional planning beyond Israel to other developing countries around the world. In the ensuing years would see Apt lecturing in Panama, Venezuela and Malawi with a map of Lachish behind him, revealing –  “How we did it!”

Forging a Future. Les and Tzippy Sheer with their young children Dafna and Avner.

Son Avner Sheer,  remembers those days as a young kid living in a small apartment in Kiryat Gat, which had only been established in 1954. However, in the same way as his father on his 80th remarked that the trees on the way up to Timorim in the north of Israel were planted by “my wife Tzippy,” Avner reveals that, “When I pass through in my car the region of Lachish, I think these trees were planted by my Dad.”

Back to our Roots

Love of the land was in Les’ DNA and on his moshav, Kfar Bilu B near Rehovot, he developed one of the finest private bonsai gardens in Israel. It was little wonder that he was enlisted into the Friends of the Jerusalem Botanical Gardens Society and soon became its head. It was in this capacity while being responsible for the Kaplan-Kushlick Foundation in Israel that  he then brought  Mendel and Jill Kaplanto get this garden moving…..We have to do something!” That was back in 1979.

And moving they did.

Today, the Jerusalem Botanical Gardens (JBG) stands as an island of serenity amid the din of a city that resonates to the four corners of the earth.

Garden of Eden. Les Sheer stands next to the entrance to the fynbos section of the South African part of the Jerusalem Botanical Gardens (Photo by: Gerald Hoberman).

Having the largest collection of living plants in the Middle East the JBG displays over 6000 species in geographical sections simulating the local landscape of bio-diversity hotspots around the world.

The Jewel in Jerusalem’s CrownThe pride of Les Sheer’s many projects,visitors enjoy a guided tour of the Jerusalem Botanical Gardens’ Tropical Conservatory. (Photo by Tom Amit)

On my last visit, it was heartwarming to see all the schoolchildren there digging with spades instead of texting on their smartphones. Indeed, over 1,200 young pupils visit the botanical gardens each week to plant flowers and vegetables. With 92% of Israel’s population living today in cities, “it is vital for these youngsters,” asserted our guide, “to discover that produce does not grow on shelves in their neighborhood supermarket.”

Imparting knowledge by example was so much what Les Sheer was about.

To know him was a “Sheer Delight”!




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- 18 October 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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(1)

Tel Aviv on Track

Tracking history, City launches new railway park

By David E. Kaplan

Past and Present. Early train powered by a steam locomotive (left) and the new Train Track Park in Tel Aviv today.

The writer’s stroll in Tel Aviv’s new “Train Track Park” was as much a walk into the past as an embrace of the future, as he “tracks” earlier travelers from the Theodore Herzl and reflects on the words of  the “father of modern Hebrew”, Eliezer Ben-Yehuda,  who saw the laying of the original track as a symbol of “the victory of enlightenment”.

Tel Aviv on Track

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(2)

Israel’s Earth Shot

Tiny in size – giant in efforts to protect the environment, Israel is leading by example

By Rolene Marks

Movers & Shakers. Inspiring voices for change – Sir Richard Attenborough and the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge.

With the quest to “Save Our Planet’ promoted by such global luminaries as Sir David Attenborough and the inspirational Earthshot Prize initiator, Prince Williamthe Duke of Cambridge, Israel standsin the vanguard  to ensure that future generations inherit a healthier environment.

Israel’s Earth Shot

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(3)

A Lone Soldier on a Mission in Syrian Territory

During the Yom Kippur War

By Jonathan Davis

Men on a Mission. They escaped almost certain death or captivity 47 years ago behind enemy lines in Syria.

Strong leadership, top training, camaraderie and remaining calm under extreme life-threatening danger, is what saved this group of Israeli fighters surrounded by the enemy in the heat of battle 47 years ago this month. A personal insight by one of the young warriors at the time.

A Lone Soldier on a Mission in Syrian Territory

During the Yom Kippur War

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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

Israel’s Earth Shot

Tiny in size – giant in efforts to protect the environment, Israel is leading by example

By Rolene Marks

Israel is this extraordinary geographical dichotomy of sprawling desert beauty and snow-capped mountains, with forests and coastline and so much more packed into a tiny piece of land barely the size of New Jersey. Whether you are looking to snorkel or ski, the Israeli landscape has everything you want.

Israelis are imbued with a great love of the land and a sense of responsibility for it.

Fertile Future. Under the stewardship of the JNF (Jewish National Fund), Israel’s landscape had been transformed from parched earth to carpets of green forests.

Saving the planet and what we all can contribute to this effort has been the subject of a lot of discussion and coverage over the last few weeks. Global treasure, Sir David Attenborough, he of the dulcet narrative tones and exceptional commitment to conservation, released his documentary “A Life on this Planet” which is currently on streaming giant, Netflix. Described as his witness testament to the state of our planet, Attenborough not only shares the alarming truth of the destruction wreaked on our natural world but offers practical solutions to what can be done to fix the problems.  HRH, Prince William, released his documentary, “A Planet for Us All” which echoes the call for everyone to be involved in helping to heal Mother Earth and followed this up with his Earthshot Prize. The Earthshot Prize, aims to find solutions from around the world to help – and comes with hefty financial prizes for those who find solutions in the stated categories. The categories are:

protect and restore nature, clean our air, revive our oceans, build a waste free world and fix our climate.

Modelled on JFK’s Moonshot which aimed (and achieved!) putting a man on the moon, this necessary and ambitious endeavor, aims to inspire the same dedication and ingenuity

What is seldom discussed is how Israel is a leader in the fields of conservation and environment protection. With signature start-up prowess coupled with understanding of our limited resources and a deep love for our environment, Israel has made extraordinary strides in these fields.  Below are a few small snapshots of some Israel’s projects and achievements.

Greening the Desert

Did you know that today Israel has the rare honour of being one of the only countries (if not the only one) that has more trees today than when the country was founded in 1948? By the early 20th century, Israel’s indigenous forests had been almost totally destroyed by centuries of continuous grazing and cutting of trees. When Israel was established in 1948, there were fewer than 5 million trees in the entire area. Today, over 200 million trees have been planted in an active reforestation programme spearheaded by the Jewish National Fund (JNF). Many of us remember putting money in the ubiquitous “Blue Box” that helped raise the funds to plant these forests.

 Field of Dreams. While farming is not an easy task, Israel offers creative techniques to make the task easier and the desert bloom.

Evergreens have been planted in the hillier parts of the country and eucalyptus in the south.  Today there is more species diversification and forests feature a wide variety of species: oaks and carobs, terebinths and cypresses, eucalyptus, Judas trees, acacias, olive, almond, and many more. Many of these species harken back to biblical references.

Preserving Species

Rhinoceros are not a species that you would associate with Israel. More suited to the vast savannahs of Africa, these almost prehistoric looking beasts are finding a new lease on life in the Holy Land. Rhinos are on the list of endangered species because they are being mercilessly poached for their horns. Israel is successfully breeding rhinos in captivity. The Ramat Gan Safari Park just outside Tel Aviv, started their rhino conservation programme in 1974 and to date, an estimated 31 calves have been born in captivity. The first baby rhino, born in September 1978 was a girl named “Shalom”. The birth of this little calf coincided with the signing of the Camp David Accords – the peace agreement between Israel and Egypt.

Africa in the Heart of Israel. Rhinos basking “safe and secure” under the Israeli sun at the Ramat Gan Safari Park outside of Tel Aviv.

In recent years, the park has celebrated the birth of baby Terkel, Tupak, Tashi and Timor, all rare white rhinos born to their South African immigrant mother, Tanda.  Calves have also been born to Keren Peles, another rhino who was named after Israel’s singer-songwriter.

Celebrations have also been conducted for babies Rami, Kipenzi and many more!

This rhino breeding programme is part of a global conservation effort to increase rhino populations and world renowned South African conservationist, Braam Malherbe, lauded the efforts being made by the Park and believes it is a model that should be implemented globally. In the quite sanctity of the Ramat Gan Safari Park, they are assured that the only place a horn belongs – is on a rhino!

A Birder’s Paradise

Israel is a birder’s paradise. Every year, thousands of tourists “flock” (pun intended) to Israel’s north to watch the millions of birds migrating. Like a magnificent feathered, sky born ballet, it a feast for the eyes for anyone who wants to observe the different species and flight patterns. As much as Israel is engaged in protecting animals or the endangered species list, this also extends to birds, and specifically raptors. Although fully protected by the law, Israel’s raptor population has severely declined in the last 50 years, because of poaching, continued use of pesticides, and extensive loss of habitat. 

Israel for the Birds. Tens of Thousands of cranes seen in the Hula Valley, northern Israel on February 28, 2014, Tens of thousands of cranes stay in the reserve on their way to Northern Europe. photo by Edi Israel/Flash90.

There is a concerted effort by conservationists to protect Israel’s birds of prey and this entails preserving nesting and foraging habitats, increasing wild populations of endangered raptors by breeding and releasing, establishing supplementary feeding stations for scavenger species like vultures where food is more scarce and increasing awareness and education with the citizens of the country.

Israel has successfully managed to increase the populations of Griffon Vultures, Lesser Kestrels and is making great strides with the Spotted Eagle, the Imperial Eagle and the Black Vulture.

On the ground and in the sky, Israel is answering the call of the wild.

Genetic Conservation of Plants

Feed the world! It is not just Israel’s animal and bird species that are being preserved but agricultural plants as well.

Israel’s location in the Mideast heartland of genetic diversity for many major agricultural crops and its geographical and climatic diversity has created a particularly rich ensemble of habitats and plant species. Tiny but mighty, Israel includes one of the largest and most accessible collections of wild wheat, barley, oat, and legumes in the world, as well as a smorgasbord of wild fruits and other important crops.

The importance of preserving Israel’s exceptionally rich plant genetic resources for the improvement of growth, yield, nutrition and disease, pest, drought and salt tolerance of major crop varieties has long been recognized. As early as 1909, Aaron Aaronson of the Jewish Agricultural Experiment Station in Haifa, who discovered wild emmer wheat in the Galilee, began collaborating with the U.S. Department of Agriculture on research for plants, particularly wheat varieties that could be introduced into the United States. Israel’s landmark studies on conservation in wild wheat populations have continued to draw considerable international attention.

The collected plant species that are indigenous to Israel are largely concentrated in the Israeli Gene Bank for Agricultural Crops which was set up in 1979. Scientists from government, academia and Israel’s seed industry have joined forces in the gene bank to ensure that Israel’s native varieties – its genetic heritage – are not lost to future generations. Could this be a possible solution to challenges posed by lack of food security?

Saluting the Sun

Israel’s sunny climate is not just great for beach sports and being outdoors but our greatest natural resource, the sun, is proving invaluable in helping the country to become more reliant on solar energy thus reducing costs and promoting renewable energy. Some experts estimate that by 2030, Israel could be fully reliant on renewable energy. In 2019, the largest solar powered energy field was inaugurated in the Negev Desert.

Israel is a Powerhouse. The Tower of Power energy project in Ashalim in Israel’s Negev Desert.. (courtesy of BrightSource Energy)

Environmental Minister at the time, Yuval Steinitz said:

Since I assumed office, I have used every possible means to increase the scope of renewable energy production, and by doing so, I expect to meet the government goal of 10% by the end of 2020. I believe that alongside natural gas, renewable energy is of paramount importance in reducing air pollution for the benefit of the health of all of us, and this policy is reflected in the “Plan 2030” that we are leading in order to stop the dependence of Israel on polluting fuels. The breakthrough in this field enables us, in addition to stopping the use of coal, to significantly promote the renewability goal for 2030.”

A Country of the Future

There is hardly a day that goes by without newspaper articles sharing the latest innovations from Israeli super brains. Whether it is meat grown in a lab that tastes exactly like the most mouth-watering steak which helps in the decrease of cattle consumption or piloting rechargeable roads to reduce carbon emissions, saving wildlife, reducing dependency on fossil fuels, reforestation, de-salination and recycling sewage for clean water, creating water from air and a myriad of other daily inventions, Israel is a country firmly focused on the future.

The examples above are just a fraction of the work that Israelis are doing in various fields. As the global conversation centres more and more on what we can be doing to help repair the planet, Israel is in the vanguard to ensure that future generations inherit a healthier environment. The opportunity presented by the Earthshot Prize for the global community to share their ingenuity is audacious and remarkable. This is like catnip to Israeli innovators! Challenges are what drive Israelis to achieve.  This, coupled with the most noble mission, to repair our planet is where we thrive.

I think that Sir David Attenborough and Prince William will approve.

David Attenborough: A Life on Our Planet | Official Trailer | Netflix In this unique feature documentary, titled David Attenborough: A Life On Our Planet, the celebrated naturalist reflects upon both the defining moments of his lifetime and the devastating changes he has seen.