Defying logic, Palestinian woman murdered by her family in “Honour Killing” and US Congresswoman Tlaib blames Israel
By David E. Kaplan
If the tried and tested explanation for global calamities was to blame the Jews than today it is to blame Israel.
Where once Jews were blamed for the plague that ravaged Europe in the Middle Ages – the Black Death – now this week, the ‘disease’ of “Honour Killings” prevalent in Palestinian society is blamed on Israel by none other than Democratic Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib.
Yes, there is outrage!
There was anger on the Arab street as well as on social media, as reported in Egyptian Streets of “massive outrage among activists and social media users across the Middle East and North Africa.”
There should also be OUTRAGE as why Congresswoman Tlaib should blame the Jewish state for a malady prevalent in some regions of the Muslim world.
The accusation against Jews for the Black Plague resulted in persecution and massacres; words have consequences, so where will Rashida Tlaib’s false accusations lead?
What are the facts?
Twenty-one-year-old, Israa Ghrayeb, “a makeup artist from Bethlehem,” reported the Egyptian Streets website, “died in a coma due to head trauma, in what activists and sources close to the victim are saying was a brutal honour killing. The culprits are believed to be her father and brothers.”
It all began when Ghrayeb went to meet a potential suitor in a public place and posted a video of the outing on her Instagram page.
She was in love and was happy to show the world.
Her family did not share her happiness.
According to a friend of the victim’s, Ghrayeb’s mother was fully aware of the meeting and the suitor’s sister was also in attendance. The report added that Ghrayeb’s cousin then showed the video to the victim’s father and brothers, who allegedly urged them “to act to prevent scandal and accusing Israa of dishonouring herself and bringing shame to the family by being seen in the company of a man outside the bonds of marriage.”
Attempting to escape the violence from her family, Israa apparently fell from the second-floor balcony of her parents’ home and according to media reports, broke her spine. The family says she jumped after being “possessed by demons.”
In the hospital, Israa posted on social media a photograph of herself showing her injuries and bravely writing:
“I’m strong, and I have the will to live — if I didn’t have this willpower, I would have died yesterday. Don’t send me messages telling me to be strong, I am strong. May God be the judge of those who oppressed me and hurt me.”
Those ‘oppressing” and “hurting” her were her family, not Israelis, Congresswoman Tlaib!
Sadly, those were the last brave words to the outside world of a young woman, whose family had murder on its mind!
Incensed by this latest posting from the hospital, Israa’s brother, along with other male relatives, entered her ward and brutally beat to death.
According to reports, Ghrayeb’s family claimed that they are not responsible for her death, and that their daughter “died of a heart attack.”
The only thing accurate in this statement was that she did die of an “attack” but not of the heart but the male hands of her family.
Message On Instagram
Enter The Dragon
Then comes along Congresswoman Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-MI) who has called for an end to U.S. aid to Israel and expressed support for BDS – the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign whose stated goal is the destruction of Israel by first delegitimizing and dehumanizing the Jewish state.
One of two Muslim women to be elected to Congress, Tlaib released a statement that while decrying the phenomenon of “honour” killings, she attached a link to her tweet for an article that blames “Israeli occupation” for such killings.
The article was posted on a Palestinian site called BabyFist designed to start a conversation about gender oppression.
Yet again, the contriving congresswoman found a reason to condemn Israel; this time linking the Jewish state to a serious problem within Palestinian society that has nothing to do with Israel.
Before tweeting her false accusations, the Congresswoman could have engaged with Palestinian documentary filmmaker, Imtiaz al-Maghrabi, who told Germany’s public international broadcaster Deutsche Welle that “Any Palestinian woman could be a victim of such a crime.”
In March, Al-Maghrabi – who is currently making a film about honour killings – was recognized for her work by the Arab Women’s Media Center in the Jordanian capital of Amman.
While the Palestinian territories have modernised laws dealing with honour killings, al-Maghrabi says that, in reality, the effect of these laws is limited:
“Palestinian society is influenced by custom, tradition, and religion. These all bear more weight than the law, and crimes relating to a violation of honour are often only lightly punished.”
Sociologist Iyad Barghouthi from the Ramallah Center for Human Rights Studies also expressed to Deutsche Welle that the practice of honour killings is so imbedded in tradition that it is likely to continue. He believes that’s because “from a male perspective — the concept of honour has no relation to values such as morality, integrity or success,” it is solely defined “by the reputation of the female family members. A man is willing to take violent action against a woman if she does not meet his expectations.”
According to Palestinian NGO, the Women’s Center for Legal Aid and Counselling (WCLAC):
– 23 Palestinian women and girls were killed in 2016
– 28 in 2017
– 23 cases in 2018
The General Director of WCLAC, Randa Siniora explained the difficulty in categorizing “femicides” or death as gender-based violence, as many of the killings were constantly “under investigation” or were classified as a “suicide”.
“This year there are 18 cases of unknown reasons for death, suicidal cases and femicide, with 14 in the West Bank and eight in Gaza. Six are confirmed femicide in the West Bank, the others are under investigation,” Siniora told Mondoweiss, a news website covering American foreign policy in the Middle East.
Contributing to the problem, several Palestinian laws tend to grant leniency to men convicted of killing female relatives, in what is widely referred to as “honour killings”. Many are inherited Jordanian regulations that pre-date the Six Day War of 1967 when Israel took over the West Bank and East Jerusalem and the establishment of the Palestinian Authority in the 1990s.
In the past, perpetrators of “honour killings” received reduced sentences under Article 98 and 99 of the Palestinian Penal code, which “grants judges the ability to dramatically reduce sentences,” if “extenuating circumstances” could be proven.
In 2014, a UN human rights report written by Palestinian judge Ahmad al-Ashqar, revealed that the present “legislation in place, contributes, to a large extent, to building a social awareness that killing under the pretext of honour is acceptable.”
There is a problem when young women like 21-year-old Israa Ghrayeb are murdered by family members, because they have fallen in love.
That there was OUTRAGE is a good sign.
That a US Congresswoman should blame Israel is a bad sign.
Rashida Tlaib’s conduct on this issue is naked antisemitism.
Where’s the outrage?
* Title picture: Future Crushed. Israa Ghrayeb relaxed at a café. (Photo: Twitter)
Israa Ghrayeb was 21 years old. Like most millennials, Israa was social media “obsessed” (to use the vernacular) but little did she know that the platforms so many of us take for granted every day to share the titbits of our lives that are envy inducing to our online communities, would lead to her death.
Israa’s only crime was that she dared meet a young Arab man in a restaurant and document it by sharing it to social media platform, Instagram. Millions of people do this every day and while this meeting was innocent enough, it inspired the rage of the male members of her family to severely beat her. Israa did not meet a stranger that she did not know, she met the man she was intending to marry.
When the family found out, Ghrayeb’s brother, Ihab, allegedly beat and tortured her in their family home.
Trying to escape the violent blows inflicted on her, Israa then fell from the second-floor balcony of her parents’ home and was reported to have broken her spine.
Her brother, who is a Canadian resident, was apparently incensed by the video – saying it “dishonoured” the family by presenting herself with her husband-to-be ahead of the actual wedding, according to local media. Her father had allegedly ordered her brother to beat her after family members witnessed the footage online.
After being admitted to hospital following the initial attack, Ghrayeb said she would not be able to work for the next two months as she waited for a spinal cord operation in a post on her Instagram account.
“I’m strong and I have the will to live – if I didn’t have this willpower, I would have died yesterday,” she said. “Don’t send me messages telling me to be strong, I am strong. May God be the judge of those who oppressed me and hurt me.”
After posting this message, her brother, along with other male relatives, reportedly brutally beat her in the hospital. Footage surfaced on social media of her screaming and begging for her life during the attack.
Israa succumbed to her wounds and passed away. Israa Ghrayeb became the latest horrific statistic in an “honour killing”.
Palestinians took to the street to protest Israa’s death and an end to honour killings.
Israa’s death is not isolated.
Honour killings are not a new phenomenon. In fact, this heinous occurrence has been practiced from as early as Roman times and is prevalent today in North Africa and the Middle East but don’t think that western countries are exempt – incidents of honour killings have been reported in the UK, USA, Canada and others.
The term “honour killing” sounds like a really ridiculous paradox, after all there is absolutely no honour in killing anyone – how could there be? But the issue here isn’t really about honour but more about control over reproductive power. This being said it is not always sexual in nature or about controlling sexual behaviour but rather about fertility.
Now I am scratching my head in confusion as much as you are but these horrendous events occur because in some communities that are patrilineal in nature, a woman’s right to govern her own reproductive freedom. In these societies, women are seen as reproductive factories not seductive sirens.
This makes this barbaric act a lot more complex than originally thought, but in most cases, honour killings occur because women in communities that adhere to strict religious doctrine are expected to toe the line and behave in accordance. In Pakistan for example, women’s right to life are conditional on their “obeying certain norms and traditions.”
Nighat Taufeeq of the Women’s Resource Center Shirkatgah in Lahore, Pakistan says: “It is an unholy alliance that works against women: the killers take pride in what they have done, the tribal leaders condone the act and protect the killers and the police connive the cover-up.”
Honour killings are seen as less serious than murder. Sounds like a contradiction but women are being killed for “infractions” ranging from dressing more western to adulterous affairs. This is becoming more and more common, especially in societies that adopt Islamic sharia law even though in centuries past, they have occurred in ancient Rome or medieval times. In some communities, where women are gaining economic power and adopting more customs, there are men that feel that they have to act out in some way, usually violent, to regain some control.
Women who have been raped are also seen as bringing “disgrace” to their families and it is shattering that they become victimized twice over. Should pregnancy result from this, the consequences are catastrophic.
Homosexuality is also seen as legitimate grounds for killing. The United Nations and other NGO’s are alarmed by this phenomenon and the UN High Commissioner for Refugees state that “claims made by LGBT persons often reveal exposure to physical and sexual violence, extended periods of detention, medical abuse, threat of execution and honour killing.”
So surely divorce or a court injunction against possible perpetrators would be the solution?
Sadly, this is usually a trigger for violence against women and for many; the feeling is that hope is lost.
What can be done, if anything, to stop honour killings or as they are called in some countries “crime of passion”?
The first step would be to be to really understand the “honour code” and learn from the lessons in history. For some cultures this practice is repugnant but in others it is acceptable “code”. One solution that has been discussed is “naming and shaming”. Another possibility is in communities where honour killings are seen as part of religious doctrine, to prove that this is not the correct interpretation of the Quran.
The battle to end honour killings is a long and arduous one but necessary. Perhaps the starting point is learning to respect life – not end it. That is the true shame and dishonor. The right to live in dignity and safety is a woman’s right.
People freezing In South Africa receive life-saving blankets from South Africa Friends Of Israel
By Kenneth Mokgatlhe ,newspaper columnist and former spokesman for the Pan African Congress.
South Africa’s biggest city Johannesburg may have attracted its earliest pioneers with the finding of gold, today however, there is little golden for many of its citizens shivering in winter. Take for example Eldorado Park – not a remote rural village – but a suburb of Johannesburg where on the 8th July 2019, the Paramount Chief of the Gonaqua Khoisan Tribe, Cornelius Botha, received on behalf of many of its destitute and homeless – many of them elderly – blankets from the South Africa Friends of Israel (SAFI) to provide much needed warmth during the cold period, where temperatures were dropping to life- threatening lows.
Winter Of Our Discontent
While winter is welcomed by those with fashionable coats and luxurious homes, there are the many in the same cities in South Africa who don’t have money to buy warm clothing or blankets or pay for electricity for heaters to keep them warm during the cold.
It was this horrendous situation that SAFI sought in its own small way, to address.
Gavi Sacks, National Chairman of the (SAFI), explained that this “was only our first stop on the Blankets of Hope Drive.” The organisation is committed “to helping South Africa’s truly vulnerable and often forgotten homeless people,” he added.
To understand how “vulnerable” and “forgotten” the words of local Eldorado Park resident, Elija Williams resonate following the protests there in 2017 over the lack of housing and jobs. Accusing the politicians of only visiting the area when votes are needed to win elections, Williams said:
“My grandmother died living in a shack. I’m most probably going to die living in a shack. I don’t want my child to also have to live their entire life in a shack with no electricity.”
A philanthropic organisation in Israel donated 3000 blankets (in total) for SAFI to handout. SAFI then arranged for the Blanket drives where hot soup and bread was also handed out.
Next stop on the Blankets of Hope Drive, was Booysens where 1500 blankets, collected by SAFI, were distributed to the needy. Over and above the blankets handed out to various communities across Johannesburg, “SAFI has been providing nourishment in this cold weather serving soup and bread rolls in strategically placed areas,” said Sacks.
Disparity To Despair
The May 13, 2019 Cover Story in TIME examined South Africa as “the world’s most unequal country.” It showed pictorially frames of extreme poverty adjacent to extreme luxury as depicted in one frame of a shanty town next to a golf course in Durban, Kwazulu-Natal.
With an escalating cost of living and turbulent political situation, the gap between the have and have nots is widening at an alarming rate.
Johannesburg is known to be the destination of choice for many who have come seeking employment but sadly there are many homeless people who sleep in the streets, abandoned buildings or under bridges. Buildings such as churches or public halls are closed, and these helpless people cannot access those buildings leaving them no choice but to sleep in the streets – even in winter. There seems to be an inherent lack of shelters or places where they can find respite from the bitter cold and crime that is so prevalent.
It is in this cold ‘climate’, that the ‘warm’ help such as from South African Friends of Israel is so appreciated.
Chief Cornelius Botha and Eldorado Park Pastor Errol Jacobs expressed gratitude to SAFI, lamenting how their communities are too often “forgotten”. Welcoming the blankets and food, they expressed that it was indeed “a blessing from God.”
At a time when the world seems to polarized and people seems to become more insular, it is really heartwarming to remember that there are many who still exemplify generosity.
Kindness is the paramount gift you can give another person.
Kenneth Mokgatlhe holds BA Honours (political science) from the University of Limpopo. He was a spokesperson of the Pan Africanist Congress from 2015 to 2018. Mokgatlhe has written for Political Analysis South Africa, and is a frequent columnist for South African papers, notably – The Star, Sunday Independent, Sowetan and Cape Times.
150 South African children will receive “Wheelchairs of Hope” from Israel!
By Tamar Lazarus acting co-president of WIZO South Africa
In South Africa, the statistics are grim. Children with disabilities are among the most neglected groups in the country and the majority of these children face enormous economic and social barriers that have an adverse impact on their physical, social and intellectual development and wellbeing.
The simple provision of a wheelchair is something completely out of reach for most!
Identifying the need to help, WIZO South Africa has joined forces with an Israeli NGO or non-profit, called WHEELCHAIRS OF HOPE to bring 150 child-size wheelchairs that will give these children the dignity of mobility.
“Wheelchairs of Hope”, is dedicated to providing children in developing countries with lightweight, reliable and child friendly wheelchairs. These wheelchairs have become more than instruments of mobility – they have become chariots of hope, helping these children to win battles and gain access not just to education but to friends and peers as well.
For some of these children, the only way to get around is to crawl.
“Our wheelchair is specifically designed for children, as we wish to empower education through mobility,” explained Pablo Kaplan who together with his life partner and co-worker Chava Rotshtein founded Wheelchairs of Hope in Israel in 2009.
“Mobility from early childhood is a gate to education. By giving access to education we create a new generation with better skills, confidence and hope.”
In 2013, Kaplan and Rotshtein presented their idea at the opening day of the United Nations General Assembly and were selected to serve on UNICEF’s task force for assistive technologies.
This inspired WIZO South Africa to ensure that we could help as many of our vulnerable children as possible.
WIZO Cape Town recently donated four wheelchairs to the Paediatric Oncology wards at the Red CrossWar Memorial Children’s Hospital and Tygerberg Hospital as part of its local outreach programme. This is just the latest in a series of wheelchair donations.
The child-size chairs will give those patients who cannot walk, dignity, control and self-reliance, which are often compromised by having to rely on other people to move them around.
The wheelchairs are not just practical – but attractive. Aimed at children aged five to nine-years who are able to push themselves, these colourful, ergonomically designed wheelchairs are light-weight and robust to handle urban and country terrains. The ‘WHEELCHAIRS OF HOPE’ wheelchairs were developed by specialist Israeli doctors and engineers from ALYN Hospital, Israel’s leading paediatric and adolescent rehabilitation centre, with the simple wish to “empower education through mobility”.
From Israel With Love
The donation of these bright and colorful wheelchairs from Israel, offers these young South African children the life-changing gift of mobility, and self-reliance. They will also be a great help for staff and nurses who care for these precious youngsters.
We often take the ability to move in our home and community for granted – and with that, the ability to learn, interact with others, and participate in family life. We are so pleased that we are able to assist, for now, 150 children with mobility impairments, and give them these’ WHEELCHAIRS OF HOPE’ to enable them to lead active and fulfilling lives.”
So far, the recipients of the WHEELCHAIRS OF HOPE wheelchairs are:
Maitland Cottage Children’s Orthopaedic Hospital, Cape Town
Nelson Mandela Children’s Hospital, Johannesburg
Red Cross Hospital Paediatric Oncology ward
Tygerberg Hospital Paediatric ward
Charlotte Maxeke Hospital Oncology ward
Special school Bolwar
‘Give a Child a Family’ organisation, Margate
Open air school Durban
Athlone school for the blind
Individual children who otherwise would not have access
We know that the receipt of these wheelchairs from Israel will have a truly lifelong impact on these kids – and their entire family unit will be transformed by the gift of the basic human right of mobility.
WIZO SA will be seeking additional donors to become part of this excellent initiative.
If you would like to donate, or recommend a suitable recipient, please contact our offices 021 4646700 ext 131 or email us at email@example.com.
Tamar Lazarus is the acting co-President of WIZO South Africa
Aiming on future cooperation following SA academics visiting Israel.
By Benji Shulman
An enlightening tour took place in July where academicians from universities across South Africa visited Israel. Organised by the South African Friends of Hebrew University, the participants came from the University of the Witwatersrand, University of Johannesburg, University of Cape Town, University of Venda, University of the Free State, University of Stellenbosch, Gordon Institute of Business Science, University of Pretoria as well as government research agencies, and were closely exposed to Israel’s unique business culture.
With South Africa’s economy shrinking by a worrying 3.2% in the first quarter of 2019, experiencing sky-high unemployment and attracting little investment, it was important for the SA participants to learn how such a small nation like Israel, with few natural resources, engineered an economic miracle earning the enviable moniker of the “Start-Up Nation’.
The tour began at Hebrew University’s Jerusalem Business School of Administration where they heard a lecture on Israel’s “DNA” – a mixture of knowledge, innovation and entrepreneurship. In other words – the success mode of Israel innovation technology.
From theory to practice, the group’s next stop was the University’s Technology Transfer company known as Yissum.
Founded in 1964 to market ideas and innovation of university researchers and employees, Yissum’s mission is to benefit society by converting amazing Israeli innovations intocommercial solutionsthat address the world’s most urgent global challenges. It was important for our South African academics to hear how Hebrew University’s top researchers at Yissum were successfully “bridging breakthrough academic research with scientific and commercial applications.”
Such successes included working with Jerusalem-based Mobileye that was bought out for $15 billion by Intel. Mobileye safety technology is increasingly integrated into new car models from the world’s major automakers providing warnings for collision prevention and mitigation.
Hearing about Israel’s understanding of ‘entrepreneurship’ and how to grow businesses was high on the group’s agenda and HUJI Innovate provided the perfect vehicle to learn all about it.
The Innovation & Entrepreneurship Center is the Hebrew University’s platform to encourage and assist students, faculty and alumni to develop their Innovation and Entrepreneurship capabilities.
To meet the increasing challenges of an ever-changing workplace, our South African group heard how HUJI supports its students and faculty in the development of new solutions for real-world problems and in this way, create new and exciting ventures. This is something South African universities would do well to emulate.
Students of the 21st Century need to navigate a more challenging workplace than their predecessors and for the South African academics to learn how to boost a student’s perception of innovation and entrepreneurship with the aim to help them maximize their potential was most instructive.
And what could be more inspiring than the chance to view the personal papers of the 20th century physicist Albert Einstein at the University’s treasured Albert Einstein Archives.
As an aside, we learned that Einstein was a member of the university’s first board of governors and in 1925, the original 46-page manuscript of “the general theory of relativity” ended up at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.
‘Innovation’ was what this visit to Israel was all about and no less ‘innovative’ was the event organised by the South African Friends of Hebrew University in partnership with Wits’ Israel Alumni Association. Hosted at the World Mizrachi Hall and supported by Telfed (the communal support organisation for the Southern African community in Israel), the main speaker for the evening was Sivan Ya’ari whose Innovation: Africa organisation has been bringing Israeli water technology into Africa and effectively changing lives.
The event was attended by many ex-pat South Africans living in Israel, as well as Israelis interested in environmental challenges on the African continent. Other special guests included former Ambassador to South Africa, Arthur Lenk, editor of the Jerusalem Report, Steve Linde, veteran radio broadcaster, Walter Bigham, and several Holocaust survivors. Our university professionals found the talk most insightful and spoke about water-related challenges in South Africa.
Not all work and no play
The group had the opportunity to tour the Old City of Jerusalem as well as one of the world’s oldest port, vibrant Jaffa; meet with members of Israel’s ethnic minorities, sample Israel’s famous night life and of course eat lots and lots of local delicious cuisine!
The group was most impressed of the visit to the Peres Centre for Peace and Innovation in Tel Aviv. Founded in 1996 by the late President of Israel, Shimon Peres, the group heard how the Centre develops and implements programmes with a focus not only on promoting a prosperous Israel but of paving the way for a lasting peace between Israel and its neighbours.
Celebrity weatherman and science communications expert, Simon Gear, who accompanied the group said that “as South Africans, engaging Israel is crucial both from a perspective of the incredible technology there and from a view of supporting peace initiatives for Israelis and Palestinians.”
The guests were able to see a side of Israel that many do not, and this included various engagements with Israeli government departments; meeting with NGO’s who are working in innovation and development and mingling with other members of the academic community. There was a broad consensus that both countries had much to learn from one another, and that finding ways to broaden the conversation in different sectors was a key to making collaboration a success. Already by the end of the tour, there was interest in specific projects.
This tour was made possible with the support of the South African Friends of Hebrew University. Yes, it was a journey from South Africa to Israel, but as we learned at Hebrew University, the journeys ahead are really those from:
“Ideas to Ventures”
Benji Shulman Benji Shulman is a board member of the South African Friends of Hebrew University, newly appointed Head of Public Policy as the SAZF and organises educational group visits to Israel.
It was a weekend to weep – two mass shootings within 24 hours, leaving 31 people dead. First an attack on a Walmart store in El Paso, Texas on the Saturday that left 22 dead, then nine died in a shooting in Dayton, Ohio on the Sunday.
As one movie buff in Dayton poignantly lamented, “Sunday, Bloody Sunday”.
Clearly, that county’s position on “the right to bear arms”, trumps – pun intended – the right of people to live.
While many folk in Israel carry firearms – mostly young adults in military uniform – mass shootings are an aberration not the ‘norm’ as it is today in the USA.
What is it about American gun culture?
Yes, we know:
that gun ownership in the United States is constitutionally protected by the US Bill of Rights.
that firearms are widely used for self-defense, hunting, and recreational uses, such as target shooting.
that American attitudes on gun ownership date back to the American Revolutionary War and the militia/frontier ethos.
Though guns have not been an essential part of daily survival in the USA for well over a century, generations of Americans continue to embrace and glorify it as a living inheritance. While the statutory law of any country is complex, ask any American what is the “Second Amendment” and he or she will rattle off this 1791 snippit of legalese – “the individual right to keep and bear arms.”
From frontiersmen like Davy Crockett through to characters of the “Wild West” like Jesse James, Wyatt Earp, and Annie Oakley to villains and heroes of the 20th century glorified in movies from the Godfather to tough cops types like “make my day” Dirty Harry or Robocop is it any wonder that guns are so culturally ingrained in the American psyche.
To those outside America watching these mass murders on the news networks, it’s like a familiar script. The sad unfolding human tragedy has become so predictable from the instant of the murderous act to rolling out the security experts and psychiatrists, to the politicians who either advocate tougher gun control to those in the pocket of the all-powerful gun rights advocacy group, the National Rifle Association (NRA).
How often have we heard – particularly when many children have perished at a massacre at a school – “maybe this time it is different.” It never is!
In 2018, the NRA membership reached 5.5 million, while its membership dues reached $170,391,374 – an increase of 33% from the previous year!
Aspirant US presidents frequently tout American “exceptionalism”.
Well, here are some examples of “exceptionalism” not to be proud of:
With over 350 million privately owned firearms, the United States substantially exceeds all other countries in both per capita ownership of guns and absolute number of guns
It is estimated that there are more guns than people in the country.
Approximately 30% of all privately-owned firearms in the world are in the hands of US residents.
The US rate of suicide by firearm is 8 times higher and the rate of homicide by firearm is 25 times higher than the rates in other economically developed countries
Mass shootings, although a major news item, generally accounts for 1% or less of all firearm violence, and suicides routinely take twice as many lives as homicides.
More US citizens have been killed by gunssince 1970 than all US servicemen and women killed in all foreign wars combined. We’re talking tens of thousands every year.
The number of mass shootings across the U.S.so far in 2019 has outpaced the number of days this year, according to a gun violence research group. The Gun Violence Archive defines a mass shooting as any incident in which at least four people were shot, excluding the shooter.
The public health impact of firearms in the United States is staggering.
What was once labeled an epidemic is now better described as hyperendemic.
It’s Mental Illness, stupid!
Who’s being stupid? An increasingly common message from gun supporting politicians, is that people with mental illness are prone to violence in general and are responsible for mass shootings. This is demeaning, offensive and false.
Studies tend to indicate not only is there zero to negligible correlation between mental illness and shootings, but that there are far superior predictors for gun violence.
Weighing in on the debate, researchers from the University of Texas Medical Branch (UTMB) concluded that having a mental health diagnosis – whether it’s a mood disorder, PTSD, borderline personality disorder, or schizophrenia – doesn’t make you more likely to threaten somebody with a gun.
What does? Simply knowing you have access to a weapon.
Findings revealed that by far the most significant clue to a propensity for gun violence is simply knowing where you can lay your hands on a firearm. Those who answered in the affirmative to the question “do you have access to a gun if you needed or wanted one?” were 18 times more likely to have used one to threaten violence.
The false linking of mental illnesses to gun violence is shown to have two effects. First, they promote stigma by conflating mental illness and violence — a bias that affects patients, providers, the public, and policy makers and secondly, diverts attention away from effectively dealing with the real problem – proper gun control, starting with background checks.
Don’t blame those with disabilities; the only ‘disabled’ here are the politicians!
In the town of Tir’a in central Israel, a group of teenagers have gathered for a rehearsal. Over the cacophony of greetings in both Hebrew and Arabic, the strumming of a tiny instrument can be heard.
The humble ukulele has been “instrumental” in bringing together teens from Arab and Jewish backgrounds and the result is not just the creation of beautiful music, but the building of bridges that ultimately will lay the foundations of peace in this part of the world often mired in conflict – and mistrust.
The brainchild of musician, Paul Moore, who was fed up with the situation after the Second Intifada, Ukulele’s for peace aims to bring together children from different backgrounds who can find common ground by doing something creative and unifying – playing music together.
“I thought that if peace was possible between Israel and Egypt and Jordan then perhaps the same could happen with its Palestinian neighbours. Israel has a dynamism that is extraordinary and I felt that I had to either leave or do something. The hatred had to stop”, says Moore.
Moore is a vibrant personality. Dressed in beach chic short, his sartorial nod to his passion for the ukulele is the lei tucked around the brim of his hat. A seasoned performer, Moore is dedicated to helping build positive bridges between people and what better instrument than the ukulele. Small and easy to use (it only has 4 strings) ukuleles are very versatile and as a result, there is a burgeoning global ukulele movement.
Paul Moore’s love of the ukulele coupled with his experience and passion for performance sparked an idea. What if he brought children from opposite sides of the conflict and creates a space where they could get to know each other – and play a little music.
The result was the birth of Ukuleles for Peace in 2004. Moore’s dream was that the children would really integrate into each other’s lives and become friends, not just live parallel lives.
How did it all start?
Moore approached the mayor of Tir’a and in literally a day, found a cooperative partner in the Democratic School. And so Ukuleles for Peace was born. Parents became involved because after all, it was them who were doing the major schlepping with carpools and lifts. Initially, some of the parents were resistant to coming to Tir’a but the project has become such a communal success that families meet up for picnics, holidays and recitals.
Ukuleles for Peace hasn’t just shared joy through music – it has created real and lasting friendships between children who under different circumstances would never have had the opportunity to meet each other.
Singing in Arabic, Hebrew and English, Ukuleles for Peace has grown beyond the neighbourhood of the Middle East. The groups which through the years have been about 11-12 strong have played at schools, different towns, coexistence events, Holocaust survivors and autistic therapy.
This has also taken these talented and open-hearted youth overseas to play in places like Hawaii, Croatia, Italy, Poland and Georgia. It is proof that the even the most humble instrument when paired with the greatest intentions, can bring much needed positivity to the world.
It is not only the children that have benefitted from friendships – but their parents as well. During our visit to a rehearsal in Tir’a it was hard to see who was having more fun – the parents or the ukulele band!
“It is a joy to see these children blossom as musicians and performers,” says Paul. “I would love to turn up at the United Nations and just simply play our Music to them as a statement of what is possible words seem to only divide whereas music unites us all in harmony” he continues.
It is evident as the music flows seamlessly from Arabic to Hebrew and then to English that Paul Moore’s dream of bringing children together to know and appreciate each other’s cultures and build friendships that it has come to fruition.
Ukuleles for peace is living proof that the foundations of coexistence and peace will be built from the ground up through every day interactions between people. There may even be ukuleles involved.
Following on from a bellicose response to the above article on social media, see the writer’s response:
Zubin Mehta – “The crown Jewel of Israel’s cultural life”.
By David E. Kaplan
13 July 2019 in Tel Aviv was a Saturday night like few others!
Music lovers came out in their multitude to bid an emotional farewell to Maestro Zubin Mehta on the fulfillment of his impressive 50-year tenure as musical director of the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra (IPO).
The grassy expanse of the Yarkon Park in Tel Aviv was filled with a huge crowd of all ages, who rose almost simultaneously as the charismatic Maestro took the stage, opening with the orchestra’s moving rendition of Israel’s national anthem, “Hatikvah”.
The sad realisation of an iconic era coming to an end was poignantly punctuated with this quip from the 83-year-old conductor:
“When I started my work in Israel, all the members of the orchestra were twice my age, and now everyone is three times younger.”
This is understandable since the Maestro’s debut with the IPO was 1961!
Mayor Ron Huldai hit the right note hailing Mehta as:
“The Crown Jewel Of Israel’s Cultural Life”.
Sitting on the lawn amongst the crowd, noting how the Maestro’s unmistakable stature and gestures of his hand dominates an orchestra, I thought back only three years previously to 2016 when I interviewed Zubin Mehta on the occasion of his 80th birthday in his private office named after the acclaimed Italian conductor, Arturo Toscanini.
It had been not only the Mehta’s 80th but also the 80th of the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra. “Yes, we share an 80th together.”
He revealed how this milestone marked 80 years since Toscanini conducted the inaugural concert of the (later named) Israel Philharmonic Orchestra on December 26, 1936.
Attendees including Chaim Weizmann, David Ben-Gurion, and Golda Meir.
It represented not only the culmination of Jewish Polish violinist Bronislaw Huberman’s courageous efforts to provide refuge for nearly 1,000 European Jews fleeing Nazi Germany by establishing an “orchestra of the Jewish people,” but also the creation of a world-class musical institution.
Since 1961 when the IPO was first introduced to Zubin Mehta who came to fill in for an indisposed Eugene Ormandy, there has been a ‘love affair’ between the conductor and the people of Israel.
Over 2000 concerts later, the Maestro welcomed me into his office in the prestigious Charles Bronfman Auditorium with his arms warmly outstretched – a sight familiar to concert audiences around the world usually with a baton in hand.
I was keen to understand from the outset the nature of the relationship between Mehta and Israel, after all, the conductor – a Hindu Indian and the Jewish state may seem an odd coupling.
“Not at all,” says Mehta who revealed he fell in love not only with the Israeli orchestra but with the country itself.
“It reminded me a lot of my home, Bombay. Israelis, like Indians, are opinionated, and they have the habit of all speaking at the same time, which made me feel at home. People think this is a Jewish characteristic. It’s not. It’s also very Indian.”
From Bat to Baton
Recognising my unmistakable South African accent there was initial talk when he conducted a concert in Durban, our love of Indian cuisine, “the hotter the better” and of CRICKET! As if reaching a crescendo in Beethoven’s 5th, the Maestro became so animated when describing a 1-day limited overs match he watched the previous year at the Wankhede Stadium in Mumbai when the South African nation team, the ‘Proteas’, thrashed the hosts by 214 runs thanks to “blistering centuries from AB de Villiers, Quinton de Kock and Faf du Plessis. I sat there stunned – These South Africans gave us a ‘master class’ lesson in batting.” Mehta was well versed with the names of the SA cricket squad and the score as he was with any classical musical score.
“It was a slaughter” he lamented, and went on to describe his schooldays in Bombay (preferring to use its old name than Mumbai when speaking in English) where he showed talent with a cricket bat in the very hands that would one day mesmerize audiences around the world with a baton.
It could so easy not have been!
“I first studied medicine for a year in Bombay before switching to music. I was brought up in a typical middleclass Parsi family in Bombay where there were about five professions to choose from, and usually the parents made the choice. My brother studied accountancy and became a Chartered Accountant, while I ditched medicine and moved to Vienna to study music.”
However, music was very much in the Mehta family. His father founded the Bombay Orchestra, was its conductor, concert master and the soloist in a string quartet. “My dad was known as “Mr. Music of Bombay”. His dream was to create an environment in Bombay, which would enable talented young Indians to study Western classical music and perform professionally in their country. This is why our family is so proud that there is today a foundation in India bearing his name – the Mehli Mehta Trust -devoted to fulfilling his dream. He would be smiling if he could see the 150 kids studying classical music there – they represent his living legacy.”
Conductor with a Cause
What impressed me was the number of causes Zubin has identified with and brought the full weight of his talent to spotlight global attention on them.
In 2013, he conducted the Bavarian Orchestra in Kashmir, one of the most militarized regions of the world. An area contested by both India and Pakistan over religious divisions, the event was organized by Germany’s ambassador to India, Michael Steiner, with the aim of reaching “the hearts of the Kashmiris with a message of hope and encouragement”. Although the event was not without controversy, Mehta believed the concert had a positive impact on Kashmir.
“We are musicians; we cannot change boundaries, but we can start a process of healing. Hindus and Muslims sat together in complete harmony. We cannot force them to smile at each other; but we can bring them together and enjoy the same music. That is a good start.”
During the first Gulf War of 1992, “or what Israelis talk of as the ‘Scud War’, we performed many solidarity concerts both in Jerusalem and in Tel Aviv.”
After Iraq launched Scud missiles into Israel, Mehta raced to Israel. As Director of the New York Philharmonic at the time, “I had many obligations in New York that should have prevented me from coming, but I couldn’t imagine not being in Israel.”
Another notable musician who rushed to Israel was solo violinist Isaac Stern and “at our concert in Jerusalem, we were both presented on stage with gas masks – just in case. We never needed them, and we only performed during the day, as the scuds were mainly at night when the country was in total darkness. And yet, Israelis showed their grit – we performed to packed audiences. Think of it, missiles were raining down on Israel, and its people wanted to hear classical music.”
One such “Under Fire” concert was organized by former South African Solly Liebgott a governor of the Hebrew University who told the writer at the time, “People said I was crazy; nobody would come. We had a waiting list; it broke my heart as a fundraiser to return cheques.”
It proved that if Zubin Mehta was prepared to conduct, the people would attend his concerts.
Bullets, Bombs, Music
Intrigued to learn of other ‘Hot Spots’ where the Maestro conducted, Mehta reflects:
At the outset of the 1967 Six Day War, “a conductor who was slated to perform with the IPO dropped out, and I saw the situation as a musical emergency.” He rushed to board an ammunition-filled plane from the USA to Israel and “turned out to be the last plane allowed to land in the country before Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion Airport closed during the fighting.”
Mehta conducted a performance and stayed in the basement of a Jerusalem concert hall for the six days, along with pianist Daniel Barenboim and the celebrated cellist Jacqueline du Pré.
“I’m not sure how good the concert was musically — we weren’t exactly prepared!” Mehta later reflected, “but Daniel played the Beethoven Emperor Piano Concerto and Jackie played the Elgar Cello Concerto.”
A lesser known anecdote, a week after the war ended, Mehta pretended he was Jewish in order to act as a witness at Barenboim and du Pré’s wedding at the Western Wall.
When Israel was at war in Southern Lebanon in 1982, Mehta brought – assisted by the police – the orchestra’s musicians a few kilometers across the border into a Lebanese tobacco field. “We erected a stage under a tent and played for a group of local Lebanese citizens.” After the concert, Mehta said “the concertgoers rushed the stage to hug the musicians.”
“How I would love to see that sight again today – of Arabs and Jews hugging each other. I’m a positive thinker. I know that day will come.”
In 1994 during the Bosnian War, “The Italian impresario, Mario Dradi, organized a concert of the Mozart Requiem in the bombed Islamic Library of Sarajevo. I conducted the Sarajevo Orchestra, which included musicians from other parts of the disintegrating Yugoslavia to make up those in the orchestra who had been killed in the fighting. We had no audience as there was nowhere for people to sit, so the concert was filmed, and the proceeds from the sale of the movie went to the UN Refugee Fund to help the victims of this war.”
They did however have an audience for the rehearsals in Sarajevo’s Opera House, “which fortunately was not bombed. The sound of bombs could be heard throughout the night, and in the afternoon of the concert, a young boy was killed nearby in the street.”
Magic Of Music
And then there have been concert performances – not during wars but following wars or disasters and one of the most emotional was in 1999, when Mehta conducted an enormous orchestra comprising the IPO together with the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra outside of the Buchenwald concentration Camp. “We played Mahler’s Symphony No. 2 (Resurrection). It was very moving.”
It was the first concert in Germany that featured the Israeli Philharmonic playing with a German orchestra, and apart from the German orchestra being the Munich-based Bavarian State Orchestra – “sensitive because of its historical connotations” –
the concert took place just beneath the hill that had housed the Buchenwald Nazi concentration camp. Mehta accompanied musicians from both orchestras on a tour of the camp before the performance.
Mehta revealed that during the walk through the camp, he could not avoid thinking:
“Will the Israelis be able to sit together with Germans this evening and play music?”
However, he detected no feelings of resistance and my feeling now is that “if Jews and Germans can be together near Buchenwald after 50 years, one day there will be reconciliation with Arabs, too.”
Four years after Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit was captured by Hamas in June 2006, “we took the IPO to the Israel-Gaza border to protest his imprisonment.” The goal was to pressure Hamas into letting the Red Cross visit Shalit to make sure he was okay and to pressure both Israel and the leaders of Gaza to negotiate a deal for Shalit’s release.
“I hope he knows we are doing this concert and one day very soon he will know every note we play goes out to him,” said Mehta at the time.
Shalit was freed in a prisoner exchange the following year!
Citizen of the World
Being so closely rooted to India, Israel, the USA and Europe, I asked the Maestro if there any one city he can call home?
“I feel at home in at least five cities – Bombay, Tel Aviv, Vienna, Florence and Los Angeles,” he replied.
I enquire further that with the warming of relations between two of his “homes” – India and Israel – was there a role for improved cultural ties?
“Bilateral relations between the two countries have blossomed particularly in the areas of diamonds, agriculture, hi-tech and tourism,” responds Mehta. “Young Israelis visit India in droves. As far as the IPO is concerned, two years after India and Israel established full diplomatic relations in 1992, we performed in India for the first time, and since then we have toured there periodically. Every few years we perform in Bombay. Music has this transformative ability to bring people together.”
Maestro and his Masterpieces
Away from musically spotlighting war and human disasters, the Maestro took little time revealing one of his most fun-filled memorable concerts!
The recording of this debut concert became the best-selling classical album of all time, leading to additional performances and live albums. Around 1.3 billion viewers worldwide watched their second televised performance four years later at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles. They last performed together at an arena in Columbus, Ohio on 28 September 2003.
Describing the concerts with The Three Tenors, and all the great performers he has collaborated with over six decades, one can understand when Mehta says that “I have been blessed to be in the best profession in the world, constantly surrounded by masterpieces.”
To the final question of the future of classical music appreciation, Mehta is unfazed: “Never mind classical music, can you imagine any one day in the history of mankind without music? No, we can’t.”
How fortunate for the world that one young man decided at the age of eighteen to change professions and, instead of healing bodies, touched people’s souls.
In tribute to Johnny Clegg (7 June 1953 – 16 July 2019)
By Rolene Marks
Every immigrant will tell you that we take a small piece of our country of origin to our new home. For some scatterlings of Africa, it is biltong and braaivleis and for others it is something else. For me, the little piece of South Africa that I brought with was the soundtrack to my childhood and its pervasive memory – Johnny Clegg.
I will never forget the first time I heard his unique blend of traditional Zulu music and modern rock. Sitting in the cinema watching the movie, Jock of the Bushveld, I was enamoured by its star, a rather robust and gorgeous Staffordshire terrier but it was the theme song that evoked the strongest reaction in me. “Great heart”, the hit song transported me to wide open African plains, blue skies and reminded me of the power of courage. I was courage. You were courage.
And so began a lifelong love of Johnny Clegg’s music, joined by his trailblazing bandmates, Juluka and then Savuka.
Music has always had a great ability to unite, and throughout South Africa’s darkest years when Apartheid sought to build impenetrable walls between people of different races, it was Clegg and his band that were then called Juluka, pulled them down with their unique sound.
Blending Zulu and rock elements coupled with traditional, energetic Zulu dancing, they electrified South Africans who could not get enough. It was unlike anything we had ever heard and Clegg who faced harassment and sometimes censorship and the risk of arrest was the front man whose lyrics were both overtly and covertly political. Juluka disbanded in 1985 but would re-band in 1986 as Savuka.
Clegg had succeeded in doing the impossible – uniting the fractured folk of South Africa and flipping the Apartheid regime the proverbial finger.
Clegg and his band’s crossover appeal were not just restricted to South Africa.
The artists whose first album was titled Universal Men has universal appeal and attained tremendous global success which was then virtually unheard of for South African artists who were enduring a cultural boycott.
Such was Clegg’s global success as the front man of the band that in France he became fondly known as “le Zoulou Blanc” (the White Zulu) and was awarded the Chevalier des Arts et Lettres (Knight of Arts and Letters) by the French Government in 1991.
This was not the only international honour that would be conferred on him.
In 2011, Clegg received an honorary Doctor of Laws degree from City University of New York School of Law and in 2015, Clegg was made an Officer of the Order of the British Empire.
Clegg spoke famously of his Jewish roots and while not observant, he never hid or denied it. He was proud of it even incorporating aspects of his identity in his music, most notably in his songs “Jericho“, “Jerusalem“ and “Warsaw 1943“. Clegg also had a favourable relationship with Israel and lived in the country for a short time during his childhood and saw the country as a spiritual homeland.
During the second Intifada (Palestinian uprising) when approached by notorious anti-Israel activist (and Jew) Ronnie Kasrils to sign a petition that he and his group had written castigating the Jewish state, he had quietly refused to do so. He felt that the issue was more complex.
Johnny Clegg was a humble man with the heart of a warrior and this was how he fought pancreatic cancer that would eventually lead to his death. Faced with this major health battle, he embarked on a final tour to thank his fans for their support throughout his tremendous career.
Johnny Clegg passed away on the 16th of July 2019 was laid to rest with quiet modesty in Westpark’s Jewish cemetery. South Africans will gather on Friday 26th of July to pay tribute to one of the nation’s greatest sons and icons.
Dear Johnny, as you make your crossing, it is we who should be thanking you. Hamba Kahle Johnny. Thank you, Ngiyabonga for the music, for the memories, for being the light in the darkest days of our history, for uniting us and for your pride in your identity. Thank you for being our Great Heart.
*Feature picture:Jo Hale/Redferns via Getty Images
Creative Pursuits Make Change in the World — A tribute to Johnny Clegg
July 18, 2019
By R. K. Mayer
It has only been two days since the great Johnny Clegg left us. In those two days, like most others, my time has been spent listening to old favourites, reminiscing, eulogising and paying respects. For those of us — children of South Africa — who were brought up on his music, this is a loss that is felt on so many levels: individual, communal, national, international, and more. It’s not just because of the fact that he was a great singer and musician. It was not just because of the surreal juxtaposition (at that time) of this white man stomping and dancing African style to the beat of African drums. For those of us in South Africa, Johnny Clegg and his entourage represented a beacon of light and validation for a country in the midst of terrible times. We were not just a sum total of bad politics, inhumanity and racism.
Despite the fact that international sanctions were in place, Johnny and his music still played in the international arena. His music crossed borders and grew wings. Johnny broke the barriers of apartheid. He was blind to the racist doctrines. He broke the stigmas about who you can hang out with, work with, sing like, be like, look like. In a time of terrible compartmentalisation, he was an example to all of us that things could be different. That was the power of his music and the example that he set. We can never underestimate what it did for the children of South Africa to see Johnny on the international stage. For our impressionable minds, he was someone to admire and emulate.
We too could choose to transcend.
We too could embrace and join together.
That is the power or music and creative pursuits.
That is the power of Johnny Clegg.
I have never met Johnny Clegg, although I have stomped and jumped with him across his sound tracks. I have no idea, whether he was political or not. I don’t know whether he wanted to be the one to influence a generation. I don’t know whether he consciously used his art to break the boundaries and challenge the norm, or whether it all just happened serendipitously. His music served to unite, gather and to show that our similarities were far greater than our differences.
So, in the spirit of our times, wherein boycotting people and places because of their nationality, religion, political beliefs and ideologies has become commonplace, Johnny Clegg teaches us, that creative and artistic pursuits will always prevail. They will always transcend. For all of those in favour of trying to cut off these pursuits, just imagine if my generation had not had a Johnny, Just imagine if Johnny, by the power of inertia, apathy or ignorance, had enforced the segregation laws and not lead the life he did. We would not only have missed out on his music. We would also have missed out on seeing a person be the change that the country needed to see.
In an elegiac and soulful anti-apartheid song “Asimbonanga“— a song that sparks a crazy nostalgia in me for my home town, Cape Town— Johnny Clegg sings:
A seagull wings across the sea
Broken silence is what I dream
Who has the words to close the distance
Between you and me
I know the answer to that question. You did Johnny. You broke the silence and closed the distance between us.
Ronit Kaplinski Mayer – a blogger, novelist, change management consultant and entrepreneur. She is the co-founder of “OtailO” a startup with a smart and sustainable solution for online product returns management.
* With thanks to Larry Ger — another child of South Africa — for letting me share his painting