“If I Forget Thee O Jerusalem”

World leaders spoke but will they act?

From the 2020 World Holocaust Forum in Jerusalem to the protest against Lithuania in Tel Aviv 24 hours later

By David E. Kaplan

They came but who saw2

As world leaders from some 50 countries descended on the capital of the Jewish people for the  World Holocaust Forum at Yad Vashem in Jerusalem, on the 23rd January 2020, marking 75 years since the “gates of Hell” were opened at Auschwitz, one commentator on i24NEWS remarked:

 “This conference is about education,” to which another in the panel skeptically responded:

 “Yes, but young people in Europe today not only know nothing about the Holocaust; they also don’t want to believe it. They deny it!”

And this is Europe where the largest mass murder in history  occurred? Where the majority of its Jews today lie beneath its surface while above the horrific truth is obscured, denied, ignored, equated or “they had it coming”?

And with a world increasingly directing the “new antisemitism” on the ‘collective Jew’ – Israel – it was only fitting that the World Holocaust Forum was held in the centre of the Jewish people – Jerusalem – Israel’s eternal capital since King David over 3000 years ago.

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World leaders gather at Yad Vashem in Jerusalem for the 5th World Holocaust Forum.

If a world – and in particular one where its young generations – need to hear the truth, who better to hear it from than the President of Germany, Frank-Walter Steinmeier who addressed the memorial forum with:

Seventy-five years after the liberation of Auschwitz, I stand before you all as President of Germany – I stand here laden with the heavy, historical burden of guilt.”

He confessed his country’s guilt to the world with:

Germans deported them. Germans burned numbers on their forearms. Germans tried to dehumanize them; to reduce them to numbers; to erase all memory of them in the extermination camps.”

No less important for the world to hear was Steinmeier’s admission that Germans had not learned the lesson of the Holocaust as Jew-hatred was not disappearing but growing and that despite different times, the “same evil” prevails today. And while the German State President wished he could say that Germans had learned from history, he felt compelled to admit that “I cannot say that when Jewish children are spat on in the schoolyard; I cannot say that when crude antisemitism is cloaked in supposed criticism of Israeli policy,” and “I cannot say that when only a thick wooden door prevents a right-wing terrorist from causing a bloodbath in a synagogue in the city of Halle on Yom Kippur.”

 

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‘Laden With Guilt’. German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier delivers a speech during the Fifth World Holocaust Forum at the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial museum in Jerusalem on January 23, 2020.

Beginning and ending by reciting in Hebrew the Jewish blessing of “Shehehiyanu”, Steinmeier  told the world there remains only one answer:

To ensure – “Never again! Nie wieder!

But who was hearing in order to remember?

Even with Prince Charles representing the United Kingdom, President Emmanuel Macron representing France, Vice President Mike Pence representing the USA and President Vladimir Putin representing Russia, I switched TV channels to notice there was hardly a mention on CNN , Sky, BBC or RT of the event. The exceptions were France 24, i24NEWS and Israel’s Hebrew channels that gave live coverage.

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Right Royal. 75 years after the liberation of Auschwitz, “hatred and intolerance still lurk in the human heart, tell new lies, and seek new victims,” says Prince Charles at the 5th World Holocaust Forum at Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial museum on January 23, 2020 in Jerusalem, Israel.

Far more important than for Israelis to hear –  Jews know what happened –  it was for the billions across the world, in particular, the Europeans to listen, and to hear from their national leaders.

Did these international news networks not believe there was any interest despite the gathering of world leaders in Jerusalem? When these very same leaders were in Davos only a few HOURS before for the 50th Annual Meeting of the World Economic Forum, there was continuous news coverage.

Even over news content, global economics trumps Jewish existential anxiety so are we surprised that antisemitism is here to stay?

For this writer, it was poignantly ironic and telling that only one day after the World Holocaust Forum in Jerusalem titled ‘Remembering the Holocaust, Fighting Antisemitism” initiated by the President of the European Jewish Congress Dr. Moshe Kantor, that there was a demonstration of Jews of Lithuanian descent outside Lithuania’s embassy in Ramat Gan in the district of Tel Aviv.

While I was there covering the event for Lay Of The Land it was also personal, and I  had helped draft the invitation notice in English:

No One Saved Their Lives, Lets Save The Truth

Come protest Friday 24th January 2020 outside Lithuanian Embassy, Ramat Gan.

We won’t forget and we won’t forgive!

And why did over 200 people brave the freezing cold and rain  to protest? They came to register their opposition to Arūnas Gumuliauskas, chairman of the Lithuanian parliament’s Commission on the Fight for Freedom and Historical Memory, who intends to propose a parliamentary resolution declaring that:

Lithuania has no responsibility for the murders and extermination of Lithuanian Jews during the Second World War because it was occupied by Soviets and then by Nazi Germany.”

The proposed resolution is to absolve Lithuania and Lithuanians of involvement in the Holocaust for the murder of 95% of Lithuanian citizens because it was occupied successively by Russia and Germany!

The protestors knew the truth and could relate stories of members of their families who were killed. Etched in the memory of this writer,  was my visit to Lithuania in 1992 when I met for the fist time a cousin who had survived the war by escaping into the forest and joining with the partisans. Alexander Judelis related the only reason he had not perished in his Shtetl of Riteva with his family was, “that my father had sent me to a Yeshiva in the north only a few weeks before the Nazi invasion. In fact, I did not want to go because I was not religious, but he saved my life.”  Judelis further related that , “the day before the Nazis entered Riteva,  local Lithuanians in our village, people who we knew all our lives, wanted to impress the Nazis before they came and went on a rampage of murdering most of the Jews,” which included members of his family.

There are few Jews in Lithuania today.  The Holocaust in German occupied Lithuania resulted in the near total destruction of Lithuanian Jews (Litvaks) and as all who stood shivering in the cold outside the Lithuanian embassy knew, their forebears who died in peacetime were the lucky ones lying beneath simple gravestones. Those that came after them have no gravestones –   they were dragged out of town, marched into the woods and shot to death in front of mass pits.

Many watching them dig their own graves before pulling the triggers of the submachine guns were their fellow Lithuanians. To the rat-a-tat soundtrack of gunfire, they gloated while murdering their neighbours, impressing their smiling German invaders.

This is the horrendous visual truth that Gumuliaskas wants to conceal by parliamentary legislation!

And this is what the shivering protestors outside the Lithuanian Embassy were determined not to permit – not without a fight.

Law is designed to reveal the truth not to hide it!

As chairman of the Association of Lithuanian Immigrants in Israel, Arie Ben-Ari expressed at the protest that “In the first months of the Nazi occupation, most of Lithuanian Jewry was annihilated by Lithuanians, and that from published information, over 22,000 Lithuanians participated in and carried out the murders in 214 places in Lithuania. Many of them advanced and subsequently served the Nazis as guards and murderers of Jews in concentration and extermination camps, including in Auschwitz.”

Yes, the very Auschwitz which in Jerusalem the day before, the world leaders assembled not only to commemorate its  liberation 75 years earlier but to impress upon the world the words:

Never Again”.

Conspicuous by his absence at the World Holocaust Forum was the President of Lithuania, Gitanas Nausėda, who declined to attend. He  joined the Polish President Andrzej Duda who also did not come. Setting aside their issues with Putin, Duda  too is introducing a law in Poland imposing fines and jail time on anyone who refers to Polish complicity in the Holocaust.

Instead of trying to conceal their nefarious past by introducing laws, had both presidents attended the World Holocaust Forum, they would have heard the wise words of former Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi of Israel, Yisrael Meir Lau, a Holocaust survivor who 75 years earlier, was liberated as a 7-year-old from the Buchenwald concentration camp.

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You Have The Power To Lead For good, So Lead. Holocaust survivor and former Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau, sends strong message to world leaders at World Holocaust Forum in Jerusalem.

Drawing a parallel of the world leaders before him together in one tent in Jerusalem with Noah’s ark where all the animals of the world  – many of them too natural enemies –  proved no threat to each other. With arms outstretched and looking at the world leaders in front of him he posed the question:

How did the snake and the lion share the confined space with the lamb and the dove?  The answer was they feared a common enemy – “the flood”.

The “flood” today is poverty, disease, war, and antisemitism.  “You as world leaders have the power to work together against these threats to mankind”.

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Call To Arms Against Antisemitism. A view of the audience at the Fifth World Holocaust Forum at the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial museum in Jerusalem on Jan. 23, 2020.

But the presidents of Poland and Lithuania were not present to hear these words. While world leaders were all expressing “Never Again”, Lithuania had another use of the word “never” – that Lithuanians were “never” involved in the mass murder of its fellow Jewish citizens and that future generations must “never” hear again of Lithuanians mass murdering Jews.

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We remember. Protestors holding placards outside Lithuanian Embassy in Ramat Gan (Photo: LotL – D.E Kaplan).

The banners at the protest outside the Lithuanian embassy  included  with the wording “Lithuania – take responsibility for the Holocaust”, “Zero Tolerance For Antisemitism” and “Gumuliaskas – no law can wash away Jewish blood’.

And when the rain poured, the umbrellas went up and the protestors stayed at their posts.

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Come Hell Or High Water. Downpour of rain did not deter the protestors outside Lithuanian Embassy countering attempts to deny past evils (Photo: LotL – D.E Kaplan).

Moderated by Zohar Cheskov,  other speakers included Chairman of the Vilnius Association Mickey Cantor, the CEO of the Wiesenthal Center Dr. Ephraim Zuroff, Holocaust historian and researcher Remi Neiderfer  and 91-year-old Holocaust survivor from Kovna (Kaunas) Rosa Bloch,  who said Lithuanians “started to kill the Jews even before the Germans arrived.”

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Truth Be Told. Chief Nazi-hunter of the Simon Wiesenthal Center and the director of its Israel Office Efraim Zuroff (left) with former South Africans living in Israel and of Lithuanian decent (l-r)Abel Levitt, Marcelle Kornel, the writer, David Kaplan and Barry Kornel holding a banner in Hebrew “Gumuliaskas – no law can wash away Jewish blood”.(Photo: LotL – D.E Kaplan).

Since I was in Lithuania in 1992, the country has come a long way in confronting her wartime past.

However, maybe again, and possibly emboldened by the recent path of Poland’s leadership, does Lithuania too want to rewrite history and erase its ugly history of Nazi collaboration?

The message from the protestors outside the Lithuanian Embassy on the 24th January 2020 in Tel Aviv is a call for protest  not only by Jews of Lithuanian descent; but all decent people around the world  to join together against the rising “flood” in Lithuania and oppose the despicable resolution of Arūnas Gumuliauskas.

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Resolute Against Resolution. Protesting opposition to Arūnas Gumuliauskas resolution declaring Lithuania not responsible for the murders and extermination of Lithuanian Jews during the Second World War (Photo: LotL – D.E Kaplan).

To the murdered Jews of Lithuanians:

No One Saved Their Lives, Lets Save The Truth

When Healers Became Killers

75 years after Auschwitz – The importance  today of educating medical professionals on the Holocaust

By Dr. Tessa Chelouche

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The Legacy Of Nazi Medicine. A shameful past of a proud profession, the dark side of medicine under the Nazis.

On the 27th of January the world commemorates the 75th liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau on International Holocaust Remembrance Day. In the past few years, the world has witnessed violent and disturbing antisemitic attacks in many countries. One of the ways to combat antisemitism is to educate on the Holocaust. The medical profession has a major responsible role to play in perpetuating this education because unlike other instances of genocide that the world has witnessed, the Holocaust was a medically sanctioned genocide. The greatest stain on the record of medicine in the 20th century was the role played by German physicians during the Nazi period.

When the Nazis came to power in Germany, medicine there was among the most sophisticated in the world. German medicine had contributed to, and shaped, academic and clinical medical practice worldwide. Despite its preeminence, however, German medicine became enmeshed in the Nazi ideology and broadly complicit in the conceptualization and promulgation of the Nazi racial and social programs. The engagement of the medical profession was extensive and was led by the active involvement and support of the academic establishment. Medicine was not alone in its support of National Socialist policies, but the medical profession differed from the other professions in its explicit commitment to an ethical basis, to a humanitarian stance and to a 2000-year-old Hippocratic Oath that placed the sufferer first.

German physicians began to elevate service to the state above medical ethics well before the Holocaust – the term used for the genocide of the Jews – occurred. In the early years of the 20th century, German physicians promoted policies of racial hygiene and eugenics in their eagerness to limit the reproduction of people believed to have hereditary disorders: the disabled and the chronically ill who were considered as a burden to society. Between 1939 and 1945 they sterilized an estimated 400,000 Germans with mental and physical disorders. Following this, German physicians designed and implemented the notorious T-4 “Euthanasia” program, where they performed medical murder on their mentally, physically and socially handicapped patients with the goal of producing a pure Aryan race. This policy was ethically sanctioned by the Nazi medical profession in Germany. Traditional medical ethics was adapted and altered to suit the policies of National Socialism. Nazi physicians did not abandon medical ethics as is usually perceived, but rather replaced traditional fundamental universal medical ethics with selective medical ethics. The disabled and the chronically ill, the feebleminded and the “unproductive” members of society were perceived as living “lives unworthy of living” and as such did not deserve to be treated according to the regular medical code. This new ethical code was taught at every medical school in Nazi Germany and a special textbook was required reading for this compulsory course. More physicians were members of the Nazi party than any other free profession. They were not forced but joined of their own free will and they joined early on. In this manner, German medicine became an arm of Nazi state policy. Nazi physicians failed to see themselves as physicians first, with a calling and an ethic dedicated to healing and caring for the well-being of human beings. Instead they believed that the welfare of the state was to take precedence over their individual loyalty to their patients.

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Doctors Determining Death. This poster (from around 1938) reads: “60,000 Reichsmark is what this person suffering from a hereditary defect costs the People’s community during his lifetime. Fellow citizen, that is your money too.”

The above-mentioned medical programs of sterilization and “Euthanasia” became enmeshed with the policy of virulent antisemitism, and as such were the forerunners for the Holocaust – the genocide of the Jews at concentration camps like Auschwitz-Birkenau and many others. The ‘medical murders’ that began in the hospitals in Germany and Austria, culminated in the murder of the Jews and other minorities in the camps, as the extermination of millions of people was considered as “treatment” for the state. The same professionals who were involved in the T4-“Euthanasia” program, among them many physicians, were consulted when the camps were built and were the medical experts who were consulted in the design and activation of the gas chambers.

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Death By Design. View of the cemetery at the Hadamar Institute, where victims of the Nazi euthanasia program were buried in mass graves.

Although the subject of ‘Medicine and the Holocaust’ usually brings to mind the cruel and barbaric experiments, medicine was involved long before the infamous experiments were performed at the various camps, hospitals and clinics. In 1946 one of the first post war trials to be held was the “Nuremberg Doctors’ Trial.” For the first time in history, physicians were tried for crimes against humanity for their participation in murderous and tortuous experiments conducted in the Nazi concentration camps. In the final judgment, the court articulated what is known as the “Nuremberg Code”, the first international code for human experimentation. In fact, it was in the ashes of the Holocaust, through the formulation of the Nuremberg Code that modern medical ethics, known as bioethics, was born. All contemporary bioethical codes are based on what transpired in the profession in the years preceding and during the Holocaust. Every ethical issue under consideration today – among others: the value of human life, disability care, equity in medical care, genetics, public health, research ethics, health system economics, reproductive medicine, abortion, military medicine, refugee care, death and dying – includes inquiry influenced by the Nazi medical crimes.

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Doctors In The Dock. Medical practitioners on trial in Nuremberg for intentional unethical malpractice on behalf of the German state.

Medicine is a powerful profession and was especially so under the National Socialist regime. The questions that need to be asked are:

  • How did a professional group that was internationally respected, scientifically innovative and ethically advanced, evolve an understanding of their social, ethical and scientific obligations only to lead them to use their advanced medical knowledge and professional ethics to justify committing cruel and heinous medical crimes against humanity?
  • How did healers become killers?

It was precisely the success and power of the profession in Nazi Germany that led to its hubris and collusion with a racist political regime. These physicians were not peripheral actors in the attempt at collective regeneration. Rather, they were central and crucial to the running of Auschwitz and the other camps as well as to the evolution and fulfillment of broader extermination policies.

Medicine was abused then and is constantly in danger of being abused today. It is not enough just to say, “Never Again.” As medical professionals, we have a responsibility to act so that this does not happen again, certainly within our profession. Education on ‘Medicine and the Holocaust’ can contribute significantly to professional identity formation of healthcare students. This history can help to instill a moral compass in future generations of healthcare professionals. Learning from the past can provide them with a way of reflecting and discussing inherent medical challenges in the present. Using this lens, we can encourage the aversion to racism and overt prejudice. But in addition to the value that this discourse can have on the next generation of medical professionals, the inclusion of education on the Holocaust in today’s world can also do much to vanquish the evil that is antisemitism.

75 years after Auschwitz the time has come to teach!

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Shedding Light On A Dark Subject. This important casebook on the phenomenon of medical treatment and physicians’ behavior during the holocaust was edited by the article’s author,  Dr. Tessa Chelouche.

 

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Dr Tessa Chelouche, born in South-Africa, is a Family Physician in Israel. She is the Co-chair of the Unesco Deaprtment for Bioethics and the Holocaust, Unesco Chair of Bioethics, Haifa and the Co-director of the Maimonedes Institute for Medicine, Ethics and the Holocaust.

 

 

*Feature Picture: Nazi Medicine: In the Shadow of the Reich & The Cross and the Star (1997) – studies the step by step process that led the German medical profession down an unethical road to genocide. It graphically documents the racial theories and eugenics principles that set the stage for the doctors’ participation in sterilization and euthanasia, the selection at the death camps, as well as inhuman and unethical human experimentation. Director John J. Michalczyk

 

 

 

 

 

The Call Of The Wild

Cries from Australia’s wildlife heard in Jerusalem

By David E. Kaplan

Turn on the news on TV these days and the screen flares up in shades of bright orange, with men in protective fighter-fighting garb trying to douse roaring flames.

Australia is in the grip of one of its worst wildfire seasons on record with the human death toll standing at 27 and over 2,000 homes destroyed across more than 10 million hectares of land — an area larger than Portugal.

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A kangaroo rushes past a burning house in the NSW town of Lake Conjola on New Year’s Eve. This fire season has been one of the worst in Australia’s history

Caught in this nationwide inferno are Australia’s endearing but vulnerable wildlife, and it is estimated that already 1 billion wild mammals, birds and reptiles have perished. Blessed with a unique eco-system, many species however are now threatened with extinction.

Pictures of koalas with charred feet and kangaroos hugging their human rescuers have through social media and television brought tears to the eyes of people the world over. Many are responding.

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This baby is very young now, but it already can express its feelings (© The Kangaroo Sanctuary Alice Springs/facebook)

The ‘cries’ of these animals were heard in the Israeli capital’s internationally renowned Jerusalem Biblical Zoo that is responding by donating veterinary medical supplies to be used in Victoria’s East Gippsland region.

The Jerusalem Biblical Zoo understands only too well the danger of animals facing extinction, which explains why the zoo’s primary focus is on  species from the land of Israel mentioned in the Bible but roam no more!

The zoo projects this history revealing the animals that roamed this region at the time of the forefathers of the Jewish People.

While so many of the world-renowned archeological sites around Jerusalem are a reminder of what life was like in the ancient city, the Jerusalem Biblical Zoo – officially known as the Tisch Family Zoological Gardens – is a ‘living’ reminder of what animals roamed this region in biblical times.

One of the many in Israel watching the human and animal tragedy unfold on her TV was the Biblical Zoo’s International Manager, Rachael Risby Raz, who grew up in Melbourne, and who still has family living there.

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Rachael Risby-Raz is International Relations Manager at the Tisch Family Biblical Zoo in Jerusalem.

Understanding with professional clarity the devastation befalling the flora and fauna of her native Australia, coupled with her position at the Jerusalem Biblical Zoo meant that Raz was well placed for her response to be meaningful and effective.

She knew instinctively what the animals most urgently required and quickly put together “a wish list” of veterinary supplies that included: burn creams, milk formulas, teats for bottles, wound sprays, hydration concentrates, syringes, disinfectant, feeding bottles and more. She then followed up by launching a fundraising campaign to raise money to purchase the equipment online and have it sent directly to the rescuers on the ground. Within 24 hours of launching her appeal, she raised thousands of dollars as more and more heart-wrenching reports of the plight  resonated globally.

It went viral,” she told local media. “Even though we’re so far away – more than 6,000 miles – people are  nevertheless so moved and stressed by what’s happening in Australia.”

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A teenage boy gives water to a half burnt kangaroo in NSW’s south coast after out-of-control bushfires devastated homes and wildlife.

According to the Biblical Zoo’s press statement, “The supplies will be purchased in Australia and sent directly to the volunteers on the ground,” notably the volunteers working with the East Gippsland Fire Wildlife Support Team.

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A horse tries to flee bushfires near the NSW town of Nowra on New Year’s Eve. Over a billion animals are believed to have died in the fires.

Down Under

Although over “6,000 miles” away, The Jerusalem Biblical Zoo felt what was unfolding was close to home  as the zoo  has a special section dedicated to animals from Australia. “We have a colony of kangaroos who, at the moment, are experiencing a baby boom,” said Raz, “as well as fruit bats which came from Sydney.” They had been rescued after they were injured “and we had a whole group of them come and they live here at our zoo.” The area dedicated to the Down Under also includes a cheeky kookaburra, a bettong, bearded dragons, blue tongue lizards and cockatoos. “This is why it’s probably extra distressing. I look out the window of my office and see kangaroos we know by name and love and then see pictures of their peers in Australia burned –  it’s heartbreaking!”

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Toni Doherty is seen using the shirt off her own back to save a koala from the Long Flat bushfire near Port Macquarie in November. But the koala, called Lewis, was later put down after suffering extensive burns.

While Raz understands that it’s going to be an uphill struggle and that “the situation is just beginning and going to have consequences that can go on for months, even years,” she sees hope in the overwhelming  response from people so far removed geographically from the disaster.  After all, these are people who have never even visited Australia and may never visit, but their hearts pour out for these defenseless animals.

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Safe & Sound. Over 6000 miles away from the fires of Australia, a kangaroo at the Jerusalem Biblical Zoo’s Australia Yard. (Photo by Rachael Risby Raz)

In a profound sense, the Jerusalem Biblical Zoo was a ‘natural’ to respond.

Viewing the situation through a  biblical prism,  Raz asks “What is the role of the zoo?” and then answers herself that “the zoo is like a modern Noah’s Ark. The animals that we have here at the zoo are basically being looked after for the next generation.”

This sentiment is all too evident in the many animals that roamed in the region in the time of the Bible and today no longer do.

This is not something that should be allowed to befall the animals of Australia.

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The Noah’s Ark Visitor Center at the Jerusalem Biblical Zoo.

Model Behaviour

Elsewhere in Israel, Tel Aviv too is galvanizing support for Australia. Fashion model Abbiemay Doré, is one of thousands of Australian ex-pats residing in Israel. Originally from Wodoga, Victoria, the model  is helping organize an Australian-themed trivia night at a bar in Tel Aviv  to help raise awareness and funds.

While she reveals that she has “never really organized something like this before,”  these are extraordinary times in Australia.
Armageddon Is Here” have read headlines in Australia giving an indication how bad the situation is and how much worse it can still be!

While humanitarian groups like the Tel Aviv-based IsraAid are watching developments closely and considering  about different ways in which they can be of assistance, on Instagram, Israel’s ‘Wonder Woman’, Gal Gadot asked her 34 million followers to donate to relief efforts down under. “Nature is so beautiful and powerful and fragile all at the same time,” she wrote. “I’m so devastated.”

“Devastated” is the operative word!

For Israelis the devastation is brought all the more home when one realizes that the area so far devastated is more than double the size of Israel.

From Wonder Woman to the wonderful people of Israel and around the world, may the collective support bring this tragedy to a speedy end and that the animals Down Under don’t themselves go down under.

 

 

 

Feature picture:https://www.surfer.com/features/australias-coastlines-are-engulfed-in-flames/

Healing Bodies to Healing Relations

Nurses From Gaza Train In Israel

By David E. Kaplan

In the first week of January 2020, five nurses from the Gaza Strip, joined eleven fellow Palestinians from the West Bank who arrived in Israel for four days of intense but innovative medical training.

It was conducted by Israeli physicians through a collaboration between Physicians for Human Rights Israel (PHR) and the Medical Simulation Center (MSR) at Sheba Medical Center, Tel Hashomer.

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Top Training. Israel’s Sheba Medical Center, the hospital training the Palestinian nurses is one of the finest hospitals in the Middle East, treating over 1,500,000 patients annually from around the world.

The training programme proved a revelation to all sixteen participants, particularly to those from Gaza.  “It’s different than I thought,”  Akram Abu Salah, a nurse from the Gaza Strip told The Jerusalem Post. “The people are very nice. You have Jews and Palestinians working together. It minimizes the gaps between us.”

Clearly, there is no substitute for direct contact as Salah reveals.  “I could not imagine how this country would be or how it works.”

While there has been collaboration between MSR and PHR for a number of years training Palestinian physicians and ambulance drivers, this was the first time that training was extended to nurses.

The sixteen participating nurses learned new practices in the field of primary medicine, focusing on skills they might require in emergency situations such as how to  stop bleeding, intubation  – the placement of a flexible plastic tube into the trachea to maintain an open airway – and chest drains. A special session was held on advanced cardiovascular life support.

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Training To Save Lives. Palestinians, Farid Mustafa from Nablus (left) and Akram Abu Salah from Gaza train on a high-tech mannequin at Sheba Medical Center in central Israel. (photo credit: Marc Sellem)

This ‘life-saving’ training would end each day at 5.00pm whereafter in the evenings, the Palestinians engaged in social activities with their Israeli counterparts.

Four out of five of the Gazan participants had never been outside of the Gaza Strip, so the trip had been quite an experience.

All were amazed by the size of Sheba and the sophisticated training available through MSR.

The 2,400-square-meter Medical Simulation Center was founded in 2001  to lead a nationwide effort to introduce new standards and innovative approaches in health care training and patient-safety education for the benefit of the people of Israel. A press release on the center describes the facility “as a virtual hospital” that “encompasses the whole spectrum of medical simulation modalities – from role-playing actors for communication and clinical-skills training to cutting-edge, computer-driven, full-body mannequins that enable team training for challenging and high risk clinical conditions.”

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Medical Simulation Center (MSR) at Sheba Medical Center, Tel Hashomer.

 

It was “action stations” – close to real live situations. Teamwork is essential. One of the participants carefully placed an oxygen mask on the $100,000 blonde-haired dummy while another started to perform CPR as a third set a pulse oximeter around the dummy’s finger.

Communicating in English to each other, the Palestinian nurses continued to attempt to resuscitate the mannequin, as their Israeli instructor observed them. Minutes later, the “patient” woke up from ‘its’ cardiac arrest – ‘its’ condition stabilized.

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MSR – Simulation of Emergency Department Sheba.

Exposure to this kind of intense and innovative simulated training is invaluable.

Amitai Ziv, the founder and director of the Center for Medical Simulation, said that the courses at the facility aim to allow the health professionals to learn in a safe atmosphere.

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Visionary. Amitai Ziv, the founder and head of the Israel Center for Medical Simulation.

With a third most common cause of death worldwide being medical errors – estimates show 250,000-400,000 people die annually in American hospitals because of them – Ziv, a former pilot in the Israeli Air Force, explains:

The message embedded in the programs here is let us err and reflect on our errors in a safe environment.”

Working Together

“I am very happy for the chance to attend this advanced trauma course. In Gaza, we have plenty of problems, and there is so much we can learn from Israel,” said Abu Salah.

He was clear that the  Gazan Ministry of Healthwants to me to absorb this experience in Israel and bring it back to Gaza.”

Salah reveals that hospitals in Gaza are often understaffed and lack basic necessities and medications, including chemotherapy drugs.

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No Fuel, No Services. An employee of the Hamas-run health ministry in Gaza at the Beit Hanun hospital in the northern Gaza Strip, after it stopped its services on January 29, 2018, when it ran out of fuel. (Mahmud Hams/AFP)

However, because of the fluid security situation, it is quite a complicated mission bringing the participants from Gaza into Israel. It takes persistence and perseverance.

Despite advanced application and pre-approval, the Gazan nurses were nevertheless delayed entry for a day for reasons of security.

Abu Salah only received the call at 11 p.m. from the Gazan Ministry of Health the night before he was granted entry and told, “tomorrow, you will travel to Israel.”

He was sleeping when he received the call, “but I packed my bag and prepared to go,” he told local media. “My wife knows I am here, but my extended family does not know. I can only tell them when I get back.”

While Salah said in Israel his visit was supported by the Hamas-run health ministry, he admitted to being unsure how he would be received upon his return and uncertain of the  questions he might be asked by Hamas officials.

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Heartwarming. Together with Israeli instructors, a group of Palestinian nurses from the West Bank and Gaza Strip huddle around a high-tech mannequin that for the sake of the exercise has gone into a cardiac arrest

Going To Gaza

However, its not only Palestinian medical professionals coming to Israel but Israelis professionals traveling to Gaza.

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Professor Raphael Walden. Deputy Director of the Sheba Medical Center, in charge of Risk Management, Quality Assurance and Medical Education and recipient of France’s  “Officier de la legion d’Honneur”.

Israeli president for Physicians for Human Rights Israel, Prof. Rafi Walden, reveals how nearly every month he helps arrange missions of Israeli doctors to Gaza to perform advanced surgery and provide training to Gaza physicians by Israeli experts in the realms of gastroenterology, oncology and more.

It’s appalling,” Walden said of the situation in Gaza. “Just terrible conditions. The main hospital in Gaza has empty shelves; they are missing critical medications. There was a time they did not have the liquid needed to clean the skin before surgery. Everything is missing. It is a real humanitarian disaster there.”

Walden believes that despite the challenges, PHR is creating “a microcosm of goodwill and understanding in this crazy situation of conflict. Beside the medical aspect of the work, another aspect no less important is the opportunity to meet with people and establish common ground. It’s a peace building activity – and a little light and the end of the tunnel.” 

Physicians for Human Rights Israel covered the costs of the programme as well as the attendees’ expenses including hotel rooms, transportation and meals. Ran Goldstein, the executive director of the organization, said the total cost was approximately NIS 90,000 ($26,000).

Ziv explains that while the courses for the Palestinian health participants aims to substantially upgrade their standards of professionalism, there is also the invaluable benefit of building bridges between Israelis and Palestinians.

Since Israelis and Palestinians often meet on the killing and battle front, we strongly believe it is important that they meet on the health and education front,” he said, adding that he holds that “professional relationships among human beings can bring about trust and friendliness.”

One 42-year-old nurse from Nablus, Farid Mustafa, said that medicine is a field that transcends political and national divides.

It does not matter who you are — an Israeli or Palestinian, Jew or Muslim, local or foreigner,” he said. “In health, we see and treat everyone as a human being. We take this approach in our interactions with sick persons and our colleagues here and elsewhere.”

Supporting his sentiment, Farid recounted an incident when he had personally provided first aid to Israelis involved in a car crash near Ramallah in the West Bank two years earlier.

I saw that two vehicles had collided. I pulled over to the side of the road and helped them,” he said. “When I did that, the identity of the injured persons made no difference to me. All I saw were people in need of aid.”

So too for Ayman Ibrahaim Amaya, a 43-year-old nurse from Qalqilya , who said he hoped he would be able to return to the Center for Medical Simulation in the future.

This is my first time doing a training in Israel and it has been very beneficial,” he said. “So I wish that it will not be the last.”

Future lives depend that “it will not be the last.”

With the goodwill of people on either side of the divide, it will not be.

לבריאות  and  صحة جيدة (“To health!” in Hebrew and Arabic)

 

Remembering the Forgotten

Former Miss Iraq speaks out at UN about Jewish

refugees

By David E. Kaplan

While focus on the Palestinian refugees of 1948 has remained steadfast, there has been scant global interest of the massive plight of Jewish refugees. There were over 850,000 Jews living in Arab countries and Iran at the time of Israel’s independence. Some scholars even think the number is closer to one million and yet few in the Arab world talk about why Jews suddenly left lands  they had lived in for over  2500 years.

One Muslim Arab who talking about it, is Sarah Idan (Arabic: سارة عيدان‎), an Iraqi beauty queen who represented her country at the Miss Universe pageant in 2017. A self-described “secular Muslim”, Idan received death threats after she posted a selfie with Miss Israel, Adar Gandelsman, and then had her citizenship revoked.

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Peace and Love. Miss Israel Adar Gandelsman (left) and Miss Iraq Sarah Idan pose for a picture at the Miss Universe pageant in 2017. Idan fled Iraq with her family following the fallout after taking a selfie with Miss Gandelsman during the Miss Universe competition which she captioned ‘peace and love’.

On the 4th December 2019, the former Miss Iraq  spoke at the United Nations headquarters in New York City about Jewish refugees from the Middle East “being largely forgotten”, and that there needs to be more awareness of their plight. The UN event was held in coordination with JIMENA (Jews Indigenous to the Middle East and North Africa), and was attended by ambassadors from around the world and UN officials.

It’s about time,” Idan  told JNS. “That decision should have happened many, many years ago. We always talk about Palestinian refugees and other countries, but we never talk about the Jewish refugees.”

Idan’s native Iraq once boasted a large community of Jews having lived there for over 2600 years.  That came to a tragic and traumatic end with  the exile of 135,000 Jews during the 1940’s and 1950’s. Few outside the Jewish community recall the violent riots known as the Farhud that erupted in June 1941 – mainly in Bagdad – targeting the Jewish population. Dejected soldiers of a failed coup took advantage of a power vacuum and swarmed into Jewish communities together with a bloodthirsty mob, murdering 179 Jews, injuring more than 2,100, and leaving 242 children as orphans. This act of violence was celebrated across the Arab world and in Nazi Germany.

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Revelations About Refugees. Former Miss Iraq Sarah Idan speaking in support of Jewish refugees at a Dec. 4, 2019 event at U.N. headquarters in New York. (Photo: Israeli Mission to the United Nations)

Similar tragedies unfolded across Muslim lands over the same period , which Idan was bold enough to speak about  and at the very forum that perennially attacks Israel – the UN.

While familiar with the plight of the Palestinians, it is doubtful that the esteemed diplomatic representatives to the world body are as familiar that in the North African region:

– 259,000 Jews fled from Morocco

– 140,000 from Algeria

-100,000 from Tunisia

– 75,000 from Egypt

– 38,000 from Libya

Or that in the Middle East, apart from the 135,000 Jews exiled from Sarah Idan’s Iraq:

– 55,000 fled from Yemen

– 34,000 from Turkey

– 20,000 from Lebanon

-18,000 from Syria

– 25,000 from Iran

In most of these country there were pogroms resulting in the mass murder of Jews.

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In her speech, Idan, spoke about the history of Iraqi Jewish refugees, the kinship she has always felt for them, and how she could personally relate to the struggles they faced by being expelled from Iraq.

She also spoke about her trip to Israel in 2018, where she met Iraqi Jewish refugees in Jerusalem and connected with them. She said they welcomed her “with open arms and with so much love, even though my country treated them unfairly.”

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The Beauty And The Peace. The two former beauty queens, Sarah Idan (left) and Adar Gandelsman toured Jerusalem together and uploaded a video of themselves in the Holy City. They added the caption “Salam and Shalom” – the Arabic and Hebrew words for “peace”.

When I saw Iraqi government stamps on their passports saying, ‘one-way exit—not allowed to return,’ I started crying,” she said.

“I told them I was utterly ashamed. Not because of dirty politics, which led to the ethnic cleaning of 135,000 Jews from Iraq, but by my own people, who watched this happen and didn’t have the courage nor sympathy to stand with the Jewish community.”

She also stated how antisemitism paved the way for the expulsion of Jews from Iraq.

As an Iraqi, I learned so much from parents and grandparents about how the Jews played a pivotal role in the development of our country. What I always heard from my family was that they had such good hearts, were well educated, respected and loved. Sadly, a 3,000-year chapter of Jewish life in Iraq, along with the larger Middle East and North Africa, came to an abrupt and traumatic end — and much of this is the result of antisemitism.”

The Baghdad-born model and human-rights activist concluded by saying:

 “It is only by recognizing and facing the historical injustice endured by the 1 million Jewish refugees from North Africa and the Middle East that we can move forward to a better place of humility and healing.”

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Food For Thought. Miss Idan went for a tour of Jerusalem before dining at an Iraqi-Jewish restaurant in the city, saying: “I do not believe Iraq and Israel are enemies.”

Correcting The historic Injustice

Israel’s Ambassador to the UN, Danny Danon announced that Israel will submit a resolution to formally recognize Jewish refugees from Arab countries. He aims to “put Jewish refugees in the right place in history and change the narrative so in the future, one day, when the issue of the Palestinian refugees will be brought up, we will be able to bring our issues as well.”

The ambassador is all too familiar with the history  as his late father, Joseph Danon had been a Jewish refugee from Egypt who moved to Israel shortly after the establishment of the Jewish state.

During the 1948 War of Independence, thousands of Egyptian Jews were put into internment camps, forced from their jobs, and arrested. Jewish synagogues, homes, and businesses were bombed, and many Jews were killed and wounded. Between 1948 and 1958, more than 35,000 Jews fled Egypt. Danny Danon’s father arrived in 1950.

Like the Iraqis that Idan met in Jerusalem, Joseph Danon was among the 850,000 Jews who were expelled or fled from their homes in Muslim lands during the mid-20th century.

Recognising that Jewish communities existed in Arab countries for more than 2,500 years, Ambassador Danon lamented  that “Every time the U.N. talks about the refugees of Israel’s war of Independence, they speak only of the Palestinian refugees!”

What about the Jewish refugees?

The ambassador emphasized that Jewish refugees should not be forgotten; denying the rights of Jewish refugees and attempting to erase them from the narrative is an antisemitic historic injustice. “We must work to correct the historic injustice that has left the Jewish refugees out of the narrative of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict,” he said.

From Iraq With Love

Kudos to Sara Idan in speaking out at the UN despite the threats to her life and those of her family who today live in the USA. She remains undaunted.

When snapping and posting online the first photo with Miss Israel, Adar Gandelsman at the 2017 pageant in Las Vegas, Idan added the caption:

Peace and Love from Miss Iraq and Miss Israel“.

But some people in Iraq did not see it that way and sent her death threats.

“When I posted the picture, I didn’t think for a second there would be blowback,” she told CNN at the time. “I woke up to calls from my family and the Miss Iraq Organization going insane. The death threats I got online were so scary.”

The intimidation did not stop the beauty queen reuniting with   Gandelsman the following year in Israel, when she again posted fresh pictures online. Idan posted a photograph and a video on her Instagram page, with the caption: “Sisters reunion

Despite the pressure from the Miss Iraq organisation, a defiant Idan refused to remove the selfie, and added a follow up post saying:

I would like to apologise to anyone who considered the photo to be offensive to the Palestinian cause as this was not the aim behind the post, it was merely a call to peace and hope for a solution to the crisis.”

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Shuk’ing Experience. Iraq’s representative at the 2017 Miss Universe pageant, Sarah Idan, (left), animatedly engaging with Israelis at Jerusalem’s Mahane Yehuda market, June 2018. (photo: Hadashot)

Like most visitors to Israel, Idan toured Jerusalem’s famed Mahane Yehuda Market where she was warmly received.

 “It actually felt weird,” she wrote. “The people look like my people. And the city looks like Damascus, like Syria, and I’ve been there, so everything seems familiar to me.”

She believed that “there are a lot of Iraqi people who don’t have a problem with Israel or with the Jewish people. There are a lot of Iraqi people on my side, and I believe they are happy I am here.”

If only the sisterhood developed between the former Miss Israel and Miss Iraq could evolve into  a brotherhood  of their respective countries.

 

 

*Feature Picture: Miss Iraq Sarah Idan—recently designated as an Ambassador for Peace by UN Watch, which invited her to the United Nations—took the floor at the United Nations to support peace with Israel. Following two speeches to the UN’s highest human rights body, the Iraqi Parliament’s Security and Defense Committee reportedly called for her Iraqi citizenship to be revoked, labeling her advocacy a “crime.”

CAN WE TALK?

Hotline allows men to call without the fear of stigma

By Yonatan Sredni

Head of English Content, Marketing & PR Division, World WIZO

*Courtesy – Currently appears at www.wizo.org

Entitled “Men Talking Men“, the Men’s Hotline Conference held on  December 2 at the Jerusalem Cinémathèque was the first ever of WIZO’s Men’s Hotline, a support line for men seeking to extract themselves from the cycle of domestic violence. The conference featured a wide variety of male experts from all walks of life raising awareness so that men needing help can get it.

“For a long time I have known that I needed help, but I didn’t have the strength to call. My crying came out as shouting. But finally I am speaking. I never shared with anyone what was going on inside of me.”

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“My crying came out as shouting”

The statement above, from an anonymous caller to WIZO’s Men’s Hotline, a support and counseling hotline for men seeking to extract themselves from the cycle of domestic violence, is an all too familiar one.

The hotline, which received 1000 calls in the last year alone, is both totally anonymous for callers and operated solely by men, making the conversation more comfortable for the men calling who seek help, The hotline is sponsored by WIZO USA, with the generous additional support of the Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Foundation.

The WIZO Men’s Hotline helps men who desperately need the tools to deal with their anger in a non-violent way,” explained Malka Genichovsky, Director of the Center for the Treatment and Prevention of Violence at WIZO. It is the only helpline of its kind in Israel to assist violent men in taking responsibility for their actions and getting the help they need. WIZO firmly believes that it is possible to reduce domestic violence, by treating the violent person himself.”

“The anonymous nature of the hotline allows men to call without the fear of stigma,” said Avi Mor, Coordinator of the WIZO Men’s Hotline. “It is staffed by trained male volunteers who provide support and encouragement in a non-judgmental way towards a violence-free future. What makes this unique is that often when it comes to domestic violence, talking about the men is considered taboo. WIZO, by creating this much needed hotline, is helping to prevent further acts of violence from occuring.”

WIZO, as the leading non-profit in the field of family violence treatment and prevention, sees the Men Hotline’s vital activity as a reflection of the world view that the men in the cycle of violence are not just a major part of the problem, but are also a major part of its solution!” said WIZO Israel Chairperson Ora Korazim. “The WIZO Men’s Helpline is just one of many projects of WIZO Israel focused on treatment and prevention programs for all members of the family affected by the violence. With the continued support of our dedicated volunteers and supporters in Israel and around the globe we will continue providing vital projects like this.”

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Left to right: Malka Genichovsky, Avi Mor, Ora Korazim

Men debate with themselves whether to go get treatment or not,” explained social worker Gil Tamir. “Partly because of their difficulty in expressing and sharing their feeling with regards to personal hardships and difficulties and also due to their fear of how their environment will judge them. Many times men will turn to treatment because of extrinsic motivation or severe stress. In the field of domestic violence, most requests for help come from women. The role of the society in changing this reality is significant and very valuable.”

“It’s very important that the change of discourse also take place among women,” Mor said. “We must understand that one of the key factors behind men’s violent behavior is society’s attitude towards men, which is NOT to speak! “Talking” is presumed to be a “woman’s thing”. So what will happen if I as a man am having a rough time and things are bad for me?  Instead of “talking”, I’ll “talk violently”. We must change this.”

First Such Conference

Focusing on “Why Some Men Seek Treatment and Others Don’t”, the conference included a combination of professional and clinical content with a fascinating series of short TED style talks by a diverse group of speakers including a rabbi, a judge, a journalist and a police officer who each shared their unique perspectives on the issue of men caught up in the cycle of domestic violence.

Rabbi Rafi Feuerstein, President of the Feuerstein Institute and co-chairman of the Zohar rabbinical organization, shared his unique challenges dealing with violence as a community rabbi. Retired family court judge, Menachem Cohen spoke about the view of domestic violence from his years on the bench. Jerusalem’s Deputy Mayor, Ofer Berkowitz gave the perspective of the police and Yuval Bango, the welfare reporter for Maariv, urged the social workers in the audience to engage in an open, yet discrete, dialogue to bring their important cases to the attention of the public. The program also featured a special musical program by social worker Tamir Ashman, Director of the Men’s Studies Forum at Tel Aviv University, who showed what popular songs about men reveal beneath the surface.

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Clockwise from left: Rabbi Rafi Feuerstein, Judge Menachem Cohen, Yuval Bango and Deputy Meir Dov Berkowitz

 Testimony from a WIZO Men’s Hotline Volunteer

During one of the conference’s breaks, Micha, one of the hotline’s dedicated volunteers, shared his experiences helping male callers in dire situations receive the help and support they need.

Don’t Give Up On Them – or Us!

The goal of this conference is to increase the legitimacy of society and professionals to encourage men to express and give room to their emotional world,” said Genichovsky. “We must raise awareness of the world of men, release social and personal barriers in addressing and referring men to treatment and support frameworks. Our hope is that by bringing together social, community and public opinion leaders along with different professionals, we can change the social discourse. We want to expand the concept of masculinity in relation to emotional and concrete needs and to empower and support. Our message is: Don’t give up on them – and don’t give up on us!”

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“Want to get your life back under control? Want to lower your anger and pain in your relationship? Want to stop hurting those you love?” – Ad for WIZO Men’s Hotline

 

 

http://www.wizo.org/images/Mail_Signature/Logo.pngYonatan Sredni
Head of English Content Marketing & PR Division – World WIZO
Mobile: +972-054 4964392  Tel: +972-03 692 3802
www.wizo.org  www.facebook.com/WIZOWorld

16 Days of Activism

Jewish Organisations assist in countering violence in South Africa against Women

By Bev Goldman

Gender Based Violence (GBV) is a profound human rights violation with major social and developmental impacts for survivors of violence, as well as their families, communities and society more broadly.

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It is disproportionately directed against women and girls and can be physical, sexual, emotional, financial or structural.  It can be perpetrated by intimate partners, parents, acquaintances and strangers irrespective of the victim’s race, social or economic status, age, culture, religion; it undermines the health, dignity, security and autonomy of its victims; it leaves scars that the victims bear all the days of their lives; and it is one of the most prevalent human rights violations in the world.

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“Dark And Heavy Shadow Across The Land”. Crime statistics against women reads more like a horror film.

Victims suffer psychological trauma; they suffer behavioural and physical consequences; they lose confidence in themselves and trust in others; they often feel guilt at having ‘invited’ the abuse by their speech, their dress, their openness; they tend to blame themselves because in certain societies they are made to feel that way.

It is without doubt one of the scourges worldwide that is affecting society; and its prevalence in South Africa is horrifyingly common. According to a recently released report, GBV in South Africa “pervades the political, economic and social structures of society and is driven by strongly patriarchal social norms and complex and intersectional power inequalities, including those of gender, race, class and sexuality.”

And according to the World Health Organisation (WHO), 12 in every 100 000 women are victims of femicide in South Africa each year – a figure which is nearly five times worse than the global average of 2.6.

One of the main reasons for this is the gendered power inequality rooted in patriarchy here. South Africa is a particularly patriarchal society which treats men as superior to women and denies women the right to protect their own bodies, meet their own basic needs or participate fully in society.  Men are therefore allowed to perpetrate violence against women with impunity; and as the culture of GBV takes root among younger men, more women and girl children are at risk of becoming victims.

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Influencing Change. Each year the ‘Sixteen Days of Activism’ campaign has provided a rallying point for the governments, NGOs, CBOs and other stakeholders in the region to mount events aimed at raising awareness, influencing behaviour change and securing high level political commitment to end gender violence.

The 16 Days of Activism for No Violence against Women and Children Campaign (16 Days Campaign) is a United Nations campaign which takes place annually from 25 November (International Day of No Violence against Women) to 10 December (International Human Rights Day). Also happening during this time are World Aids Day (1st December) and the International Day for Persons with Disabilities (on 3 December annually).

The South African government places much importance on this scourge and is implementing the Emergency Response Action Plan on Gender-Based Violence and Femicide, which was announced by President Ramaphosa in September 2019.  The 16 Days Campaign forms the centre point of government’s comprehensive 365 Days of Activism for No Violence Against Women and Children; and at the end of the campaign on 10 December 2019, government will officially launch the 365 Days Behavioural Change Campaign.

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State Of Emergency. Protests during September 2019 in Durban. At an emergency sitting of parliament, President Ramaphosa said the figures for violence against women and children were similar to those of a country at war.

Shalom Bayit and the Co-ordinating Council of National Jewish Women’s Organisations (which comprises the Union of Jewish Women South Africa, WIZO South Africa and the United Sisterhood) are this year assisting the African Diaspora Forum’s Women’s League in its project dealing with the 16 Days of Activism.  The project will be reaching out to the most vulnerable women suffering under GBV, and children, primarily those in the townships in and around Johannesburg, as well as migrant and refugee women. The townships of Katlehong, Orange Farm, Diepsloot, Alexandra and Johannesburg CBD will be visited; clothing and food parcels will be distributed  to those affected, including the victims of the September 2019 horrendous xenophobic attacks; women will be given an opportunity to be assessed, counselled and empowered both socially and psychologically; and they will be taught how to deal with many of the causes of GBV, including marital issues, socialisation and self-identification. Empowering women is one of the strongest ways of countering GBV; and the need among South African women is overwhelming.

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Across the world, every woman as well as every girlchild has the right to live free of violence and abuse. If the 16 Days of Activism succeeds in empowering the hundreds of women who will be targeted in these townships, their lives will be changed for the better and they will be able to pass their knowledge onto their daughters and future generations, enabling them to break the cycle of this endemic evil.  

 

 

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When Sports Wins

By Rolene Marks

This week I have been thinking a lot especially about sports. It could be because I am still feeling the high many of us, including ex-pat South Africans are feeling after watching the Springboks (South Africa’s national rugby team) serve England’s team a thumping to win the Rugby World Cup.

It wasn’t just rugby that won that day, it was a nation. The Springboks proved that it is possible to rise above your circumstances, your race, religion and past prejudices and that, coupled with tenacity and a will to win, delivered one of the greatest moments in sports. It was more than the speeches from coach, Erasmus and team captain, Siya Kolisi – the guys in green and gold played for unity. They played for hope. And they delivered.

We know that South Africa is fraught with problems and that winning a global sports championship will not provide an instant fix, but they proved what could be accomplished when you pull together and focus on the greater good. Growing up during the Apartheid years in South Africa, where rugby was emblematic of the regime, it was inconceivable that the Springboks would be a team of players from all races, with a black captain. I don’t think there was a dry eye across South Africa (well, save for a few spoil sports – pun intended – who see unity as anathema) or for many who knew we were witnessing history. The late human rights icon, Nelson Mandela, recognized the role that sports could play in healing and reconciliation. The Springbok win took many back to the day in 1995 when Madiba weaved his magic and mistrust and old hatreds seemed forgotten.

The Springbok win got me thinking a lot about the power of sports in healing conflict in other parts of the world.

Sport plays an important role in trying to heal rifts in the Middle East as well. While sometimes respect and sportsman – like behavior is a casualty and some pay a heavy price for their efforts to be conciliatory, there is no doubt that whether it is facing off on the soccer pitch or wrestling on the mat, people are brought together for the common goal – winning.

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The power of sports to bring people together has also been recognized by entities like BDS (Boycott Divestment and Sanction) who will try every trick in the book to try and scupper any attempts for normalization between Israelis – and anyone else. Their belief that boycotts, be they culture or sports, will force Israel to change policies they see as racist.

Their latest pet project of hate is trying to encourage a boycott of the sports apparel company, Puma, who sponsor the Israeli soccer/football team.

This has backfired spectacularly.  The Team is a microcosm of Israeli society, including Bedouin, Circassian, Muslim and Jewish players and nobody is interested in BDS’s divisive tactics. Needless to say, the boycott failed miserably.

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At the same time BDS were whining about boycotts, Brazil and Israel were planning a match to be played in Haifa. The Shalom game, a friendly match between Brazil and Israel was played on the 29th of October, 2019. This was billed as a celebration of “Football, Peace and Fraternity” and featured legends Ronaldinho, Kaka, Rivaldo, Batu, and other major Brazilian team players who have won the World Cup and visited the Jewish State to promote the message of peace and brotherhood. Ronaldinho took to his social media to speak about how happy he was to be in Israel and faced a barrage of hatred. It didn’t bother him at all – the message of brotherhood and peace is greater than hate.

Some have not fared as well.

This lesson was learnt the hard way by Iranian Judoka, Saeid Mollaei who was instructed not only to lose his match with Israeli counterpart, Sagi Muki, but said that even his family were threatened should he face off against his rival. Mollaei was afraid to return home after exposing and criticizing his government’s pressure on him to deliberately lose and avoid a potential bout against an Israeli opponent.

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Moallei fled to Berlin after the championships, where he had been hoping to secure a place at the 2020 Olympic Games. He was recently granted asylum.

International Judo Federation has suspended Iran indefinitely for the regimes’ discriminatory treatment of Israel.

Sport has the unique ability to unite and inspire and improve the prospects of tolerance and brotherhood.

It doesn’t matter what kind of sport it is or what level, when unity and tolerance trumps conflict, this is the ultimate championship. Just ask Siya Kolisi.

Israel’s Unionized Labour Recognizes No Borders

Over 7,000 Palestinians join Israel’s top Trade Union

By David E. Kaplan

Long before Israel emerged as a country in 1948, it’s labour got organised. Established in December 1920 during  Mandatory Palestine, the Histadrut – or the General Organization of Workers in Israel – represents today the majority of trade unionists WITHIN the State of Israel.

However, this summer something quite extraordinary occurred.

It’s most unusual in any country for foreign workers to enjoy equal workers’ rights but Israel is responding with its national trade union  – the Histadrut – not merely accepting but recruiting Palestinian members who live not in Israel, but within the PA controlled West Bank. Resulting from the recruitment campaign, over 7000 Palestinians who enter Israel every morning to work, have joined.

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A New Dawn. Early morning enthusiasm amongst Palestinian workers in Israel to learn from Histadrut activists the benefits of becoming members of the Israeli trade union. (Photo: Daud Daud)

The message of Nihad Sharkiya, who headed the campaign, resonated:

A worker is a worker, no matter where he comes from, and he deserves his rights

A Gulf Apart

This is a far cry from those who reflexively point the proverbial finger at Israel. Take the Gulf  region for instance who are quick to support the Palestinians in theory but according to Amnesty International, ensure that Palestinians in particular, as well as Yemenis, suffer harsh working conditions. They are not alone. Foreign workers from Southeast and East Asia also encounter constant obstacles.

Possibly the most suffering are migrant female workers. Some 60% of non-Kuwaiti women are maids who are not covered by the social insurance and financial benefit provisions of the Kuwaiti Labour Code.

The allure of the Gulf frequently translates dreams into nightmares.

As one newspaper revealingly sited that “Dubai, with its artificial islands, megamalls and seven-star hotels, along with Qatar’s new World Cup stadiums have only been possible due to years of graft by cheap foreign labor, imported mostly from Asia and Africa.”

The promise of much higher wages than at home, seldom materializes. What usually plays out are that low and unskilled migrants often end up trapped for years in their host countries, indebted, exploited and forced to work long hours in hazardous or brutally hot conditions.

Another Way

The outreach by Israel’s Histadrut reflects the lyrics of “There Must Be Another Way” – a song by Jewish-Israeli Achinoam Nini and Arab-Israeli Mira Arad which they performed at the 2009 Eurovision Song Contest. Their message was a simple call to respect the humanity of others.

Over the course of ten days in mid-July 2019, Arabic speaking representatives of the Histadrut met with Palestinian workers at the border crossings, offering advice and handing out pamphlets containing detailed information about workers’ rights in Israel. The Palestinian workers received advice and instruction from the representatives on issues like wages, pensions, safety and welfare, as well as an invitation to contact the Arabic language union hotline. As reported in the Histadrut’s online publication Davar, “The Arabic language hotline was set by the Histadrut to offer guidance to Palestinian workers in Israel, who often speak very little Hebrew.”

It reported a spike in calls following the outreach.

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Operation Outreach. Histadrut unionisation campaign with Palestinian construction workers at Palestinian-Israel border crossing. (Photo: Tal Burstein)

Wahil Abady, who heads the Arabic language information center for the Histadrut, told Davar that the Palestinian workers were excited about the campaign as reflected in the large number that signed up for membership. “These people need someone to take care of the problems they face at the workplace. We never dreamt of such high numbers. We were receiving so many questions that we had to open a special Arabic telephone line for them. In one month,  we received more calls than we got all of last year.”

Approximately 80,000 Palestinian workers cross the border into Israel every day. There, to meet them at the border crossings on their way into Israel before sunrise were the Histadrut activists. “Our people were spread across ten of the border crossings, and over the course of ten days they got to speak to about 15,000 workers coming in from the Palestinian Territories,” said Tal Burstein who took charge of the campaign. “The responses we got from the workers were amazing. We gathered a huge amount of information about breaching of labor laws and various other problems that the Palestinian workers face in Israel. We’re dealing with a very serious problem,” he said.

The relatively high wages and tight restrictions imposed by the Israeli authorities make the visas issued to Palestinian workers a rare asset in the Palestinian Territories. For security reasons, Israeli authorities issue visas mostly to older, married men with families back home who are deemed less likely to participate in terrorist attacks.

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Enlightened Engagement. Important questions and detailed answers characterised the exchanges at this border crossing between these Palestinian workers and the officials from the Histadrut. (Photo: Tal Burstein)

Notably, the Palestinian Authority provides no pension scheme. This means that often the wages paid to a Palestinian working in Israel will go towards supporting his parents and his wife’s parents, on top of his own family in the West Bank.

The problems for Palestinians are numerous but not unusual.

Why did Jewish workers need a trade union nearly 30 years before a state emerged in 1948? To avoid exploitation of course – of one description or another?

Well it is no different for Palestinians and being foreigners, they’re invariably vulnerable.

The problems may range from not getting sick leave to not even getting holidays off. “Every time the work stops, for whatever reason,” says Burstein, “the Palestinian workers are the first to pay the price”.

Mostly involved in the construction industry, these workers are under the radar of most Israelis. “These workers are completely invisible,” says Amihai Satinger, head of the unionization division of the Histadrut, who played a major role in the Palestinian project.

As far as many  employers are concerned “they are totally replaceable. When one of them goes another comes along.”

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Inspiring Leadership. Histadrut union representative Nihad Sharkiya, who led the unionisation campaign amongst Palestinian workers (Photo: Tal Burstein)

Contra South Africa – a “Time Bomb”

If the foreign workers in Israel are “invisible”, back to my native South Africa, they are too “visible”  resulting in resentment and subject to horrendous violence.

The recent outbreak of xenophobia, says  local community organiser Papi Papi – pointing across the road to a new informal settlement of over 100 metal shacks crowded onto a small patch of wasteland – “Is a time bomb.” He describes the death of a Zimbabwean man during the unrest,  who was “caught in his car and then burned alive.”

I found the nature of the problem is South Africa tragically exposed by a group of men playing a game of Ludo on a scrap of cardboard.

“I’m not xenophobic,” insisted a man who gave his first name as Alfred. “But these foreigners are prepared to work for less.”

“They work for small money,” his friend Frederick agreed. “And they hire their own, so it’s hard for us to compete. There is frustration.”

These unemployed “political scientists” wasting away their time playing Ludo, articulate a not too infrequent scenario resulting in the death of foreign workers and the destruction of their property!

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Xenophobia In South Africa. More than 120 Nigerians have lost their lives to gruesome killings in South Africa since 2016 – two stabbed to death in this photo above. South African citizens continue to make their country a dangerous place for foreigners.

How do South Africa’s trade unions respond?

The country’s two biggest trade union federations, Cosatu and the newly formed South African Federation of Trade Unions (SAFTU), have basically given the thumbs up on restricting foreign workers.

Despite the alarming climate of xenophobia, the labour movements are significantly silent.

“The way we treat African foreign nationals is our own fault, starting with the government and ending with ordinary citizens,” writes South African journalist Shaazia Ebrahim in his article  “South Africans need to face some harsh truths”.

While lauded the world over for their peaceful defeat of Apartheid and progressive constitution, South Africans are not nearly as beloved on the African continent itself.

A continent away to the north, the Histadrut in Israel went all out  during the campaign to hear and record the stories from the Palestinian workers. Said Burstein:

“They know about the Histadrut, and most of them have been in touch with us in the past. They know us because the Histadrut fought to apply Israeli labour laws to Palestinians working in Israel a few years ago. That made a big difference.”

Countering BDS Obstructionism

As a humanitarian issue, Palestinians working in Israel have long been a cause for concern for Israeli trade unions. This is evident as Gary Kaplan, an officer of the Histadrut’s International Relations Division explains: “the Histadrut represents Palestinians working in Israel – predominantly in the construction industry –  regardless of whether they are members. These construction workers earn and receive what is part of the Construction Sector Collective Agreement regardless of membership. This is unique to Israel. However, now as members, they will be entitled to free legal advice when required.” As part of the campaign, the Histadrut promoted awareness of Palestinian workers rights by advertising in Palestinian newspapers as well as placing in city centers across the West Bank.

Despite the overwhelming positive response from Palestinian workers recognizing how their lives as workers would improve, the Palestinian Journalist Syndicate warned several media outlets “not to publish any material by the Histadrut,” and predictably, the BDS movement joined in those negative efforts.

Nevertheless, the Histadrut persevered.

Peter Lerner, Director General of the International Relations Division at Histadrut, revealed to the media that the Histadrut works in close coordination with the Palestinian General Federation of Trade Unions (PGFTU).

Noting the complex and challenging political reality, Lerner explained  that “this collaboration is based on long term understandings,” providing “an island of stability.” Although “every act on our side creates some kind of opposition on the Palestinian side, we focus on what’s good for the workers in Israel, whether they’re Israeli, Palestinians or foreign workers.”

Encouraged that  so many thousands of new workers are joining the union proves that “unionized labor recognizes no borders.”

Protecting The Amazon Forest

Israel may be a tiny country but its humanitarian outreach knows no bounds

By David E. Kaplan

Yes, we are all familiar with the line at the end of emails “Trees have feelings too, please don’t print this!”

It’s a reminder that “Paper doesn’t grow on trees” and we can all do our bit to help save our planet.

Some Israelis have opted to do more – a lot more and going to the heart of one the problem areas – the Amazon rainforest.

While the name ‘Amazon’ conjures up the immediate image as one the world’s most valuable companies, the threat to its namesake –hardly raises an eyebrow and yet, the ‘rainforest’ in South America is a crucial part of our life-support system, creating up to 20% of our oxygen.

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From Israel With Love. The VeganNation team in Israel ready to help sustain the Amazon rainforest.

Here’s why we need the world’s largest rainforest:

All this resonated with the Israeli startup VeganNation  that recently announced  that it leased some 15,000 acres (60.7 square kilometers or 23.4 square miles) in Brazil’s Amazon rainforest for a ten-year period to protect the land from deforestation and wildlife poaching.

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We Are The World. From Yeshiva students to VeganNation co-founders (left to right) Isaac Thomas, Shneor Shapira, Yossi Rayby, and Nati Giat.

VeganNation is based in Ramat Gan, just outside Tel Aviv, with an office in London. Thomas says the startup employs approximately 20 people and works with 30 “ambassadors” across the world in places like Argentina, Brazil, India, and beyond, to spread its message.

Having built a global e-commerce platform and social network for vegans worldwide powered by its own digital currency, VeganNation, said it would hand the Amazon land over to preservation groups and activist organizations to protect it.

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Free The Forest. An aerial view of the river in the Amazon rainforest in Brazil. Deposit Photos

The Amazon rainforest might be located in Brazil, but its destruction affects us all, as climate change is a direct result of human activity and it’s in our hands to fight it,” said Isaac Thomas, the CEO and co-founder of  VeganNation.

The startup also announced that it was partnering with four local soccer teams from cities near the entrance to the rainforest to raise environmental awareness. Thomas told the Israeli innovation news network, NoCamels, that “VeganNation is already a main sponsor of the teams – three men’s teams and one women’s team – and revealed that an additional four top-tier national teams are set to sign on to the initiative.”

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Food For Thought. VeganNation co-founder Isaac Thomas with actress and dancer Jenna Dewan, a supporter of VehanNation.

Kicking For Eco-Goals

VeganNation’s initiative comes amid the devastating fires that have continued to burn in the rainforest since early August, releasing dangerous air pollutants into the atmosphere, severely damaging flora and fauna ecosystems, and endangering indigenous communities that live under the forest canopy. The fires are so intense that they can be observed from space.

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Our Future In Flames. A tract of Amazon jungle burning as it’s cleared by loggers and farmers in Novo Airao, Brazil. Reuters

“When we measure the destruction of the rainforest, we talk about football (soccer) fields as a unit, so we thought what if we use that same measure to save parts of it,” explained Thomas. To illustrate the point, the land leased by VeganNation covers over 5,500 soccer fields if we’re using the measure of large regulation-sized soccer fields of approximately 2.69 acres per field.

VeganNation understands that promoting veganism is an important step towards fighting the global warming crisis and raising awareness through local environmental projects among the Brazilian community is key. Partnering with four Brazilian soccer teams further enables us toward our mission of working together to create a better world,” he says.

Thomas reveals that the initiative came about through his close connection with a family in the city of Manaus in Brazil that owns land in the rainforest and used to lease it to a US gas company . When the lease was up, Thomas proposed to the family to lease the land to VeganNation explaining that “it’s a win-win situation for everyone as we’re not polluting the environment.”

The Israeli startup raised capital through private investors and added celebrity vegan activists Jerome Flynn, of Game of Thrones, and actor and dancer Jenna Dewan, to its advisory board.

Thomas says VeganNation’s work in the sports world is of key importance and the startup is set to bring in “one of the top three football players in the world as an ambassador for sustainability.”

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Fighting For Life. Typical in Game of Thrones of switching allegiance, Jerome Flynn (left) in Game of Thrones is today a celebrity vegan activist and on the advisory board of VeganNation.

Devils Peak

Environmental groups and researchers say the fires were started by humans at an accelerated rate probably by cattle ranchers and loggers looking to clear the land. The area of devastation in this year’s forest fires  marks a 47% increase compared to 2018 according to Brazil’s National Institute for Space Research.

While deforestation had declined by 75% from 2005 to 2014 and Brazil was moving impressively toward a zero-deforestation policy, it started reverting back massively from 2015 onwards and now in 2019, it seems to have reached literally – a “devastating” peak.

Late last month, under heavy international pressure, and amid several public spats with world leaders rejecting aid offers, Bolsonaro finally issued an order to send over 40,000 troops to help fight the fires. Included in the global support are an eleven-member team of firefighters and rescuers from Israel to assist local authorities with search-and-rescue operations.

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Fiery Forecasts. Imagery from European Union satellites shows smoke from fires in the Amazon rainforest stretching across Brazil and into other countries. European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts

President Jair Bolsonaro who has good relations with the Israeli Prime Minister, accepted the aid from the Jewish state, which is understood to include 100 tons of fire-fighting material.

So, while Israeli firefighters will do what they can in the immediate term,  the Israeli startup VeganNation is looking long-term  – focusing on preserving Brazil’s home to 2.5 million animal species. Rainforest deforestation – which often takes place to raise and feed cattle for the meat industry – is one of the most important issues to tackle in the fight against climate change.

What also needs to ‘change’ are peoples understanding of the threat and this is where Israel’s VeganNation is looking  to make a difference.

Its also about changing lifestyles.

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Reality Check! A deforested area near Novo Progresso, in Brazil’s northern state of Para, in 2009. AP Photo/Andre Penne

Breath Of Fresh Air

Thomas exalts Tel Aviv as “number one in the world for vegan food,” having earned its title as the “vegan capital of the world.” Tel Aviv recently held the world’s largest vegan festival at the Sarona complex in June, attracting over 50,000 attendees. The city is home to some 400 vegan and vegan-friendly kitchens.

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Where’s The Beef? There isn’t any at this boardroom spread at VeganNation’s offices in Ramat Gan.

The Mediterranean diet, Thomas explains, “is naturally based on plants; there are salad bars everywhere in Israel. The basic Med diet is very complimentary to a plant-based lifestyle.”

Thomas met his co-founder Yossi Rayby while in Yeshiva (Jewish seminary) in Jerusalem some years ago. Rayby brought in Nati Giat and Shneor Shapira who all have a religious background, and some have maintained an Orthodox lifestyle.

Judaism has a strong message that drives me toward making the world a better place, where we live in peace and harmony,” says Thomas.

Yes, its one thing putting out fires, but the real battle is to see that deliberate fires are not started in the first place.

Acknowledging that the Amazon rainforest creates up to 20% of the world’s oxygen – the Israeli startup VeganNation and the work it is doing  is like ‘a breath of fresh air’.

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Tel A-Vegan. Tel Aviv’s abundance of food markets made veganism popular here before it was trendy worldwide. (Photo © Fotokon / Shutterstock)