Yulia, the rare monk seal captures the hearts of Israelis

By Rolene Marks

For several days, the most gorgeous blonde visited Israel’s beaches. With a sunny countenance, evident by her pretty smile she serenely lounged at the water’s edge, much to the absolute delight of curious onlookers.

A Mediterranean monk seal called Yulia, became Israel’s most watched – and loved celebrity. Named by a little boy who was the first to see her, Yulia enthralled Israelis and made global headlines when she visited Jaffa beach, close to Tel Aviv and for nearly a week frolicked in the Mediterranean Sea while spending a lot of time resting and sunbathing in full view of a delighted public.

Basking on the Beach. A rare, endangered seal named Yulia basks on Tel Aviv beach turning heads and causing a media buzz.

Monk seals are one of the most endangered species in the world and it is believed that there are less than 700 of them in existence. Even more reason Israeli nature lovers were thrilled to see her!

Yulia could not have arrived at a better time. For months, Israeli society has been bitterly divided over proposed judicial overhauls and just days before Yulia’s arrival, was engaged in Operation Shield and Arrow to ongoing rocket attacks from terror entity, Islamic Jihad, in Gaza. Yulia brought much needed joy and unity.

Yulia was listless and shaking when she first arrived on Israeli shores, and conservationists and experts were worried that she may be ill. Marine biologists from the Delphis Association, an Israeli nonprofit for marine mammals, very carefully monitored her. Monk seals shed their coats, which is a process that takes a lot of energy; which could explain why she was so listless and was reported going for swims and back to her resting position on the beach.

Seal of Approval. Yulia the monk seal was loved and protected during her beach vacation in Israel. (Photo by Dr. Aviad Scheinin/Delphis)

Turkish researchers at the International Union for Conservation of Nature, or IUCN, received images of Yulia, and recognized her as a monk seal called Tugra (we prefer Yulia!) that they were familiar with, who was known for swimming great distances and napping for extraordinarily long stretches of time. She is reportedly over 20-years-old and is well travelled having being spotted close to Greece and Turkey. The Delphis Association and the IUCN have partnered for a joint project working to protect endangered monk seals.

Her arrival was just as exciting for marine biologists as it was for the throngs of people who came to greet her.

“On the one hand, I’m on such a high, I haven’t slept in days,” said Mia Elasar, founder of the Delphis Association, who has been researching monk seals for 30 years. “As a child I heard that there were once far more seals here; and now, to see one in real life, it’s a legend that has come alive.”

She was not the only one losing sleep over Yulia’s sudden appearance. “This is a very rare event that a monk seal stays for such a long time on the shore,” said Aviad Scheinin, a marine biologist from University of Haifa. “I’m researching marine mammals for 20 years; this is the first time that I’m actually seeing such a thing, and I can hardly sleep at night because of that,” he said.

Yulia the monk seal insisting to stay after being spotted at yet another beach over the weekend

Nature and Parks Authority inspectors spared no time in ensuring Yulia received the VIP care befitting a lady of her status; and secured a safe perimeter around her to keep the enthusiastic public away from getting too close to her and scaring her.

Volunteers kept a watchful eye 24/7 to ensure that she could rest undisturbed and Delphis carefully monitored her condition, which they sent to vets. They were joined by Israelis around the country who followed her in the various media. Yulia even made headlines around the world. From Ireland to China, the United States to the United Kingdom, everyone was on Yulia watch. 

“Of course I know she’s not smiling, but her lips are formed in a way that makes her look like she is. She’s so utterly calm — even while a million people are watching her,” said Aya Zaken, a resident of Jaffa.

Zaken said that seeing Yulia for the first time was a “much more moving experience” than she had expected, Zaken said — partly because of the seal’s size but also because of the effect she had on onlookers.

“When faced with her, I felt an overwhelming sense of calm, like a deep meditation,” Zaken said. “The feeling that this is so much bigger than me or my troubles.” I felt that too, Aya. She crept into my heart as well – as she did for so many of us.

On Friday, Yulia reportedly dove back into the Mediterranean, leaving many feeling that her Israel excursion had finally ended.

She popped up a little later a few kilometres down south at Palmachim beach. She beat a hasty retreat into the water to avoid over-enthusiastic beach-goers. Who could blame her?!

As quietly as she arrived, she left, off on her next adventure. Israel’s Nature and Parks Authority reported that on midnight of Saturday night, she swam off and has not been seen since.

Yulia the monk seal captivated a nation. We fell in love with her. She brought with her some much-needed joy and a reminder of the importance of doing everything that we can to ensure endangered species are respected and given the space that they need to flourish. We hope she comes back to visit us soon – and brings some of her friends too! – and she did!!

*Yulia was spotted several days later back on the Israeli coast and is reported to still be here!

“If Yulia was a Pixar movie – this is what she would look like”.

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).


Architect from Michigan, USA revisits his  hometown of Cape Town and reflects on disturbing urban landscapes and its people still saddled with racism – but now in reverse 

By Michael Witkin

I travelled to Cape Town from the US after a long hiatus of ten years (2012) and was mortified of the degradation that had occurred over that period of time. Going back and seeing things, it seemed as though I was chasing the ghost of my elusive past; the ghost of something that I would no longer find. I have recollections of a place of seeping memories; another life, another dimension – a society that has decayed and encased itself, enabled by a corrupt and incompetent government out for self-enrichment. A government that has sucked the marrow from the very bones of South Africa.

Hovels, hoks [slang for makeshift dwellings] and hellholes line both sides of the national road to Cape Town from the airport. Corrugated tin, cardboard, black trash bags, petrol drums and burlap hobbled together with string and wire are used as building materials. Cape Town has always had shanties but now it was overwhelming and extended as far as the eye could see. This slum makes the favelas in Sao Paulo look luxurious by comparison. Smoke oozes out from a shanty saying, “this is my home, someone lives here.” A stray cow walks on the side of the road while an African child strolls with a herd of goats.

Tin Towns. Urban expansion in South Africa today usually means this – a shanty sprawl.

By welcome contrast, I gaze at the breathtaking Table Mountain and Lions Head bathed in radiant and iridescent light as the sun was setting. The sheer beauty and allure of Cape Town imparts a strong sense of place that cannot be found elsewhere in the world.

Then back to shards of jagged broken glass; like sharpened incisors gleaming, sparkling and ominous, embedded in mortar, forms the crown to three meter high concrete walls. Walls with unfurled shiny coils of threatening razor wire that forms the cloak of invincibility to the souls that live behind these high walls. 

Sharpened steel rods, sword-like pikes topped with honed arrowheads and menacing barbs further celebrate and adorn these palisades. Stockades that have become houses of detention overflows with resentment and resignation.

Sign of the Times. Common sign outside properties warning the public of danger, it seems indicative of applying to the entire country.   (photo M. Witkin)

DangerGevaarIngozi” These are the words in English, Afrikaans and Zulu on signs with a red background and a crudely stenciled skull and crossbones that are now part of the urban fabric. Angle-iron bayonets affixed at an acute angle to the walls that support twelve strands of electrified wire, add further anguish to the painful broken glass crown and sinister cloak that safeguards, protects and shields those that are held hostage unto themselves. The streetscape and thoroughfares in residential neighborhoods have been transformed into hostile environments, devoid of people.

Designed to Deter. Appearing like modern sculpture, these sharp glass shards on high walls are not to attract interest but deter intruders.

It was the weekly garbage day. I peered over the balcony from the second floor of the apartment I was staying at. About ten large bins were hauled out to the sidewalk to be picked up. Within less than a minute a deluge of beggars besieged the bins systematically sorting through the detritus, debris and trash. They would neatly empty the bin then would stuff unidentifiable objects into their pockets and into plastic grocery bags slung over their necks and shoulders like bandoliers. This is commonplace as I saw numerous times poor people fishing in trash cans for something to eat. A crust of bread, spoilage or maybe find an item that could be sold.

Besides the non-existence of South African Airways, which was one of the finest airline companies in the world, the postal service is almost nonexistent. I know of someone who received her birthday card five months after the date. The postal workers rifle through the mail opening up letters and parcels and help themselves to whatever they can find. Most post offices in urban areas have closed permanently due to “unprofitability and crime” A number of post office properties were foreclosed upon and are up for auction due to not being able to pay their rent or mortgages. Large numbers of postal workers were let go. No funds are available so there is no solution in sight. Private courier services have to be used albeit at a steep price.

“Poor Whites” has become South Africa’s “New Subclass”. These are white families who have lost their jobs and fallen into poverty as a result of the policy of “affirmative  action”, that is, preferential treatment for blacks. Living in total abject poverty, this destitute group is rarely discussed or acknowledged but is increasing in size. They survive in informal settlements away from the public eye; mostly in tents and hovels. They are mostly the disinherited, outcast and bereft Afrikaners that are bitter and dejected and feel abandoned.

This situation is depicted in TFI Global’s  ‘You don’t need to die to see hell, just visit a white slum in South Africa’:

White squatter colonies, where there is little food, running water, and no electricity, live in shanties with rusted cars, ditches and pools of filth, and stagnant water with mosquitos swarming. Over two decades, the number of poor whites has steadily increased. ……Over 400,000 white S Africans are estimated to be impoverished. Reverse racism has been rampant and has ravaged the white population in South Africa. Targeted policies of the government has pushed the country to a near apartheid-like situation and the continued regressive policies have pushed South Africa into an era of subjugation of the people once more.”

White Squatter Camp. These white South African families are so poor they are forced to live in slums similar to the worst days of Apartheid. (Picture: James Cheadle/Solent News & Photo Agency UK)

Published in 2020, the numbers are considerably higher now in 2023.

There have always been people begging on the streets; mostly blacks. Now however, they are joined by ever-increasing white beggars. I did see an entire family including small blond haired children with crude cardboard signs saying “Please help – God bless you” .

According to some reports, over 50% of South Africans live in poverty on less than $2.00 a day. Some have no access to sanitation, water or electricity.

Many of them are the Afrikaners, the descendants of the early Dutch settlers who have become dispossessed and feel betrayed, defrauded and deprived of their rights and of their strong heritage and beliefs. A large number of South Africa’s farmers are Afrikaners who unbeknownst to the outside world have been brutally murdered, their wives tortured and raped; their children shot. The government fails to offer any protection to its white farmers and there was a popular EFP (Economic Freedom Party) song, called “Kill the Boer” that the Equality Court ruled “does not constitute hate speech”. People are free to continue singing it and during a debate in Parliament about the farm attacks and the plight of white farmers, an ANC Member of Parliament felt immune to shout:

 “Bury them alive.

The government’s solution for the White farmer  is to be found in  its policy of “Land Reform”. The ANC has vowed to expropriate white-owned land without compensation and redistribute that land to blacks who are not experienced in agriculture nor have the desire to farm.

While an Afrikaner replies to my question “What will become of the ‘Boere’?” that they will fight to the bitter end, a growing number of Afrikaner farmers are emigrating to Australia, Nigeria, the Congo and the former-Soviet state of Georgia, where their expertise and knowledge is in great demand.

At the end of the Apartheid, and the end of racial discrimination in 1994, there was joy and optimism and the promise of a unified society known as “The Rainbow Nation”.

This expression was coined by the late Archbishop Desmond Tutu describing post-apartheid South Africa with the assurance of a total multi-racial society and a country where everyone has the chance to prosper.

Well, not exactly and Nelson Mandela must be turning in his grave witnessing what has become of the ANC. A caricature of itself, this ‘movement for change’ has itself ‘changed’ having morphed into an organized criminal conspiracy, eviscerating the country of everything it had, and gutting its citizens of all they have left. Today, South Africa is a country of 74 murders and more than 100 rapes a day.(Business Tech Feb 17, 2023). The police chiefs are corrupt and they do not care for the sanctity of life but rather how much they will collect from another bribe. Of course there are those that do care passionately, and those that give to the country and their communities. 

Sadly, South Africa’s house of cards is imploding. The foundations are cracking and crumbling threatening the very pillars of this modern state. The irony is that the Rainbow Nation does not exist. “Equal opportunity” for whites does not exist. In fact, the abused minority of whites are discriminated against rigorously.

Blacks get preferential treatment in employment, education and other areas. A white male is less likely to get a job over a black male. In fact, employment equity laws make it harder for whites to get work. Jobs in upper management go to blacks further ostracizing whites, and in a sense, sentencing them to more menial employment with the inability to use their talents to further themselves. It seems that today, whites feel that they are being punished for something they did not do.

The government has introduced an odious Quota System, a race-based policy that goes against the norms of society in this day and age.

While “Strict quotas are enforced for the degree in medicine and surgery. The intake of white students is capped at 2%”  (Solidariteit Mar 26, 2022), there is a huge shortage of doctors and qualified medical personnel.

The racial quota admissions into universities, across the board, favor blacks over other racial groups. If you are a white student, it is increasingly difficult to get accepted into a university even if you matriculated with distinctions. Those of a darker hue with poor school grades are favored instead. If you did manage to graduate with a degree, you would then again be subjected to the quota system to obtain a Masters.

Why would a white pursue a degree (even if they could get into a university) when there is little future for them; being excluded from society and discriminated against? Today, they are the downtrodden marginalized scapegoats of South Africa.

There is a sense of this is “payback-time…..”

With a growing feeling of despair coupled with a devastating decline in public trust, citizens feel trapped in a dysfunctional society. Even those with majestic homes no longer feel at home anymore. Hence the emigration.

As Rowan Philp in the Mail & Guardian (19 April 2013) wrote

South Africa has been robbed of its best and brightest. For a number of years there has been a steady brain drain of leaders in technology, science, medicine and education. The loss of these people has had a negative impact on the economy. An impressive number of South Africans have risen to the top of their fields in other countries.”

Few if ever will return.

With so many whites unable to come to terms with the realities of poverty, corrupt politics, out-of-control crime and violence, there is a verb that is now commonplace – “Ostriching” – of burying one’s head in the sand, which by the way is a myth much like the “Rainbow Nation” as ostriches  do not bury their heads in the sand.

Besides no airlines, no postal service and no trains, there is a dwindling electricity supply. They have rolling blackouts, euphemistically called “load shedding” which can last as much as 10 hours per day in Cape Town. Johannesburg is worse. People survive by always keeping their thermos flasks filled with hot water, using small gas camping stoves and using rechargeable lanterns for light and a healthy supply of batteries and candles at all times. Food rots in refrigerators so one needs to purchase small amounts of groceries just for a day. Few people can afford to have a generator, let alone the exorbitant cost of diesel fuel. Without electricity there is no viable economy. Retail stores, restaurants, businesses and factories cannot operate. The employees are idle and cannot do their job. As a result they are unable to earn a livelihood. The lack of electricity is a complex topic. In a nutshell, a history of huge financial losses, mismanagement, sabotage and corruption is evident. A judicial commission found that former President Jacob Zuma had orchestrated attempts to raid the coffers of the power company, Eskom. He denies this of course. Little maintenance has been done and with a large increase in the population (mostly emigres from other African countries) they have not kept up with the need to build additional power plants. The lack of electric power has had far reaching effects: Sewage treatment plants, with their pumps shut off; raw sewage overflows and spills into the ocean killing fish and posing very serious health issues. A friend of mine, an ardent swimmer, contracted septicemia blood poisoning which was caused by her ingesting tainted sea water. She almost died…..and yes, hospitals need electricity too.

In a February 25 interview with the Daily Investor, Andre De Ruyter, the outgoing CEO of Eskom, spoke at length about the cartels and the billions of Rands stolen from Eskom by corrupt officials and criminal bosses. “These criminal networks have workers sabotage and vandalize power stations on their behalf and the perpetrators of crime often publicly flaunt their ill-gotten gain.” Continuing, he reveals:

Our informants tell us that when these criminal cartel bosses have a gathering and walk into a room, they wash their hands in 15-year-old whiskey. Why? Because they can.”

He spoke of the Maseratis, McLarens and the conspicuous number of Louis Vuitton bags “among certain individuals.” He spoke of a power station where the manager walks around with a bullet proof vest and is accompanied by armed  guards because of the number of assassinations.

He really summed it up in his remark:

Eskom is the feeding trough for the government

The sick irony is that the trains that transport coal to the power plants which are their life-giving arteries, no longer operate and cannot deliver coal because the rail lines were stolen off the tracks.

The cartels also sell the best quality coal to China and the inferior coal with “rocks and metal” has to be used.

In the agricultural sector, including processing plants, the lack of electric power has led to the culling of poultry, some 10 million chicks in January of 2023, the wastage of fresh milk without refrigeration and the inability to irrigate crops.

With South Africa being a large exporter of fruit to the UK and the EU, this sector of its economy is now also in serious jeopardy due to inadequate refrigeration. Food production has to be sustainable. If there is no food then what happened in Zimbabwe will happen in South Africa. Zimbabwe, formerly known as Rhodesia, was known as a jewel and the breadbasket of Africa exporting wheat, tobacco, beef and corn to the rest of the world; especially to other African nations. However today Zimbabwe faces famine and is now a net importer of food from the Western World.

When food is in short supply the national security of the country is also put at risk.

There is another nauseating component of South Africa’s economy or rather its ‘underground’ economy, and that is, the practice of poaching animals. I visited a game park in the Western Cape. Three weeks prior to my visit three rhino were shot and had their horns hacked off. They tried to save a female rhino which was pregnant. Unfortunately it was to no avail and she bled to death. What can one expect when the South African  president, Cyril Ramaphosa is rumored to have arranged for three caged lions “hunted” by American tourists so that they could have a photograph taken posing with their kill as a “souvenir”.


I visited the Hebrew school that I had attended in Claremont, a suburb of Cape Town, as a young boy. A building now that has been totally defiled, abandoned and eerie. Most of the windows shattered. A portion of the roof appeared to have collapsed while doorways were shut and sealed with concrete blocks. Awnings dangled listlessly from the window openings. Tall weeds and vegetation were growing out of the brickwork. A building destined to crumble and forever root itself in the parched mother-earth.  

Holy Mess. The old Claremont synagogue that shaped the writer’s Judaism and Zionism, having attended here his youth movement “Habonim” meetings is today abandoned and unkept. A plaque (right) noting its vibrant community’s past welcomes today only rodents, vagrants and overgrown weeds.

I peered through the ubiquitous razor wire fence; a child’s swing swayed gently in the summer breeze. I remember a time when the nursery school playground bustled with the clamor of children’s laughter. Now all I could see were shadows and figures in the landscape wreaking havoc; with the stench of putrefying trash adding to the setting. This could have been a scene from Dante’s inferno and his passage through hell.

Sharp Reminders. Sharp spikes and electric wires protect private homes reminiscent of the concerns of castles during the turbulent  Middle Ages.


One day I went by the Cape Town railway station. The ineffectual city council had decided to build a 20 story building as a “student center” with retail shops at the street level. The station was partially demolished. Large precast concrete panels had fallen down haphazardly like a deck of cards and had embedded and now protruded from the ground.

Black smoke stains around large window openings devoid of glass and window frames could be seen. Smoke, probably made by the homeless making fires. Rubble, bricks and debris were scattered all around with more piles of trash and razor wire encasing it all. All I could smell was ash, gasoline and molten metal in the air. Add the smell of gunpowder and I could have been on the movie set of Stanley Kubrick’s ‘Full Metal Jacket’. 

Numerous train stations have been vandalized in South Africa. The railroad tracks have been removed in many areas by thieves and sold as scrap metal. It is not uncommon to have electric power lines cut and the copper sold as scrap. Anything that is brass is fair game too. Any exposed garden taps (faucets) will most likely be stolen and sold as scrap. The actual train station buildings are pretty much destroyed as a source of bricks, doors and windows, roofing and lumber. Consequently those people that depended on the trains to commute to work and back have no means of transportation any longer. Cape Town that once had an amazingly efficient public transportation system – no more. There are still some buses. However, this is not the case with the trains.


One day I walked on the Saint James walkway from Muizenberg beach to St James beach immersing myself in the tantalizing views of the ocean. This walkway was built by the city council with generous financial assistance by the late local resident and businessman Mendel Kaplan. It was built right up to the ocean edge and runs parallel to the railway line. This is a truly breath-taking walk with waves crashing against the rocks; with the smell and taste of salt in the air. In another era many well-known figures including Cecil John Rhodes, John Garlick, Princess Ida Labia and the South African gold tycoon, politician and financier, Sir Abe Bailey, had homes in Muizenberg. Rudyard Kipling, Agatha Christie and others visited and stayed there. These were known as the Halcyon times; not quite as sublime today.

Beauty and the Beast. The scenic St. James Walkway whose timeless beauty diverted the writer’s focus to natures crushing waves on the rocks from man’s crushing abuse of the urban landscape.

Some of the best examples of Edwardian style buildings are to be found here. Notably, the iconic Muizenberg train station, designed by a pupil of architect Sir Herbert Baker in 1913. It was a beautiful building with its red stone arches, symmetrical floor plan and a clock tower which welcomed holiday makers arriving by train.

Hard Times. In better days, the clock tower of the historic train station in Muizenberg, Cape Town built in 1913. Designed by famed architect Sir Herbert Baker, today, the station and the clock tower badly vandalized, appears to the writer as a sad tangled, twisted relic of the past casting concerns on the country’s future.

The clock tower, a piece of artwork in itself, was handcrafted in teak with elaborate detailing with a clock face that has Roman numerals on all four sides. I was appalled and frankly offended by what I saw. The station was vandalized, trashed and robbed of its dignity. The clock tower was teetering at a perverse angle while three of the clock faces were smashed with their metal guts, cogs and springs spilling out.  The hour and minute hands were hanging limply downwards telling us that there is no more time; and that the precious privilege of time is gone forever; completely irretrievable. A candle flickering then dying and vanishing ….…

Is this a metaphor for South Africa?

About the writer

Raised in Cape Town, South Africa and a graduate in architecture from the University of Cape Town in 1976, Michael Witkin‘s first commission was the Mosque and Madrasa in the oppressed black neighborhood of Hanover Park where he also helped to raise money and acquire donated building materials. He also designed emergency low-income housing units using waterproofed heavy-duty corrugated cardboard. With the birth of his first child, he designed and manufactured a portable baby bassinet; and was involved in other pioneering projects including water recycling. Michael immigrated to San Diego where he had a successful architectural practice for 28 years; and a construction company for 13 of those years.  He served as president of the North County American Institute of Architects and chaired the design review board for the San Diego City Development Corporation for many years.  Additionally, he critiqued students at the School of Architecture in design. He has 4 children and moved to Michigan 12 years ago.  Besides commercial and residential projects, he specializes in religious buildings, grows flowers and builds furniture from exotic African hardwoods.

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).


Considering the past, making the case for the present and for Israel

By David E. Kaplan

There is so much talk these days about a mood of despair – how people are feeling despondent, depressed, some writers talk about a feeling of “alienation”. No sooner coming out from the COVID-induced social distancing, we are now saddled with rising fuel costs, global inflation, supply chains being disrupted, a seemingly endless war in Ukraine and an Iran set on playing the world to  dispense with international sanctions while it pursues its nuclear quest “for peaceful purposes”!  And to crown this growing global anxiety, China, that a little over two years ago unleashed on the world – whether from a lab or marketplace –  a pandemic, is now openly threatening to unleash a massive war over Taiwan.

And if the political climate weren’t worrying enough, the physical health of the planet is faring little better than its inhabitants with climate and weather related disasters surging five-fold over 50 years.  Extreme heat, wild fires, droughts, floods, storms  are not the wrath of gods but the common occurrence caused by common man.

Sea’ing is Believing. General view of Israel’s largest desalination plant on the Mediterranean Sea, in Ashdod (Edi Israel /Flash90).

It has a name – ‘Climate Change’ and to meet this challenge we have to change our habits.

Despite this unsettling malaise, I cannot think of another era in history I would swap the present for? In what period of history would I be better protected from ill health or a global pandemic than the present? We have a global pandemic and yet in record time we have life-saving responses.  Yes, we were isolating, and again in record time we had ZOOM that allowed us to socially, intellectually and educationally engage. We live in an age that no matter the monumental problems, we have the talent to come up with rapid solutions. No other age in history comes close…..

Reflecting on the fortunes rather than the misfortunes, I came across  an important but overlooked piece of good news in a recent article by the energy, environment, and science reporter at Vox, Umair Irfan, writing about ‘Climate Change’:

 “Why disasters are getting more severe but killing fewer people”

The writer notes a curious trend in recent years that while many types of natural disasters are causing greater destruction as populations have grown around the world, disasters in general are becoming less deadly. According to the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), the number of disasters over the last 50 years has increased fivefold, but the number of deaths has fallen by two-thirds.

This is a huge accomplishment – perhaps one of the biggest success stories in modern history – yet it’s easy to overlook,” he writes. “These immense gains are the result of the steady, incremental work of forecasters, planners, architects, engineers, and policymakers rather than any single innovation. And the main metric is averted losses, something that’s often hard to appreciate and tricky to value.”

In other words, despite the herculean hurdles, man comes up with innovative solutions and as the world ‘heats up’, Israel is in the vanguard playing its part. So while the Jewish state has negligible impact on planetary destruction, it is in the forefront of new projects in clean transportation, energy efficiency, reducing carbon emissions and promoting climate-tech innovation.

The Young and the Active. Young Israelis take part in a protest demanding action on climate change, Tel Aviv, April 27, 2018. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

Sadly however, there has been no sustainable solution for the most ancient of lethal hatreds – antisemitism. One would have expected that after the Shoah (Holocaust) with the systematic mass murder of over six million civilian Jews, 1.5 million of them children, the world would have come to terms with living with their Jewish neighbours instead of always trying to eradicate them!

The day for such a cerebral “climate change” has not yet dawned!

Moving on from the mass-murder of individual Jews, the malignant virus has morphed in deviously trying to destroy the hard-fought country of the Jews – Israel.

That’s not going to happen – NEVER! Israel today stands as the ‘solution’ to global Jewish survival and security.

So while theoretically I would not – for existential reasons –  have chosen any other era to have lived, I would equally not have chosen any country other than Israel to live in.

Fun in the Sun. Israeli kids – including the writer’s grandchildren – enjoying a summer day in a park near Tel-Aviv. (Photo D.E. Kaplan).

I’m reinforced in that thought as I watch the “MUNCHKINS” – an endearing reference to my grandchildren – in a bustling Israeli playpark. I hear between the Hebrew, smatterings from the watchfull parents and grandparents of English, French, Russian and Spanish – and I think without a shadow of doubt that those probably around me share my thought:


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).

Future’s Fuel

Israel in pole position leading a competitive pack in hydrogen innovation

Rolene Marks

Countries around the world are looking for alternative solutions to fossil fuels. One of the alternatives is hydrogen. Israel is a leader in many fields and innovation around hydrogen is no different. View Lay of the land Co-Founder, Rolene Marks insert on CNA (Channel News Asia) by clicking on the link below:

Efforts to develop alternative energy solutions in Israel amid climate change | Video

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).

Respect for Freedoms

Israel scores high on Freedom House Global Score

By Bev Goldman

“Freedom House works to defend human rights and promote democratic change, with a focus on political rights and civil liberties. We act as a catalyst for freedom through a combination of analysis, advocacy, and action. Our analysis, focused on 13 central issues, is underpinned by our international program work.”

Freedom House is a non-profit NGO that conducts research and advocacy on democracy, political freedom, and human rights in countries across the globe. Founded in October 1941, its first honorary chairpersons were Wendell Willkie, the 1940 Republican nominee for President of the USA, and Eleanor Roosevelt, former and longest-serving first lady of the USA; and it is founded on the core conviction that freedom flourishes in democratic nations where governments are accountable to their people.

A Force for Freedom. A central figure among Freedom House’s early leaders was First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt seen here holding up the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights in November 1949. Eleanor Roosevelt was a strong supporter of Israel from that nation’s founding in 1948 until her death in 1962.

In analysing the countries, Freedom House speaks out against the main threats to democracy while encouraging citizens to exercise their fundamental rights through a unique combination of analysis, advocacy, and offering direct support to frontline defenders of freedom, especially those working in closed authoritarian societies. 

As an independent watchdog organization, its research and analysis focus on the progress and decline of freedom across the globe by empowering human rights defenders and civic activists to advance democratic change.

The 2020 Freedom House Annual Report on Israel is impartial, objective and candid, acknowledging the government’s faults but giving credit wherever it is due, and presenting a picture which to Israel’s enemies would be anathema, but to those who recognise her strengths, it is factual and accurate.

The report begins with an introduction, followed by rigorous analysis of the issues on which they focus: 

“Israel is a multiparty democracy with strong and independent institutes that guarantee political rights and civil liberties for most of the population. Although the judiciary is comparatively active in protecting minority rights, the political leadership and many in society have discriminated against Arab and other ethnic or religious minority populations, resulting in systemic disparities in areas including political representation, criminal justice, education, and economic opportunity.”

The coverage then focuses on the topic of free and fair elections. The report notes that the Central Elections Committee (CEC), which is composed of delegations representing the various political groups in the Knesset and chaired by a Supreme Court judge, guarantees the fairness and integrity of elections, and acknowledges that they are generally peaceful and orderly with results accepted by all parties.

Regarding political pluralism and participation, the reports delineates Israel’s multiparty system as “diverse” and “competitive” but adds that parties or candidates that deny Israel’s Jewish character, oppose democracy, or incite racism are prohibited.  It then includes comments by critics of the 2016 law – which allows the removal of any members who incite racism or support armed struggle against the state of Israel with a three-quarters majority vote – alleging that it is aimed at silencing Arab representatives.

Vibrant Voting. Israel’s “diverse” and “competitive” national elections always attract high turnouts. Seen here are people casting their ballot at a voting station in Jerusalem on March 2, 2020 in an election that at the end of voting, the committee put turnout at 71%. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

The report illustrates the fact that while women generally enjoy full political rights in law and in practice, they are somewhat underrepresented in leadership positions and can encounter additional obstacles in parties and communities – both Jewish and Arab – that are associated with religious or cultural conservatism.

It discusses further that Arab residents of East Jerusalem have the option of obtaining Israeli citizenship in order to be allowed to vote, though most decline for political reasons. While these non-citizens are entitled to vote in municipal as well as Palestinian Authority (PA) elections, most of them have traditionally boycotted Israeli municipal balloting.

The report observes that Israel’s basic laws are considered equivalent to a constitution (which the country does not have). It adds that in 2018, the Knesset adopted a new “basic law” – the Nation-State Law – which granted only to Jewish people the right to exercise self-determination in the State of Israel. Those opposing it, according to further research done, claimed that it created a framework for the erosion of non-Jewish citizens’ political and civil rights.

This report was released before the election of the current coalition and stated that no Arab party had ever been formally included in a governing coalition, nor did Arabs generally serve in senior positions in government. But the current government under Naftali Bennett is the first to include an independent Arab Israeli party as an official member of the governing coalition. How things change!

History in the Making. An Arab dentist, Mansour Abbas, leader of the Islamist party  Ra’am, emerged as the “Kingmaker” in the 2020 Israel election and made history by ensuring for the first time an Arab party joined a governing coalition.

Israel’s laws, political practices, civil society groups and independent media are recognised as generally ensuring a significant level of governmental transparency, though corruption cases are not infrequent and high-level corruption investigations are regularly held. Israel’s judiciary is especially lauded in the report for its independence and its regular rulings against the government. As an addendum to this, the Supreme Court is verified as having played a crucial role in protecting minority groups and overturning decisions by the government and the parliament when they threaten human rights; and court rulings are almost always adhered to by the State, involving both Israeli citizens and Palestinian residents of the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

Moving forward, the report commends Israel’s media as being among the most vibrant and free of any country. But while criticism of government policy is uninhibited, vociferous, candid, and forthright, the rules differ for print articles on security matters which are routinely subject to a military censor. Security considerations are behind the action of the Government Press Office which withholds press cards from journalists to restrict them from entering Israel. While a law passed in 2017 allows police and prosecutors to obtain court orders to block websites publishing criminal or offensive content, the report acknowledges that freedom of expression advocates are concerned that the same law could suppress legitimate speech if applied indiscriminately.

The report applauds Israel’s commendable respect for total freedom of religion, notwithstanding the fact that the country defines itself as a Jewish state. In matters of marriage, divorce and burial, Christian, Muslim, and Baha’i communities have jurisdiction over their own members, but it mentions that while the Orthodox govern personal status matters among Jews, this power they wield is often objected to by many non-Orthodox and secular Jews. It is also revealed that while the law further protects the religious sites of non-Jewish groups, the latter face discrimination in the allocation of state resources.

Mention is made of the ever-present security concerns in Israel which forced Israeli authorities to set varying limits on access to the Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif in East Jerusalem in recent years, affecting worshippers across the broader area. However, in 2018 the government lifted restrictions on Jewish lawmakers visiting the site, restrictions that had been in place for nearly three years, a move much approved of by the citizens.

Jitters in Jerusalem. Freedom of worship is guaranteed in Israel but becomes problematic when praying at places held sacred to both religions as seen with Israeli security forces standing guard, as a group of Jews visit the Temple Mount (Al-Aqsa) compound in Jerusalem, on July 18, 2021. (AHMAD GHARABLI / AFP)

With reference to education, all primary and secondary education is national but is divided into multiple public-school systems (state, state-religious, Haredi, and Arabic). A law passed in 2018 bans groups that favour legal action abroad against Israeli soldiers, or that otherwise undermine state educational goals by criticizing the military, from entering Israeli schools or interacting with students.

Israel’s universities are celebrated as being open to all students and have long been vocal centres for argument, protest, and discord; but again, security concerns have resulted in restricted movement and limited access for West Bank and Gaza residents/students. 

Campus Freedom. A clear show of tolerance and freedom, it is no problem for hundreds of Israeli Arab students to demonstrate against Israel on “Nakba Day” at Tel Aviv University.  Arab students registered at Tel Aviv University comprise about 14.5% of the total number of registered students. (Photo: Al Ittihad).

The report refers to the persistent threat of small-scale terrorist attacks in Israel which usually involve stabbings or vehicle onslaughts; and this is combined with ongoing rocket and artillery fire from Syria and the Gaza Strip. While Israeli soldiers are always on alert, trying to obtain the truth from the terrorists, the report adds that while the Supreme Court banned torture in a 1999 ruling, it said that “physical coercion might be permissible during interrogations in cases involving an imminent threat. Human rights organizations accuse the authorities of continuing to use psychological threats and pressure, painful binding, and humiliation.”

Freedom of assembly in Israel permits protests and demonstrations which are typically peaceful. However, some protest activities – such as desecration of the flag of Israel or a friendly country – are seen as criminal acts and draw serious criminal penalties.

Education for All. The number of Arab students in Israeli universities grows 78% in 7 years. Seen here are Arab Israeli students at the campus of Givat Ram at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Regarding NGOs, particularly those engaged in human rights – and governance-related work, the report observes that a 2016 law states that NGOs that receive more than half of their funding from foreign governments must disclose this fact publicly. The measure mainly affects groups associated with the political left that oppose Israel’s policies toward the Palestinians. But foreign funding for right-leaning groups that support Jewish settlements in the West Bank, for example, more often comes from private sources.

The report deals with additional issues including freedom for labour organisations; due process in criminal and civil cases; freedom of movement; personal and social freedoms; equal treatment of all sectors of society; and equality of opportunity and freedom from economic exploitation among others. However, they were not covered because of space constraints.

True Colours. A clear image of freedom and liberalism is Israel’s annual Pride Parades that attract hundreds of thousands of people from across the world. The parades are the largest in Asia and the Middle East. (photo:Guy Yechiely)

The final summation awarded Israel 73 out of a possible 100 points on the Freedom House Global Score, acknowledging it to be a free state, one of 77 out of 196. Included in those not free, with very low results (some in brackets), are Algeria, China (9), Egypt, Gaza Strip (11), Iran (16), Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Liberia, Oman, Qatar, Russia, Saudi Arabia (7), South Sudan (2), Sudan, Syria (1), Turkey, UAE, West Bank and Yemen. All Israel’s enemies.

The results speak for themselves.

About the writer:

Bev Goldman national president of the Union of  Jewish Women South Africa (UJW), worked for many years in education and journalism, and she holds a master’s degree in Feminist Literature. Prior to joining the SA Zionist Federation where she dealt with media and education for 12 years, she was the editor of the ‘Who’s Who’ of Southern Africa; a member of WordWize which taught English language skills to Russian and Polish immigrants in South Africa; an occasional lecturer in English at RAU (now the University of Johannesburg); and Director of Educational Programmes at Allenby In-Home Studies.  Currently, she runs the Media Team Israel for the SA Zionist Federation; she sits on the Board of Governors of the Rabbi Cyril Harris Community Centre (RCHCC); she is an executive member of the International Council of Jewish Women (ICJW); and she edits and proofs Masters and PhD dissertations.

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).

Blue & White….and Green!

How the Innovation Nation pivots to focus on the fight against Climate Change

By Rolene Marks

Scotland is a country of exquisite beauty, fascinating history and is home to one of my favourite things, good whisky. Over the last few weeks, Scotland has played host to a slew of world leaders, climate activists, Royals, NGO’s, media and innovators as they descended on the picturesque city of Glasgow for the United Nations COP26 conference to discuss ways to tackle the threat of climate change. Israel took a 140 strong delegation with a massive press presence. Unlike some folk who flew in by private jet (sigh), an El Al commercial plane was chartered. Kosher haggis anyone?

Leading the Israeli delegation was Prime Minister, Naftali Bennett. This would not only be an opportunity for the PM to strut our green innovation credentials on the world stage; but also would provide an opportunity for us to see if he could step up to Statesmanship, a challenge issued by Her Majesty, the Queen, in her televised address to world leaders.

And Bennett did exactly that.

Rubbing shoulders with world leaders, Royalty and captains of industry, the message delivered from the Israeli leaders was that the start-up nation didn’t come to play – we came to slay!

This was also an opportunity for PM Bennett to tell the world all about the groundbreaking technology and chutzpah that has earned Israel the reputation of the start-up or innovation nation.

Marrying both his career as a politician and tech company owner, raising capital and awareness seems to be a natural fit. The Prime Minister addressed the plenary to speak about how Israel is poised to become a major player in the fights against climate change using our brain power and boundless energy:

Change of Climate. PM Naftali Bennett addresses the UN Climate Conference in Glasgow with Israel’s message to the world: Don’t panic – we made the desert bloom.

While Israel is relatively late to the climate fight in some ways, in other ways we have been leading for decades. As countries signed the pledge to increase deforestation at COP26, it must be noted that Israel has been planting trees since the inception of the modern state, turning our deserts into flourishing forests. It is roughly estimated that 250 000 000 trees have been planted in this tiny country!

This may even result in a rare sighting of the lesser spotted HAPPY Greta Thunberg! Yes, the scowling-leader-berating teenage climate activist may even crack a smile at this news!

Act Now. Named the “People’s Advocate” of the UN Climate Change Conference or COP26, Sir Richard Attenborough has been using every opportunity to speak out about the climate crisis and implore world leaders to listen to citizens’ calls to act.

International treasure, Sir David Attenborough, he of the dulcet tones and astounding knowledge about the world’s fauna and flora, has called for solutions to many of the challenges facing us today. The nonagenarian has spoken about water as the most valuable resource for sustaining life on earth. It was extremely gratifying to hear Prime Minister Bennett tell the world that Israel is the leading country when it comes to waste water recycling. Living in a desert climate where water is our most valuable commodity, we have learnt to parlay our concerns – and chutzpah – into finding workable solutions.

Meeting Royalty. Prime Minister Bennett chats to HRH, The Duchess of Cambridge about engaging the youth on climate change. (Image GPO)

Workable solutions is what Israel does best! During his COP26 speech, Bennett spoke about Israel’s creation of a “Green Sandbox”, a plan that will attract investment into green technology. The government has also allocated NIS15.5billion towards combatting climate change and President Herzog has set up a fund under his patronage with over 130 innovators, thinkers and NGO’s committed to this as well.

Even Bill Gates sat up and took notice! The Microsoft-founder and philanthropist, acknowledged Israel’s reputation as a leader in innovation and announced his foundation would be working with the Jewish state to find solutions to the challenges we face.

Meeting of Minds. “We can solve climate change if we accelerate innovation,” says Bill Gates (left) meeting with Israel’s Prime Minister Naftali Bennett on the sidelines of the COP26 UN climate conference in Glasgow, Scotland on November 2, 2021. (Haim Tzach / GPOBill )

This is not just about dealing with change to the climate, but also how this impacts on our regional security. It is believed that the Middle East is one of those areas greatly impacted by the climate crisis. As if we didn’t have enough to worry about!

But it is not all doom and gloom – in fact Israel stands poised to lead in finding sustainable solutions. To date, there are 637 start-ups and growth companies developing climate technologies, and the five challenge areas are:

Climate Smart Agriculture, Clean Energy Systems, Sustainable Mobility & Transport, Eco-Efficient Water Infrastructure, and Alternative Proteins. Most of these innovative companies are young, up to seven years old, with roughly 10 employees.

The Greening of Israel. The Jewish state is one of the only nations in the world that entered the 21st century with more trees than it had 100 years ago. Since its inception, Israel has been devoted to sustainable forest management and afforestation, planting trees mostly in areas with arid and semi-arid climates.

More than 560 private investment entities have invested in Israeli climate companies, mostly venture capital funds, out of which two-thirds are foreign investment entities – and this number is expected to grow.

The next UN Climate Conference, COP27 will be held in Egypt in 2022. This is right on our doorstep! With ties between our two countries starting to significantly warm up, you can bet that Israel will have a significant presence there.

Israel on Board. Ahead of the COP26 Climate Conference bringing over 75 countries to pledge to Paris Agreement goals, Israel announced that it will seek to reduce its carbon emissions by 2050 in order to combat the global climate crisis.

Israel is ready to plant her flag firmly in the fight to meet the challenges posed by climate change

Our flag is there waving in the wind-turbined air – proudly blue, white ……..and green!

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).

Planting the Seeds to City Survival

Is urban farming a solution for South Africa?

By  Kenneth Mokgatlhe

It is estimated that nearly half of the adult population of South African live in poverty.

It was reported in April this year, 2021, that of the 60 million South Africans, 10.2 million experienced hunger on a weekly basis according to the Nids-Cram and approximately 2.4 million faced perpetual hunger. One viable way to address this is by developing backyard and rooftop gardens that are inexpensive to maintain. 

The rising unemployment figures and effects of the Covid-19 pandemic have worsened the hunger situation in South Africa. It is evident that hunger threatens social stability as evidenced by increased criminal activity as a direct effect of poverty.

It is time to think out of the box. Recently, the Jewish National Fund of South Africa (JNF-SA) hosted an important webinar:

Survival in our cities, food and water security – A South African crisis, is urban farming a solution?

It is unacceptable and should be embarrassing that our country has such an alarming number of its people enduring hunger.

Food for Thought. Israel and South African experts provide fascinating insights on the problem of food security in South Africa.

The National Income Dynamics Study Coronavirus Rapid Mobile Survey (Nids-Cram) has collected data on a broadly nationally representative sample of South African households covering the period from May 2020 to March 2021. This is the period wherein the country has been under lockdown regulations with vast number of people losing their jobs or having had to take salary cuts.

Stressing the importance of food security as well as the quality of the food, webinar panelist Dr. Naude Malan, a senior lecturer at the University of Johannesburg’s Development Studies, said:

Supermarket food is pretty expensive compared to the food which we produce for ourselves. A farmer can actually make a really good living by selling food at less than retail/market prices and still dominate the competition. You will capture the market and create a livelihood.”

Through ConvenesiZindaba Zokudla (Conversations about Food), Dr.Malan is working with the local communities around the province of Gauteng to create opportunities for urban agriculture in a sustainable food system. 

Urban Renewal. Dr. Naude Malan from the University of Johannesburg’s Development Studies is working with the local communities around Gauteng to create opportunities for urban agriculture.

One of the beneficiaries of this noble project is a family from Orange Farm, south of Johannesburg who own a state-sponsored house referred to as “RDP”  – a house that was built as part of a government-funded social housing project. The family have converted their parking space into a garden which they are using to feed themselves and sell the surplus to the community for profit.

Panelist Siyabonga Ndlangamandla, a BSc in Biological Science graduate, is one of the vibrant young South Africans who are using their knowledge to solve hunger problems in many struggling black communities. He is a board member of an enterprising and innovative organisation called Makers Valley whose priorities are food security and social matters.

Back to Basics. Through Makers Valley (above), SiyabongaNdlangamandla is encouraging the local inhabitants to develop small gardens in their backyard.

What is disturbing for me is the food waste that we are experiencing in our cities. While there is so much food coming to our cities so much is not being consumed. That is one of our biggest challenges in the food system,” said Ndlangamandla.

Through Makers Valley, Ndlangamandla, has encouraged the local inhabitants to develop small gardens in their backyard. “Low-income communities are more likely to install a shack to rent it out than start a garden.” Over and above the food problem, “There is also a water problem in South Africa,” reminded Ndlangamandla.

Orange Alert. A project underway at the Orange Farm community 40km South of Johannesburg where the township  – one of the largest informal settlements in South Africa, with most estimates giving a population of 1 million people – faces challenges of poverty, low levels of literacy, lack of basic services, lack of health care facilities, unemployment  and increasing crime.

Not only a scarce resource in South Africa, water is also expensive  – especially in cities. Most, if not all community protests regarding service delivery are mainly about shortage or lack of water. This makes gardening or agriculture challenging for the weaker sectors of society.

Contributing to the panel discussion from Israelwas Dorit Chassid, a Sustainability Manager at Dizengoff Center shopping mall in Tel Aviv. She illuminated a path forward by presenting a whole host of the work that they are doing on the rooftop of the mall named after the city’s famous and first mayor, Meir Dizengoff.

Today, Dizengoff Center houses a variety of activities in the field of urban sustainability like hosting school kids for planting trees activity, investing in energy saving systems, a center for hydroponic urban gardening on the Centre’s roof and more.

High Rise Solutions.  Roof top cultivation on Dizengoff Center in Tel Aviv.

Not having access to land is no excuse for not starting a garden project; there is the option of doing it on top of the roof on tables, with or without soil. 

We have school children whom we teach about sustainability; we have lots of tools and we bring people to see the work that we are doing,” explains Chassid. “We have bats and we teach people about the importance of bats into our ecosystem. We also have beehives on the rooftop; we do them in a natural way. We do not harvest honey, we do not do anything to harm the bees; we just let them be there,” said Chassid

We bring about 1, 500 children each year to plant small trees on the rooftop of the mall which we sell when they are ready for planting, and the money is donated all over Israel,” Chassid added.

Leading Light. Panelist from Israel, Sustainability Manager at Dizengoff Center shopping mall in Tel Aviv, Dorit Chassid.

No less inspirational was the insights and suggestions from the founder of Green Roof Designs (a specialized environmental design company), Dr. Clive Greenstone, who works on various projects that deal with urban design, sustainable development, urban ecology, urban resilience and urban landscape activation designs.

Offering tailor-made greening solutions to enhance building functionality and design, Green Roof Designs provides a complete greening scheme including green roofs and ground level planting schemes.

Dr. Greenstone said that there are large, flat, and empty rooftops that are abundant throughout South African cities on institutional, private, residential, industrial, municipal, and commercial buildings.

These underutilized spaces are ideal locations to rethink urban spaces and create urban greening advancements. Very little research has been done in reimagining the socio-environmental benefits of developing these underutilized spaces to improve human-environmental relations within the cities.”

Going Green. Dr Clive Greenstone (right) with his Green Team Green Roof in Ixopo, KwaZulu-Natal in ‎2011.

Listening to these panelists on the JNF (SA) webinar, it was evident to this writer that one of the main ways to combat hunger in my country of South Africa is to develop backyard or rooftop gardens. Food that we buy from our supermarkets is not as cheap nor as healthy as the food we could and should grow ourselves in our backyards or rooftops. Every family should start a garden that will serve the family and the surplus could be sold to those who do not own a garden.

This is one of the sustainable ways to deal with the hunger and labour market challenges facing South Africa today.

About the writer:

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is Kenneth-Mokgatlhe1.png

Kenneth Mokgatlhe is a freelance writer and political commentator from Zeerust, North West Province, South Africa.

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).

Zzapping Malaria

One of the most dangerous creatures in the world is one of the smallest – the mosquito. Coming to the rescue is one of the smallest counties in the world – Israel.

By Kenneth Mokgatlhe

Who is not afraid of sharks but in 2019 they killed only two people, which is below the average of four. Yet malaria, carried by mosquitoes, kills more than 400,000 people per year, most of them babies and toddlers in sub-Saharan Africa. While much of the world is obsessed with the danger that which kills two a year, Israel, whose Jerusalem-based start-up, ZzappMalaria, aims to eliminate malaria – a mass killer – by applying Artificial Intelligence (AI). Towards this lifesaving goal – particularly for Africa where I am from – the company has grabbed the world’s biggest prize for innovation – the XPRIZE.

Meet the Team using AI to Eradicate Malaria. The ZzappMalaria team (left to right): Eugene Rozenberg, Lea Leiman, Michael Ben Aharon, Founder and CEO Arnon Houri-Yafin, Arbel Vigodny, Yonatan Fialkoff

For those unfamiliar, XPRIZE is a non-profit organization whose mission is to bring about “radical breakthroughs for the benefit of humanity” through incentivized competition.

Developing a mobile app and dashboard to help eliminate Malaria, ZzappMalaria, won first place in the IBM Watson AI XPRIZE Competition, as well as the People’s Choice Award for the Most Inspiring Team. As part of the award, the company received a $3 million prize to continue its efforts to eliminate malaria from the world.

Tiny Terrors. Image of mosquito larvae in stagnant water by James Gathany of the CDC in PLoS Biology, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons. AI helps zap mosquito larvae before they become a problem.

The Zzapp team is deeply grateful to Xprize and IBM Watson for acknowledging the importance of the fight against malaria,” said Arnon Houri-Yafin, CEO and founder of ZzappMalaria. “We will dedicate the prize money to one ambitious goal: demonstrating that rapid malaria elimination is possible in Sub Saharan Africa.”

Making the World Safer. ZzappMalaria COO Arbel Vigodny speaks at IBM Watson AI XPRIZE at TED in the TED World Theater, February 12, 2020, New York, NY. Photo: Ryan Lash / TED

So how does it work? Zzapp uses AI to provide specific malaria-control strategies depending on the needs of each village or neighborhood. Then, it breaks down those strategies into clear and manageable tasks. Tasks are allocated to fieldworkers via its mobile app designed for local needs, such as battery consumption, internet access, and more. To date, the app has been tested in six African countries and has succeeded in increasing the effectiveness of operations designed to tackle Malaria.

Brought to Task. The Zzapp app assigns tasks to field workers based on AI analysis of mosquito breeding conditions. (Photo courtesy of Zzapp Malaria)

Attracted by ZzappMalaria’s aim to eradicate malaria worldwide by developing a system to “plan, execute, and monitor large-scale and cost-affecting malaria elimination campaigns”, the 2016-founded company has won grants from the Gates Foundation and the Innovative Vector Control Consortium (IVCC) and has been conducting anti-malaria operations in Ghana, Zanzibar, Kenya, and Ethiopia.

It is very gratifying to know that our technology is saving lives on a daily basis. In fact, our pilot product currently protects more than 300,000 people,” said Houri-Yafin. “ZzappMalaria’s app – which is GPS-based and works offline – is suited to work in the harshest conditions.”

Scanning for Safety. A field worker uses ZzappMalaria to scan bodies of water set for treatment. (Courtesy)

“It simplifies our work considerably,” says Dr. Abebe Asale from the International Centre of Insect Physiology and Ecology, a research body in Ethiopia which specializes in malaria. “Despite the technology’s sophistication, the app and the dashboard are very intuitive and user-friendly. In an operation in the Amhara region in 2019, we located all of the water bodies, which is usually a great challenge. The technology saved us time and energy, and in prioritizing severely affected villages.”

Although malaria is not a major public health problem in South Africa as yet, the country needs to be better prepared in order to ensure that the disease does not burden our over-extended public health care sector. It can do so by adopting efficient measures such as the AI method developed by ZzappMalaria. The notion of “prevention is better than cure” should reign supreme in our heads to ensure that our public health is prepared.

The Beauty of the App. The Israeli app can be used without internet connectivity by workers in fields. (Photo: ZzappMalaria)

About 10% of South Africa’s population (4.9 million) is at risk of contracting malaria, largely in the provinces of Limpopo, Mpumalanga and Kwazulu-Natal. This is a significant number that should be a concern to all of us in South Africa. Malaria is a curable and treatable disease as long as it is diagnosed as quickly as possible. However, it is fatal if not done so in the earlier stages. That is where this new app becomes so vital. So, while many countries of Africa are increasingly availing themselves of life-saving Israeli technology and expertise, South Africa should too for the health and future health of its people.  

Acting on Info. With the information provided, spraying mosquito larvae in Ghana. (Photo by Arbel Vigodny/ZZapp Malaria)

As the world is facing a life-threatening Covid-19 pandemic, we are able to see the importance of life-saving discoveries in reducing casualties. It is clear that failure to avail ourselves of new available technologies, the price to be paid would be higher than what we are paying presently

ZzappMalaria has inspired confidence in those who were in despair and had accepted malaria as part of their being. Now, thanks to this Israeli company, there is much greater hope that malaria would be eradicated in our lifetime.

About the writer:

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is Kenneth-Mokgatlhe1.png

Kenneth Mokgatlhe is a freelance writer and political commentator from Zeerust, North West Province, South Africa.

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).

On High Ground

The Hills of Yodfat are Alive with the Sound of Hebrew

By David E. Kaplan

It is a Kaplan family Bar Mitzvah in the quant intimate shul (synagogue) at Yodfat, a moshav in northern Israel in the picturesque high mountains of the Lower Galilee. The shul is packed – mostly with animated children of all ages. Following my brother Sidney  as both a Cohen and grandfather to the Barmitzvah boy Yoav being called up first for an Aliyah  – I followed.

The Children are our Future. The children of Yodfat singing a song to the Bar Mitzvah boy – Yoav Kaplan. His grandsfather, Sidney Kaplan (right) was a founding member of the nearby South African moshav – Manof.

I made my way, maneuvering the short joyful journey between children sitting on bunk benches in the isle, I ascend the Bimah and before reciting the blessing for the reading of the Torah, I look up and to the right of the ark out a wide window and saw the green valley leading to the mountain-top fortresses of Yodfat.

It is no ordinary vista that this shul looks out on!

Embedded into the physical landscape of modern Israel, it is in the psychological landscape that this ancient Jewish fortress  stands as a stark and dark reminder of those enemies that may come to try erase Jewish life from this land. It happened 2000 years ago and began the process of exile until 1948, but the same battle persists. “Rome” has other names today.

I recite the prayer; the Barmitzvah boy reads from the Torah and I smile as I look at all the children who are armed to their teeth with sweets to later throw at Yoav when he has completed his Haftarah, to wish him a “sweet” life as he makes the transition to adulthood. I then momentarily reflect on who was armed to the teeth at this very same spot 2000 years earlier – ROMANS – and not with sweets!

War and Peace. Looking out from where the Roman legions were positioned 2000 years ago to modern day moshav Yodfat in the background where the synagogue is perched on the crest of the hill.

What bloodily played out on these ochre hilltops created a narrative that continues to caution and inspire ensuing generations of Israelis.

Walking to the shul earlier, I breathed in the fresh country air and feasted my eyes on the valley with its vineyards and orchards, olive trees, and goats roaming in the distance tended by a young shepherd. The scene was pastoral and peaceful – a far cry from the cataclysmic clash of arms that occurred at this exact spot in 67 CE when heroic Jewish fighters took on the might of the Roman Empire.

Time to Rejoice. Grandfather Sydney Kaplan speaking in Hebrew to his grandson Yoav at the Bar Mizvah reception in a garden overlooking the site of the tragic Roman siege 2000 years earlier.

In early June of that year, a force of 1,000 Roman cavalrymen arrived at Yodfat to seal off the town, defended by Jewish forces commanded by Yosef Ben Matityahu (the future Flavius Josephus). Prior to the Roman assault, Ben Matityahu had fortified nineteen of the most important towns of the region, including Yodfat.After a failed attempt to confront the Roman army at Tzipori, he retired to Tiberias, but soon thereafter established himself at Yodfat, drawing the Roman legions to the town. A day later at the foothills not far from the shul where we were proudly celebrating Yoav’s Barmitzvah, stood the amassed Roman legions of the Fifth, Tenth and Fifteenth as well as auxiliaries consisting of Arabian archers and Syrian slingers led by General Vespasian and supported by his son Titus, who would both emerge as future emperors of Rome.

These Roman “occupiers” meant business. Literally ‘Dressed to kill’, they aspired to crush an uprising that would become known in history as “The Great Jewish revolt” or “The Jewish War”. This was 2000 years ago and long before anyone ever heard of Palestinians!

Hill of Hereos. The ancient town of Yodfat was positioned on this isolated hill hidden between high peaks, surrounded on three sides by steep ravines.  During the “Great Revolt” in year 67 CE – Yodfat, the last stronghold of Jewish resistance after the fall of Zippori – was besieged by three Roman legions and resisted for 47 days before the city fell.  

I return from the Bimah to take my seat next to my brother. We exchange comments about the lively atmosphere with loving parents battling to keep some decorum amongst their animated kids – mostly friends of the Barmitzvah boy. It’s a sheer Shabbos delight. And then I contrast this image of an imagined one of Jewish kids 2000 years earlier looking down at the Roman legions with their frightening coloured attire and menacing siege machines. It was laughter today; it was fear then. It should never again be the other way around – ever!

Romans came Prepared. A typical Roman siege machine that the defenders at Yodfat would have faced.

Vespasian had pitched his own camp north of the town, facing  the only accessible side, while his forces surrounded the city. An assault against the wall on the second day of the siege failed, and after several days in which the Jewish defenders made a number of successful sorties against his forces, Vespasian changed tactics.  He instructed for the building of a siege ramp against the city walls, and when these works were disrupted by the Jews, Vespasian set 160 engines, catapults and ballistas  – backed by lightly armed troops, slingers and archers – to dislodge the defiant defenders from the walls. These were in turn met with repeated sallies by the besieged, but work on the ramp continued, raising it to the height of the battlements and forcing Ben Matityahu to have the walls themselves raised.  Roman measure was met with Jewish countermeasure and the battle ebbed and flowed…..

Peace and Tranquility. The only connection today of Yodfat to the times of conquering Rome is that its pastoral beauty is often described as “Shades of Tuscany”.

As always with such sieges, water was an issue for the defenders on top of a high hill so Ben Matityahu had Yodfat’s limited supply of water rationed before the siege began. The Romans had heard of this and began to use their artillery to target any efforts to draw water, hoping to exacerbate an already difficult situation and bring a swift end to the siege. The defenders, in a far-in-the-future future Mossad type of maneuver, cunningly confounded the Romans by wringing out their clothes over the battlements until the walls were running with water, leading the Romans to believe the Jews had some hidden supply of water.

According to Ben Matityahu, later writing as Josephus, this taunting had a twin effect – one negative and one positive. It strengthened Roman resolve but it also steeled the mettle of the defenders to fight, preferring to die by the sword than from thirst or starvation.

Man with Menace. A statue of Emperor Vespasian who in 66 AD was appointed to suppress the Jewish revolt underway in Judea.

There was of course an atmosphere of inevitability where this was ultimately heading. “Proportionality” was never a consideration in Vespasian’s battle plans to expunge a Jewish presence at Yodfat.

With the completion of the assault ramp, Vespasian ordered a battering ram  brought up against the wall. The defenders responded with ingenuity.  They lowered sacks filled with chaff to absorb the blows, they set fire to the ram and as chronicled by Josephus, one of the defenders, renowned for his strength, cast a huge stone on the ram from above, breaking off its head.

This infuriated the Romans. A physical act but it was also symbolic – decapitating the “head” of a war machine. This shortly took on a new meaning when the “head” – the future Emperor Vespasian himself was wounded by a defender’s dart. The Romans were so incensed driving their assault to a fever pitch but still were beaten back.

Eventually, on July 20, 67, a band of Romans reportedly led by Titus himself, stealthily scaled the walls, cut the throats of the watch and opened the gates, letting in the entire Roman army.

What followed was a slaughter. While the descendants today of some of Rome’s conquered like in modern day Britton may cherish the famed Roman baths, Yodfat records only a Roman blood bath!

According to Josephus, 40,000 were slain or committed suicide and 1,200 women and infants were taken into slavery. Vespasian ordered the town demolished and its walls torn down and prohibited burial of the fallen. It was only a year or more later when Jews were allowed to return to bury the remains in caves and cisterns.

Yodfat Today.  Enjoy the fun of Yodfat today by visiting “Boacha Yodfat” (literally, “As you approach Yodfat”) – a recreation and shopping center, located in a grove of oaks, providing stunning views. Here you will find stores, a gallery, a jewelry studio, a delicatessen, a dairy café, a bakery and a nearby “Monkey Forest”.

So even on this day 2000 years later, the sound of innocent chatter and laughter soliciting reprimands from the rabbi, were to me like music to the ears.

If the few surviving children of ancient Yodfat were cruelly sold off into slavery never to return, Jews did RETURN and today’s young children in the shul of modern Yodfat on this Shabbat were sending a strong message – this was our home 2000 years ago and is our home today.

Nothing more audibly conveys this message than that Latin  – the language of Rome –  is today a dead language while the hills of Yodfat are alive with the sound of Hebrew!

L’Chaim – “to Life”. Two thousand years later, there is much to toast about at Yodfaf as seen by these visitors enjoying the good life at “Boacha Yodfat”

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).

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