The Arab World Fighting Antisemitism

How Arab countries have become the new leaders in the fight against growing antisemitism.

By Rolene Marks

There is a pervasive sense of optimism winding its way through the Middle East since the signing of the Abraham Accords. Hardly a day goes by without a major announcement of new Memorandums of Understanding signaling co-operation in some or other field; friendships between Bahrainis, Moroccans, Emiratis and Israelis are blossoming on social media and Israel even managed to pull off a sporting miracle – beating the Emirati team 33-0 in a friendly rugby match.

It is proof of what happens when peace takes flight!

Israel’s first Prime Minister, David Ben Gurion once said that in order to live in Israel, one had to be a realist and believe in miracles. And where better than in a land where decades of strife and disorder and now being turned into normalization, recognition and mutual co-operation?

Perhaps the greatest miracle of all is the one that is poised to undo generations of suspicion, incitement and even hatred. The Arab world is fast becoming a great example of how to lead in the fights against antisemitism.

For decades and at least since the beginning of the 20th century, antisemitism has spread throughout the Arab world as a result of a number of reasons. The fall of the Ottoman Empire, the spread of Western Imperialism, the relations between Nazi leaders and the Arab world are some reasons why anti-Jewish propaganda found eager recipients in many parts and bred resentment against Jews and Zionism, the national liberation movement of the Jewish people.

Jews had experienced a relatively protected existence against persecution in Arab countries. Long seen as “People of the Book”, Jews were granted dhimmi status. This meant that they were not treated equally and were subject to specific laws, restrictions and taxes (called jizya) but protected against being killed. We could scoff indignantly (and should!) at this but in other countries where Jews were a minority, they endured far worse.

From Khartoum With Hate. A summit of the heads of Arab League countries, held in Khartoum, Sudan following the Arab defeat in the Six Day War in June 1967, the leaders in a press release expressed: “no peace with Israel, no negotiations with Israel, no recognition of Israel.”

In the 20th century as Pan-Arabism and Islamism spread, an estimated 850 000 Jews were expelled from Arab lands following the establishment of the modern State of Israel.  The communities that thrived in Libya and Iraq, Yemen, Syria, Morocco and so many others, dwindled down to few or ceased to exist.

Decades later, anti-Jewish sentiment would spread through these countries and also manifest itself as hatred against Israel, the Jewish state. Who can forget the infamous 3 No’s of Khartoum? No recognition, no negotiation, no peace.

But something remarkable has happened with the signing of the Abraham Accords between Israel, the USA, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates as well as Morocco and the Sudan.

The signing of these Accords is more than just recognition or normalization. While hardly a day goes by without news of yet another investment or area of cooperation, perhaps one of the most important clauses is tolerance and promotion of education against antisemitism. Tolerance education has been policy in Bahrain and the UAE since before the Accords were officially signed and it is so evident in the exchanges between Emiratis, Bahrainis and Israelis online. But this connection is deeper than 120 characters on Twitter. It is also evident in the interfaith events that have almost become the order of the day. A sukkah (temporary decorative shelter) nonchalantly perched outside the Burj Khalifa in Dubai during the Jewish festival of Sukkot spoke volumes, just as the minyan (quorum of 10 men required for prayers) at the synagogue in Manama, Bahrain. These are just glimpses into the relationships that are being built on a daily basis.

Constructive Engagement. Amongst Dubai’s towering skyscrapers, a tine structure surprisingly rose in  October 2020 – a Sukkah at the base of the world’s tallest tower, the Burj Khalifa. The sukkah – a temporary shelter where Jews gather to celebrate the weeklong harvest festival of Sukkot  – was set up following the US-brokered deal to normalize relations between the UAE and Israel.(AP)
 

But there is something more “tachlis” that is happening on the ground. Arab countries that have normalized ties with Israel are starting to institute policies that take major steps that help fix decades of mistrust, incitement and hatred.

The signing of the Abraham Accords itself stands as historical. The recognition of Israel in the Arab world says this Jewish state exists, it is a part of our region, we will no longer ignore or deny its sovereignty and we will build strong and lasting ties. This is profoundly significant at a time when daily attacks on Israeli sovereignty come from quarters in the far right and far left and when peace in the Middle East was thought to be contingent on an agreement between Israel and her Palestinian neighbours. Former US Secretary of State, John Kerry must feel a fool because this was a theory he espoused many times. The three No’s have become the three yesses. Yes to recognition, yes to negotiation and yes to peace.

Bahrain Bounces Back . At the end of a synagogue service occurring on the sidelines of the US administration’s economic peace workshop held in Bahraini capital Manama in 2019 the men, clad in prayer shawls, broke out in song, walking around the bimah and singing “Am Yisrael Chai” – the people of Israel live.

Bahrain signed another important agreement. The Gulf state signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the US department of State where they adopted the IHRA (International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance) definition of antisemitism, becoming the first Arab country to do so. Under the agreement, both sides vowed to promote and share the best procedures for tackling antisemitism and anti-Zionism, including efforts to delegitimize Israel. This is a far cry from many countries around the world, including in Europe where antisemitism is rising to astronomical levels.

Another Arab world first is the decision by Morocco to include Jewish history and culture as part of the school curriculum. Islam is the official state religion and according to Education Minister Said Amzazi and the heads of two Moroccan associations who signed a partnership agreement this will pave the way “for the promotion of values of tolerance, diversity and coexistence in schools and universities.”

Morocco’s King Mohammed V1, is also “Commander of the Faithful,” has pushed for a tolerant Islam that ensures freedom of worship for Jews and foreign Christians.

These Arab countries are paving the way through practical, important and sincere examples of how to lead in the fight against antisemitism.  They are not relying on platitudes but are putting words into actions, something that many other countries should be cognizant of.

Winds of Change. With Morocco to become first Arab nation to teach Jewish history, culture in schools, Morocco’s King Mohammed VI visits the Bayt Dakira Museum in Essaouira.  King Mohammed VI’s declaration that he will normalize ties with Israel has had “the impact of a tsunami,” says head of the Council of Jewish Communities of Morocco. (Photo: AFP via the Moroccan Royal Palace)

It is hoped that more Arab countries will join the ever growing circle of peace. This will go a long way to winning increasing battles in the fight against antisemitism, however it may manifest itself. The proof is in the interaction that is growing not just between governments but ordinary citizens who value tolerance and co-existence.  This is an example that the rest of the world could and should be following.

This celebrates three new yeses. Yes to tolerance. Yes to education. Yes to peaceful co-existence.

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

Israel Sends Vaccines to Palestinians

By Rolene Marks

Israel is currently the world leader in rolling out the vaccine and it is predicted that nearly all adults will be vaccinated by next month. Along with this great achievement, has come a certain level of criticism focusing on whether or not Israel is responsible for vaccinating the neighbouring Palestinian populations in Gaza and the West Bank. It is extremely important to understand what the situation on the ground is before making accusations like the one in the article “Israel violates international law by blocking vaccines to Gaza”.

Since the start of the global pandemic, Israel has been cooperating with  our Palestinians neighbours, ensuring that they receive much needed testing kits, PPE, training and other medical necessities through the relevant authorities, NGO’s and COGAT, the IDF unit responsible. This effort was lauded by UN Special Envoy to the region, Nikolay Mladenov.

People waiting in line to get vaccinated against the coronavirus in Jerusalem. (Ammar Awad/Reuters)

In an official statement dated November 26, 2020, issued to the residents of the Gaza Strip by Israel’s Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories, IDF Maj. Gen. Abu Rukun stated:

   “We find it important to emphasize clearly that neither I, nor the organization that I head, nor any other representative of Israel, has obstructed any request or requirement for the entry of medical aid of any kind. We welcome all assistance from all the various sources. In light of the situation, COGAT is allowing assistance from the international community to the health system of the Gaza Strip.

IDF Maj. Gen. Kamil Abu Rukun chief Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT)

So far, many dozens of ventilator machines have arrived, as well as many PCR machines, which have increased the pace of testing from 200 to 2,500 tests a day.    Dozens of oxygen generators have arrived, and hundreds of inhalers for hospital use and home use. Hundreds of hospital beds have been added, and with our coordination, approximately 600 tons of essential medications and medical equipment have been allowed entry, including tens of thousands of coronavirus testing kits.

    All that assistance can help the health system to provide care and save lives. COVID-19 pandemic is a global challenge, and it behooves all parties to strive for a solution to that challenge.”

The Gaza Strip is governed by Hamas who is recognized internationally as a terrorist organization.

Distributing Covid aid and vaccines has not been without its challenges. Two plane loads of Covid aid from the United Arab Emirates was summarily rejected by the Palestinian Authority “because it was coordinated with Israel and landed at Ben Gurion airport”. This aid was subsequently distributed with the help of the World Health Organisation and UN. The rationale for refusal according to a Palestinian government source was that “Palestinians refuse to be a bridge [for Arab countries] seeking to have normalised ties with Israel.”

In May 2020, Palestinian Authority rejected UAE aid sent via Israeli airport giving its reason  that it would be seen as a ‘cover for normalisation’ of ties with Israel”.
 

The Israeli government moved decisively and quickly to procure vaccinations as soon as they were able, in order to inoculate our citizens. The roll out has been an exceptional achievement, applauded by many around the world. At the end of December 2020, a Palestinian Health Ministry official stated “we do not need or require help from Israel to procure vaccines. We have our own health ministry and are not an extension of the defense ministry (of Israel).” Israel is on record as stating that while vaccinating our citizens remains the priority, we will help the Palestinians as needed.

Is Israel legally responsible for vaccinating Palestinians?

Israelis and the Palestinian Authority are both signatories to the 1995 Oslo Peace Accords, which awards Palestinians autonomy with their healthcare, including responsibility for vaccines. For Israel to take responsibility for vaccinating the Palestinian population, it would be a violation of this autonomy.

In article 17 of the Third (Civilian) annex to the Oslo 2 accord, the Palestinian side assumed full powers and responsibilities in the field of health care. They undertook in paragraph 2 of article 17:

 “…to continue to apply the present standards of vaccination of Palestinians and shall improve them according to internationally accepted standards in the field, taking into account WHO recommendations.”

In paragraphs 6 and 7, they agreed that:

   “Israel and the Palestinian side shall exchange information regarding epidemics and contagious diseases, shall cooperate in combating them and shall develop methods for exchange of medical files and documents.”

Similarly:

    “The health systems of Israel and of the Palestinian side will maintain good working relations in all matters, including mutual assistance in providing first aid in cases of emergency, medical instruction, professional training and exchange of information.”

This is a clear case of Israel is damned if it does – and damned if it doesn’t. The Palestinian Authority  have received Russian Sputnik vaccines as part of the international  Covax scheme. Israel began vaccinating over 120,000 Palestinian workers who enter the country daily with legal permits as well as sent vaccines to the Palestinian Authority to vaccinate healthcare workers. By admission from PA officials, some of these vaccines did not go to healthcare workers as intended but rather to the Palestinian soccer team and government officials. Perhaps corruption and cronyism is more to blame than the convenient finger pointing at Israel.

A Palestinian health worker is vaccinated against COVID-19 after the delivery of doses from Israel in West Bank city of Bethlehem. (REUTERS – MUSSA ISSA QAWASMA)

Israel has sent vaccines into the Gaza strip and while there is a  legal maritime blockade in place that is recognized by the United Nations, it has not prohibited Israel in ensuring aid and vaccines continues to enter the strip. Israel, the West bank and the Gaza strip share the same epidemiological footprint and so Israel has ensured that vaccines continue to be distributed to our neighbours. Epidemiological and moral responsibility require both Israel and the Palestinians to act responsibly and to cooperate with a view to reducing the risk of COVID-19 spreading between their respective territories and as such regardless of not being legally bound, Israel continues to send vaccines. Accusations of such as the one made in the above mentioned article are extremely unproductive, unhelpful and devoid of fact. In the interest of a global triumph over a pandemic that has already destroyed so much, please do not let it further erode the integrity of responsible reporting.

A health worker prepares to vaccinate former Palestinian health minister Jawad Tibi against the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) vaccine in Gaza City February 22, 2021. REUTERS/Mohammed Salem





While the mission of Lay of the Land (LotL) is to provide a wide and diverse perspective of affairs in Israel, the Middle East and the Jewish world, the opinions, beliefs and viewpoints expressed by its various writers are not necessarily ones of the owners and management of LOTL but of the writers themselves.  LotL endeavours to the best of its ability to credit the use of all known photographs to the photographer and/or owner of such photographs (0&EO)

A Tale of Two Judokas – the Israeli and the Iranian

It took bravery, grit and defiance – not against a single competitor but an entire autocratic regime!

By David E. Kaplan

He may have won Silver this February on the mat in Tel Aviv but for Iranian judoka, Saeid Mollaei, he had already – off the mat – won Gold for sportsmanship and integrity. It was in defiance of submission to State muscle and all because of one Israeli – Sagi Muki from Netanya! Mollaei, who now represents Mongolia, competed in Israel this February 2021, winning a silver medal in Tel Aviv. He took second place in the under-81kg category after losing to Uzbekistan’s Sahrofiddin Boltaboev. It was more than simply historic – it was inspirational for this Iranian to be competing in Israel.

Silver in Tel Aviv. Iranian-born Mongolian judoka Saeid Mollaei (left), wearing the silver medal, greets Uzbekistan’s gold medal winner Sharofiddin Boltaboev after the finals of the men’s under 81kg category of Tel Aviv Grand Slam 2021 in Tel Aviv, on February 19, 2021. (JACK GUEZ / AFP)

When Mollaei fled his home country of Iran back in 2019, it could not have been an easy decision to make. He was well aware of the sacrifices he was making – both professional and personal; but his conscience would not allow him do otherwise!

Defying orders, he would not withdraw from an international competition just because he may end up facing in the final an Israeli – Sagi Muki.

Man on a Mission. A motivational speaker, Israeli judoka Sagi Muki is proud to speak on issues from judo to values.

That ‘battleground’ – on and off the mat –  was the Tokyo 2019 World Championships that Israeli Sagi Muki went on to win the title in his weight category. The then reigning world champion, Saeid Mollaei, was ordered by the Iranian Deputy Sports Minister, Davar Zani, to withdraw from a preliminary bout in order to avoid meeting the Israeli in the final. He defiantly defied the order and went on to compete although he eventually lost in the semifinals so did not have to face Muki who won the gold.

Message from the Mat. Israeli Sagi Muki (left) and Iranian Saeid Mollaei (right)  make the case for friendship.

Muki praised Mollaei for his bravery and referred to him as  “an inspiration”.

Afraid to return to Iran, Mollaei went into exile in Germany but was then subsequently granted citizenship of Mongolia and was hoping to compete for his adopted country in the 2020 Olympic Games.

So was Muki for Israel, with whom the writer met in Tel Aviv in 2019 to interview, while preparing for the Olympics. The coronavirus pandemic had other ideas!

Sagi Muki (right) and the writer, David Kaplan during the interview in 2019 in Tel Aviv.
 

Asking Muki what impact the experience had on him , he replied:

I know what it takes to get to the top and for Saeid  to be prepared to sacrifice it all on a matter of principle was humbling and truly inspirational – a true judoka champion on and off the mat. Today, we are friends for life. We met at the Paris Grand Slam, February 10, 2020 and I posted on Instagram a photo of us embracing. He was World Champion in 2018 the year before I became champion and so with the photo, I added the caption:

2 World Champions; but before that 2 good friends

Brothers in Arms. Meeting in Paris, Sagi Muki (right) announces to the world on social media his friendship ‘for life” with Iranian  Saeid Mollaei (left).

This is the message I want to convey to the world. That first of all, we are all human beings; that it does not matter where we are from, we can still be friends.”

And as to the question what was the response in going public with  your friendship, Muki answered:

Overwhelming encouragement from all over the world and particularly from Iranians, who like Saeid are unafraid to upload messages of support on social media.”

Opening his Facebook page on his cellphone, Muki reads a few of the messages from Iran.

““Hi Sagi Muki; The Iranian people love  your people and your country.  We want peace and friendly relationship with yours.”

Muki reads his reply:

Me and all Israeli people love you back.”

And then a flurry of comments from around the world, some in Arabic.

He then read another two:

  • I am from Iran. You are like my brother” and
  • Iranians refuse to be enemies with Israel.” 

This was a far cry from what happened earlier in 2019 in Tokyo when Muki faced off an Egyptian in a semi-final bout on the way to winning the World Championships. That one fight made more international news than was warranted when one bodily movement was less about judo and more about politics!

In his toughly contested semi-finals on his way to becoming judo world champion, Muki encountered Egyptian judoka Mohamed Abdelaal, who refused to shake his hand at the end of the match. Television viewers around the world stared in disbelief  at the Israeli offering to shake Abdelaal’s hand and Abdelaal turning his back and walking away. It was an embarrassing moment for Egyptian sport that led to its sporting body having to apologize.

Unshakable Hate. Israeli Judoka Sagi Muki (left) won against Egyptian fighter Mohamed Abdelaal (right) at the 2019 World Judo Championships who walks off refusing to shake hands with him.

Muki, who received the gold medal after defeating Belgian judoka Matthias Casse in the championship round later in the day, said afterward that he was “sorry” that Abdelaal didn’t shake his hand but that he was nevertheless pleased “that I was able to show the beautiful face of Israel.”

Asking him how did he feel by the Egyptian’s unsportsmanlike behaviour, Muki replied:

I felt so disappointed because I wanted to show the world that through judo – larger things can happen beyond our sport.  I grew up in a home to respect people – this is so important to me – it’s in my upbringing but it’s also integral in judo philosophy. He not only disrespected me but far worse, he disrespected the sport and his country. I wanted to show that Israel extends its hand in peace; that it does not matter who you are, your race, religion or country; we must respect everyone.”

An ambassador for Israel and the sport of judo, Muki – before the Covid-19 pandemic, gave motivational addresses in Israel and abroad. He talked about his recovery from serious injury, which could so easily have prevented his return to the sport.  He speaks of “Positive Transformation” stressing  that “where there is the will, there is a way” and that “Everyone has challenges in life, it is how you tackle them. This is important for young Israeli schoolkids to hear.” But he also talks about positive transformation  in attitudes  “that while the Egyptian refused to shake my hand, other Arab countries – like Abu Dhabi  – are now welcoming Israeli teams and how an Iranian is now my friend for life. These are important messages, particularly when I address university students in the USA. I do not want to be seen as a guy who competes only for medals. I recognise the power of judo; its outreach potential and that it can impact and influence millions all over the world. Therefore I want to use this platform as a bridge between people.”

Meanwhile back in Tel Aviv after the February 2021 competition, CNN reported Mollaei saying Israel had been “very good to me since I arrived,” and that the Israeli judo team “have been very kind. That is something I will never forget.”  Amplifying  his feelings, the Iranian ended off with “TODAH” – “thank you” in Hebrew..

Israel’s Channel 12 touchingly reported that Mollaei said to his friend and competitor Muki:

 “Maybe we’ll meet in the finals of the Olympics” referencing the XXXII Olympiad still known as Tokyo 2020.

Time and the pandemic will tell.

The message of these two friends and sportsmen is exquisitely expressed in the words the Iranian:

I am friends with Sagi Muki. He supports me and I thank him for this. It doesn’t matter who wins, what matters is friendship.”





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

The Story Seldom Told

By  Rolene Marks

This week, two momentous dates in history were remembered. Not with much fanfare but with the odd tweet or posting on social media platforms; but these were dates and events that altered the course of history and the profound effects are felt to this day. The first was the partition vote at the United Nations in 1947 that would pave the way for the creation of the Jewish State, the other was the commemoration of the expulsion of Jews from Middle Eastern and North African countries.

On the 29th of November 1947, the United Nations voted to divide what was then British Mandate Palestine into two – land for the Jews and for the Arabs. The Jews accepted, and the modern state of Israel was on its way to being born. The Arabs refused and would soon declare war on the fledgling Jewish State. The State of Israel would be formally declared by David Ben Gurion, the first Prime Minister, on the 14th of May 1948. The Arab response would take place on the night of 14-15 May, when the forces of Jordan, Egypt, Syria and Lebanon invaded. The Egyptian Foreign Minister informed the United Nations Security Council that “Egyptian armed forces have started to enter Palestine to establish law and order” (his cable to the Security Council, S/743, 15 May 1948). Arab leaders at the time encouraged their citizens to leave until they had “driven the Jews into the sea”.  Israel would mobilise as many of its able citizens as possible and the Haganah and Palmach (part of Haganah) forces would combine to form the Israel Defense Forces. By the end of the war, Israel was victorious and had made significant territorial gains. Many of the Arab citizens declined to return, despite the invitation by Ben Gurion in the Declaration of Independence to be equal citizens and help build the new state.

2014

What is a seldom discussed story (at least until recent years) has been the experience of Jews living in MENA (Middle Eastern and North African) countries during this time. For centuries and even millennia in some, Jews thrived in these countries. At the time of the Muslim conquests of the 7th century, ancient Jewish communities had existed in many parts of the Middle East and North Africa. Jews under Islamic rule were given the status of dhimmi (second-class citizenship), often subjected to a special dhimmi tax, along with certain other pre-Islamic religious groups. These groups were accorded certain rights as “People of the Book”. In medieval times, many Jews found refuge in Muslim lands; but there were other times when Jews fled persecution in Muslim lands and found refuge in Christian lands. Jews expelled from the Iberian Peninsula were invited to settle in various parts of the Ottoman Empire, where they would often form a prosperous model minority of merchants acting as intermediaries for their Muslim rulers.

Jews would live there for centuries, speaking the same language and observing many of the same customs and integrating well with their fellow citizens. This would change dramatically in 1948.

By 1948 Jewish communities in MENA countries, were flourishing in their numbers. In Morocco the community numbered 265 000, Iran 100 000, Algeria 140 000, Egypt 75 000 and in substantial numbers in other countries.

With the birth of the State of Israel, the reaction from the Arab world was hostile. Some Jews started to leave these countries but were forced to leave their belongings behind; for the majority, their fate was more terrifying.  Here are some accounts of what happened to these communities:

Iraq:

In Iraq, where a large community of Jews lived for 2,600 years, violent riots known as the Farhud erupted in June 1941. These riots targeted the Jewish population, mainly in Baghdad.  Soldiers who attempted a failed coup took advantage of the power vacuum left by a lack of leadership; and swarmed into Jewish communities together with a bloodthirsty mob, killing 179 innocent people, injuring more than 2,100, and leaving 242 children orphans. This act of violence was celebrated across the Arab world and in Nazi Germany.

Death to Jews. On 1 June 1941, a Nazi-inspired pogrom erupted in Baghdad, bringing to an end more than two millennia of peaceful existence for the city’s Jewish minority.

In 1948, as a response to UNGA Resolution 181 (“the Partition Plan”) and Israel’s independence, laws were passed making Zionism a criminal and even a capital offense, allowing the police to raid and search thousands of Jewish homes for any evidence of Zionism. Between May 1950 and August 1951, the Jewish Agency and the Israeli government succeeded in airlifting approximately 110,000 Jews to Israel in Operations Ezra and Nehemiah. At the same time, 20,000 Jews were smuggled out of Iraq through Iran. A year later, the property of Jews who emigrated from Iraq was frozen, and economic restrictions were placed on Jews who remained in the country.

Morocco

Prior to World War II, the Jewish population of Morocco was approximately 265,000, and though they were not deported by the Nazis, they still suffered great humiliation under the Vichy French government. Following the war, the situation deteriorated.

In June 1948, bloody riots in Oujda and Djerada killed 44 Jews and wounded many more. That same year, an unofficial economic boycott was instigated and by 1959, Zionist activities were declared illegal. In 1963, at least 100,000 Moroccan Jews were forced out from their homes and approximately  150,000 Jews sought refuge in Israel, France and the Americas.

Last Man Standing. Most the Jews in Morocco today are dead and buried. In this 2018 photograph, Joseph Sebag is the last Jewish man in the seaside Moroccan town of Essaouira.

In 1965, Moroccan writer Said Ghallab described the attitude of Moroccan Muslims toward their Jewish neighbours:

The worst insult that a Moroccan could possibly offer was to treat someone as a Jew. The massacres of the Jews by Hitler are exalted ecstatically. It is even credited that Hitler is not dead, but alive and well, and his arrival is awaited to deliver the Arabs from Israel.”

Egypt

In the 1940s, hostility against the Egyptian Jewish community, which numbered around 80,000, increased. Laws were passed limiting the employment of Egyptians of Jewish descent, as well as requiring majority shareholders of companies to be Egyptian nationals. Since Jews were denied citizenship as a rule, many Jews lost their jobs and businesses.

During the 1948 War of Independence, thousands of Egyptian Jews were put into internment camps, forced out of their jobs, and arrested for supposed collaboration with an enemy state. Synagogues, homes, and businesses were bombed, and many Jews were killed and wounded. More than 14,000 Jews immigrated to Israel during this time seeking safety. Between 1948 and 1958, more than 35,000 Jews fled Egypt. 

End of an Era. Jews forced to leave, a former Jewish school, Abbasyia, Cairo.

Between 1956 and 1968 another 38,000 Jews fled Egypt, many to Israel, to escape systematic persecution such as government expropriation of their homes and businesses and arbitrary arrests.

Yemen

The Yemeni Jews endured some of the worst persecution. At the end of November 1947, the Arab population of Aden held a 3-day strike in protest against UNGA Resolution 181 (the Partition Plan). The protest quickly turned violent. Over 80 Yemeni Jews were slaughtered, more than 100 Jewish-owned businesses were looted, and homes, schools, and synagogues were burnt to the ground. This was one of the most violent attacks on any Jewish population in the Arab world.

Fleeing for their Lives. A Yemenite family walking through the desert to a reception rescue camp near Aden.

The Israeli government embarked on a unique plan to save the persecuted Yemeni Jews. From 1949 to 1950, “Operation Magic Carpet” (known in Hebrew as “On the Wings of Eagles”) went into effect. US and British aircraft were used, flying o Aden and airlifting the Jews from Yemen and bringing them to Israel. By the end of the operation, over 47,000 Yemeni Jews were rescued.

 Libya

 Jews lived and thrived in Libya for more than 2,300 years, with a population of over 37,000. During World War II, the Libyan government implemented their own Nazi-inspired policies; and more than  2,000 Jews were transported to desert concentration camps where hundreds died. In post-war Libya, Arab nationalism grew in popularity, resulting in violent attacks against the Jewish community.

Thriving Jewish Life. City Jews of Tripoli, Libya, 1925. (Photo by G. Casserly/Royal Geographical Society via Getty Images)

In 1945, in the city of Tripoli, more than 140 Jews were killed in a violent antisemitic riot, and a few years later in 1948, violent attacks resulted in 12 dead and the destruction of over 280 Jewish homes. In the three years between 1948 and 1951, 30,972 Jews fled to Israel due to hostile government policies.

Inside Story. Interior of a former Jewish Home in Libya. Jews had lived in Libya for over two millennia.

Syria

By 1943, the Jewish community of Syria numbered approximately 30,000.  After Syrian independence from France, the new Arab government prohibited Jewish immigration to Palestine, severely restricted the teaching of Hebrew in Jewish schools and called for boycotts against Jewish businesses. Attacks against Jews escalated with no intervention. In 1945, in an attempt to thwart international efforts to establish a Jewish homeland in Palestine, the Syrian government fully restricted Jewish emigration, burned, looted and confiscated Jewish property, and froze Jewish bank accounts.

When the UN partition was declared in 1947, Arab mobs in Aleppo devastated the 2,500-year-old Jewish community and left it in ruins. Many Jews were killed, and more than 200 homes, shops and synagogues were destroyed. Thousands of Jews illegally fled as refugees, 10,000 going to the United States and 5,000 to Israel. Their remaining property was taken by the local Muslims.

Road from Damascus. A Jewish family in Aleppo, Syria, circa 1910.(Library of Congress)

Syrian Jews that remained were in effect hostages of a hostile regime as the government intensified its persecution. Jews were stripped of their citizenship and experienced employment discrimination. Assets were frozen and property confiscated. The community lived under constant surveillance by the secret police and the freedom of movement was also severely restricted. Any Jew who attempted to flee faced either the death penalty or imprisonment at hard labour camps. Jews could not acquire telephones or driver’s licenses and were barred from buying property.  The road to the airport was constructed over the Jewish cemetery in Damascus and schools were closed and handed over to Muslims.

The story of the Jews from MENA countries is a very important part of modern history that has gained traction in recent years. Concerted efforts have been made by the government to remember and commemorate this and the 30th of November has been declared an official day of commemoration of Jewish Refugees.

Today, the majority of Israelis are descendants from those who had to flee MENA countries with an estimated 1 million who can trace their roots back to Morocco.  It is incumbent on us to bear witness and tell their stories.

Theirs cannot be the story seldom told.




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

From 3 No’s to 3 Yeses

A dramatic turn-around towards peace

By David E. Kaplan

Ask an Englishman what most resonates about Khartoum, and the reply may well be “Gordon of Khartoum”  who became a national hero for his exploits in China  followed by his ill-fated defense of Khartoum against  the Mahdists in 1885.

Major-General Charles George Gordon (1833-1885) also known as Gordon Pasha and Gordon of Khartoum.
 

Ask an Israeli, and Khartoum is best  – or worst  – associated with the “Three No’s”  – “NO peace with Israel, NO recognition of Israel, NO negotiations with Israel” formulated by an Arab League summit held in the Sudanese capital shortly after the end of the Six-Day War.

Fifty-three years after the emphatic “Three No’s” Khartoum Declaration of 1967, the Israeli perception of Khartoum may now be due for a  positive reset.

The 3 No’s Conference. Sudanese President Ismail al-Azhari addressing the assembled Arab chiefs of the closing session of the Khartoum Summit Conference of Arab Heads of State in the Sudanese Parliament House on, Sept. 1, 1967. (AP Photo/Claus Hampel)

The deal brokered – if not quite yet “full diplomatic relations”  – is sounding increasingly like  “three yeses”:

YES to peace with Israel, YES to recognition of Israel, and YES to negotiations with it.”

This is good news for the Sudan, Israel and Africa. The continent can only benefit from closer ties with the Jewish state notably in areas of agriculture, hydrology, energy, hi-tech, health and security. Both Israelis and the peoples of Africa share not only similar visions for a peaceful and prosperous future but also share similarities in their dark pasts. Both have had to shake off the yoke of colonialism and persecution.  There are shared experiences to be learned, to help navigate our journeys into the future.

Face to Face. The ‘new normal’ as Sudanese military ruler General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan (right)) and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (left)  normalize relations between their countries.[Photo designed by Sudans Post]

How the atmospherics has changed since 1967.

Following the Six Day War, an upbeat Defense Minister Moshe Dayan anticipating an overture towards peace made his famous comment “waiting for a telephone call” from Arab leaders. Israelis hoped to hear – with good reason – that their neighbours were ready to talk peace. No less excited was Maj. Gen. Chaim Herzog – later Israel’s sixth State President who noted optimistically that “war had come to an end and peace would prevail along the borders.”

Bar returning to the vulnerable armistice lines of 1948 and 1949 or to a divided Jerusalem, Foreign Minister Abba Eban said that regarding peace negotiations, Israel is prepared to be “unbelievably generous in working out peace terms.” Even Israel’s tough-talking first Prime Minister, David Ben Gurion said:

 “If I could choose between peace and all the territories which we conquered last year, I would prefer peace.”

The expectation of an imminent “phone call’ from the Arab world proved a pipe dream – until October 2020!

Message Misread

What will prove good for Israel, the UAE, Bahrain and now the Sudan should also be good  – down the line – for the Palestinians.

However, rather than a ‘pat on the back’, the Palestinian leadership see the rapprochement towards Israel as a “stab in the back”.

This is a pity.

No Change. While much of the Arab world lauds the Sudan deal, Palestinians lament.

Imprisoned to the past by an aging leadership, Israel’s increasing acceptance by the Muslim world may provide the catalyst to younger generations of Palestinians to break-out from ideological incarceration. Remaining hostile today over yesterday’s issues and sentiments is a blueprint for stagnation.

Away from the senior Palestinian leadership, the once hostile neighbourhood has come to recognise the futility of persisting to view the Jewish state as  a temporary aberration. Gone is the hope that Israel will “God willing” one day disappear or buckle under the pressure of sell-by-date movements like BDS, fast-fading fatuous musicians like Roger Waters and retread terrorists like hijacker Leila Khaled. The numerous acronyms for Palestinian terror organisations established in the sixties and seventies are mostly now forgotten or a distant memory of irrelevance.

The year 2020 heralds a new dawn.

Never mind the Israeli media, most illuminating is what Arab journalists are  writing about these developments such as Linda Mnouheen Abdulaziz in Al-Arab, the influential pan-Arab newspaper published from London.

Appearing on October 16, Abdulaziz writes:

A recent opinion poll commissioned by the Arab American Institute and conducted by pollster John Zogby tested the Arab street’s reaction to the recent UAE-Israel peace deal. The poll revealed massive, unprecedented support. For example, in Saudi Arabia and Egypt, support stood at 59%, while in the UAE it stood at 58%. This data is congruent with what we’re witnessing on social media platforms, where Arabs are posting and sharing content that is welcoming of the peace treaty.”

An Iraq Surprise

Quite remarkably, Abdulaziz notes that even in Iraq, “people are commenting about the deal and expressing their desire to see a similar agreement between their own government and that of Israel. Some have gone as far as posting messages of praise and longing for Iraq’s long-gone Jewish community.”

“What is the source of this fundamental change, especially among Iraqis?” asks Abdulaziz. From an Iraqi perspective, he answers, that with no border or territorial dispute with Israel, the historical animosity, “stems from support for the Palestinian cause. But years of Palestinian political stagnation are taking their toll on public opinion. Iraqis also remember their common history with the country’s Jews – a shared language, culture and traditions. More importantly, the fingerprints of Iraq’s Jewish community are still very much felt, and certainly remembered, in Iraq. Iraqis reminisce over their Jewish compatriots as ones who were loyal to the Iraqi homeland. The name Sassoon Eskell, regarded as the “Father of Parliament” during his tenure as Minister of Finance, often comes up in these discussions. How grateful Iraqis would be to have another Eskell today, a time when their country is being robbed and depleted of its resources by internal and external thieves.”

Founding Father. Regarded as Iraq’s “Father of Parliament” Sir Sasson Eskell who once had intentions of becoming a rabbi.

For those less informed on Iraqi history, Sir Sason Eskell was the first Minister of Finance in the Kingdom and a permanent Member of the Parliament he is revered as its “Founder”. Along with Gertrude Bell and T.E. Lawrence, it was this Jew, Sason Eskell  –  knighted by King George V and conferred with the Civil Rafidain Medal by King Faisal I – who was so instrumental in the creation of the Kingdom of Iraq.

The enriching contribution of Jews in the past is now being viewed as again something that could be renewed in the future.

The King and his Jewish Finance Minister. Sir Sassoon Eskell (center, in Fez) sits directly on the left of King Faisal I of Iraq (with dark beard) in Baghdad in a photo from the 1920s. (Wikimedia Commons)

As Abdulaziz concludes in Al-Arab:

“The educated Iraqi sees peace with Israel as an opportunity for cooperation with a country that has become a pioneer in technology, science, medicine, agriculture and water conservation. These Israeli innovations could help improve living conditions in Iraq, just like they did in so many other places in the world.”

These are welcome words from the Arab world media.

Fifty-three years after the “Three No’s” from Khartoum in 1967, the resounding message today from Khartoum is – Yes, Yes, Yes!

Farewell to Fighting. Shifting sands in the Middle East as UAE delegates wave to the departing El Al plane at the end of the Israel-UAE normalization talks in Abu Dhabi, September 1, 2020. (El Al spokesperson’s office)






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

Building the Foundations of Peace

By Rolene Marks

It is often said that the foundations of peace will be built by people from the countries where there is conflict who courageously defy divisions and interact and cooperate with each other. While government officials and representatives discuss, argue and negotiate, it is groups of people from both sides of the divide who will build the foundations of peace.

This is hardly a scenario that is anticipated when we speak about the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians. The media (and other interest groups) would rather have you believe that we are two peoples perpetually at each other’s throats and while there definitely is conflict, there are also a myriad of incredible projects that are being done at  grassroots levels to encourage dialogue and cooperation.

Fall from Window Turns Tragedy into Coexistence Triumph. Little girl’s recovery at a Jerusalem hospital inspires a project for sharing medical expertise between Israeli and Arab healthcare practitioners.

In these uncertain times, when health and wellbeing is our collective focus, it is extremely critical that those who are particularly vulnerable receive the care that they need. Project Rozana is one such extraordinary organization, fulfilling those needs. Named in honour of a very special little Palestinian girl called Rozana Salawhi, who needed critical medical care, and whose mother sought to find it regardless of race, religion or political divides, Project Rozana endeavours to build bridges of cooperation between Israelis and Palestinians by using Israeli excellence and ingenuity in healthcare to treat Palestinians. It is an area of civil society that is proving that Palestinians and Israelis can cooperate on a major scale and interact on a daily basis. This is a relationship that is being built on the basis of equality and mutual respect. The intention of Project Rozana is to help Palestinian medical professionals skill up so that they can build a strong medical infrastructure and provide the best possible care for their communities.

This bridge-building project has attracted the interest of the international community, led by Hadassah Australia and has been embraced by affiliates in the United States, Canada, Israel and across the Palestinian Territories.

Building Bridges. Project Rozana is committed to building bridges between Israelis and Palestinians through the field of healthcare.

Project Rozana runs a variety of programmes to ensure that the vast skill gaps are filled.  Palestinian doctors, nurses, therapist and others, receive the best training possible to meet those needs that have been identified in consultation with the Palestinian Advisory Board. The Medical Fellowship Programme funds young clinicians from Palestinian hospitals to train in Israel under highly qualified and experienced Israeli medical specialists. This provides them with the opportunity to train in a much needed sub-specialty including paediatric rehabilitation and peritoneal dialysis (very important because of rising diabetes in the territories) and bring their skills and knowledge back to hospitals in the West Bank and Gaza.

Previous fellows completed their two-year residencies in Paediatric Intensive Care at Hadassah Hospital, Jerusalem, and in Anaesthesiology at Sheba Hospital in Tel Aviv.

West Bank coordinator of transportation for Project Rozana Naeem al-Bayda (right) with a Palestinian youngster he brought to an Israeli hospital.

Project Rozana also provides funding for critically ill Palestinian children to be treated in Israeli hospitals. This is particularly important when the specific treatment needed is not available or very limited. Children who need it, have also received surgery to deal with DSD – gender dysphoria. This is one of the most medically and socially complex of genetic disorders in the Palestinian population (and Israel’s ultra-orthodox Jewish population) and presents with ambiguous genitalia.

A baby from Gaza with congenital heart disease being treated at Sheba Hospital.

Children with DSD are subject to gender dysphoria – a condition the dissatisfaction and anxiety they experience due to their body not reflecting their gender, leads to severe psychological distress, anxiety, and depression. Parents too, are subject to stress. Children with DSD receive corrective surgery, made possible by the partnership between Project Rozana and Hadassah Hospital in Jerusalem. Mobile health clinics for women are also an area of major consideration.

Critical  under Corona

The Coronavirus global pandemic has also impacted greatly on the medical situation for Palestinians. Project Rozana has been instrumental in helping to get much needed equipment and training to navigate the crisis. Through Project Rozana, Palestinian medical professionals have received essential, up-to-date training from Israeli experts. The Australian government in cooperation with Palestinian Foreign Minister, Riyad Al-Maliki and Project Rozana, facilitated the delivery of 20 ventilators to be distributed across hospitals in the territories.

Project Rozana Helps Save Palestinian Baby’s Life.  Musab Alafandi stands over his son’s crib, checking on his breathing at Hadassah’s Hospital.

At the time of writing this article, Palestinian Chief Negotiator, Saeb Erekat, who is critically ill with Covid-19, is receiving the best possible care in Hadassah Hospital in Jerusalem and is on a ventilator and ECMO machine. As complicated and difficult the situation between Israel and the Palestinians is politically, medicine forms a vital role in helping to build bridges of peace.

Stars for Salvation. Israeli stars David Broza, Achinoam Nini, Mira Awad, ‘Hamilton’ stars and other musical celebs join Jewish-Arab youth chorus promoting a healthier future.

Peace between Israelis and Palestinians might not be instantly solved through goodwill gestures like providing top level care for a dignitary like Erekat, but the bridges built by Project Rozana that facilitates and encourages daily cooperation between Israelis and Palestinians, may be the strong foundations between people that will help make it an inevitability.







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

A Lone Soldier on a Mission in Syrian Territory During the Yom Kippur War

The Yom Kippur War was characterized by ferocious firepower that cost our country 2,656 soldiers, at a time when our population was less than three million.

By Jonathan Davis

First published in The Jerusalem Post marking  the 47th anniversary of the 1973 Yom Kippur War.

This year we are observing the 47th anniversary of the 1973 Yom Kippur War. This was a war characterized by ferocious firepower that we had never witnessed before, endangering the existence of the State of Israel. Our country sacrificed 2,656 soldiers, at a time when our population was less than three million.

Two years prior to the war, after weeks of grueling tryouts, I was accepted with a small group of mainly outstanding kibbutzniks into the paratroop recon (sayeret) unit of the 35th Brigade.

Nehemia Tamari, Commander of the unit, took a personal interest in me and was amazed that a 22-year-old lone soldier who had completed his undergraduate studies at Columbia University in New York City and the Hebrew University of Jerusalem would be serving in his unit. It was a first for the sayeret. Many years later, Maj.-Gen. Tamari, then OC Central Command, would be killed in a helicopter crash. He was an officer and a gentleman, with true Zionist values which included a deep sensitivity to new immigrants such as myself.

Training Day. Jonathan Davis on maneuvers a year before the Yom Kippur War. 

On October 13, 1973, one week into the war, Israel was already suffering an immense number of casualties on all fronts, and we understood that the existence of the state was in grave danger, as we received daily information about friends being killed in action.

On that same day, 40 of us in the unit were hurriedly gathered by the commander of the sayeret, Capt. Shaul Mofaz (*1998 he became the sixteenth IDF’s Chief of Staff, serving until 2002), for 40 minutes to perform an urgent behind-the-lines operation in Syria.

The night before, October 12, the unit had performed a similar mission, Operation Kutonet (Gown). Our new mission was called Operation Davidka. We looked at the map and aerial reconnaissance photos and realized this was going to be a most daring and dangerous mission.

Our orders were to sabotage reinforcement efforts of the Iraqis, who were moving tanks, rockets and missiles on the Iraqi-Damascus highway. The enemy was moving in a westward direction, in order to join forces with the Syrians. The order was to ambush convoys by blowing up a bridge and inflict any other damage we could.

Men on a Mission.  The 2019 reunion of the soldiers and air crew of the 118 helicopter squadron who participated on the mission into Syria in 1973 with the commander, Capt. Shaul Mofaz (center in blue shirt) and the writer (right).

We would have to move in a clandestine manner by helicopter to our destination, and transport no less than 400 kg. of TNT in order to implement the order. More than the quantitative impact alone, there was also the idea that we would surprise the Syrians, deep in their territory, cause havoc and lower their morale.

Each of us had only a few hours to prepare himself individually, in order to be in top shape. My personal weapon at the time was an AK-47 Kalashnikov, weighing 4 kg., along with nine Kalashnikov magazines weighing 1 kg. each. Add to that two canteens of water, and a 20-kg. pack of TNT to be carried on the back. We were each carrying over 40 kg., which in most cases was more than half of our actual weight. That is something that stands out in my mind so many years later, but at the time we trained to do even more than this, and it did not pose a problem for us.

Escape from Syria. A map of the flight path that Davis’ helicopter took into Syria during the Yom Kippur War.

One fourth of the force was carrying heavier MAG weapons, some LAW rockets, mortars and RPGs.

I recall the operational security officer speaking to us for a few minutes during the orders, telling us that if captured, we need to “keep our mouths shut for at least six hours.”

I also recall being divided into groups of three, should we need to make a quick getaway if something goes wrong and if the chopper cannot return to pick us up. They informed us that in such a situation we should hide during the day and move quietly at night.

Of course, returning to Israel by foot, over 100 kilometers from home, seemed most unrealistic. This operation was a last-minute attempt, while the country was in danger.

We were focused on the mission and were trained for such a mission.

On the evening of October 13, we boarded a Sikorsky helicopter of the 118th Airborne Helicopter Squadron. Our home base was at Tel Nof, a major air force base near Rehovot. The pilot was the squadron commander, Yuval Efrat. The commander of the paratroop recon unit leading the mission was Mofaz, many years later to become IDF chief of staff and defense minister.

We flew north out of Tel Nof along the Mediterranean coast, adjacent to Tel Aviv, Haifa, until we were north of Beirut. I remember seeing the lights of Beirut from the helicopter. We turned eastward north of Beirut over Zahle, north of Damascus, and into the Syrian desert.

We landed at 9:30 in the evening. The helicopter, according to procedure, flew back to Tel Nof. Little did we know that the helicopter had made a navigational error due to cloud cover on an alternate route, and we had landed 8 km. from our intended destination.

After we discovered the navigational error, it was decided by GHQ that we should set out by foot toward the bridge which was the destination of our mission.

At the beginning of our journey by foot, through a valley, shots were fired at us from a house about 100 meters away, but the fire was inaccurate, and we continued on our mission for a number of minutes. We quietly crossed a road, which was adjacent to the valley we were walking in.

All of a sudden on the road appeared a number of jeeps, including a truck with its lights out. We heard Arabic being spoken, and they began firing on us, as the tracer bullets came in our direction. We immediately answered with fierce fire, with MAG weapons, AK-47s, mortars, RPGs, and LAW projectiles. We appeared to have neutralized the danger, but now we realized we had been discovered deep in Syrian territory and were in grave danger.

On Patrol. The writer with “my AK 47 personal weapon” in Faid, Egypt.  

Mofaz kept his cool and kept all of us calm. We immediately began our retreat by climbing to the top of a hill in the mountainous terrain of the Syrian desert. We had been fired on at 1,430 meters above sea level and reached a mountaintop that was 1,640 meters above sea level. Each of us now had to ferociously climb more than 200 meters straight up, including all we were carrying. Mofaz led us to the top and had us lying quietly in a circle, ready to engage the enemy.

Suddenly, Syrian MIGs appeared and began lighting up the sky with flares in pursuit of us. We heard Syrian vehicles and half-tracks driving by the bottom of the hill. They did not fire on us, because I do not believe they could locate us. They were probably going to wait until dawn, which was only a couple of hours away, in order to identify our location, and for hundreds of them to surround us, capture us or neutralize us.

Action in Sinai. The writer crouches in front of an Egyptian helicopter shot down in Sinai while “we were seeking to neutralize or capture Egyptian commandos. We took a number as prisoners.” 

From the mountaintop, Mofaz was speaking to GHQ in Tel Aviv. They told us to sit tight and that they would do all in their power to send a helicopter to our rescue.

The “sandwich” radio transmitter, weighing around 50 kg, was carried by the strongest warrior in the unit, Shmuel Rosenberg of Moshav Kerem Ben-Zimra, in the Galilee. Later in the war, on the Egyptian front, Shmulik would tell me how his father survived the Holocaust but lost his wife and all of his children, and married again and had six children, including Shmulik.

In the meantime, we were lying on the mountaintop and wondering what our final fate would be.

Perhaps we had too much time to think.

In my operational-security-created group of three, for the “emergency getaway” back to Israel, were Shmari of Kibbutz Hagoshrim and Giora of Kibbutz Givat Haim, together with me, the 24-year-old lone soldier with the BA.

Shmari was always quite entrepreneurial and with a good sense of humor. He was only 1.65 meters tall, but the best basketball player in the unit and a born “survivor”. He suggested that if all hell breaks loose, there is no way we were going to be captured alive by the Syrians. He suggested we carjack a vehicle on the road below and head north to the Turkish border, where in my “good English” we would request political immunity from the Turkish government. He emphasized that the two kibbutzniks would take care of the situation, and me, the ‘city boy’, would just need to be the spokesman! He was speaking in jest, but there was something to what he was saying.

In retrospect, this may have been one of the only solutions at the time, albeit highly improbable. We were young, lying on a mountaintop deep in Syrian territory, and wanted to live for as long as we could, and had to be entrepreneurial and original.

Less than one hour from dawn, we heard the engine of what seemed to be a helicopter, and lo and behold it was an Israeli Sikorsky helicopter trying to establish contact with us, to get us out of there as quickly as possible.

We had an electronic gadget called a “Miri,” which was able to give the chopper a general direction of where we were but not an exact one. There was cloud cover and fog on that mountaintop, and we were not on a completely flat surface.

Mofaz, with his low-tech flashlight, pointed in the direction of where he heard the helicopter. The pilot, none other than Efrat, who had flown us there seven hours earlier, managed to identify the low-tech light through the fog. He had flown through the valleys in order to come to our rescue. He had already been a couple of days without sleep but insisted on coming personally to fetch us, since he had brought us there.

The helicopter landed against all odds, not taking into consideration the regulations we had been used to in training. This was not a good time for being conventional, though. He landed in a relatively crooked fashion, and we piled into that helicopter faster than I can remember in any previous exercise.

As the helicopter took off, one of our soldiers caught a bullet in his backside but was not seriously wounded. As the helicopter began to take altitude, hundreds of tracer bullets of green and red colors were being fired toward the helicopter. We saw them through the windows of the helicopter.

Now we had a two-hour flight back to Tel Nof, of which many kilometers would be in enemy territory, and it appeared the helicopter had been hit and we did not know for sure if we were going to make it back or not. Efrat flew the chopper brilliantly, and we finally saw the lights of Beirut beneath us once again and headed south along the Mediterranean, but the pilot ditched the idea of Tel Nof and made sure to land as soon as possible in the Ramat David air force base in the north of Israel.

Aftermath. The writer outside a building riddled with shrapnel observes UN soldiers in Suez, Egypt at the end of the Yom Kippur War.

There was silence upon landing and a great feeling to be home.

After landing, I saw, from the corner of my eye, Efrat counting the hits on the helicopter on the rotor, and then he showed Mofaz the fuel leaking from the gas tank, which was hit by bullets, and a small puddle on the tarmac. Later, we found out it was very low-grade fuel, which does not explode as easily, but on the other hand – it sure can!

After the war, Efrat received a Medal of Bravery for his actions. His rescue is still considered one of the most daring in the history of the 118 Squadron.

After the War. Six months following the war, a two week jeep trip in Sinai in 1974 with the writer standing in the center. 

Five years ago, we all gathered on the lawn at Mofaz’s home in Kochav Yair, some with children and grandchildren, to hear him discuss the mission, together with Efrat. So many years later, to hear together, in person, how he had identified the flashlight through the fog was one of the most inspiring gatherings of my life.

Last year, the 118 Squadron invited all participants of the mission,  – from the flight crew and members of our paratroop recon unit – to attend a reunion in order to educate the new generation of pilots on the history and pride of this helicopter unit. We all received commendations of excellence from the 118th, and they are proudly hanging on a wall outside my office.




About the writer

Jonathan Davis is Vice-President for External Relations at the Interdisciplinary Center, Herzliya, Israel’s first private university. He heads the Raphael Recanati International School and is a Member of the Advisory Board of the International Institute for Counter-Terrorism (ICT) and Research Fellow.

From serving in a paratrooper reconnaissance unit executing many behind-the-lines missions, Jonathan still serves as a Lieutenant Colonel (Res) in the IDF Spokesman’s office.

A graduate of Columbia University, the Jewish Theological Seminary, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and Tel Aviv University, Jonathan  has served as an emissary for the Jewish Agency for Israel in Cape Town, Boston, and Rome.



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

The New Normal

Young Emiratis and Israelis chat online after UAE and Israel sign “Normalisation” deal

By David E. Kaplan

“Who’s in for a road trip? I’m driving to Tel Aviv”

Listen to what the youth of Israel and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) are saying to each other. They are not talking about F35 fighters or Iran. They are talking TO each otherABOUT each other! Each wants to know what the other eats, what clothes they wear and what’s the buzz in Tel Aviv and Abu Dhabi.

What’s more, they want to meet each other in person!

This is the true “normailsation” of the deal.

Typically, amongst their seniors, there were no shortage of cynics when it came to the quick response following the surprise signing of the agreement.

Some critiqued the deal on the underlying motives of the countries or the individual negotiators. And even if the timing solicited the reflexive suspicion of pulling a diplomatic rabbit out of the hat to improve the electability of the leaders of the USA and Israel, it still does not negate that it has reshaped the political topography of the Middle East.

No sooner had the announcement been made – et Voila! As if by some magic wand, people felt an infusion of fresh oxygen as it animated friendly human contact between young people who hours before, dared to speak to each other!

For the first time, people were able to make direct phone calls and book flights between Israel and the UAE. This was not just news – this was MONUMENTAL NEWS. After all, the UAE is the first Arab state in 26 years to make peace with Israel following the path of the trailblazers – Egypt and Jordan.

Not holding back, young people from both countries began meeting online to find out more about each other.

The Young and the Restless.  Israelis and Emirates chat animatedly online about their lives, their countries and their futures.

Meeting of Minds

As officials of both countries began discussing opening up embassies and talking about travel and trade, some young people from both countries began meeting online to find out more about each other. They spoke to each other in English. Amongst the Israelis was Eden and Mia.

The initiative began with the Tel Aviv-based non-governmental organisation ISRAEL-is, which linked up with members and former members of the Emirates Youth Council.

Holding up a map of the Middle East on his tablet and pointing to both Israel on the eastern Mediterranean and then the UAE further to the east, a young man from Abu Dhabi draped in white with keffiyeh (headscarf) says:

 “There was this Emeriti guy who just posted the time duration from Abu Dhabi to Tel Aviv and it says – one day and two hours. He said:  “Who’s in for a road trip? I’m driving to Tel Aviv.”

All  the chatters from Israel and the UAE break into rapturous laughter.

A young Israeli guy from Tel Aviv replies:

I think it is a true breakthrough and that we all need to take it from here.”

Not So Far. Holding up a map, a young Emirati from Abu Dhabi looks forward to visiting Israel.

An Emirati woman then asks:

 “I really want to learn more about your culture and your religion. I am mind blown – very excited.”

Genuine curiosity is beautifully characterised in this youthful exchange about something so totally basic.

City that Never Sleeps. Young Israeli says he looks forward to showing his new friends from the UAE the sights of his Tel Aviv.

A young Israeli asks:

 “Speaking of clothing, I would like to ask about your clothing?”

The Emeriti guy all-in-white answers:

So, you need something to reflect the sun. So, the best reflector is white. You know, it’s so windy and you need something to cover the face and eyes. There were no Ray-Bans and glasses before.”

Dawn of a New Day. Eager to learn about daily life of young Emiratis is this young woman from Tel Aviv.

Shifting away from apparel and appearance, a young Israeli girl asks:

So tell us something interesting about the UAE? Something that people usually misunderstand about you guys?”

The response comes from an Emirati girl her own age who breaks into a broad infectious smile and says:

We have money trees. That’s not true. I still work when I am on annual leave to make more money and I’m working on the side to make my own business. So no; I don’t have a money tree.” Laughing, she continues, “I wish I did though!”.

Dispelling Myths. “Money does not grow on trees,” says this young Emirati women who is trying to establish her own business in Abu Dhabi.  
 

Already making solid friendships, the Emirati guy says:

“When I come to Tel Aviv the first people I’m going to see are Eden and Mia,” to which Eden replies:

 “I will be waiting for you at the airport; Just send me your flight number.”

The exchange concludes with the Emiratis all making heart signs with the hands and exclaiming:

 “Love from Abu Dhabi

Seeing is Believing. The faces of these Emiratis and Israelis chatting gives hope for the future.

“A Geopolitical Earthquake”

A not too infrequent critic of Israeli policies,  The New York Times columnist Thomas E. Friedman was all praise, describing the deal as “A Geopolitical Earthquake” that “Just Hit the Mideast.”

Over and above all the politics in play, Friedman focused on  “another message”, deeper and what he describes as “more psychological.”  

He writes:

This was the UAE telling the Iranians and all their proxies: There are really two coalitions in the region today — those who want to let the future bury the past and those who want to let the past keep burying the future. The UAE is taking the helm of the first, and it is leaving Iran to be the leader of the second.”

Over and above the sectarianism, tribalism and corruption endlessly broiling in the Middle East’s geopolitical hotspot, Friedman notes with optimism  “other currents — YOUNG MEN and WOMEN who are just so tired of the old game, the old fights, the old wounds being stoked over and over again. You could see them demonstrating all over the streets of Beirut last week demanding good governance and a chance to realize their full potential.”

We need to pay an attentive ear to the voices of the youth as to the direction they would like to see in the future to ensure that the haters and dividers don’t always have to win.

It is now time for “the future to bury the past.”



Young Israelis and Emiratis meet online after peace deal – BBC News






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

An Arab-Israeli take on the Abraham Accords

“The Palestinians will get on the train … It will just not happen at the very first stop.”

By Ruth Wasserman Lande, a former advisor to President Shimon Peres

(First appeared in The Jerusalem Post)

After more than 70 years of exclusion in the regional realm, the sovereign State of Israel has gained recognition in broad daylight. It’s not that there were no relations between Israel, the United Arab Emirates and other countries in the region prior to the signing of the Abraham Accords, but now the “secret mistress” – the one that everyone knew about anyway – has been taken out of the closet.

More peace agreements are anticipated with other countries in the region, but more importantly, this recent development constitutes a change of consciousness with regard to Israel. The boycott thereof has literally been broken. If we put cynicism and politics aside for just a moment, it is a spectacular, historic and very important step, despite the fact that it is not without complexity.

Progress to Peace. Displaying their copies of the signed agreements at the signing ceremony of the Abraham Accords at the White House in Washington, DC, Sept. 15, 2020. (Photo: Reuters / Tom Brenne)

As someone who lived for several years in Egypt – whose leadership was ahead of its time and with extraordinary courage promoted peace between the two countries, after years of bloody wars and heavy losses on both sides – I cannot ignore the fact that unlike the important, strategic, yet cold peace with Egypt, the peace with the Gulf states includes normalization.

And this normalization is public and completely unapologetic!

The word “normalization,” or tatbi’a in Arabic, is no less than a curse in neighboring countries with which Israel made peace decades ago. This time, front-page headlines in Arabic in the UAE speak of a new dawn, and Hebrew captions appear on the Dubai’s official state television as a symbol of celebrating the newly-announced peace accord. The once clandestine connection is now “halal.”

In fact, the agreements between Israel and the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain finally put an end to the conditioning of normalizing relations between Arab countries and Israel, on the full solution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

It is not that the Gulf states are not interested in resolving the Palestinian issue. Their citizens are interested, and thus, the leadership cannot wholly ignore it. Nonetheless, the citizens of the UAE are not interested enough in this issue to disturb their daily routine and oppose their leaders’ quest to forward peace with Israel until the Israeli-Palestinian conflict shall be completely resolved.

In addition, the public, especially in the UAE, is no longer willing to condition the economic, commercial, cultural and technological progress in the region to satisfy the dignity of the current Palestinian leadership in the West Bank and Gaza.

The Palestinians will get on the train,” they say. “It will just not happen at the very first stop.”

The name “Abraham Accord” comprises a wonderful symbolism that was undoubtedly intended when the title was chosen. After all, our ancestor Abraham failed in uniting his two sons, Isaac and Ishmael, during his lifetime. However, they both buried him together after his death. Fraternity overcame hostility, even if for a moment, in the face of a significant event – the death of their father.

Sign of the Times. The national flags of Israel and the United Arab Emirates, Israel Bahrain  flutter along a highway following the agreement to formalize ties between the two countries, in Netanya, Israel August 17, 2020.

THIS SYMBOLISM is well understood by Arab-Israelis. They understand that the era in which the Palestinian leadership in Gaza and Ramallah dictates to the entire world, and to the people of the region in particular, when Israel may finally be an accepted partner in the neighborhood is over. And they do not like this!

On all Arab television networks and social media, Knesset members from the Arab Joint List are interviewed and speak out against the agreement, thus angering bloggers, thinkers and policy-makers in the UAE. Some of the opponents, who belong to the Balad Party, even go as far as to claim that the Abraham Accord shall “sow destruction in the region and in the entire world,” as Balad MK Mtanes Shehadeh said in a September 15 interview with Geula Even Sa’ar on Channel 11.

Usually, the majority of the Jewish public in Israel tends to learn of the nature of the Arab population via their members of Knesset. After all, the Arab members of Knesset, representing the Joint List, are frequently interviewed, both in the international, regional and Israeli media. In many cases, the Palestinian leadership in the Knesset does not truly represent its constituency’s true public opinions. Who truly listens to the ordinary Arab citizen? In fact, relatively few Jewish Israelis are exposed to the true opinions of the country’s Arab population.

Lock Back in Anger.  Locked into the past, Joint List MKs (from left) Mtanes Shehadeh, Ayman Odeh and Ahmad Tibi, and former MK Abd al-Hakeem Hajj Yahya meet at the Knesset, September 17, 2020 and position against the agreement.(photo credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90)

The same Arab street is usually divided into two groups of unequal size. The larger group includes most citizens who are simply struggling to make ends meet in the face of the already precarious economic situation of Arab society in Israel, and even more so during the COVID-19 crisis.

The smaller group consists of shrewd and well-established businesspeople who view the recent developments in the Gulf and the burgeoning official relations with Israel as a spectacular, exciting and excellent opportunity for their business and economic advancement. The latter group is hardly heard from at all. Business should be promoted quietly, and in low profile, so as “not to arouse jealousy” among the rest of the Arab public.

Regardless of political views, and whether everyone likes it or not, Arab society in Israel constitutes about one-fifth of the population. As such, it is an integral part of Israeli society. With the recent peace-oriented developments taking place in the region, this is the time when this population, which masters the Arabic language and is deeply familiar with the regional culture, enjoys an acute advantage.

Writing’s on the Wall. The flags of the US, United Arab Emirates, Israel and Bahrain are screened on the walls of Jerusalem’s Old City, on September 15, 2020. Photo by Yonatan Sindel/Flash90

The importance of the aforementioned advantages when promoting commercial and economic relations between the partners on both sides cannot be overstated. Decision-makers in the field of policy and economics in Israel, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain will certainly manage to promote the high-level strategic economic agreements without any special assistance.

Yet the rest of the public can certainly enjoy the rest of the fruits of peace in many forms, both business and commercial, and here there is a significant advantage to the Arab population in Israel. I believe that the latter will not miss this opportunity, despite the fact that its political leadership recommends to do just that!



About the Writer:

Ruth Wasserman Lande is the CEO of Ruth-Global Innovative Advisory and a former adviser to President Shimon Peres. Born in Israel and raised in South Africa where she matriculated at Herzlia School, the writer served for three years as political and economic advisor in the Israeli Embassy in Cairo, Egypt.

A graduate of Bar Ilan University, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and Harvard University, Ruth speaks Hebrew, English, Russian and Arabic.




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

A New Dawn in Dubai

Once a gulf apart, now Israeli emissaries set to serve Jewish community in the Gulf

By  Michael Jankelowitz

Following the signing of the historic Abraham Accords in August, no less historic will be the sending of long-term emissaries to the Jewish community in Dubai by the World Zionist Organization (WZO). Why this is monumentally moving is that this will be a first time Israeli emissaries are sent to serve a Jewish community in an Arab country!

The resounding message is that far more than a ‘practical peace’ – something Israelis are accustomed to  –  but a portent of a ‘warm peace’ – what we all aspire to and embodied in the spirit of the Abraham Accords.

Picture Perfect. An idyllic vista of Dubai that will be seeing an influx of Israeli visitors. 

After all, the name of ‘Abraham’ in the accords holds special meaning to Jews, Christians and Muslims as the common patriarch of the Abrahamic religions of Judaism, Christianity and Islam.

By so naming the deal, Israel and the UAE hope to publicly display their ancient ties and a commitment to a future of peace and prosperity.

It is to this warming milieu in the Gulf that the WZO is sending its emissaries – a young married couple Yaacov and Zolty Eisenstein.

The Eisensteins will work with a South African expatriate in Dubai, Ross Kriel, who is President of the Jewish Council of the Emirates (JCE), an umbrella group established by Jews living in the country.

Destination Dubai.  World Zionist organization emissaries  to the UAE, Yaacov and Zolty Eisenstein (photo credit: Courtesy)

The small Jewish community of the United Arab Emirates has welcomed the historic agreement between Jerusalem and Abu Dhabi to formalize relations, praising the Arab Gulf state for its pluralism and religious tolerance.

I am so moved by the many messages of hope that I have received from Emirati friends of our community on hearing this news,” says Kriel. “Our community members look forward to direct flights to Israel and welcoming Israeli friends and visitors to the UAE.”

Winds of Change. Fluttering in the wind, a United Arab Emirates (UAE) flag waves alongside an Israeli flag. (photo credit: REUTERS/CHRISTOPHER PIKE

Food for Thought

A Jewish community has been operating in Dubai for about a decade with estimates as to the size of the community in the UAE ranging from the low hundreds to 1,500. There are three functioning congregations – two Orthodox and one egalitarian – and one kosher eatery called “Elli’s Kosher Kitchen”. Clearly it has established a reputation as it has caught the eye – or more the palette – of UAE Culture Minister Noura al-Kaabi who gastronomically observed that it has added “a new chapter in Gulf food history”.

Looking Ahead. The Minister of Culture and Youth, Noura Al Kaabi looks ahead to cultural exchanges between the UAE and Israel. (Chris Whiteoak / The National)

Also a former South African, Elli is the wife of Ross Kriel. She reveals that after receiving repeated requests for kosher food over the years while living in Dubai, she started Elli’s Kosher Kitchen “to provide fresh, wholesome, homemade kosher meals to travellers.” 

Man on a Mission. President of the Jewish Council of the Emirates, former South African, Ross Kriel in Dubai.

Describing the newly formed Jewish Community of the Emirates, Elli says it “grew organically out of the homes of a few expat families living in Dubai. These families used to get together occasionally for Shabbat. After we moved to Dubai in 2013, my husband did not want to pray alone and was determined to create a functioning Jewish community. Striving for a minyan, he started weekly Shabbat services in our living room using a wardrobe as the Aharon Kodesh. Chagim were also initially observed in our home. The development of the community continued in my home for two years until more space was required. Our community, albeit small, is vibrant, warm and embracing, diverse, inclusive and eclectic in its makeup.”

Kosher Cuisine. Opening her business in response to growing demand, Elli Kriel preparing Shabbat bread in the kitchen of her Dubai villa. (Pawan Singh / The National)

It is to this “vibrant, warm and embracing” community that emissaries Yaacov and Zolty Eisenstein will soon be arriving to serve on behalf of the World Zionist Organisation.

Clearly, this is “history in the making” avers Chairman of the WZO, Avraham Duvdevani, asserting: “This is an important milestone in the existence of the World Zionist Organisation.”

In a process started a few months before the announcement of the Abraham Accords, the WZO, which has a framework of hundreds of emissaries worldwide – including in small, dispersed communities – has been in touch with the Jewish community in Dubai. This followed a request from the Orthodox Union of Jewish Congregations of America to send emissaries for the first time to Dubai’s Jewish community and now with the historic decision to normalize relations between Israel and the United Arab Emirates, what could be more “normal” than sending such ideally suited emissaries.

Changing Perspectives. A man sporting a Jewish ‘tallit’ looks out over the Dubai skyline in the United Arab Emirates. (video screenshot)

The Eisensteins will establish and run a Jewish kindergarten, teach about the heritage of the Jewish People and Israel, will establish an Ulpan for learning of the Hebrew Language and will organize community events around the Jewish festivals. Highly motivated, they have already begun working in time for the upcoming Jewish Festivals.

The emissaries are part of the “Ben Ami” programme of the Center for Religious Affairs in the Diaspora of the WZO, which has 36 emissaries operating in 23 countries. Most of these Jewish communities are small and dispersed, however, these are the first emissaries that are being sent to a Jewish community in an Arab country.

Says WZO Chairman, Avraham Duvdevani:

This is an important milestone in the history of the Zionist Movement through all its years of existence. We will continue to operate in every way to strengthen the connection between the State of Israel and Jewish communities in the diaspora and to strengthen the Jewish identity of our people throughout the world, including tiny dispersed communities.”

Monumental Milestone. Upbeat over the sending of emissaries to the UAE, Chairman of the World Zionist Organization Avraham Duvdevani  aims to strengthen the connection between the State of Israel and Jewish communities throughout the world.

This news has been received with great enthusiasm by communities around the world and what has been truly moving, has been to see the reaction from the Emiratis, who are looking forward to welcoming their new Israeli friends.

With Israel working on a direct airline route from Israel to Dubai that will fly through Saudi air space, Elli’s Kosher Kitchen will definitely have many more mouths to feed!




About the writer:

Michael Jankelowitz, has worked for the World Zionist Organisation and Jewish Agency  for Israel in various capacities since leaving the National Union of Israeli Students in 1978. He has worked in the WZO’s Student Division in New York and Jerusalem and was the Jewish Agency’s representative to the Jewish organization, Hillel in Washington DC and advisor on World Jewry to the JAFO treasury. He has also worked as spokesperson for JAFI.

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