Heroes of Israel

By Andi Saitowitz

Life coach, Andi Saitowitz, shares her thoughts and feeling about what life is like under bombardment of rockets and how ordinary people are the heroes of Israel.

Heroes of Israel1.jpgToday I gave an intensive workshop and presentation to a team in a nearby city. Just before I left, Code Red alarms were still blaring on the app on my phone as our brothers and sisters in the south continued to be bombarded with rockets. As I picked up my phone to check the address I was going to, I suddenly realized that I was going to street called גיבורי ישראל  (“Giborei Israel”) – translated into the “Heroes of Israel”.

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Seeing Red. The Red Color (Hebrew: (Tzeva Adom) is an early-warning radar system installed by the Israel Defense Forces in towns surrounding the Gaza Strip to warn civilians of imminent attack by rockets. Outside of areas serviced by the Red Color system, standard air raid sirens are used to warn of rocket attacks.

 

I couldn’t help but pause and think about all those families who are living within such a close radius to the line of fire. I couldn’t help but think about our armed forces, who risk their lives daily to protect our nation and homeland. I couldn’t help but think about the heroes who have fallen – and the injured and the hurt and the scared. I couldn’t help but think of the past heroes who in their merit and honor, we have a state and a home. I couldn’t help but think about the first-responders and the defenders of Israel around the world who with such pride, courage and resilience, stand for Israel against all odds. I couldn’t help but think of all the people who choose to make Israel their home. I couldn’t help but think of all the people who pray for Israel, from near and far. I couldn’t help but think of the friends of Israel who want to see her grow and blossom. I couldn’t help but think of the unity we manage to hold together, even when everything around us seems to be falling apart.

So as I drove to The Heroes of Israel Street for a jam-packed day of personal development, growth, team building, training and leadership – I thought of the real heroes of Israel:

Every person who prays for peace.

Every person who fights for peace.

Every person who finds the resilience to keep the faith when times are tough.

Every person who holds Hatikva in their heart when all hope sometimes seems lost.

Every person who lives the values and ideals that we hold so dear.

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Heroes In Uniform. Protecting the people, Israeli police sappers remove a rocket fired from the Gaza Strip in farmland near the Israel Gaza border, November 13, 2019. (AP Photo/Tsafrir Abayov)

Every parent who has a few seconds to run for shelter with small children.

If you are already here, you are a Hero of Israel.

If you love and protect us, you are a Hero of Israel.

If you dream of being here; you are a Hero of Israel.

If you pray for us wherever you are, you are a Hero of Israel.

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Sirens In Sderot. People take cover during a rocket warning siren in Sderot, southern Israel November 12, 2019. (AP Photo/Tsafrir Abayov)

If you represent us with integrity, you are a Hero of Israel.

If you spread truth about us, you are a Hero of Israel.

If you want us to thrive, you are a Hero of Israel.

If you stand with us, you are a Hero of Israel.

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Anguish In Ashqelon. Adults assist children running for cover as rocket alarms sound in the Israeli city of Ashqelon, on Wednesday, November 13, 2019.(Ilan Assayag)

If you want to live with us and beside us and close to us and in peace with us: you are a Hero of Israel.

And it doesn’t matter who you are.

 

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Resilience Under Rockets. A woman in the southern city of Ashkelon injured by a rocket fired from the Gaza Strip is treated by paramedics on November 13, 2019. (Screen capture: Twitter)

 

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Andi Saitowitz, a mom, wife, sister, daughter, friend, published author and lover of inspiration. Also a Personal Development Strategist, Life Coach, Mentor and Transformation Leader.

 

Refusing to ‘Cave’ In

Aussie Rocker Nick Cave UpSTAGES BDS

By David E. Kaplan

Good on ya Nick!”

No matter the opposing odds and tough terrain, Aussies charge ahead. They did it over a 100 years ago in 1917 in Beersheba in helping to boot the Ottoman Turks out of Palestine and they will be doing it again in July 2020 when Australian singer/songwriter Nick Cave and his band, The Bad Seeds, will be returning to Tel Aviv.

“Bad Seeds” is a misnomer if ever there was one. We need more of these ‘seeds’!

And may they flourish.

The show will take place at Bloomfield Stadium, as part of a world tour promoting Cave’s album Ghosteen, which deals in part with the tragic death of his 15-year-old son in 2015; after a fall from a cliff.

When he takes to the stage in Tel Aviv – he will again be giving the finger to BDS.

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Pulsating Performance. Nick Cave captivated his Tel Aviv audience Sunday night, November 19 2017. (Courtesy Orit Pnini)

When last appearing in Israel to a packed Nokia Arena in Tel Aviv in 2017, Cave defied pressure from the BDS movement and said he came to Israel  “not despite of” but “because of BDS.”

What did he mean?

Calling  a press conference, the rocker said “After a lot of thought and consideration, I rang up my people and said, ‘We’re doing a European tour and Israel.’ Because it suddenly became very important to make a stand against those people who are trying to shut down musicians; to bully musicians, to censor musicians, and to silence musicians.”

He went on to say that he “loves Israel,” and that he wanted to take “a principled stand against anyone who tries to censor and silence musicians.” He concluded by inferring the BDS Movement’s strategy is backfiring.

So really, you could say, in a way, that the BDS made me play Israel.”

On his website last year, Cave slammed ongoing efforts to impose a boycott on Israel, calling them “cowardly and shameful.”

And this is not to say that he is a supporter of the government of Israel. He is clearly not.

“I do not support the current government in Israel, yet do not accept that my decision to play in the country is any kind of tacit support for that government’s policies. I am aware of the injustices suffered by the Palestinian population, and wish, with all people of good conscience, that their suffering is ended via a comprehensive and just solution, one that involves enormous political will on both sides of the equation.”

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Dare To Dream. The 2019 Eurovision Song Contest in Tel Aviv

This kind of balanced understanding is a far cry from the venomous position of Roger Waters the most visibly public advocate and roving ambassador of BDS that openly promotes – not the “Two State Solution”  – but the dissolution of the state of Israel.  Cave would have none of it from the Pink Floyd cofounder  with his giant-size inflated pig-shaped balloons emblazoned with a Star of David alongside fascist symbols customarily released during concerts.

If his ancestors took on the Ottoman Turks over a 100 years earlier, Roger Waters  and hid BDS cohorts prove they are no match for this principled rocker.

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A Night Where the Stars Appeared In Heaven and Earth. Madonna performing at the 2019 Eurovision Song Contest in Tel Aviv.

Cave Connecting

Prior to his 2017 concert, Cave had previously performed in Israel ’93, ’95 and ’98 and enjoys reflecting that  when “we came to Israel 20 years ago or so, did a couple tours of Israel, I felt a huge connection. Not just ‘people-talk’ of loving a country, but I just felt on some sort of level, a connection that I can’t actually really describe.”

“At the end of the day,” explained Cave in Tel Aviv in 2017, ‘there are two reasons  why I’m here: one is that I love Israel and I love Israeli people, and two is to make a principled stand against anyone who tries to censor and silence musicians. So really, you could say, in a way, that the BDS made me play Israel.”

Waters can remain at the ‘Dark Side of his Moon’ as there has been no letup of artists touring Israel from pop queen Jennifer Lopez, to the 2019 Eurovision Song Competition  held in Tel Aviv.

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Go Figure. Stunning J-lo at Tel Aviv beach in August 2019.

In keeping with the lyrics of Rhianna who has performed numerous times in Israel:’:

Don’t Stop The Music

 

 

 

*Feature picture: Australian musician and writer Nick Cave has elaborated on his stance regarding the Israel-Palestine conflict. https://www.irishtimes.com/ (Photograph: Anne-Christine Poujoulat/AFP/Getty Images).

Key Takeaways from the Supreme Court’s Omar Shakir (HRW) Decision

*Courtesy NGO Monitor

On November 5, 2019, the Israeli Supreme Court upheld a lower court ruling, rejecting the appeal of Human Rights Watch (HRW) “Israel and Palestine Country Director” Omar Shakir. Shakir and his employer asked the courts to overturn a decision of the Israeli Ministry of Interior not to renew Shakir’s work visa due to his BDS activities. The Supreme Court, like the district court, referenced NGO Monitor’s amicus brief.

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Omar Shakir at the Jerusalem District Court on September 16, 2019. (Credits: Emil Salman, Haaretz.com)

The judges did not relate to the constitutionality of legislation that denies entry to major BDS activists. (The constitutionality of the law is being challenged in a separate case, Prof. Alon Harel v. the Knesset; a hearing in this case is scheduled for November 11, 2019.)

Nevertheless, the Supreme Court decision makes important contributions to the factual record regarding Shakir’s BDS activism and helps clarify the distinction between BDS and human rights advocacy.

Why HRW Director , Omar Shakir has been expelled?

Like the lower court, the Supreme Court paints a clear picture of Shakir’s BDS activism, from when he founded a pro-BDS student group in 2006 through his present employment at HRW. During this time, he has been a consistent and ardent supporter of BDS (see NGO Monitor’s extensive material submitted in its filings and which was cited in the courts’ decisions). In the words of Justice Yael Wilner (in a short addendum to the main decision), “The statements [made by Omar Shakir and presented] above are definitely calls to boycott entities that operate in Israel and Judea and Samaria, only because of their connection to Israel or an area under its control — each one (statement) individually, all the more so when taken together. It seems to me that there cannot be a substantive argument about this.”

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Pro-BDS activists often use the rhetoric of “human rights” and “international law” to justify their discriminatory campaigns, but such rhetoric does not legitimize the boycotts. The Entry into Israel Law, Amendment 28 (2017) applies specifically to boycott calls that are based on a company’s connections to Israel or an area under its control, not to circumstances when the company in question has undertaken problematic activities.

Even though the judges recognize there can be gray areas, Shakir’s activity unquestionably falls within the criteria of the law. Shakir rejects in total the presence of Israeli entities in the West Bank, and his calls for BDS are in opposition to their identity as Israelis, not because of any specific human rights violation.

 Contrary to claims from Shakir’s lawyers and Amnesty International (which joined the case in an amicus capacity), denying Shakir’s work visa will not adversely affect human rights NGOs that want to send representatives to Israel to criticize Israel’s policies. This is because Shakir’s involvement in BDS is so egregious.

The Court firmly rejected a key argument from Shakir’s lawyers. They tried to argue that Shakir’s personal BDS activity ended upon his employment at HRW, at which point all his expressions should be attributed to HRW as an organization. Since HRW is not on the Israeli government’s list of “BDS organizations,” Shakir’s activity as an HRW employee should be granted “immunity” from the Entry into Israel Law. In sharp contradiction, the Court determined that he is responsible for his public statements, especially those on his private Twitter account.

Shakir’s BDS is insufficient to trigger a listing of HRW as a “BDS organization” because HRW is a large international NGO with myriad activities having nothing to do with Israel. This is not a reflection on Shakir’s status as a BDS activist or HRW’s anti-Israel advocacy.

Click Here for Resource Page on Omar Shakir (HRW) Court Case:

https://www.ngo-monitor.org/omar-shakir-resource-page/

 

 

 

Feature Image: Israeli Supreme Court (credit: Yossi Zamir/Flash90)

Who loses when you boycott Israel ?

By Rolene Marks

The BDS (Boycott, Divestment and sanctions) movement sure is noisy. While lacking cerebral substance, they understand the veracity of symbolism and language that is provocative, emotive and emotional. They understand that gratuitous use of the word Apartheid is guaranteed to get an emotional reaction from people.

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BDS tries to intimidate shoppers by inferring that if they buy Israeli products they are responsible for the deaths of Palestinian children. This is indicative of BDS tractics of threats, intimidation and libellous accusations.

I use the word gratuitous intentionally because BDS have no respect or understanding of the crime that was Apartheid and the trauma of its victims. To them it is simply evocative, sexy packaging that can be used to market their agenda and make it appealing to the masses who maintain they are concerned about human rights.

If you wrap up hatred and sell it in an emotional package, then surely you must be on the side of good, right?

Wrong. There is a more nefarious agenda at play here and it needs to be exposed again and again.

A wolfish agenda in sheep’s clothing

Why is BDS so hell-bent on the accusation of Apartheid?

The motivation is simple. They want to paint Israel with the same colours as that of Apartheid South Africa in order to undermine Israel’s legitimacy as a State in the hope that global opprobrium will lead to isolation of the Jewish State. In fact, the stated end-goal of BDS is the complete eradication of the Jewish nation state – they have been so bold as to announce this on their website. It’s not going to happen because Israel is not Apartheid South Africa, like BDS advocates want people to believe.

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The BDS agenda of the de-legitimisation of Israel disguised as concern for human rights is wolf in sheeps clothing tactics.

BDS would have you believe that boycotts and sanctions contributed to the downfall of Apartheid in South Africa and that the same kind of well strategized campaign can do the same to change Israeli policies. There are very clear differences – in Apartheid South Africa, the minority white population had dominion over the majority black population and eventually, it was the citizens of the country who spoke out overwhelmingly in a referendum that the time had long passed to do away with this heinous regime.

The situation between Israelis and Palestinians is far more complicated. Rather than a loveless marriage, the parties prefer an amicably divorce in best enjoying their national aspirations. It is extremely presumptuous for South Africans to impose their “one-solution-fits-all” to one of the most complex political conflicts in modern history.

Destruction rather than Construction

Did boycotts and sanctions contribute to the fall of Apartheid?

The idea of boycotts and sanctions was debated in the 1960’s but only really gained traction in the 1980’s. In November 1962, the United Nations General Assembly passed Resolution 1761, a non-binding resolution establishing the United Nations Special Committee against Apartheid and called for imposing economic and other sanctions on South Africa. All Western nations were unhappy with the call for sanctions and as a result boycotted the committee.

Fast forward to the 1980’s and the height of the regime and it can be said that while sanctions did effect the economy, the credit for ending Apartheid once and for all was the sterling efforts of Nelson Mandela and FW de Klerk who took great – sometimes unpopular risks – to ensure a better future for South Africans based of the democratic principles of equality and justice for all.

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Brave compromisers – South African leaders, FW de Klerk and Nelson Mandela ended the painful years of racist Apartheid rule through compromise and leadership – not as a result of boycotts.

In South Africa, nobody ever questioned the country’s right to exist as a nation state which is precisely BDS’s endgame. It says so openly and unashamedly – “from the river to the sea, Palestine will be free”. This means that Israel is dealing with a malevolent movement that aims – contrary to the democratic principles that played a part in the South African process – to destroy of one of the main players, namely – Israel.

The German Bundestag voted earlier this year to declare BDS and antisemitic movement and Austria is poised to do the same.

Who stands to lose the most?

It is easy for activists on both sides to play armchair politicians but there are lives at stake and for the most part, Palestinians have more to lose. With an Israeli economy that is booming, the impact of boycotts on the lives on Israelis is minimal – mostly psychological.

For Palestinians on the other hand, boycotts are likely to affect their livelihoods.

One such casualty was SodaStream.  SodaStream, an Israeli company manufacturing soda company  shut its West Bank factory and moved it to southern Israel. This cut hundreds of jobs for Palestinians that reportedly paid between three and five times the local prevailing wage.

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CEO of SodaSteam, Daniel Birenbaum

SodaStream’s CEO Daniel Birnbaum denied the move was BDS-related, though its profits plunged after BDS activists got involved.

“It has nothing to do with politics; we’re relocating to a modern facility that is three times the size,” Birnbaum told The Independent. “But if it was up to me, I would have stayed. We showed the world Arabs and Jews can work together.”

Soda Stream had the last laugh though when it was bought by Pepsico for $3.2 billion, proving that Israel is a hot investment destination – and even more so when there is possibility to create jobs for Palestinians.

Should the boycott be successful – who are the beneficiaries and who are the losers? The losers invariably are the Palestinians while the beneficiaries are BDS and their ilk who by their actions, demonstrate that they are anti-normalisation between Israel and her Palestinian neighbours – and anti-peace.

Does BDS really care that their strategies may affect the very people they purport to help?

Of course not; nothing must get in the way of destroying Israel.

Palestinian lives are the sacrificial lambs in a BDS campaign that is about demolishing bridges rather than building bridges.

See how esteemed human rights Palestinian activist explains how the BDS movement and their boycott campaigns impacts ordinary Palestinians in this video clip:

If BDS truly cared about the lives of Palestinians, they would champion for a second Singapore or Start-Up Nation like their neighbour Israel, rather than promote murderous and genocidal incitement. They would engage in dialogue, not deception.

Peace will be built from the ground up. It will start with spirited, committed people – individuals and communities, business people and investors. Boycotts create barriers and discourage positive discourse.

While the situation in the Middle East is a challenge, let us promote positive tracks of building and promoting commerce that will create a thriving economy rather than the destructive path of boycotts!

This way, everybody benefits.

 

Two Faiths, One Direction

By Sarah Ansbacher

I saw him from across the road, his eyes darting towards the entrance to the Aden Jewish heritage museum in Tel-Aviv . I could tell he was thinking about coming in for a visit even before he stubbed out the cigarette he was smoking; and crossed the street.

From his unhurried gait he didn’t appear like a tourist, but neither did he look like a local. He greeted me in accented English – Australian, as it turned out to be.  He told me that he is posted here for a year, working for an international organization. But I could tell his origins weren’t from Australia, as he confirmed, while I answered his questions about the history of the Jewish community in the region of Aden and Yemen; and he told me his family was from around that region.

“From Yemen?”,  I asked.

“Nearby. My father is from Sudan and my mother from Egypt.”, he replied.

He grew up in Australia. One foot in the west, the other in the east – retaining something of the heritage and Islamic faith of his family, and speaking both English and Arabic. But he also surprised me with a few sentences in Hebrew which he’d learnt at university in Melbourne.

I took him around the museum, telling him about the exhibits. And I pointed out a couple of pictures that I thought would be of particular interest.

“That was the synagogue in Port Said, Egypt. There was once a large community there, many of whom came originally from Aden.”

‘What happened to them, did they eventually integrate into the rest of the population?’ he asked.

‘No,’ I whispered. ‘They were all forced to leave in 1956 – along with most of the Jews living in Egypt.’

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The “Ohel Moshe” synagogue inaugurated in 1911 in Port Said Egypt (Photo courtesy: Dr. Rudolf Agstner, Vienna – Beth Hatefutsoth Photo Archive)

The shock was evident on his face. And so he came to learn something of the history of the vanished communities all around the Middle East.

As we continued, he asked if he, as a Muslim, was allowed to visit a shul (synagogue). In all his time in Israel, he hasn’t yet done so. I told him of course he could and took him up to visit ours. He donned a kippa, and he gazed around in wonder, admiring everything. I explained the  various features to him. For example, that the person who leads the services faces the same direction as the community.

‘Just like in a mosque,’ he replied.

The reason why you won’t find any depictions of our prophets or pictures of Rabbis there.

‘Just like in a mosque,’ he said.

We talked about how the problem isn’t all the different religions, but those who come and turn it to their advantage – and as something to use against others. There was no dispute, just agreement.

I pointed out the Aron Kodesh (the ark in a synagogue that contains the Torah scrolls) and explained to him, ‘Every synagogue around the whole world faces in the direction of Jerusalem. Just like every mosque faces Mecca.’

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Aron Kodesh – the ark in a synagogue that contains the Torah scrolls facing toward Jerusalem

‘I never knew that,’ he replied.

He gazed up at the stained glass windows and to my surprise he then said a Hebrew phrase about God. Contemplating, we stood in silence for a few moments. Two people from different worlds, backgrounds, religions but who pray to the same God.

We stood there, facing Jerusalem.

 

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Sarah Ansbacher is a writer and storyteller. She also works at the Aden Jewish Heritage Museum in Tel Aviv.
*Feature picture: Two faiths, one prayer: Muslims and Jews come together to pray. (Photo:Jewish Journal)

Israel – A land beyond conflict

By Rolene Marks

Israel is a tiny sliver of land in the Middle East, barely the size of the Kruger National Park in South Africa or New Jersey in the USA yet seems to enjoy a disproportionate amount of coverage in the media – often focused on the conflict with the country’s Palestinian neighbours.

A disproportionate amount of airtime and column inches are dedicated to coverage (and I use that term loosely because often fact and context are the first victim of headlines) and more often than not Israel is portrayed as the aggressive Goliath to the more passive Palestinian David. In the court of public opinion it could appear that Israel is nothing but a country perpetually mired in conflict.

There is so much more to Israel; a country which may be bantam in size but punches like a heavy weight.

Israel is a leader in so many fields. Let’s look at some of this tiny country’s greatest achievements:

A helping hand – Humanitarian assistance:

Wherever disaster strikes, be it natural or man-made, Israeli is one of the first to respond – even to countries with who there are no formal bilateral ties.

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Israeli commandos rescuing wounded men from Syrian warzone

Even though hostile relations exist between Syria and Israel, and between Israel and the Gaza strip, Israeli humanitarian aid continues to be dispensed. The IDF ( Israel Defense Force), at great risk to the soldiers, embarked on Operation Good neighbour during the height of the Syrian civil war and brought thousands of wounded Syrian adults and children into Israeli hospitals for medical treatment.

Every day, under the supervision of the IDF body called COGAT (Coordination of Government Activities in the Territories) thousands of tons of aid are sent into the Gaza strip from Israel.

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IDF sends tons of aid to Gaza daily

Recently, Israel sent assisstance to the hurricane struck Bahamas by sending portable water purifiers along with the other aid including Post Trauma counselling.

Israeli aid NGO, IsraAid, is ever ready to be deployed, along with the IDF to parts of the world where humanitarian assistance is most urgent.

Today, while Turkish forces engage in conflict with the Kurds,  Israel has not only dispatched humanitarian aid to displaced Kurdish refugees but has also provided medical care for Kurd refugee children in our hospitals.

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IsraAid, brings humanitarian assistance to victims of an earthquake in Italy. (Credit times of Israel)

Army of the people

Israel’s army  is so much more than a sophisticated defense machine. It is a citizen army, and is as widely inclusive as possible. While conscription is compulsory for Israel’s Jewish citizens who are able to serve, many Arab, Druze and Bedouin citizens in fact volunteer for service. In the last few years, these numbers have increased.  The army tries to be sensitive to the cultural boundaries of these communities.

But minority communities are not the only sectors of society that the IDF include.

The IDF has introduced a programme called Special in Uniform in conjunction with JNF-USA and Lend-a-Hand to a Special Child, which helps to integrate people with mental and physical disabilities into the army to enable them to make meaningful contributions to the country. Special in Uniform includes a three-month course on occupational skills to teach disabled young adults to function independently and contribute to society in a positive way.

Soldiers who have participated in these programmes have gone on to have bright and better futures. We salute them!

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The IDF: Most Humane Army in the World

 

Where the prophets walked

Home to the three Abrahamic religions, Israel is the place where Judaism, Christianity and Islam meet.

Where else but in Jerusalem can you hear the Imam calling the Muslim faithful to prayer while church bells peal and the melodic Hebrew incantations at the Kotel (Wailing Wall) sound out?

Even though Israel is the nation state of the Jewish people, freedom of religion is enshrined in the Israeli Declaration of Independence. While it is sometimes a complex issue, the right to worship as you choose is protected. Israel is also home to the Bahá’í World Centre – the name given to the spiritual and administrative centre of the Bahá’í Faith. The World Centre consists of the Shrine of Bahá’u’lláh near Acre, Israel, the Shrine of the Báb and its gardens on Mount Carmel in Haifa, Israel, and various other buildings in the area including the Arc buildings.

Whether it is intoning ancient prayers or meditating in downward dog, all faiths are welcome. Perhaps this is why Israel is the Holy Land?

Innovation nation

Living in a neighbourhood where there is perpetual threat can turn one into the master of necessity.  As a result, Israelis have had to be fairly innovative. As Israel’s first Prime Minister, David ben Gurion once said, “In Israel, in order to be a realist, you must believe in miracles.”

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Israel’s first Prime Minister was a believer in miracles – today Israeli innovators are bringing them to fruition.

Israeli innovators do not only believe in miracles – they create them! Israeli innovation has become so attractive that it is attracting billions of dollars of investment and acquisition. From life-saving diagnostic tools, to the Re-Walk exoskeleton that helps paraplegics walk again, to hi-tech inventions like firewalls and communications technology and many,  many more including WAZE, low drip irrigation, Mobileye,  Israeli know how is changing and improving the world on a daily basis.

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Giving new hope to paraplegics. The Re walk Exoskeleton is making mobility possible (credit CNNMoney).

Make it Rain – Environmental leaders

Climate change is having very serious repercussions on global weather patterns. Many countries that in the past enjoyed high levels of rainfall are now severely drought-stricken. Today, water has become the most sought after commodity and wars have been started over access to sources.

Israel, being a desert country knows only too well the challenges that come with having no water.

Israeli start-up, WaterGen has developed a machine that can literally create water out of thin air! It has been so successful that it has been deployed to desperate communities around the world and even played a role in humanitarian efforts. In 2018, WaterGen machines were sent to northern California to provide clean drinking water for US police and firefighters battling major fires.

Water is not the only area in which Israel is helping to preserve the environment. The country is a leader in breeding programmes for endangered species such as rhinoceros, re-forestation, recycling of plastics, pursuit of natural gas,  high percentage of vegans and so much more.

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Israeli start-up WaterGen, creates water out of air and is helping to bring much needed relief to drought stricken areas across the globe.

Golda would kvell – Women’s rights leaders

Famous for her razor sharp wit, Israel’s first female Prime Minister, the formidable Golda Meir would be quite proud of Israel’s current record on the status of women – and that we continue to work for this to be improved.

In a neighbourhood where women’s rights are often eroded, Israel stands out. Apart from being one of the first countries in the world to have a female head of state, women in Israel are not only active in society but are leaders in their fields that include politics, philanthropy, entrepreneurship, minority communities, social welfare, education, the military, arts and culture, science, medicine and technology and so much more.

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A female combat soldier is put through her paces – Israel’s women are part of the fabric of society and are leaders in their fields, including the military. (Credit Public Radio International)

 

We can vote, drive, and own property and business. We can make decisions that govern our bodies and our communities and if we want to, raise a little hell.

The same cannot be said for many of the other women in our neighbourhood. Women in other parts of the Middle East are not as free as their Israeli sisters. In this part of the world, girls are often married off before they reach puberty or are killed because they have ‘dishonoured” their families. In this part of the world, women do not have the right to own property, vote, and receive and education or even drive. Gender Apartheid is rife.

Israeli women lobby and work hard to continue to elevate the status of women not just in our country; but in the region. Golda would kvell – I think she would raise her glass and toast L’Chaim to Israel’s women.

LGBTQ rights

In June the streets of Tel Aviv are decked with rainbow flags in celebration of Pride Week.  The city comes out in support of the civil rights of our fellow citizens and many across the country flock to Tel Aviv to march in solidarity.

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Israel is a haven for the Gay community in comparison to its neighbours.

While Israel may be a trailblazer in terms of tolerance for the LGBTQ community and is certainly the most accepting and progressive in the Middle East, there are still improvements to be made. Same-sex marriage is not performed in the country; however, Israel does accept and recognize common-law partnerships of same-sex couples that live together. There is always progress to be made, but Israel is certainly a leader of gay rights in the region.The IDF is LGBTQ supportive. The city of Tel Aviv is known to be one of the friendliest and most tolerant in the world and  Pride marches are also held across the country including in the capital, Jerusalem.

Israel is also a safe haven for many Palestinians escaping persecution for their sexual orientation.

Watch us on TV

I am not talking about the news – that is enough to raise anyone’s blood pressure.

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Israel’s hottest TV export, Fauda will have you hooked to its exciting, fast paced plot points. You can “Netflix and chill” while experiencing a taste of reality in the region.(Credit IMDB)

Did you know that some of your favourite TV shows are based on shows created in Israel? The award winning “Homeland” and “In Treatment” are just two of Israel’s stellar small screen offerings and have been followed by international hits like “Fauda”, “Shtisel”, “The Spy” and so many more.

Even our gal, Gal Gadot, has become a box office sensation! We always knew she was Wonder Woman; but now the world does as well.

 

People of the book

Israel has more books published per capita than any other country. And while we may be the people of the book, we are also the people of the book week. Israelis love reading – whether it is for pleasure or knowledge. Israel can boast one Nobel Laureate for Literature, Shmuel Yosef Agnon and award winning authors Amos Oz and David Grossman are just some of our writers who enjoy international support.

 

We are also now the people of the Facebook. Social media giant, Facebook has acquired several Israeli start-ups to increase their service and technology offering to users.

To the Moon – and beyond!

Israelis dream big. There is no such saying as the sky is the limit – we believe in pushing beyond that and reaching for the stars. And we did! In April 2019, Israeli NGO, SpaceIL, sent an unmanned spacecraft called the “Bereshit” (Hebrew for Genesis) to the moon.  On the 22nd of February, the Bereshit began its long anticipated journey and in April, entered lunar orbit and prepared for landing. If successful, Israel would be the 7th country, joining major powers like Russia, USA, Japan, China, India and the European Space Agency to have a presence on the moon.

 

The landing did not go as planned and while the Bereshit  crashed instead of descending gently, we still made it to the moon and this was a great achievement.   Morris Kahn, one of the sponsors behind the project, congratulated the team and spoke of a future second mission. Just days later, SpaceIL announced that they would not be attempting a second time but would rather set their target higher. We don’t know what they are planning; but we will definitely be along for the ride!

Israelis epitomize the tenet; if at first you don’t succeed, try to outdo what you did the first time. The universe, not the sky is our limit!

This is just a mere glimpse into the achievements that Israel has and continues to pursue. When the father of modern Zionism, Theodore Herzl, envisioned a Jewish State that would live up to the tenet of Tikkun Olam (repairing the world) and would be in a position to help others.  Looking at what this 71 year old State has achieved, I think he would be proud!

 

SA Anglican Church Joins BDS Against Israel

Strange how the persecution of Christians in the Middle East and Africa- described at times as “genocide”- elicits no such  Southern African Anglican Church angst!

By David E. Kaplan

The highest and most prominent decision-making body of the Anglican Church of Southern Africa (ACSA) voted this past September to join and support the international BDS (Boycott Divestment and Sanctions) movement against Israel.

Representing the Anglican Christian communities in southern African countries including South Africa, Namibia, Mozambique and Angola, the church passed the resolution in Johannesburg during its Provincial Synod, which takes place every three years.

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Partnering with BDS. Delegates from the Southern African Anglican Church which met in Johannesburg for the Provincial Synod, supported the BDS movement in its resolve against Israel.

The wording in the motion passed included “the situation in the Holy Land demands the attention of the Christian Church precisely because that is the place where Jesus Christ was born, nurtured, crucified and raised.”

Really?

The Holy Land where Jesus was “born, nurtured, crucified and raised” lies located mostly in the Muslim  Middle East – the precise region where the Archbishop of Canterbury, Most Rev. Justin Welby expressed in 2018, “Christians Face Imminent Extinction” and not by the hands of Israelis.

Writing at the time in the Telegraph, the Pope revealed that “Christians face daily the threat of violence, murder, intimidation, prejudice and poverty. …..Many have left. Hundreds of thousands have been forced from their homes. Many have been killed, enslaved and persecuted or forcibly converted. Even those who remain ask the question, ‘Why stay?’”

He concluded with “Across the region, Christian communities that were the foundation of the universal Church now face the threat of imminent extinction.”

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Winds Of Change. A gust of wind blows Pope Francis’ cape as he delivers his speech fearing Christians will disappear from the Middle East. (Photo: AFP)

Why did the SA Anglican Church focus its “demands” on Israel?

The bias and antisemitism was all too evident with the Anglican church outlining “the differences between the Biblical Israel and the modern State of Israel,” and warning its members “not to conflate the two entities, as well as the ideology of Zionism and Judaism.”

It also described the situation in Israel and Palestine as “… worse than apartheid.”

This proved music to the ears of Hamas – which strives for the destruction of the State of Israel and directs rockets at Israel’s civilian population whenever it sees fit – whose spokesman  Basem Naim responded with glee to the Anglican decision as it “encourages us to continue our struggle against the occupation.”

Excepting, Gaza is not occupied other than “occupied” by Hamas who have turned the lives of its residents there into a living nightmare.

Ask the former Prime Minister of the Palestinian Authority, Rami Hamdallah, who narrowly survived a suspected Hamas assassination attempt in 2018 while visiting the Gaza Strip from the West Bank. He hurriedly retreated from the “occupation”, never returned and then resigned as Prime Minister in January 2019.

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Copts Struggling To Cope. The Copts of Egypt are one of the oldest Christian communities in the Middle East.

Report Of ‘Revelations’

As much as Palestinians attempt to hide the reality of persecution of Christians – or blame Israel –  it’s difficult to refute the truth and the math.

A sure barometer of dwindling Christians in the region is ‘revealed’ in the very birthplace of Jesus – Bethlehem. Once a predominantly Christian city where Christians formed an 86% majority, today that figure stands at fewer than 10% and dropping.

The situation is even worse in Gaza, where among the thousands of Christians who used to live there, only a few hundred remain under the constant threat of persecution, with serious limitations on Christian ceremonies and holidays, and effectively without human rights.

While the future of Christians living under the  PA and in fact the entire Middle East is uncertain – even the Pope fears “Christians will disappear from the Middle East lamenting “a Middle East without Christians would not be the Middle East” – the situation is different in Israel which not only allows but protects the safe life for all religious minorities.

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Stop The Slaughter. Appeals in Egypt.

Nightmare In Nigeria

What’s more, as the Southern Africa  Anglican Church set its sights northerly at the Holy Land, they could have looked far less north to see what was happening to their fellow Christians in Nigeria.

 Note the following outcries in quotes:

  • It’s tough to tell Nigerian Christians this isn’t a religious conflict since what they see are Fulani fighters clad entirely in black, chanting ‘Allahu Akbar!’ and screaming ‘Death to Christians”,” reported Sister Monica Chikwe to John. L. Allen Jr., Crux, August 4, 2019.
  • Hundreds of indigenous Numan Christians in Adamawa state were attacked and killed by jihadist Fulani herdsmen. When they tried to defend themselves, the Buhari government sent in the Airforce to bomb hundreds of them and protect the Fulani aggressors. Is this fair?!” asks Femi Fani-Kayode, former Minister of Aviation in the Daily Post (Nigeria), December 6, 2017.
  • Buhari is openly pursuing an anti-Christian agenda that has resulted in countless murders of Christians all over the nation and destruction of vulnerable Christian communities,” said Bosun Emmanuel, the secretary of the National Christian Elders Forum, 2018.

Between 2011 and 2015, the jihadi group Boko Haram committed ISIS-type of atrocities even before ISIS came into being, terrorized and slaughtered thousands of Christians, mostly those living in the Muslim-majority north. When in 2015, Nigeria’s Muslims finally got what they wanted – a Muslim president in the person of Muhammadu Buhari, taking over from Goodluck Jonathan, a Christian, the violence did not subside but got worse. Muslim Fulani herdsmen – the ethnic tribe from which Buhari hails  – joined and even surpassed Boko Haram in their slaughter of Christians.

Reports reveal that between June 2017 and June 2018 alone, Muslim Fulani slaughtered approximately 9,000 Christians and destroyed at least a thousand churches. (It took three times longer for the Fulani to kill a fraction [1,484] of Christians under Jonathan’s presidency.) In just the first six months of this year, 52 lethal terror attacks targeting Christian villages occurred. “Nearly every single day, I wake up with text messages from partners in Nigeria, such as this morning: ‘Herdsmen stab 49-year-old farmer to death in Ogan,” human rights lawyer Ann Buwalda said in July.

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Christians, Cries, Coffins. Christian mourners carry coffins following an attack earlier in Nigeria in 2018 Thousands of men, women and children have been killed in Nigeria in what the country’s Christian community are condemning as “ethnic cleansing”.(Image: GETTY)

License To Kill

In short, it appears that its hunting season in Nigeria with Christians as the prey.  And by all accounts, it appears the hunters have a “license”!

Continuing, says former Minister of Aviation Femi Fani-Kayode, “The Muslim president Buhari has only awarded the murderers with impunity rather than justice and has staffed his government with Islamic officials, while doing essentially nothing to give the nation’s Christians, who make up half the population, due representation.”

While Christians were once the majority of Nigeria’s population, “the ongoing genocide against them” has caused their population to drop  to a level that Christianity in Nigeria is, according to the National Christian Elders Forum, “on the brink of extinction”.

How come the pious delegates in Johannesburg for the Anglican Church’s Provincial Synod in September spewed their wrath at Israel but failed to show concern closer to home for their fellow Christians in Nigeria?

Then again look what transpired in South Africa during September, the same month the Anglican Synod met and deliberated.  In a spate of xenophobic attacks, mobs attacked foreign-owned businesses in cities across the country. Although no Nigerians were killed in the violence, Nigerian-owned shops and businesses were targeted resulting in Nigeria’s president Muhammadu Buhari travelling to South Africa, to resolve the issue of the welfare of his citizens. Nigeria repatriated around 600 of its citizens living in South Africa.

Of all the issues on the Anglican Churches agenda, the only one that it made “demands” of and will be well remembered as it made international news was its resolution in support of BDS to boycott Israel.

Bravo Bishops!

 

 

Should South Africa Break Relations With Israel?

By Kenneth Mokgatlhe

South Africa has been an active participant in the Israel-Palestine conflict debate where its activists and academics suggest solutions. There are constantly calls led by Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) to boycott or sanction Israel. South Africa’s government took a difficult decision early in 2019 to downgrade its embassy to a liaison department in Israel to appease the Palestinians.

As South Africans, we acknowledge that all is not well in that region, but we want our government to be an active player in trying to break the impasse between the Israelis and Palestinians. South Africa has always respected the sovereignty of other nations and therefore should resist taking sides but set its sights on striving for meaningful peace for both paries.

Too quick to label Israel with apartheid, that South African abomination and the current Israel-Palestine situation differ significantly. They differ in their divergent histories, people, the time period, collective traumas, international and domestic narratives and security. Rather than being patently partisan, South Africa – if it is to contribute –  should suggest fair, just  and workable solutions to the Israel-Palestine conflict.

Mustafa Barghouti, a member of the Palestinian Legislative Council and a prominent anti-Israel activist,  was recently in South Africa and was interviewed (see article below or link to the article) in which he made several comments accusing Israel of practicing Apartheid and several other untruths.

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Voice For Sanctions. Speaking in Lenasia, south of Johannesburg in September 2019, Mustafa Barghouti called on the South African government to downgrade its embassy in Tel Aviv.

https://www.pressreader.com/south-africa/cape-times/20190920/281840055380901

Mustafa Barghouti’s understanding about the history of Apartheid is wrong. Apartheid was unique to South Africa. A political and social system introduced by the white Afrikaner Nationalist government, Apartheid enforced racial discrimination – the word apartheid means “separateness” in the Afrikaans language.

And yet, after 25 years of democracy, blacks only own 4% of private land, and only 8 percent of farmland has been transferred to black hands, well short of a target of 30% that was meant to have been reached in 2014.

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Sow The Seeds. Israel farms out its agricultural knowhow to small-scale farmers and producers in Africa helping break the cycle of hunger and poverty. Seen here is Israeli NGO Fair Planet founder Shoshan Haran introducing Israel’s cutting-edge seed technology. (Photo by /Fair Planet)

Barghouti should know that South Africans were given an inferior education system which only fulfilled the economic interests of the “master” (oppressor), and that this education tragedy still haunts us today, 25 years after democracy. Our people were not only dispossessed of their land, but they were also exploited by the multinational conglomerates which are still taking advantage of us today.

In 1960, South African police massacred 69 peaceful protesters in Sharpeville – mostly shot in the back while fleeing – and this system of state barbarity persisted towards the twilight years of Apartheid. A brutal and pivotal milestone occurred on the June 16, 1976, when police massacred over 100 proteststing schoolchildren who were resisting a new law that forced them to learn Afrikaans in schools. While not undermining the plight of the victims of the Israel-Palestine conflict, we cannot afford to erroneously compare the two tragedies.

Who are we helping and who are we hurting?

Can South Africa really afford to boycott Israel? What is the cost of this position? We have an economy which is dramatically declining and that may result in many companies closing down and ultimately people being retrenched. We always hear economists suggesting that we desperately need abundant foreign investment. Why then, should we obstruct Israeli companies from investing here that will benefit South African workers?

Our foreign policy should be determined by the interests of our own citizens. People want be part of the economy and that can be better achieved when foreign companies invest their expertise and capital in South Africa. This will benefit all our people – empowering them whether as employees or partners. South Africa is a peace-oriented nation  – and should not take sides in complex foreign disputes that could rebound negatively on the welfare of South Africa’s citizens.

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Big And Firm. Israeli NGO Fair Planet is helping Ethiopian tomato farmers improve their crops. “Their tomatoes used to be small and soft. Now they are bigger and firmer with a longer shelf life, and can be marketed to higher-end markets in a wider window of time. This is a life-changing opportunity, a tool to exit the cycle of poverty,” says Fair Planet founder Shoshan Haran. (Photo: courtesy)

Afterall, look at our behaviour with our northern neighbour – Zimbabwe. There, despite the former president, Robert Mugabe killing the very freedoms he originally fought for, South Africa chose not to interfere. It was silent in the face of patent abuse of its people. While the West (UK and USA) imposed economic sanctions against Zimbabwe, South Africa maintained being its most important trade partner. There was no talk of boycotts and sanctions!

When the opposition in Zimbabwe, the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) – recently called on Pretoria to intervene in a political impasse, we were reluctant as our politicians made the case that it not in our nature to do so unless both parties wanted us to perform the role of mediator.

We fail to show such sensitivities when it comes to Israel!

Downgrading relations with Israel as advocated by Mr. Mustafa Barghouti will never resolve the Israel-Palestinian conflict which dates back over a century. It is misguided for South Africa to believe it has the insights and expertise to play a role by being exclusively partisan.

This is not diplomacy but arrogance.

South Africa is a still a developing country – not powerful as Africa’s former colonial masters  – Britain, France, Italy, Germany and Portugal –  and therefore should be cautious as how it chooses to interfere in global conflicts.

However, no harm done in advocating for peace between people –  – but we should do so fairly.

Debate Not Downgrade

One positive point that Barghouti made in his article is that there should be national debate. However, “debate” is not South Africa dictating to others because it believes it knows best.

We are not a “colonial master” and should not believe we can dictate to others. Our brief should be to see peace triumph.

It is unwise to obstruct relations with a country like Israel that could contribute so much to our people. Engaging Israel will benefit our economy and introduce technological innovations from hi-tech to water management and agriculture. These are all areas that we could benefit from Israel’s cutting-edge expertise.

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Hot Off The Terrain. A local farmer harvests hot peppers on a Tikkun Olam Ventures pilot site in Butajira, southern Ethiopia, in June 2018. An American Joint Distribution Committee initiative, over 5,000 Ethiopian farmers participate in a $14 million agricultural loan and education program utilising Israeli agriculture technology and improved seeds. (Courtesy JDC)

We must  prioritize our people before anyone or anything else.

There are many countries across the globe that interfere in the affairs of other countries from the USA in Venezuela to Russia’s military  occupation of Crimea in the Ukraine.

Does South Africa take a position in these disputes? No.

One of our biggest trade partners is India, predominantly Hindu, that administers – some would argue treats as a colony –  Kashmir, and which has a longstanding dispute with Muslim Pakistan. Has South Africa taken a position over this conflict that has persisted since 1948 – the same year Israel became independent?

No again.

I am not dismissing Mustafa Barghouti’s struggle but  his appeal for South Africa imposing sanctions against Israel. Why? Because it penalises the citizens of the country doing the imposing. Following Mr. Barghouti will be denying South Africa’s population access to opportunities. We are living in a global village; we are more connected than ever, and politics should not divide people but rather unite them.

 

 

image006 (8).pngKenneth Mokgatlhe holds BA Honours (political science) from the University of Limpopo. He was a spokesperson of the Pan Africanist Congress from 2015 to 2018.  Mokgatlhe has written for Political Analysis South Africa, and is a frequent columnist for South African papers, notably – The Star, Sunday Independent, Sowetan and Cape Times.

Afternoon Prayers

By Gina Jacobson

Whenever I read an article or see a BDS (Boycott Divestment and Sanctions) headline crying that Israel is an apartheid state, I think about a moment I had a while back, while I was traveling home from work on the bus.

The drive is quite scenic and meanders through forests and fields and I often sit by the window just taking in the unique beauty around me.

Well, this day, we came to a stop about halfway home and I noticed a truck pulled over on the side of the road. While there was nothing particularly unusual about that, something else caught my attention. It was then I saw a man get out of the truck. He had something rolled up under his arm and as he looked around, I realised what it was.

The driver of the truck was Muslim, and it was time for late afternoon prayers.

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Prayer Time. Muslim man gets out of his lorry and prayers peacefully in a street in a suburb in Jerusalem.

He found a spot just behind his truck on the shoulder of the road and laid his prayer rug down. He then proceeded to kneel and go about his afternoon prayers. Nobody disturbed him; nobody told him that he couldn’t.

Think about that for a moment. A Muslim man, in Jewish state, taking time out of his workday to pray. No one stopped him. No one harassed him. No one even batted an eye.

Israel is the only democracy in the Middle East. The only place where people of all faiths are free to practice their religion without condemnation or harassment. Muslim, Christian, Jewish, Buddhist – all are welcome and receive equal rights that are protected.

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Common Sight. Muslims praying in street in the Old City, Jerusalem.

These are rights that are enshrined in Israel’s Declaration of Independence and the country features high on the Freedom House index on democratic values and freedoms.

Apartheid was a system of laws of racial discrimination that governed every aspect of a person’s life and was unique to South Africa.

What is “Apartheid” about a country where you are not only free to practice your own religion; but you also have equal opportunity for citizenship, employment, schooling, voting rights, representation in government and serve in the army ?

And if you’re still not convinced, why not pop on over to the Old City of Jerusalem, see the Jews praying at the Kotel (Wailing Wall) , watch the Muslims retire for prayer five times a day as they are summoned by the muezzin and listen to the church bells ring out across the hills and valleys. This is something that is so unique to Jerusalem – and Israel.

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Muslims pray at the Al-Aqsa Mosque or what Jews refer to as the Temple Mount in Jerusalem.

Catch a train and see a microcosm of Israel’s citizens or visit any university campus. You get the picture…

The accusation from Israel’s detractors that the Jewish State is an Apartheid practitioner is nothing but a cheap ploy to try and get the global community to isolate her.

I have one thing to say to Israel’s detractors who are accusing the Jewish state of having Apartheid policies. Once you have done all of this and seen for yourself, the reality on the ground, then you can confidently tell me this is an “Apartheid” state. I’ll wait….

 

 

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Gina Jacobson is a mom, a wife, a dreamer. She loves coffee and when she’s not reading, she’s writing.

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.”