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 prove 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

Remembering Munich

Survivors recall the massacre at the 1972 Munich Olympics.

By Rolene Marks and Yair Chelouche

“They’re all gone”.

They were the words that reverberated around the world. Television viewers across the globe were glued to Jim McKay, who anchored ABC’s coverage of the unfolding terrorist attack in Munich during the 1972 Olympics. The words are seared into our conscience. We can never forget that moment when we heard that 11 members of the Israeli Olympic Team had been murdered by Black September terrorists. Germany, once emblematic of painful memories for the Jewish people, had become a place where Jews were targeted for murder yet again.

Proud Presence. The Israeli delegation at the opening ceremony in Munich. (Credit: Agence France-Presse-Getty Images)

On the 5th of September, we will remember how these terrorists first killed two members of the Israeli delegation and held another 9 hostage, until they too, were slaughtered.  Israelis are far too familiar with terrorism, having endured attacks from terror groups since the birth of the modern state; but for it to happen like this on foreign soil, at the Olympic Games, the very essence and symbol of brotherhood and the human spirit, made the pain that much more acute.

Several weeks ago, history was made when the Israeli Airforce entered German airspace for the first time to train with the country’s Luftwaffe.  Apart from practicing complex maneuvers, the premise of the joint exercise was to strengthen ties – and pay tribute to the past. Sharing the commitment to fight antisemitism and declaring “Never Again” the two allied forces flew over the Dachau Concentration Camp in tribute to victims and survivors of the Holocaust as well as those who were murdered on that tragic day in September, 1972.

Yehuda Weinstain has often been called the “Flying Fencer”.  Weinstain was just 17 when he participated in the Olympics as a Fencer.  He recalls the excitement of being in the Olympic Village, sharing the camaraderie with his team, being a bit star struck at seeing the famous athletes and practicing with intense focus. It was the Olympics after all! The Olympics symbolise the best of the sporting world and the very spirit of international goodwill, devoid of the partisan politics that plague global discourse. This was shattered with the attack on the Israeli team.

“Flying Fencer”. Future Israeli pilot, Yehuda Weinstain  was just 17 when he participated in the 1972 Munich Olympics as a Fencer. 

Yehuda Weinstain recalls how it was a twist of fate that saved his life. Having visited the city to acclimate so that when it came to choosing his accommodation, he chose the same room that was in between that of the coaches and other team members. This decision would prove lifesaving.

The sportsmen were assigned a room in a complex with three bedrooms, with two in each room.

Touché. Israeli fencer Yehuda Weinstain (right) scores a hit in a fencing bout in the 1972 Munich Olympics before the massacre.

When the terrorists started their deadly attack, they went to the rooms on either side of Weinstain and roommate, Dan Alon; but not theirs. They heard the shots that killed wrestling coach, Moshe Weinberg. They knew that something horrific had occurred. Weinstain remembers seeing a blood puddle at the place where Weinberg’s body lay as he peered through the window.

“It could’ve been me,” he says, “Because the terrorists, passed by my window twice and didn’t come in. Later on we believed that the terrorists’ omission on our door was a deliberate act by Moshe Weinberg who wanted that the people who will face the terrorists are those, he thought, could resist stronger. So it was my luck”.

Desperate Situation. Held hostage, fencing coach Andre Spitzer (right) and marksmanship coach Kehat Shorr (left) negotiating with the German police.

He recalls making the decision to run to safety. “I ran about seven metres around the corner. It felt longer. I had the feeling that someone could shoot me in the small of my back”, he says. It was Alon’s turn, then some of the others to make the run for safety and he, Weinstain and the remaining survivors were taken to safety by German police and isolated before being sent home to their worried families in Israel.

40 years later (2012) – “The 11th Day” – Munich ’72 massacre survivors.

Yehuda Weinstain, Olympic athlete for Fencing enlisted in the army as is required of Israeli citizens and became Lt Col Weinstain, a combat pilot in the IAF, flying many important missions for the Jewish state.

 His latest mission was addressing the delegation from the IAF that participated in the training exercise in Germany – a poignant and important moment.

As Young fencerAvishay Jakobovich at the Munich Olympic village
Dr Avishay Jakobovich

Dr Avishay Jakobovich was also at those fateful games – albeit in a different role. Host country Germany, wanted to show the world that it had moved forward from its Nazi past and invited all participating countries to send separate delegations  of youth under 21 that would serve as cultural and social Ambassadors. In retrospect, many would criticize the lack of police presence and security. Jakobovich, delighted to be part of the Israeli delegation, remembers the incredible happy and inclusive vibe, with dancing and singing amongst the different global representatives and enjoying the games as a spectator.

Israel’s Young Ambassadors. Avishay Jakobovich (left) as a member of the Israeli youth social ambassador’s delegation to the Munich Olympics.

This was until the massacre of the Israeli coaches and athletes. “We were quickly removed from where we were staying and isolated. I called my parents to let them know I was okay. The hardest parts were when we represented the State of Israel at the main memorial held by the Olympic committee the day after the massacre and accompanying the coffins of the victims and the flight was difficult and emotional, knowing the bodies of those murdered were underneath us, in the belly of the plane. I sat next to Ankie Spitzer, now the widow of Andre Spitzer the Fencing coach. Very hard,” he recalls.

Dr Jakobovich served as Chief Gynaecologist for the IDF and is a leader in his field today.

This and every September, we remember them – the 11 coaches and athletes, slaughtered in their prime in one of the most nefarious and infamous terror attacks in recent history. The recent IAF-Luftwaffe flyover may have been history in the making and a great tribute to remember and heal wounds but it is the message of that auspicious occasion that we take heed of – NEVER AGAIN!

Munich Olympics Opening Ceremony. Israeli Delegation enters the Olympic stadium onr the 26/08/1972 (left). The ceremony (centre). Ending the opening ceremony by freeing pigeons of peace (right).

Murdered in Munich. The 11 Israeli sportsmen killed at the Munich Olympics on the 05/09/1972

Right handed fencer. Co-writer Rolene Marks (L) with the “Flying Fencer” Yehuda Weinstain (R), Sept. 2020


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

“Under Construction” – from Buildings to Human Relations

Israel’s Top Trade Union Provides Safety Training During the COVID Crisis for Every Palestinian Construction Worker

By David E. Kaplan

Something “constructive” has emerged from the COVID-19 pandemic in Israel – an innovative programme to save Palestinian lives; not from disease but from preventable accidents in Israel’s bustling construction industry.

In Israel’s entire workforce, construction workers are in the greatest danger, and for decades have suffered the highest rates of fatal workplace accidents – 6.6 times more than that of the average worker in Israel.

Like in most societies, the victims of these fatal workplace accidents are disproportionately the most vulnerable members of society and in Israel it is Israeli Arabs, Palestinians  and other foreign workers consistently over-represented in the number of construction-site fatalities and injuries.

Caught in the Act. Captured on camera, repeated safety offenses at a construction site in the center of the country. (Photo: First thing)
 

A breakdown shows that the highest incidence of fatal workplace accidents from 2017 to 2019 were caused by falls from heights, followed in descending order of falling objects, vehicular accidents, collapsing walls and scaffolding, electrocution, explosions and other.

Yes, society demands expansion and rapid development, but humanity no less morally requires that there is a limit at what price and every effort should be made to safeguard work environments.

To this end, over the past few months, a construction site in the Beit Zafafa neighbourhood in Jerusalem was rented by Israel’s largest trade union – the Histadrut – and converted into a “hands-on classroom” for the safety training of Palestinians in the construction industry. Already more than 500 Palestinian construction workers have participated in the training course at the “Safety Headquarters” with the primary aim “to prevent the next casualty.”

“Stayin’ Alive”. Safety training for Palestinian workers in Israel as the  Beit Zafafa construction site in Jerusalem. (Photo: Nizzan Zvi Cohen)

The Histadrut or the General Organization of Workers in Israel was established in 1920 in Mandatory Palestine and soon emerged as one of the most powerful institutions in the Yishuv (the body of Jewish residents in the region prior to the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948).

In extending their services to the wellbeing of non-Israeli workers in Israel, the Histadrut proudly subscribes to the motto:

Unionised labour recognizes no borders

The one-day training sessions were planned and implemented by the Histadrut in partnership with the Israel Builders Association, who utilised the prolonged stay of Palestinian workers in Israel due to the COVID-19 pandemic, to carry out the safety workshops. The morning of the training, workers were transported from their places of accommodation across Israel to the on-site “classroom”. Upon arrival,  they would register at the reception station, where after the workers were divided into small groups that underwent the training, each one separately, in accordance with the guidelines of the Ministry of Health and the restrictions of the Corona virus.

Certificates of Safety. Proudly displaying their certificates are Palestinian safety training graduates with Avital Shapira on the right. (Photo: Avital Shapira)

Work like a Dream

Eyal Ben Reuven, Chairman of the Safety Headquarters, explained that “The training is both theoretical and practical and is based on scenarios of real accidents in the industry.” The training sessions, said Reuven, “dealt with scaffolding, ladders, dangerous mechanical tools, electricity and preventing objects from falling.”

With the thousands of Palestinians working in Israel’s construction industry, the programme has a long way to go, but it’s a start – “a constructive start.”

My dream is that only workers who graduate safety training will be able to work on construction sites,” says Ben Reuven. “But for that to happen, the government needs to help us.”

According to Reuven, the course costs approximately NIS 450 per worker with current funding being provided by the Fund for the Encouragement of the Construction Industry. With the government showing little interest in supporting the initiative at present, “we are trying to fund-raise to continue the course,” says Reuven.

Striving for Safer Working Environments. Meeting with the Palestinian delegation in the office of Histadrut Chairman Arnon Bar-David (4th from the left). (Photo: Histadrut spokeswoman)

The success of the programme depends on the support of the constructive industry, which according to the Deputy Director General of the Israel Builders Association, Itzik Gurvich, has come to the table with construction companies “agreeing to pay their workers a full days wages to participate in the training.” The result has been that “Both employers and the workers have been satisfied with the course, and we’re hoping to expand the pilot.”

Ahmed Ghanaim, who heads Al Ola College, a vocational training  college in the Western Galilee; and whose instructors are responsible for the training itself, explains that even veteran Palestinian workers “who have been working in Israel for decades and are experienced in their field, don’t know Israeli labour and safety laws. This information doesn’t really exist in the Palestinian Authority and also the employers don’t always give workers all necessary knowledge. Once workers have this knowledge, they’ll know what to ask for from management in order to return home safe and sound.”

Constructing a Safer Tomorrow. The construction site hired by the Histadrut in Jerusalem offered a perfect “classroom” training ground. (Photo: Nitzan Zvi Cohen)
 

After a most instructive hands-on session about scaffolding and ladders, the workers gathered in a circle to discuss the regulations as it applies in practice. One concerned worker remarks to the instructor:

But out there on the site, it doesn’t actually happen like that!”

The instructor replies:

Listen, at the end of the day there’s a hierarchy of responsibility. You have to speak to your foreman, and he needs to report to the contractor.”

And what if the employer tells me to break those rules?” asks the employee.

Contact the Histadrut,” the instructor replies. “Remember that we’re talking about your life, don’t agree to work in dangerous conditions.”

Avital Shapira, Director of International Relations of the Histadrut, addressed the Palestinian workers in fluent Arabic. Shapira’s fluency in Arabic  stems from her stay in Egypt where she was the first Israeli student to study at the American University of Cairo, back in 1994.

This is a great opportunity to show that the Histadrut is the home for all workers, regardless of origin, religion or gender,” Shapira told Davar, the Histadrut’s online news outlet.

This is also an opportunity to use this platform to convey to Palestinian workers the message that the Histadrut sees them as a bridge to peace. I think the presence of so many Palestinian workers in the Israeli labour market is a platform for cooperation and coexistence.” The presence of these Palestinian workers, according to Shapira, also strengthens the relationship with the Building and Wood Workers’ International organization (BW).

Safe and Sound. Histadrut’s Director of International Relations, Avital Shapira, addresses the Palestinian workers in Arabic  at a safety training workshop at Beit Zafafa in Jerusalem. (Photo: Nitzan Zvi Cohen)

It is important to understand that in the construction industry there is no difference between a Palestinian, Israeli, or migrant worker,” adds Tal Burshtein, Vice Chairman of the Construction, Related Industries and Wood Workers’ Union. “Everyone is covered by the same collective bargaining agreement and is entitled to the same rights.”

Most of the Palestinians who came to the safety training chose to become members of the Histadrut, a process that began in recent years.

And for good reason!

Think of the abhorrent conditions foreign workers are treated in countries where they have found employment, notably in the Middle East and Africa. Too frequently they are exploited, with few legal rights to protect themselves.

In Israel, on the other hand, the Histadrut, will aid Palestinian foreign workers who have been fired, help them receive their vacation and sick days, and even represents them against the National Insurance Institution in events of workplace accidents. “First and foremost, the Histadrut is a sympathetic ear – we want to help.” During the COVID-19 crisis, the Histadrut distributed tens of thousands of masks and gloves and more than 2,000 liters of hand sanitizer to Palestinian workers.

Meeting with them has shown us that they lack a lot of knowledge about their rights,” said Burshtein. “Since we’ve been distributing pamphlets on workers’ rights and signing them up to the Histadrut, we’ve been getting many more inquiries from Palestinian workers to our information service center, asking for help with problems at work. The workers who’ve gotten the pamphlets in Arabic also serve as ambassadors who disseminate this knowledge to additional workers.”

Building Bridges

Peter Lerner, Director General of the Histadrut’s International Relations Division, is totally upbeat about the joint venture safety training programme for Palestinian workers. “The pilot was an initiative,” he told Lay of the Land,  “that we hope will become the new standard for saving the lives of workers in the construction sector. I believe that it is a joint obligation to combine efforts and produce a safer working environment for the workers, empowering them and sharing knowledge about safety in the workplace and workers’ rights.” 

Thumbs Up. An inspired Director General of the Histadrut’s International Relations Division, Peter Lerner.
 

Lerner asserts that this project is part of the Histadrut’s “expanded activities with Palestinian workers” adding that while “designed to ensure the health and welfare of Palestinian workers, they also promote co-existence.”

In Israel’s ever-expanding ‘urban landscape’, the building of new inspiring edifices is welcome. No less welcome in the country’s frenetic ‘social landscape’ is the building of improved relations between people!

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 Peace with the Gulf – to a Gulf with his People

Reflections on leadership from a past interview with former security chief, Carmi Gillon

By David. E. Kaplan

While overtures of peace were reverberating around the Middle East last week with the announcement of the Israel-UAE normalisation deal, closer to home – literally the Prime Minister’s home – it was quite the opposite. Contrast the positive sentiments expressed in the statements of the Saudi Foreign Minister, Prince Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud, who at a press conference in Berlin said “Any efforts that promote peace in the region and that result in the holding back the threat of annexation could be viewed as positive”; and that of Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-SisiI appreciate the efforts of the architects of this agreement for the prosperity and stability of our region,” to the anger of Israelis congregating in their thousands, outside the PM’s residence in Jerusalem. Rather than upbeat by the Israel-UAE deal they were beating down on the Prime Minister to resign over corruption charges and his government’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic and its economic fallout.

No wonder the Prime Minister’s neighbours too are protesting! They want his residence moved to another area in Jerusalem – ASAP! They are demanding peace not in the region but in their street!

A far cry from the visual spectacle of the Hollywood Oscars, Balfour Street, Jerusalem is nevertheless proving entertaining to see the list of esteemed folk pitching up on the ‘proverbial red carpet’ to protest. Last Thursday’s celebrities included MK Yorai Lahav from the Yesh Atid party, and MK Moshe Ya’alon, a former Chief of Staff of the Israel Defense Forces and Defense Minister under Netanyahu who said:

The protests on Balfour and across the country are just, legal and democratic. No one will prevent the protests from taking place. On the contrary – they will only get bigger.

The name that most caught my attention  was Carmi Gillon  – a man whose job once included protecting the Prime Minister. Gilon was Director of Israel’s Security Agency, the Shin Bet also known as the Shabak at the time of the assassination of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin in 1995.

Gilon’s participation in the protest was not without highly-publicized drama with the former security chief handcuffed and reportedly injured by police when he was dragged away from the protest tent. 

On seeing his photograph on the weekend edition of The Jerusalem Post defiantly holding his handcuffed arms above his head, my thoughts went back to my interviewing Carmi in his office in 2004 following his election as Mayor of Mevaseret Zion, a town on a mountain ridge 750 metres above sea level, 10 kilometres  from Jerusalem.

Calm Carmi. Police remove Carmi Gillon, a former head of the Shin Bet security service from a protest encampment outside the Prime Minister’s Residence in Jerusalem on August 20, 2020. Gillon’s hands and arms were scratched and bloodied in the confrontation. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Why the interview back in 2004 was as interesting yesterday as it was now in 2020 because here was a principled man taking a stand on issues he believed of critical importance to the security and soul of the country. My further interest was his South African pedigree, a country I emigrated from in 1986.

Carmi’s  father, Colin Gluckman, immigrated  to Palestine in 1936, armed with little more than a degree in law an imbued with Zionist ideology. He was one of the founders of the youth movement  – my youth movement too – Habonim in South Africa. After his service in Europe during WWII, Colin was sent back to Europe by the Jewish Agency to track down displaced Jews and bring them to Israel. As a major in a British uniform, he could travel freely throughout British controlled Italy. In this way, Colin found many Jewish refugees sheltered in monasteries throughout Italy.

Family Achievers. Father of Carmi, Colin Gillon (Gluckman) who became Israel’s first governor of Abu Gosh and Israel’s third State Attorney. His brother, Philip Gillon, an esteemed Jerusalem Post columnist for many years was the author of the Telfed publication “Seventy Years of Southern African Aliyah – A Story of Achievement”.

In 1946, he returned to Palestine and joined the Haganah, serving as an officer. He was appointed the first Governor of the Israeli-Arab town of Abu Ghosh ( أبو غوش‎) Abu Ghosh. “In my book, says son Carmi, “I have a photograph of him as governor taken together with the Muslim Mukhtar as well as a monk from the local monastery. The picture was printed by the Israeli government in 1949 as a Christmas card and showed how the three religions can live together.” Colin became Israel’s third State Attorney and at Ben Gurion’s insistence, changed his surname from Gluckman to Gillon.

In 2017, Abu Gosh was described as a “model of coexistence.”

Abu Ghosh in the 1940s.

Earthquakes and Aftershocks

Recently elected Mayor in 2004, I interviewed Gillon in his modest municipal office on the foothills of the Kastel, where a decisive battle took place during the 1948 War of Independence that determined the fate of Jerusalem. Fifty-six years later, it was no less the fate of his nation that brought back Gillon again into the public eye with his stand in 2003 joining three former colleagues – all past directors of Israel’s security service – Yaacov Perry, Ami Ayalon and Avraham Shalom – in a stinging attack of government policy. In an interview at the time with the Israeli daily, Yedioth Ahronot, they forewarned Prime Minister Ariel Sharon that “he was leading the country to a catastrophe by failing to pursue peace with the Palestinians.” Such outspokenness by Israel’s former security chiefs was totally unprecedented and was covered by all major international TV news networks. Gillon expressed his concern that “the government was dealing solely with the question of how to prevent the next terrorist attack, ignoring the more fundamental issue of how to extricate the country from the mess it was in.”

It was like an earthquake at the time,” he said.

Political aftershocks inevitably followed.

The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. Front page  of Israel’s leading daily newspaper, Yehiot Achronot  of the four Israeli Ex-Security Chiefs denouncing government’s policy in its approach for reaching a deal with the Palestinians.  (l-r)Yaacov Perry, Avraham Shalom Ami Ayalon and Carmi Gillon

While criticism of their action was not unexpected, Carmi was proud of his public stand and felt vindicated by the events that had subsequently unfolded . “We were locked into a stalemate where there was no positive movement on any front.”

Capitalising on their high-profile status with respected security credentials, “We realized our ideas could not be ignored.”  This was born out when “our action was soon followed by other extra-parliamentary initiatives such as the highly publicized and no less controversial, Geneva Accord. The government was put in a position to come up with their own initiative or appear to be left behind.

Cloak & Dagger

For most of his professional life prior to becoming Mayor of Mevaseret Zion in 2004, Carmi operated in the furtive world of espionage and security starting from the time of the Munich Massacre in 1972. He ran through a chronology  of terrorist activity that gripped the world of the seventies – skyjackings, an assault on an Israeli embassy in Bangkok, the attack on Israeli passengers at Paris’ Orly Airport, the murder of a Mossad agent in Paris and other attacks in Brussels and Rome.

Those days were full of action. Very different to today where Israel’s vulnerability is internal.” He concluded that chapter in his life through the heady days of Oslo, “where I used to frequently make trips after midnight to meet Arafat in Gaza.”

Pressed to comment on the character of Arafat, Gillon replied:

Wonderful host, but an incorrigible liar!”

As to predicting back in 2004 on a future political landscape, Gillon said:

 “Over the years, I have dealt with many of the top people in the Palestinian political echelon and there are many moderate and pragmatic people under Arafat whose turn will come in the post-Arafat era.”

This has not happened – yet!

Instead, following the death of Yasser Arafat in 2004, Mahmoud Abbas was elected President of the Palestinian Authority  and has clung on to power despite telling the Palestinian media after his first year in power, that he would NOT seek reelection at the end of his four year term:

I will just complete my remaining three years in office; I will not run again. That is absolute.”

Absolute?  If ever a misnomer!

It seems that in the words of Carmi Gillon, Arafat’s successor is also “an incorrigible liar.”

As today in 2020 – with Israelis protesting over their economic situation as a result of the Corona pandemic – Gillon in 2004, newly ensconced as Mayor, lamented that a third of his city residents of of 23,000 were over the age of fifty living in economically unfavourble circumstances. “We have far too much unemployment and not having our own industrial area, exacerbates the problem. Sixty percent of our workforce  communities to Tel Aviv, the balance to Jerusalem.”

Tempestuous Times. The writer, David E. Kaplan with Carmi Gillon (right) in his mayoral office, Mevaseret Zion, in 2004.

Reflecting back to that interview all these years later, it was his next line that was so ironic.

 “If you hang around a little longer after the interview, there will be a demonstration taking place outside my office!”

And today, it is Carmi Gillon who is protesting outside the Prime Minister’s residence, also over mostly economic issues.

I recall when concluding the interview noticing that surprisingly there was only one photograph in his office. It was of himself taken with Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin.

 “He was not only my boss; he was my friend.”

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

Fortune Favours the Bold

The historical peace agreement between Israel and the UAE ushers in new era

By  Rolene Marks

Blessed are the peacemakers. Mabruk and Mazal Tov”. Many can agree with this sentiment expressed by US Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo that describes a truly momentous occasion – the signing of a peace agreement between Israel and the United Arab Emirates.

The Deal Makers. Israel, UAE reach historic peace deal (left-right): Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi Sheikh Mohammed Bin Zayed, US President Donald Trump, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu
(photo credit: REUTERS)

The Abraham Accords, which is what this historical agreement is called, is a game changer for the region. This is not just a bringing together of the descendants of Abraham but is a signal to other regional countries and the world that the time has come to transcend the divisions and ancient hatred and work together towards a better future for the Middle East.

Any country that is willing to hold its hand out in peace to Israel will find a willing partner. The Abraham Accord is not necessarily a peace agreement because the two countries have not regarded each other as enemy entities, but rather a recognition of normalisation. This word is very important at a time when various entities that include the BDS (Boycott Divestment and Sanctions) movement’s rally call against normalisation.

Read All About It! A man reads a copy of the United Arab Emirates-based The National newspaper near the Burj Khalifa in the Gulf emirate of Dubai on Aug 14, 2020. (Photo by GIUSEPPE CACACE/AFP via Getty Images.)

The Middle East is a region facing not just the impact that the Corona Virus pandemic has caused on our economies; but we face a collective threat in the form of hegemonic regime, Iran and their proxies, Hezbollah, Hamas and other terror groups. This agreement sends a clear message that the people of the region grow weary of terror sponsors and tyranny – we want change in the form of recognition, economic cooperation and a better future for us and the generations to come.

Sign of the Times. Tel Aviv City Hall is lit up with the flag of the United Arab Emirates on Aug. 13, 2020, as the UAE and Israel announced they would be establishing full diplomatic ties. (AP Photo/Oded Balilty, File)

The gains for both countries will be tremendous. Apart from diplomatic, economic, innovative and other forms of cooperation, the Abraham Accords paves the way for other Arab states to follow. In another historical first, Israel’s Foreign Minister, Gabi Ashkenazi, spoke to his Omani counterpart who reiterated support for peace with the Palestinians and also hailed the agreement with the UAE. US officials have said that Oman, Bahrain and likely Morocco and even Saudi Arabia could normalize relations with the Jewish state. The real surprise was Lebanese President, Michel Aou, who  in an interview with French BFM TV news, claimed he didn’t rule out the possibility of peace with Israel. When asked if Lebanon would consider peace with Israel, Aoun stated, “That depends. We have problems with Israel, and we have to resolve them first.”

Streetwise. Israeli and United Arab Emirates flags line a road in the Israeli coastal city of Netanya after the two countries agreed to normalise ties. ( JACK GUEZ AFP)

There are those who are naysayers. Iran as expected has expressed its predictable rage, claiming that the UAE will be “consumed by the fires of Zionism”.

Oh dear! They do seem a bit put out!

Kuwait has claimed to be the last to normalize and sadly the Palestinians never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity. The Palestinian Authority immediately withdrew their ambassador and recently announced that they will be boycotting the Global World Expo that will be held in Dubai in 2021. Hamas have expressed their fury and umbrage. Obstinacy and belligerence has doing nothing to further the Palestinian cause in the last 70 years. Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, infamous for his propensity to engage in sabre rattling rhetoric against Israel, has threatened to suspend ties with the UAE. This is what millennials would call an epic face palm moment as Turkey and Israel have bilateral relations.

There are those among the Israeli right who are disappointed that any plans of application of sovereignty or annexation as some prefer to call it, are suspended. Was normalisation the carrot dangled by the UAE the reason for this? One thing is for sure, well over 80% of Israelis are thrilled with the result, happily embracing the opportunities on offer.

In the past, normalisation with Arab states was contingent on peace with the Palestinians. Today, Arab states grow increasingly frustrated with their lack of willingness to come to the party and negotiate. The ever looming threat of Iran means that alliances have to be found elsewhere and a strong partner has been found in Israel.

Predictable Paranoia. Palestinians burn cutouts depicting US President Donald Trump, Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during a protest against the United Arab Emirates’ deal with Israel to normalise relations, in Nablus in the West Bank August 14, 2020. (photo credit: REUTERS/RANEEN SAWAFTA)

If the Palestinians are sincere about peace, they would see the positives of normalisation and the role that Arab countries can play in helping to negotiate. In a region where the rules of engagement, culture and honour are different to Western countries, perhaps the opportunity for regional powers to play more of a diplomatic role in helping to bring about peace and a state for the Palestinians may be more successful.

Flying High. Post Corona, Israelis will be flocking to the UAE as Israel look forward to welcome tourists from the Gulf.

A famous Latin proverb once intoned that “fortune favours the bold”. The winds of change are blowing in the Middle East, sweeping away historic divisions and barriers and bringing with it a bright future, filled with opportunity. The bold will find favour and fortune, the naysayers and rejectionists will flounder on the garbage pile of bitterness and hatred.









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