His Name was Navid Afkari

Iranian Wrestling Champion murdered by the regime for protesting.

By  Rolene Marks

His name was Navid Afkari. His life was full of promise. A talented sportsman, Afkari was a champion wrestler, proudly representing his country, Iran. He was 27 years old with a glorious future ahead of him. The Iranian regime recently executed champion wrestler, Navid Afkari.

Navid Afkari. Former wrestling champion executed by Iran despite calls to stop death sentence.

Iran is not a country that is synonymous with human rights. In fact, their record is as dismal as it gets. Some of their gross violations include the hanging of members of the LGBTQ community by crane, regardless of age, using lethal force to subdue protests, sometimes even killing hundreds of protestors, suppressing any rights to the freedom of expression and gender discrimination with women’s rights activists also face abuse. Ethnic and religious minorities endure entrenched discrimination. Torture and other ill-treatment, including through the denial of medical care, remain widespread and systematic; and committed with impunity. The right to fair trials is often denied and cruel, inhuman and degrading judicial punishments are carried out. Scores of people have been executed, sometimes in public; several under the age of 18 at the time of the crime.

Iran is routinely called out by human rights advocates for their ongoing violations.

The irony is that global powers who are aware of this, still allow Iran place on international bodies like the UN Commission on Criminal Justice, the Permanent Court of Arbitration and various others.

Looking Back with Anger. Iran executed champion wrestler Navid Afkari despite widespread pleas to spare him, prompting angry reactions from Iranians at home and abroad on social media platforms.

Why would Iran execute one of their star sportsmen? The circumstances surrounding this execution, which many are calling cold-blooded murder smack of conspiracy because Afkari dared use his voice.

Navid Afkari was among the vast crowds who took to the streets during the 2018 protests in Iran, opposing the totalitarian dictatorship of Khamenei and the rapidly deteriorating living conditions. He was arrested and charged with multiple offenses shortly after the protests. Among his charges were “insulting the supreme leader”, “waging war against God (aka. moharebeh)”, and the alleged case of “Hasan Torkman’s murder”.

Hasan Torkman was a secret security agent of IRGC (Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps) which were tasked with silencing the protests and after his death he was buried as a “martyr” by the regime, signifying his position. Akfari strongly denied this blatantly bogus murder charge and there was no evidence linking him to the case. The court sentencing was influenced by two sources that they claim showed him as the murderer. It was obviously a situation where Afkari was framed but what was the Iranian motivation?

Crushing an Icon. Afraid of his influence, Iran executes 27-year-old champion wrestler, Navid Afkari.

It could only have been his high profile as a young champion posed such a threat that he had to be silenced permanently. They could ill afford having their tyrannical views challenged by young people following in his example and demanding change and a better way of living.

Akfari was given two death sentences. 

While Afkari initially confessed to the murder charge, he would later retract stating he had been tortured into making a false confession.  During the hearings he stated:

   “I told the inspector that neither do I know the secret agent (that has been killed), nor have I heard his name! But under torture, and to save my family, and for Vahid (one of his imprisoned brothers), I gave them what they wanted.

Once I had been freed from the pressure of solitary confinement, the basement, and the tortures, once I stepped back onto the prison, I immediately wrote to the judicial offices and filed my complaint (against their use of torture) and screamed that I am not a murderer. I requested them to take me to the forensics bureau (for medical examinations of his scars). Per their report and eye-witness account (of my torture) and other evidences, it was made clear that I had been tortured. No matter the countless times I wrote and pleaded that all my confessions were obtained under torture; or how there is not a single shred of evidence in this damned case that could prove my guilt, but they did not want to hear our voice. I figured they were looking for a neck for their noose.”

Many campaigned to save his life. From human rights groups, online social media campaigns by Iranians, to important people and organisations including U.S. President Donald Trump, International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach, and UFC President Dana White. A global union representing 85,000 athletes called for Iran’s expulsion from world sport if it executed Afkari. All appealed for Afkari’s life to be saved, but to no avail!

On Saturday, the 12th of September 2020, Navid Afkari was executed. For many, this was cold blooded murder.

The European Union (EU), Olympic Committee and countless others condemned the killing of Afkari:

The European Union condemns this execution in the strongest terms. Human rights remain a central feature of our engagement with Iran. We will continue to engage with Iranian authorities on this issue including through the local EU representation in Tehran and also on individual cases such as this recent execution,” an EU foreign affairs spokesperson said in a statement.

A German foreign ministry spokeswoman also condemned the execution, saying, “There were considerable doubts about the rule of law in the proceedings, and we also take very seriously the allegations that Navid Afkari confessed only under torture.”

The Olympic Committee expressed their outrage and shock.

Condemnations are not enough. Many are calling for Iran to be banned from sports and political bodies for their gross violations of human rights. It cannot be forgotten that Iran is not only guilty of gross human rights abuses; but is also the world’s foremost supporter of state sponsored terror and is responsible for the loss of life in attacks from Buenos Aires to Jerusalem. The killing of a champion to push a political agenda and make him an example to the millions who want to exercise their fundamental right to protest is extremely concerning.

Protests Abroad. Iranian opposition supporttyers of the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI/MEK) protesting the execution of Iranian wrestling champion Navid Afkari on September 12, 2020 in Berlin, Germany

While there were many campaigns and condemnations, the killing of Navid Afkari did not dominate headlines or garner major global reactions. There will be nobody taking a knee for Afkari. Hollywood celebrities will not be putting out impassioned social media statements.

There needs to be justice for Navid Afkari and the countless others killed by the despotic Iranian regime. This will only come when the global outrage is so strong that Iran feels the shame of exclusion from major international agencies and bodies and is roundly condemned and isolated.

His name was Navid Afkari. He was a champion. May his memory be blessed.

Navid Afkari’s last audio message from prison before his execution





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

A Corona Cry for Help

The JNF in South Africa responds

By Beverley Price

Domestic Fundraiser.   A familiar sight in most Jewish homes around the world, the KKL-JNF Blue Box served as a cherished and popular means to realize the Zionist vision of establishing a state for the Jewish people.

Jews over a certain age will remember the iconic little blue Jewish National Fund (JNF) collection boxes they had in their homes where any spare coins were deposited in the slit that went towards planting trees in Israel. Whether they were dimes in the USA, pennies in the UK or pennies and later cents in South Africa they added up and over time helped transform Israel’s landscape from desert brown to fertile green. They contributed to changing the landscape of  a Palestine from what  Mark Twain derisively described in his 1867 visit as “repulsive and dreary…..hardly a tree or a shrub anywhere” to being the only country in the world to have a net gain of trees in the last 100 years!

However, there would be further changes following the changing fortunes of South Africa and Israel.

If in the post-1948 Israel independence years, South Africa JNF was in the vanguard in supporting state-building projects in Israel, in more recent years, a new paradigm developed with JNF supporting projects in South Africa. Israeli expertise in overcoming harsh environmental challenges could and is benefitting South Africa.

One such project is  the community in Mamelodi,  a semi-rural town located 90 kilometres from Johannesburg.  In the  early 1990’s, the JNF initiated a long-term sustainable development project there on behalf of the Jewish community in South Africa by opening the Walter Sisulu Environmental Centre. They did so in the presence of another icon, the President of South Africa – Nelson Mandela, who had earlier suggested the area to the JNF, close to the Mandela Park Peace Garden that  teaches pensioners to grow and sell their own food.

Conservation Champions. The Jewish National Fund (JNF), Walter Sisulu Environmental Centre in Mamelodi, Gauteng Province, South Africa is an environmental discovery centre that aims to develop community “conservation champions” for the environment.
 

The JNF Walter Sisulu Environmental Centre is an environmental education and resource centre encompassing 72 Mamelodi Schools, the 186 schools in the Southern Tshwane Educational District and the surrounding community to learn about the environment and to create “champions for a sustainable future.”

And the reason it is named after Walter Sisulu is that he visited Israel as part of his “five Nation Tour” in the early 1960s so there was the connection between his name, Israel, the Jewish community of South Africa and the Mamelodi region.

Honing in on Heritage. Schools book their visits well in advance for the JNF-Walter Sisulu Environmental Centre where students are inspired and motivated to preserve and utilise the wealth of South Africa’s natural heritage.

Based on Israeli expertise, the Centre imparts knowledge about recycling, water conservation, cultivation of crops and waste. Every year, over 12,000 students from the region enroll at the centre to receive education in sustainable development from trained instructors.

Going Green. A major focus of the JNF supported centre is to work in the schools themselves, where it helps support “Green Clubs” that also participate in a regional quiz and a school greening competition. The center has won numerous awards including the Mail and Guardian’s “Greening the Future Award” in the education category.

However, when the Covid-19 pandemic began, alarm bells sounded leading National Chairman of SA JNF, Isla Feldman, to exclaim in alarm:

 “People are going to be hungry. We have to raise money and help our people in Mamelodi.”

And so began a fundraising drive by JNF-SA  to purchase much-needed food parcels, each of which contained 6.5 kg of food that Boxer Superstores supplied. The management of the JNF-WSEC, Frans Mamogobo and Miko Khalo found volunteers to assist with the distribution. After much operational planning, the delivery site was set next to the local police station in order to provide safety and security.

Back to the Roots. Students learning the techniques of planting flowers, fruits and vegetables.

To bring the good news to the people in the region, notices went out in both Sepedi and in English. Volunteers from the organisation, Cadena – a member of the global Jewish network delivering hand-in-hand assistance around the world – helped with the distribution on the day. Thabisile Vilakazi of the Tshwane Municipality and Shaun Wilkinson were also part of the team.

Project in Progress. Mendy Graumann of Cadena South Africa (left) checking names of prospective recipients for food parcels with Frans Mamabolo.

The initiative was not without drama.

The day before the scheduled delivery, there was civil unrest in Mamelodi, and in order to ensure the safety of all the volunteers, the deliveries had to be shortly delayed until the area was deemed sufficiently safe.

Stand and Deliver. The Jewish National Fund of South Africa distributed 500 food parcels to the Mamelodi community in Tshwane on 11 August with the assistance of volunteers from the Jewish philanthropic organisation Cadena.

That day was Tuesday the 11th of August and in the midst of a deadly pandemic, the food parcels, with the help of many kind volunteers and many generous donors, the JNF food parcels were distributed to the needy Mamelodi community.

People-to-People Project. Food parcels from the JNF wait to be dispersed  to a hungry community.
 

The Jewish National Fund has come a long way since it was founded with the sound of Theodor Herzl’s banging down his gavel at the Fifth Zionist Congress in Basel in December 1901. It was a momentous moment with the message resonating beyond the Conference walls in Basel that Zionism actually set foot in Erez Israel – not by mere words and declarations, debates and resolutions, but by land reclamation through a national fund of and on behalf of the Jewish people.

Helping Hand. Frans Mamogobo, Manager of JNF WSEC (right) with recipient.

So too when it comes to the JNF in South Africa, it is less about words and more about deeds as it looks to support the people of Mamelodi.

The Walter Sisulu Environmental Centre, Mamelodi. A JNF South Africa initiative



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Progressive Partnerships. JNF South Africa is currently seeking expat South Africans abroad to partner with its new “bridge-across-the-pond” project with JNF of America and with Israel. You can contact the writer at  bevp@beyachad.co.za.


About the writer:

Beverley Price. Educated at King David School, Lindfield and graduate of the University of Witwatersrand (Speech Therapy), Beverley Price is Education Officer at the Jewish National JNF South Africa in Johannesburg.







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

“Beverly Hills, 90210” in 2020

Women Building businesses while building Israel

By Gina Raphael

The economic impact of the global pandemic has been felt all around the world, including in one of the most famous retail mecca’s in the world – Beverly Hills. Thanks to a resourceful solution that improves business with an altruistic twist, many will benefit.

As Chair of the Women’s International Zionist Organization (WIZO) for Los Angeles, my focus during this most difficult time of COVID 19 has been raising funds to help WIZO projects in Israel, benefitting women and children. While our goals are fundraising for Israel, we have felt a commitment to our “Chaverot” (friends) at home, as we work on behalf of the State of Israel.

Mrs. Rebecca Sieff
Dr. Vera Weizmann

In 1920, WIZO was founded. Two of the founders included Dr. Vera Weizmann, whose husband Dr. Chaim Weizmann was the first President of Israel and Rebecca Sieff, who served as WIZO’s first President and whose family owned Marks & Spencer.  They held the belief that to enable women to realize their full potential and take part in the building of a national homeland, they must be taught to use modern technologies. A framework for women’s vocational training had to be established. An independent women’s organization would enable women to develop their organizational talents and professional skills. They believed that a separate organization would further this aim.

For a century, WIZO has been helping to raise a nation as the largest social services provider outside of the government with day care centers, youth villages, shelters for battered women, girl’s leadership programs, vocational training, senior centers and so much more. WIZO USA has also assumed responsibility for the Eli & Marion Wiesel Beit Tziporah Centers in Israel, primarily focused on assisting youth of Ethiopian descent with after school and summer programmes to progress academically.

Paving the way for Tomorrow by Catering to the Needs Today. A WIZO Day Care Center in Israel (WIZO archives)

Today, WIZO has 250,000 volunteers across the globe, with over 54 Federations committed to each other and to projects in Israel. In Los Angeles, we have “committed ourselves to empowering women at home as we work to empower women in Israel.”

Under the leadership of Lauren Cohen, a Career and Executive Coach, WIZO launched this Summer, our Women for Israel Forum this Summer. The Forum serves as a community of women who network with each other to build their businesses while committing to a minimum gift to Israel. The price is nominal $18 a month or $180 a year and includes a range of marketing opportunities. The Forum has almost 50 members that include art dealers, attorneys, medical professionals, and chefs. Women are at various stages of their careers and have agreed to mentor and connect, bringing forward a new generation while ensuring new avenues for all.

While the Forum is a significant priority for WIZO Los Angeles, we felt the imperative to take our efforts to the next level. With most famous retail zip code in the world, 90210 is faced with empty storefronts.  WIZO Los Angeles is seeking a higher level of commitment from our Beverly Hills community while helping Israel.

Popular shopping destination Rodeo Drive is all but deserted as retail shops are shuttered in Beverly Hills on March 20, 2020. (Brian van der Brug/Los Angeles Times)

“Beverly Hills is a magical place where dreams come true. WIZO wants to create spaces where glamour, talent, friendship, inspiration, and business all intersect. Let us shine more light on our already amazing City, while empowering women locally and in Israel. Our value is not just who you know but also how we give and share” explains Lauren Cohen, also the WIZO Los Angeles Leadership Chair.

Our vision this Fall is to partner with property owners and entrepreneurs to create pop up group shops and incubator centers to help women foster their businesses while providing additional vibrancy to the community with a percentage of all sales or corporate gifts benefiting the work of WIZO in Israel. We are taking the legacy of Vera Weizmann and Rebecca Sieff to a new century, helping women fulfill their potential and working on behalf of Israel.

To join our work, please contact Gina Raphael, Chair WIZO Los Angeles gina@wizousa.org. Visit us at www.wizola.org.


About the writer:

Gina Raphael is as an entrepreneur and business owner in Beverly Hills, CA. A graduate of Wellesley College and the University of Chicago Booth School of Business Gina is Chair of  WIZO Los Angeles (Women’s International Zionist Organization), and  Chair Israel Bonds Western Region. She is the mother of three daughters – Danielle Gross (21), Sydney Gross (19) and Mia Gross (10).




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

We said NEVER AGAIN

China’s treatment of Uighur minority – a Crime Against Humanity.

By Rolene Marks

We said NEVER AGAIN2

We said NEVER AGAIN. After the Holocaust, when the devastating images and testimony hit international consciousness and Jews struggled to come to terms with the murders of so many of us, including generations of our families, the world said NEVER AGAIN. We agreed that we need to learn from the genocide that was the Holocaust that was built on the foundations of religious intolerance and hatred of the other, including the Roma, members of the LGBTQ community and others. But we did not. After the horrors of the Holocaust, we thought that there would be no more genocide- but there was. The names are familiar – Rwanda, Darfur, Cambodia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Syria, the Yazidi people and now China is firmly in our sites.

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The images are frightening and familiar. Nearly two million Muslim Uighurs, ethnic Kazakhs and Uzbeks have been detained in internment camps since April 2017. The Chinese government is cracking down on anyone that practices Islam, and in many cases, traveled to countries like Turkey or Afghanistan and visited Mosques or shared religious texts. Some have been detained for wearing the veil or hijab for respect and modesty reasons as prescribed by Islamic laws; and some men arrested just for growing beards as prescribed by Islam. Children are systematically removed from their families in an effort to isolate them from their Muslim communities. The images that have been smuggled out and have surfaced on social media show the round-up of men in vast numbers and transported via train to these camps. It is a scene horrifyingly reminiscent of the rounding up of Jews during the Holocaust, the majority who were then sent to certain death.

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China is a communist country and religion is seen as anathema. The Chinese government has tried to defend their actions by claiming that the Uighur Muslims that they are rounding up and sending to these camps are “extremists” and that this is a “counter-terror” measure and call any allegations against them “baseless”. The Chinese call these facilities, “reeducation camps”.

These are not “reeducation camps”. More like concentration camps!

These reeducation camps are anything but humane. Detainees or rather prisoners are subjected to hours and hours of indoctrination, a process that can last several months until they are forced to denounce Islam.  They are forced hour after hour to listen to and study communist propaganda and give thanks to Chinese President Xi Jinping. Chinese officials have also reportedly used waterboarding and other forms of torture, including sexual abuse, as part of the indoctrination process.

Uighur women are treated in the most appalling manner.  Pregnant women who refuse to abort their foetus – in order to not exceed the birth quotas – are sent to the camps. Former detainees have said they were given injections that stopped their periods or caused unusual bleeding consistent with the effects of birth control drugs. There have also been reports of sexual abuse. A Uighur activist has spoken out against China’s “Pair Up and Become Family” programme, in which Han Chinese men are sent to live with Uighur women, many of whose husbands have been sent to the camps.

The programme, first introduced in 2017, was discussed in an October 2019 report by Radio Free Asia that cited two unnamed Chinese officials. The report outlined a horrific programme in which many of the Chinese men would often sleep in the same beds as the women.

“Normally one or two people sleep in one bed, and if the weather is cold, three people sleep together,” one official told RFA. “It is now considered normal for females to sleep on the same platform with their paired male ‘relatives’,” he said in reference to the men, who are referred to as “relatives” even though they are not family. Uighur activists have referred to it as a policy of mass rape.

The scenes of men rounded up and transported on trains is not the only image that has a horrific similarity to the Holocaust. Uighur women have their hair cut off and exported to the West.

Earlier this year, US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officials seized a shipment of human hair from China. Officials said that 13 tons (11.8 metric tons) of weaves and other hair products worth an estimated $800,000 were in the shipment.

The production of these goods constitutes a very serious human rights violation, and the detention order is intended to send a clear and direct message to all entities seeking to do business with the United States that illicit and inhumane practices will not be tolerated in US supply chains,” said Brenda Smith, executive assistant commissioner of CBP’s office of trade.

This is the second time this year that CBP has slapped a rare detention order on shipments of hair products from China, based on suspicions that people making them face human rights abuses.

China Protest
Forced Family Separation. Uighur women grieving for their men who they claim were taken away by the Chinese authorities after a protest in Urumqi, China, Tuesday, July 7, 2009. (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan)

Stripped of their femininity and their identity, this bears a striking similarity to the way women were treated during the Holocaust. Today, the Auschwitz Museum has a room filled to the ceiling with human hair, shaved off the heads of Jewish women and girls, forced into labour, treated in the most monstrous conditions before many of them were routinely murdered by the Nazis.

Prisoners are allowed no contact with the outside, including family members. Many are fearful of what could happen to their loved ones if they dare make any contact.

Where is the global outcry?

Where are the UN resolutions and fact finding missions?

Activists around the world are trying to raise awareness – and push for investigations for Chinese crimes against humanity. A group of exiled Uighurs has appealed to the ICC (International Criminal Court) to launch an investigation for crimes against humanity and genocide.  Human Rights Watch, UN Watch and US Senator Cory Gardner, are amongst those calling for UN investigations into the treatment of Uighurs and so far the UN human rights panel have said that they have “credible” information to launch an investigation. Jewish organisations and individuals, drawing from our own history of genocide and persecution are trying to raise as much awareness as possible – and showing solidarity with the global Muslim community.

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Appealing to the UN. Protests against China’s oppression against the Uighurs.

The Chinese (when they bother to respond) insist it is counter terror – or simply do not respond. Earlier this year, Yu Jianhua, China’s Ambassador to the United Nations in Geneva, said the country was working toward equality and solidarity among all ethnic groups.

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“Mass Rape”. Uighur activist Rushan Abbas says the practice of Han Chinese men sleeping with Uighur women that has been taking place for years is nothing less than “a scheme of mass rape”. (Source:AAP)

The images are growing more and more worrying. So many times, we have said NEVER AGAIN! So many times we have thought we have learnt the lessons from history.

We cannot fail the Uighur people. Never again is now.

 

 

 

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

 

Unbreakable Bonds

The Relationship between the USA and Israel

By Lay of the Land USA correspondent

Away from the feuding in American politics – a matter for Americans themselves to determine and decide as they will in November’s upcoming election  – President Trump’s steadfast support for Israel has been reassuring and much appreciated. At a time when Israel faces existential threats and is not short of enemies committed to its destruction, it is reassuring to Israelis as well as Jewish communities around the world that the Jewish state enjoys the solid support and friendship of the United States not only in word but indeed.

There is only ONE Israel and we all know what befell the Jews when there was NO Israel!

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Unshakable Ties. During the meeting with President Reuven Rivlin, US Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo Pompeo said that he is sure that “you know that Israel has no better friend than the United States.”

Appreciation of this enduring support and friendship, was warmly evident in a recent address by leading businessman and philanthropist, Simon Falic at a gathering of Christian Zionists to honor the US Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo. The indefatigable Secretary of State has been in the forefront of  championing President Trump’s vision for peace in order to “achieve enduring security, freedom and prosperity for both sides.”

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Simon Falic stressing the unbreakable bond between the US and Israel.

“Judeo Christian values are ingrained in the United States of America,” began Falic. “For many of us, one of the most significant events in the last century was the establishment of the State of Israel and the return of the Jewish people to our ancestral homeland.  I believe, as so many of you, that this historical event was decreed by the heavens. The destinies of the United States and Israel are intertwined.”

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Stressing the familial nature of the relationship, Falic said that  “while our common enemies refer to the United States as the ‘big Satan’ and Israel as the ‘little Satan’, I think it is more like we are the big brother and Israel the little brother.” Evidence of this was  “President Truman’s recognition in 1948 of the establishment of the State of Israel, to 1973 during the Yom Kippur war, when President Nixon sent desperately needed weapons to allow Israel to defend herself and survive the Arab onslaught and then from the billions of dollars in aid over the years to President Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as the eternal and united capital of Israel  and the recognition of Israel’s sovereignty of the Golan Heights.”

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Strong Ties. Simon Falic, Chairman of Duty Free Americas at the ceremony presenting Israeli President Shimon Peres the Congressional Gold Medal in 2014. The medal, designed and struck by the United States Mint, recognizes and honored the late President Peres for maintaining strong bilateral relations between Israel and the United States and was the first Congressional Gold Medal to be awarded to a sitting President of Israel. (Photo: Shmuel Lenchevsky/Dov Lenchevsky)

Through this all, “big brother has always been there for little brother.”

Stressing the Biblical ties to the land, Falic said, “The Jewish people returning to live in Israel after 2000 years in exile is based on something far more meaningful than any partition plan, any arbitrary division of land, or any political decision that granted Jewish survivors of World War II a place of refuge. It is essentially tied to the Bible. Without this perspective, people inevitably miss the entire story that leads to mistakes politically.

“Time and again, leaders from across the globe adopt definitive positions about what is best for Israel and how to move the peace process forward. Yet, these ideas never worked. They insisted on imposing a solution without seriously considering and ignoring the fact that Israel is surrounded by enemies who vow to destroy this sliver of Holy Land that could fit into Lake Michigan.  Israel and her people alone will have to face and deal with the consequences, as the Oslo accords have taught us.  The mindset of the Arab world is that they can lose 99 wars with Israel – but all they have to do is win the 100th.”

Warning against failure to take advantage when destiny provides a window of opportunity, Falic recounted of the telegram, President Truman’s Chief of Staff, General George Marshall wired on May 13th, 1948, to David Ben Gurion “stating that if he declared an independent state of Israel, five Arab armies would attack and within 48 hours and not one Jew in the land would be left alive.  The rest is history.”

This same warning of fearing the worst and hence counselling inaction, occurred before President Trump announced the move of the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem. “He was also warned by his Generals that there will most likely be a violent reaction around the world to US interests.”

And once again “The rest is history”.

This pattern of warning and suggested caution was to again repeat itself with President Trump’s “recognition of Israel’s sovereignty of the Golan Heights.  We can only imagine what would be the situation today if Israel had not conquered the Golan Heights from Syria in the Six-Day War of 1967 and held in the Yom Kippur War of 1973.  Today, ISIS, the Syrian and Iranian regimes and the Russians would be overlooking the Sea of Galilee.”

Looking to Pompeo, and with a warm smile, Falic exclaimed:

“You are now being part of Israel’s History.”

Exposing European hypocrisy of singling out Israel for selective opprobrium, Falic drew attention to last year’s European Union Court of Justice, when “all 15 judges unanimously ruled, that all products made by Jews in Judea and Samaria, or what they refer to as occupied territory, must be labeled as products made in “occupied territory”.  There are close to 100 conflicts and disputes around the world regarding borders and territories, including Cyprus that is occupied by Turkey, but only Israeli products made by Jews, were singled out. Europe destroyed and eliminated century’s old Jewish communities and today they pursue Israel and the Jews in their courts and in diplomatic circles. The primary product that was part of this European’s court decision, was a wine called Psagot. Psagot is the “poster boy” of the BDS movement.

 

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Taste Of Ancient Israel. The Psagot winery is located in the northern region of the Jerusalem mountains, an area ripe with remnants of biblical-era vineyards and wineries. 

 

My family and I are partners in this winery.  We invested in Psagot over 10 years ago – against the advice of other investors and wine experts. We were told that while the wine is excellent, it is in a disputed area that one day might be part of a negotiated agreement and Jewish life and business there will be eliminated.

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Psagot winery. During the vineyard’s construction, a coin dating back to the Great Revolt of (66–73 CE) was discovered where its front face is stamped with the words “For Freedom of Zion” and adorned with a vine leaf, while the back face reads “Year Two” (a reference to the Revolt) alongside an image of an amphora – an ancient container used for storing wine. This coin appears on the label of each bottle of Psagot wine.

Ironically, these naysayers encouraged and emboldened us, even more, to invest to help establish Jewish life and business after 2,000 years.  Next to the vineyards is a cave and press where wine was produced and stored during the time of the Second Temple. An ancient coin of Judea was found in the cave, and today a replica of that coin appears on many of our bottles.  Psagot was a small unknown boutique winery producing 40,000 bottles per year. Today, after winning many prestigious wine awards in France and London, we produce 400,000 bottles per year.

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Shared Values, Common Destinies. US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo waves as he speaks at the 2019 American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) policy conference, at Washington Convention Center, in Washington, Monday, March 25, 2019 (AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana)

“Secretary of State Pompeo, only one week after the despicable decision of the European court, you publicly announced the State Department’s determination that the establishment of Israeli civilian settlements in the West Bank is not categorically inconsistent with International law. Your official announcement is widely referred to in Israel as the “Pompeo Doctrine”.  I don’t think you really know how loved and respected you are in Israel.”

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Simon Falic (right) with Pastor John Hagee, founder and chairman of the Christian United for Israel (CUFI) organization.

Reminding his Christian Zionist audience of the strong connection the Jewish people have with the land of Israel “where Abraham, Isaac, Sara, Leah, Rivka, and Rachel, walked, lived and are buried,” Falic concluded with  “Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, and to all our Christian Zionist friends, “May G-d bless you and protect you. May G-d make his face shine upon you and treat you with grace. May G-d lift his face toward you and grant you peace.”

In a world currently plagued not only of a virus but one of uncertainty, it is reassuring that we have certainty on this critical issue – the unbreakable bond between the USA and Israel.

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Simon Falic flanked by his wife, the Honorary Life President, WIZO USA Jana Falic (left) and Nili Falic, Chairman Emeritus, Friends of the IDF (FIDF).

 

 

 

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

 

Agonising over the Past, Ignoring the Present

While atoning for ties to slavery of centuries ago, what of slavery today?

By David E. Kaplan

It is most admirable that two major British companies – Lloyd’s of London and Greene King – have acknowledged their historic ties to the slave trade and felt the need to atone for past sins by pledging to financially support black and minority ethnic communities. “Mea Culpa” is resonating across the UK for crimes committed centuries ago, led by the world’s oldest insurance company and the UK’s largest pub retailer and brewer, who are taking steps to make their businesses “more racially inclusive”.

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Deposing Edward. British protesters push a statue of 17th-century slave trader Edward Colston into Bristol’s harbor. (Photo by Giulia Spadafora / NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Jostling in the queue to the public confessional, were two other major British banks, Barclays and the Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS) which also issued statements acknowledging their roles in the slave trade  and committing to do more to foster a fully inclusive environment.

Until recently most proud of its impressive trading history over three centuries, this month, however, Lloyds suddenly revealed there “are some aspects of our history that we are not proud of.” In particular, “we are sorry for the role played by the Lloyd’s market in the eighteenth and nineteenth century slave trade. This was an appalling and shameful period of English history, as well as our own, and we condemn the indefensible wrongdoing that occurred.”

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More Slaves Today. A protest rally in London raises awareness for the fight against human trafficking and slavery. (Credit: John)

Not to be outdone, Greene King’s CEO, Nick Mackenzie, expressed that “It is inexcusable that one of our founders profited from slavery and argued against its abolition in the 1800s.”

While it is true that this past conduct is “inexcusable”, all the hype would sound far more credible if the accusation of “INEXCUSABLE” was directed not at long dead practitioners of slavery but those live ones today who are ‘slaving’ away as if nothing has changed.

Research reveals that there are currently 167 countries that still practice slavery, affecting approximately 46 million people.

Leading this notorious list is India which has the highest number of slaves in the world – higher than the population of The Netherlands – at 18.4 million slaves.  To understand how it is possible, a former slave ‘Mala’ reveals in a recent article in The World that she was just 18 when her boyfriend, Rohit, convinced her to leave their little village in northeastern India for a city where they could “be anonymous” and “live freely together”.

Mala neglected to question her ‘boyfriend’ about where they would live or how they would survive. All she knew was that she wanted to leave her parochial world with the man she believed she loved.

We left in the dead of the night. I had packed some clothes, but that was it. One of his friends was waiting a little outside the village in a van. We got in and drove for maybe five hours before we stopped. I did not know the name of the place, but I thought we would leave there after a short break.”

Mala would soon realise she had been duped!

I saw a lady giving a big bunch of money to Rohit,” she said. “He told me he was going out for half an hour, and after that I did not see him again.”

Just over a year ago, Mala was discovered at a brothel when it was raided by the police. Mala was with 45 other girls, including eight minors, who said they were either brought to brothels under false pretenses, or kidnapped and trafficked and then forced into sex work. Like Mala, many had fallen for boys who turned out to be recruiters.

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Human Cargo. A depiction of slaves from Africa bound for the plantations of America.

So if the Western narrative of slavery in the 19th century was mostly about working in plantations in the Americas, modern slavery encompasses forced child labour, forced marriage, commercial sexual exploitation, bonded labour, and forced recruitment into non-state armed groups.

China has the second-highest number of slaves at 3.4 million, which is less than a quarter of India’s.

Other countries that have significantly high slave populations are RussiaNigeria, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Indonesia, Egypt, Myanmar, Iran, Turkey and Sudan.

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Human Property. Enslaved Africans were hired, sold and bought like cattle, regardless of their age, sex or marital status.

Below is a table the six countries with the highest slave populations in the world:

India(18.4 million)

China (3.4 million)

Pakistan(2.1 million)

Bangladesh (1.5 million)

Uzbekistan (1.2 million)

North Korea (1.1 million)

So while slavery may have been long and officially abolished, there are still many millions who are born into it or brought into slavery at a young age; and therefore do not know or recall anything different. Mauritania is a country in which the practice of buying and selling slaves has continued since the 13th century, with those enslaved serving families as livestock herders, agricultural workers, and domestic servants for generations, with little to no freedom of movement. This continues despite the fact that slavery was abolished.

In 2006, Selek’ha Mint Ahmed Lebeid, who like her mother was born into slavery in Mauritania, wrote about her experiences:

I was taken from my mother when I was two years old by my master … he inherited us from his father … I was a slave with these people, like my mother, like my cousins. We suffered a lot. When I was very small, I looked after the goats, and from the age of about seven, I looked after the master’s children and did the household chores – cooking, collecting water, and washing clothes. When I was ten years old I was given to a Marabout [a holy man], who in turn gave me to his daughter as a marriage gift, to be her slave. I was never paid, but I had to do everything, and if I did not do things right, I was beaten and insulted. My life was like this until I was twenty years old. They kept watch over me and never let me go far from home. But I felt my situation was wrong. I saw how others lived.”

In 1994, Mende Nazer was captured as a child following a militia raid on her village in Sudan. She was beaten and sexually abused, eventually sold into domestic slavery to a family in the Sudanese capital of Khartoum. As a young adult, she was transferred to the family of a diplomat in the UK, eventually escaping in 2002.

Some people say I was treated like an animal,” reflected Nazer,  “But I tell them: no, I wasn’t. Because an animal – like a cat or a dog – gets stroked, and love and affection. I had none of that.”

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From Slave to Salvation. Mende Nazir’s childhood was cut short at the age of twelve when the Mujahidin rode into her village in the Nuba Mountains of Sudan. Abducted and sold to an Arab woman in Khartoum, Mende was kept as a domestic slave for seven years without any pay or a single day off. Passed on like a parcel by her master to a relative in London, Mende eventually managed to escape to freedom.

 

Forced Labour

The picture is no less bleak when it comes to other forms of “EXPLOITATION” – a synonym for modern day slavery. The widespread practice of “forced labour” in well over 100 countries ensnares over 25 million people.  

How does it work?

In order to support their families, many travel to more developed country believing they will secure decent employment, only to then find themselves forced into labour with no support mechanism and little or no knowledge of the local language. Typically, they are deprived of their identity documents by their traffickers, which limits their ability to escape and ensures control of their person through the threat of exposure to the authorities as “illegal” immigrants.

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Slavery Today. A 2019 Geneva-based International Labour Organization (ILO) exhaustive study of modern day slavery, concluded there are over 40 million people who are victims of slavery, including 25 million in forced labour and 15 million in forced marriages with at least 71% of them comprising women and girls.

What follows is a life of work for little or no pay and for long hours, in agriculture, factories, construction, restaurants, and even forced criminal activity, such as cannabis farming. One such was ‘Minh’, a Vietnamese national, who was 16 when he was kidnapped, raped and trafficked and then locked up and forced to grow cannabis.

Forced to work as a slave – but not in the Middle East, Gulf  or Asia but in a pastoral corner of Chesterfield in the United Kingdom!

Following a tip off, when the police raided the two-floor house, they found a fully-functioning cannabis farm, complete with dozens of fully-grown plants, thousands of pounds worth of lights and equipment, and one terrified Vietnamese boy – Minh.

Not his real name, Minh is one of the hundreds of children trafficked from Vietnam every year and forced to work in hidden farms across the UK – small cogs in the vast criminal machine that supplies Britain’s £2.6bn cannabis black market. Children such as Minh are lucrative possession for those who run cannabis farms. These people are cheap, expendable, and easy to control and intimidate.

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Child Labour. Largely believed today as a scourge of the past, slavery is alive and well today under the new name of ‘human trafficking’

They are SLAVES!

Smuggled overland from Vietnam to the UK,  they are then trapped in a form of modern slavery that is now widespread across Britain, yet seemingly below the media’s attention or public interest.

A 2018 UK Government Annual Report on Modern Slavery, estimated that around 13,000 individuals were trapped in some form of enslavement across the UK, and Vietnamese people make up the third-largest group of victims with more than half of them under the age of eighteen.

Of the 40 million people estimated to be trapped in modern slavery worldwide:

  • 1 in 4 of them are children.
  • Almost three quarters (71%) are women and girls.
  • Over 10,000 were identified as potential victims by the authorities in the UK in 2019.

So while there is abounding enthusiasm at present for the toppling of statues of those characters in history for participating in past slavery, how about that same level of enthusiasm for the toppling of those live despicable people who are TODAY responsible for enslaving millions of people?

The crack of the whip still prevails!

 

 

 

 

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.

 

Love Thy Neighbour

By Rolene Marks

Imagine for a moment, what it would feel like for a small child to taste ice cream for the first time, to feel the soft, comforting hug of a giant teddy bear. Imagine as a parent, being able to sit and enjoy a quiet cup of coffee while your child plays safely. These are small, everyday gestures that we take for granted but for those many thousands affected by civil war in Syria, they are miracles.

Civil war broke out in Syria in 2001, affecting millions of civilians. This is a war that still continues.  My Lay of the Land colleague, Yair Chelouche, and I recently had the pleasure of travelling to the Golan Heights (responsibly masked of course!) to meet with Lt Col (Res) Eyal Dror, commander of the “Good Neighbor” directorate, under the IDF’s Northern Command.

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Close Encounters. Lt Col (Res) Dror and Lay of the Land’s Rolene Marks at a lookout point with Syria mere metres behind them.

We meet Lt Col (Res) Dror at a lookout point that gives us a clear view of Syria, the surrounding hills and the old city of Quneitra. The landscape is dotted with apple orchards and cherry trees and seems peaceful. Deceptively peaceful.

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Golan Heights. Deceptively peaceful landscape

To understand the tremendous security threat that Israel faces on the border, we have to look at the topography of the landscape. From our vantage point, just 500m from the border with Syria, we gain a better understanding just how close terror groups like Al Qaeda and ISIS are to Israel. The ever present threat posed by Iran and its proxy, Hezbollah is not too far away and the IDF need to be ever vigilant.

We also cannot forget that there is still an ongoing civil war in Syria.

The impact of civil war on a civilian population is tragic beyond belief. Civilians are not only caught in the crossfire but are often used as pawns between warring factions, women raped and children severely traumatized. Information about what was happening to Syria’s civilians reached the IDF (Israel Defense Forces) and Lt Col (Res)

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Safe and Secure. Away from the Syrian civil war, this young Syrian child clutches his teddy bear while receiving treatment inside an Israeli hospital.

Dror, who had previously served in coordination and liaison units with the Palestinians, was approached to form a unit that would carry out an extremely important mission – helping to save the lives of Syrian civilians by enabling them to receive medical and humanitarian care in Israel.

The result was “Operation Good Neighbor”, which started in 2016 and was forced to come to an end in 2018, following the return of the Assad government’s control of southern Syria along the border with Israel.

Over 700 missions were carried out and nearly 5000 civilians brought into Israel. A field clinic was also set up with the aid of a Christian organisation near the border and this allowed for the treatment of 8000 Syrians. The IDF also opened up a maternity ward next to the field clinc and one of the greatest achievement of “Operation Good Neighbor”, was welcoming 1000 babies into the world!

First of all, I always remember that my mission is to create security – to create good neighbourly relations on both sides of the border. We do this, perhaps, in the noblest way possible,” says Lt Col (Res) Dror commander of the “Good Neighbor” Administration. “It is a great privilege for me to command a unit whose mission it is, in this place and at this time. We have been given the opportunity to influence reality, and with a lot of will and good people – I believe we will continue to do the best we can.”

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Help on the Heights. A Syrian child plays inside an Israeli hospital as part of the IDF’s ‘Operation Good Neighbor’ project, which helped thousands of Syrians before Syrian dictator Bashar Assad regained control of the area bordering the Golan Heights. (Israel Defense Forces)

Looking out at the ruins of the old city of Quneitra and surrounding landscape, I tried to imagine what it must have been like for the brave soldiers of the IDF, who endured immensely difficult and dangerous conditions, to rescue these equally courageous civilians. I imagined heavy fire exchanges between Assad’s forces and rebels, frightened civilians and extremely alert IDF soldiers, with an ever present awareness that they were helping to rescue civilians from an enemy country and that very territory was fraught with terror entities. The IDF soldiers knew that they were carrying out a sacred mission, in line with the ethos and moral code of the army – the sanctity of protecting civilian life.

“Aid operations take place almost every night, at high intensity and in all weather,” says the commander of the 77th Battalion, Lt Col (Res) Shaul Israeli, whose battalion performs operational employment on the Syrian border. “Sometimes it is about transferring food to children, sometimes with medicines and sometimes also real medical equipment. The most exciting action of all is the transfer of children to medical care in the country – patients, the disabled and those who do not have access to appropriate medical care in Syria, find in us light and hope for a better life for them.”

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Israel To The Rescue. It is estimated that Israel through ‘Operation Good Neighbor’ provided Syrians with 1,700 tons of food, 1.1 million liters of fuel, 26,000 cases of medical supplies, 20 generators, 40 vehicles, 630 tents, 8,200 boxes of diapers, 49,000 cases of baby food, and 700,000 lbs of clothing. (Israel Defense Forces)

From our vantage point, we can see the enormous United Nations compound, where peacekeeping forces are stationed. I asked Lt Col (Res) Dror if the UN or any other counterparts like the EU (European Union) had any part to play in “Operation Good Neighbor”. He explicitly replied that they did not. It would appear that neither major international body (who are often prone to great criticism of Israel) was interested in helping in any way.  The IDF was also responsible for the rescue of 400 Syrian civilians who were members of the ‘White Helmets’, a civil defense volunteer organization and their families.

But this mission was all about the civilians. The individual stories grip your heart. Listening to Lt Col (Res) Dror, the tears welled in my eyes.

What is important to understand, is that this wasn’t simply a case of bringing people in, patching up their wounds and then sending them home. It was not a “band aid” approach.

Many civilians required long term care and were dispatched to various hospitals.

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Saving Syrians. Israeli soldiers carried injured and ill Syrians to be treated in Israeli hospitals in the northern Israeli cities of Nehariya, Tiberias and Safed, though Lt Col (Res) Dror explains that hospitals all across the country participated too, welcoming Syrian citizens for life-saving care.

“Imagine what it was like to come to a country that you are taught is the devil and receive care from an Arab doctor or a Druze nurse, speaking to you in Arabic. Those making it possible were Israeli soldiers in uniform. They see that Israel is made up lots of different people”, says Dror. I asked him if the IDF was ever acknowledged and his reply was that they didn’t need it but having received the smiles, the pictures drawn for them by children and just the knowledge that generations of Syrians will grow up with a positive understanding of Israel was thanks enough.

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Rescuing Rescue Workers. IDF soldiers offering water to Syrian rescue workers White Helmets’ and their families whom Israel transported from Syria into Jordan, as they fled the Assad regime on July 22, 2018. (Israel Defense Forces)

Lt Col (Res) Dror, recalls how he asked one little boy what he wanted to be when he grew up. His question was met with silence. To this sweet little boy, who had seen his closest friend killed, the idea of reaching adulthood, let alone contemplating a career was something he could not fathom.  After a while he remarked that he could now have hope that at least maybe he could grow up to reach adulthood.

The gift of hope is priceless!

The soldiers who served on this mission have a lifetime of memories from the individual stories of the people they helped.

Lt Col (Res) Dror is visibly moved when he shares two stories. A little girl was brought into Israel, her leg completely crushed. In such cases, she would have had her leg amputated and sent back to where she came from. Doctors who treated her however, decided that she would stay in Israel for several months for rehabilitation after being fitted with an expensive Ilizarov external fixator, the cost covered by Israel. The IDF and her team of doctors and caregivers made sure that she would have everything she needed to improve her quality of life.

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Lifesaver. How many Syrian babies will grow up to be adults thanks to the Israeli army that saved them from diseases and injuries?

Lt Col (Res) Dror shares a lovely picture of an Israeli flag. This story is very special to him. Another little girl was safely brought in for medical care. Suffering severely from diabetes, doctors remarked that if she had not been brought to them for care and treatment, she would have been dead within hours. Her palate had virtually disintegrated as a result of her illness. Doctors and surgeons treated her, reconstructed her mouth and sent her home with a year’s supply of insulin and medicine. Medicine for diabetes is hard to find in Syria and is prohibitively expensive.

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Another Side to Israel-Syria Relations. Lt Col (Res) Eyal Dror proudly displays a picture of an Israeli flag drawn for him by a young Syrian girl (To Abu-Ya’akub from Wiham).

The stories are endless and so moving. Children were able to play for the first time without fear, taste the simple pleasure of ice cream while their parents can enjoy moments of respite from war. It is hard to imagine the courage that it took for these

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Thanks to Israel. A letter from a southern Syrian civil defense group thanking the IDF for its ‘Operation Good Neighbor’ project, which helped thousands of Syrians. (Israel Defense Forces)

civilians to risk their lives to receive care from an army and country that they once perceived as the ultimate enemy. It is even harder to imagine their life under constant threat of war.  For the soldiers of the IDF who participated in “Operation Good Neighbor”, the ultimate ‘Thank You’ was evident in the hope that they helped instill, the improvement in the health and quality of life for thousands, and the massive barrier of distrust and hate that came crumbling down under the force of humanity and care.

The IDF proved that in a time of strife, you can still love thy neighbour.

 

Warning: This video clip might contain imagery not suitable for sensitive viewers 

Operation Good Neighbor is a mission of compassion for those in need and of hope for a better, more secure border between Israel and Syria. Over the past six years, we’ve seen war destroy the lives of Syrian civilians. We couldn’t stand by and watch. While carrying out Operation Good Neighbor, we’ve had the honour of meeting our neighbours and hearing their stories. #OperationGoodNeighbor #IDFOperations

 

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

Mending a Broken Heart

By Rolene Marks

“It’s amazing when you stop for a moment and consider that this woman is not an Israeli and is not Jewish. She is a foreigner. She has no family or roots here. She has been through terrible physical abuse for a year. Yet together, WIZO, the hospital, all the good people in our community came together and reached into their pockets and hearts during this difficult Coronavirus period to save her life. It’s like it says in the Torah, “And you shall love the stranger,”(Deuteronomy chapter 10, verses 17-20. Leviticus chapter 19, verse 34).

It is never easy to be a stranger in a strange land. It is difficult to adapt to a culture completely different to your own and when a global pandemic spreads and brings with it seemingly insurmountable challenges, it feels like a battle that cannot be won. But this is a story with a difference. This story is proof that even in the most difficult and uncertain of times, there are always people that are willing to help.

Meet “S” a 26-year-old Eritrean woman, who left her home to come to Israel – at great personal risk. Many Eritreans seek work in Israel and are not Jewish and “S” was no exception. “S” life has been full of hardships. She began her long walk towards a better life in a strange land at 16 and was forced into an arranged marriage while staying at a refugee camp en route at 17. Her husband was already living in Israel and paid for her to come to Israel.

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Many migrant workers seek work in Israel.

Shortly after arriving, she became a mother to two gorgeous little ones, a girl and a boy, now aged 7 and 4. But the marriage was fraught with violence. Both “S” and her daughter suffered severe abuse at the hands of her husband and eventually fled for their lives, along with “S”’s small son.

“S” was referred to a WIZO (Women’s International Zionist Organisation’s) shelter by Israel’s welfare services and “Mesila” (assistance and information center for the foreign community), an NPO (non-Profit) serving the rights and needs of the tens of thousands of legal and illegal migrant workers and refugees living in and around Tel Aviv.

Mending a broken heart4

At this safe haven, WIZO provided loving arms, therapy and shelter from the constant blows and abuse “S” and her small charges faced. At last, she could begin to heal physically – and maybe emotionally. But this was not the end of her story – and her remarkable journey.

In June 2015, before her arrival at the shelter, “S” was rushed to Beilinson Hospital in Petach Tikva after fainting at work. Pregnant at the time, she was later diagnosed with a heart defect. This required her needing a catheterization and the doctors decided that in order to survive, she would need to abort. In the four years that followed she had no medical follow up – and the violence meted out by her husband continued.

When “S” arrived at the shelter in 2019, she began a process of medical checkups with the help of a refugee clinic in Jerusalem that works in cooperation with Sha’arei Tzedek  Hospital. She had a series of cardiological examinations, and began medical treatment. “S” needed a procedure that could potentially save her life.

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Asylum-seeking women (their faces purposely hidden to hide their identities) and a volunteer nurse at the Tel Aviv Refugee Clinic (photo credit: Michal Shmulovich/Times of Israel)

On April 30th, 2020, “S” met with Dr. Amit Korach, a cardiologist who took care of her at Sha’arei Tzedek. He recommended a procedure which would switch her mitral valve and fix her tricuspid valve. While not life threatening, this procedure was considered critical for her improvement of quality of life.

The staff at the WIZO shelter wanted to do everything in their power to help “S” not only have a second chance at life where she could provide for her children but to ensure that she received the best possible medical care. With the Coronavirus pandemic spreading around the world and limited resources available, these caretakers needed to figure out a way to move mountains.

Funds would be needed to be raised. The surgery cost 90,000 NIS. The medical staff at the hospital generously agreed to cover part of the procedure and Physicians for Human Rights helped file a request to the Ministry of Health, asking for further funding options and Mesila in Tel Aviv also assisted. Through WIZO and the local congregation, a crowdfunding campaign was started and additional funds were raised. This is an extraordinary feat – especially at a time when most organisations are stretched to the limit financially.

“It’s important to remember that “S” is the sole caretaker of her two children,” Rinat Leon-Lange, Director of the WIZO shelter said. “She is currently living at the shelter, but can stay only for a limited period of time. Since she is an Eritrean refugee, her occupational options are limited and consist mainly of work that demands physical effort like cleaning or working in a kitchen. Her current medical condition does not enable her to engage in such physical work. Without income, she is doomed to either live in poverty or be dependent on another person, which could lead to yet another dangerous and abusive relationship. Due to her lack of legal status in Israel she is not eligible to receive any kind of government stipend for financial support.”

” “S” is still a young woman, so the success rate of this surgery is high,” says Yael Zimran, a social worker at the WIZO shelter. “This surgery would not only improve her quality of life physically, but would also enable her to be financially independent without having to rely on someone else. So for S, this really would be a life-saving procedure.”

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Thanks to WIZO, “S” and her children are safe.

The surgery was finally performed at Sha’arei Tzedek Hospital in June 2020 – at the height of the Corona pandemic. Dr. Korach and Dr. Hila Elinav, who had been treating “S” at the refugee clinic advocated for “S” to receive the best care and throughout the procedure she was treated by medical staff who knew her well. The staff looked after her in the hospital and took care of her children who remained at the shelter. The children were therefore able to be in constant contact with their mother while she was hospitalized via the shelter’s dedicated staff.

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Integrated Cardiac Center – Cardiopulmonary Surgery at Sha’arei Tzedek Medical Center

“The surgery was a success,” Leon-Lange proudly reported. “She is recovering slowly, but surely.”

Throughout the Corona crisis in Israel, WIZO has been on the frontline. “S”’s journey from Eritrea to a shelter and then life-saving surgery is proof of her remarkable courage and this has been recognized and honoured by WIZO who apart from providing an embrace of safety against abuse, also ensured the mending of a broken heart.

Thanks to the joint efforts of WIZO, Sha’arei Tzedek Hospital and other welfare organizations a young Eritrean mother living in a WIZO women’s shelter is on the road to recovery and independence.

Our gratitude to all WIZO Federations for their generous support in helping to provide shelter for women and children suffering from domestic violence in Israel.

Mending a broken heart10.JPG

 

 

 

 

 

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.

Along Came a Hero

He rescued not only lives – but faith in humankind as Arab world mourns Israeli who died saving Bedouin family from drowning

By David. E. Kaplan

Yesterday’s heroes in parts of the Western world are tumbling but others are emerging. Unlike the ingloriously departing generals, politicians, presidents and traders that included humans in their merchandise, today’s heroes are ordinary people who seek not fame or glory.  They are simply doing their job.

But it is anything but “simply” as they risk their lives doing it, and all too often, pay the ultimate price!

How can one not be moved by seeing the frequent profiles on CNN of doctors and nurses after months of dealing with Corona patients, succumbing to the disease themselves. You see their photographs and learn of their experiences. You hear their stories of putting in 18-hour shifts a day, not seeing their families and sleeping in congested passageways before returning to their wards.

To this growing list of heroes – ordinary people called upon to perform the extraordinary –  add the name of 45-year-old Michael Ben-Zikri, an Israeli who drowned while rescuing a Bedouin family from drowning in a lake near Ashkelon on July 3.

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Michael Ben Zikri (45), who drowned while rescuing a Bedouin family from drowning in a lake near Ashkelon on July 3, 2020 (Courtesy)

The family, all residents of the Bedouin town of Hura in Israel’s southern Negev region, three children, aged 14, 10 and 7 and their 40-year-old aunt, found themselves caught in turbulence. Luckily, their frantic cries caught the attention of Ben-Zikiri. Successfully rescuing them, he then – while still in the water – suffered extreme exhaustion and disappeared from sight. Rescue forces were called to search for Ben-Zikri and sadly found him without any signs of life. Magen David Adom medics pronounced him dead at the scene.

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Salvation in the South. Rescue team arrives to search for the man who saved a family of four from drowning. (photo credit: FIRE AND RESCUE SERVICE)

 

His brave action will not be forgotten and following the Foreign Ministry sharing the story on its social media accounts in Persian and Arabic, Ben-Zikri emerged “a symbol of co-existence between Jews and Muslims”.

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Lifesaver. One of the many messages on social media from across the Arab world praising the Israeli who saved the Bedouin family.

The positive responses across the Arab world were quick, like this from an Iraqi commentator:

This is true humanitarianism. There is no difference between humans; God has taught us to love one another.”

While all too often, politicians across the divides will call each other names that should embarrass them, ordinary people can tell a different story as revealed by numerous internet users from all across the Arab and Muslim world who were touched by the story of Michael Ben-Zikri and shared their condolences with his family.

Humanity has no religion, may he dwell in heaven and blessings come upon his families and loved ones for his noble act,” wrote another user.

A user from Saudi Arabia by the name of Othman, mentioned in his comment a passage from the Quran in which God said that whoever saves a single soul is considered as if he saved all people.

Is this not reminiscent from the Mishnah’s (Talmud) original text of the famous Jewish idea that:

 “Whoever saves one life […] saves an entire world.” (Sanhedrin 4:5).

A user from Egypt hit the nail on the head with:

The fact we have political differences with you guys doesn’t mean there is a disagreement between us about humanitarianism.”

Clearly, these users recognise that “there must be another way”,   reminding this writer of the song of that name by the 2009 Israeli Eurovision musical duo, Noa who is Jewish and Mira Awad who is Arab. This sentiment was captured by another user from Iraq who wrote:

This is the people of Israel who love all and help all.”

The London-based pan-Arabic Saudi news outlet Asharq Al-Awsat published rare words of praise for an Israeli. On the outlet’s website, it ran an article describing the many Palestinians Bedouins who visited the family of Michael Ben-Zikri to pay condolences and gave a detailed description of how the Israeli saved the Bedouin family.

Israel’s Foreign Ministry’s social media manager in the Arabic language, Yonatan Gonen, said that the post was shared all around the Arab and Muslim world.

Users from Morocco to Iraq, from Oman to Syria, could identify with the story and unanimously pointed at Michael’s heroism on a very large scale, some even pointed Israel’s coexistence as a role model.”

When he was laid to rest in Ashkelon cemetery, dozens of Hura residents attended his funeral. Ben-Zikri is survived by his wife and three children.

In a historic first, Michael Ben Zikri’s family will be awarded the Civil Medal of Distinguished Service, to commend “exemplary behaviour in Israeli society.”

Israel’s President, Reuven Rivlin will present at the end of the shiva mourning period, Ben-Zikri’s wife, Cheli, and their children the award. Attending the ceremony at the president’s residence in Jerusalem will be the al-Karem family from Hura.

How noble acts can so change perceptions and public discourse.

Only a few days earlier in July, Israel Arab lawmaker Ayman Odeh, was subjected to a barrage of insults from his Jewish fellow parliamentarians for participating in a video conference against the proposed “annexation” such as:

“Ayman Odeh belongs in the Ramallah parliament.”

This was no way to talk of the head of the Joint List faction who, whether one agrees or disagrees, had every right to oppose the annexation as do many Israeli citizens, which according to a recent opinion poll, more oppose than support the annexation.

Israel Elections
Looking To Heal. Head of the Joint List alliance in the Knesset, Ayman Odeh says: “ We will make sure his noble act will influence the next generations of Jews and Arabs.”

 

Odeh, however, was unfazed. Only days after being verbally assaulted by his parliamentary peers, he reacted to Ben-Zikri’s bravery commenting:

We will make sure his noble act will influence the next generations of Jews and Arabs.”

The Joint Arab List Chairman said further that “humanity is what will win” and that the Bedouin town of Hura will name a street after Ben-Zikri.

A frequently outspoken critic of the Israeli government, former Arab MK Taleb el-Sana attended the funeral and vowed that Ben-Zikri’s memory will also be honoured by the naming of a street after him in Lakiya, the Bedouin town in Israel’s Southern District, where el-Sana lives with his wife and five children.

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Streetwise. The former member of the Knesset Taleb al-Sana and its longest-serving Arab Member suggests naming a street after Michael Ben Zikri.

He told the grieving family that “the entire Arab community, from the north to the south, each house, shares your pain.”

Naming streets after Israelis in Arab towns would really be a new: ‘sign of the times’!

 

 

 

 

 

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

 

Heartwarming

Syrian baby “Usayed” brought to Israel for lifesaving heart surgery

By David E. Kaplan

While international media covered this June an Israeli airstrike on an Iranian controlled warehouse in Syria suspected of storing weapons, there was no such global coverage of another Israel flight this month – this time saving a 10-day-old Syrian infant.

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Healing Hands. Under special care, 10-day-old Syrian baby, “Usayed” boards the flight from Cyprus to Israel for emergency surgery on June 11, 2020. (Sammy Revel/Twitter)

Suffering from a severe heart defect, a newborn son of Syrian refugees, was airlifted from Cyprus to Tel Aviv to undergo an emergency operation at Israel’s esteemed Sheba Medical Center in Ramat Gan. In 2020, Newsweek ranked Sheba Hospital, situated outside Tel Aviv, as the 9th-best hospital in the world.

The delicate ‘operation’ was no less diplomatic than it was surgical, involving the cooperation between the Israeli embassy in Nicosia, the Cypriot Health Ministry and Cypriot and Israeli doctors.

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Baby on Board. On route to Israel, 10-day-old Syrian “Usayed” is monitored throughout the short flight. (Sammy Revel/Twitter)

It all came as a whopping surprise to the baby’s father, Ahmad, when he was told that his son needed specialist treatment that could not be provided in Cyprus and hence led him – accompanying his child – to a country “that I never imagined I would ever see” – Israel!

A relieved daddy revealed to i24NEWS:

I don’t care about the relations between Israel and Syria. My problem is not political or religious; it is a health problem. My son’s life is the most important thing in the world to me. I said right away I will go to Israel if needed; I will go anywhere.”

According to the head of Sheba’s Congenital Heart Center, Prof. Alain Serraf, who operated on the infant:

 “The baby would not have survived more than a month without the surgery.”

Usayed was in the best of surgical hands. Apart from being Chairman of the Edmond J. Safra International Congenital Heart Center, Prof. Serraf is a leading expert in Congenital Heart Diseases, a graduate of the Medical School Paris XII, and a Visiting Professor in several universities worldwide.

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Lifesaver. Dr. Alain Serraf, head of the International Congenital Heart Center at Sheba’s children’s hospital following the surgery on a 10-day-old Syrian baby on June 14, 2020. (Sheba Medical Center)

The Israeli doctors expressed cautious optimism following the complicated heart surgery which will be the first of three procedures the infant will require to address the rare congenital defect. Known as ‘hypoplastic left heart syndrome’, the defect means that the left side of the heart fails to develop properly, leading to poor blood circulation.

Following the first operation, the second will be performed in six months’ time, and the third when Usayed is two years old.

I can say that the procedure went well,” said Serraf, “and we are guardedly optimistic that the child will be okay as we slowly wean him off the various machines.” Serraf performed what is known as the Norwood procedure. This involves placing a shunt in the heart to connect the pulmonary artery, which carries oxygen-rich blood, to the aorta, from which it is pumped throughout the body.

The first procedure is always the most difficult,” said Serraf. “We have experience in doing the Norwood procedure on a number of children who come from throughout the region.”

Over the coming weeks, the baby will recover from this first surgery and then return to Cyprus. In six months, he will return to Israel for the second procedure and then again a year and a half later for the final one.

If everything goes according to plan, the child can have a normal lifestyle,” Serraf said.

Speaking through the hospital’s spokesperson, the jubilant father and Syrian national thanked the governments of Cyprus and Israel for coordinating the emergency surgery.

I feel much more relieved and have complete faith in Sheba’s medical staff for all of the help they are giving my child.”

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Father and Son. Syrian refugee Ahmad with his baby son Usayed at Sheba Medical Center in Ramat Gan. (Photo: Screenshot)

While according to a hospital spokesman this was the first such case from abroad for Sheba since the outbreak of Coved-19, emergency situations were not uncommon before the Coronavirus pandemic. What is more, they involved not only countries that Israel has friendly relations with but also such countries like Syria and Iraq that Israel has no diplomatic ties.

Israel’s ambassador to Cyprus, Sammy Revel, said the effort to bring baby Usayed to Sheba required “special approval” from Jerusalem, which was pleased and proud to provide. Israeli medics have a long and impressive history of treating critically ill children from hostile countries. From 2013 to 2018, Israel maintained a programme along the Syrian border allowing residents of the area in Syria, who were affected by the country’s civil war, to enter Israel for medical treatment. Unfortunately, politics intervened! Israel’s lifesaving programme of Syrians formally ended in the summer of 2018 when Syrian dictator Bashar Assad retook control of southern Syria.

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In Safe Hands. Despite hostilities in the region, parents in neighbouring Arab countries know that their children receive the best care at Israeli hospitals like  this baby from Gaza being treated for a heart defect at Wolfson Medical Center in Holon. (Photo: Save a Child’s Heart)

In the meantime and away from politics, Israel’s envoy to Cyprus Sami Rabel, is calling for all to pray for Usayed’s speedy recovery.

Solidarity during the coronavirus epidemic and the special bond between Israel and Cyprus, granted the special permission for the baby to be operated at Sheba Medical Center,” he said.

Long live Usayed. LeChaim – “to life”!

 

 

 

 

 

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