This week I have been thinking a lot especially about sports. It could be because I am still feeling the high many of us, including ex-pat South Africans are feeling after watching the Springboks (South Africa’s national rugby team) serve England’s team a thumping to win the Rugby World Cup.
It wasn’t just rugby that won that day, it was a nation. The Springboks proved that it is possible to rise above your circumstances, your race, religion and past prejudices and that, coupled with tenacity and a will to win, delivered one of the greatest moments in sports. It was more than the speeches from coach, Erasmus and team captain, Siya Kolisi – the guys in green and gold played for unity. They played for hope. And they delivered.
We know that South Africa is fraught with problems and that winning a global sports championship will not provide an instant fix, but they proved what could be accomplished when you pull together and focus on the greater good. Growing up during the Apartheid years in South Africa, where rugby was emblematic of the regime, it was inconceivable that the Springboks would be a team of players from all races, with a black captain. I don’t think there was a dry eye across South Africa (well, save for a few spoil sports – pun intended – who see unity as anathema) or for many who knew we were witnessing history. The late human rights icon, Nelson Mandela, recognized the role that sports could play in healing and reconciliation. The Springbok win took many back to the day in 1995 when Madiba weaved his magic and mistrust and old hatreds seemed forgotten.
The Springbok win got me thinking a lot about the power of sports in healing conflict in other parts of the world.
Sport plays an important role in trying to heal rifts in the Middle East as well. While sometimes respect and sportsman – like behavior is a casualty and some pay a heavy price for their efforts to be conciliatory, there is no doubt that whether it is facing off on the soccer pitch or wrestling on the mat, people are brought together for the common goal – winning.
The power of sports to bring people together has also been recognized by entities like BDS (Boycott Divestment and Sanction) who will try every trick in the book to try and scupper any attempts for normalization between Israelis – and anyone else. Their belief that boycotts, be they culture or sports, will force Israel to change policies they see as racist.
Their latest pet project of hate is trying to encourage a boycott of the sports apparel company, Puma, who sponsor the Israeli soccer/football team.
This has backfired spectacularly. The Team is a microcosm of Israeli society, including Bedouin, Circassian, Muslim and Jewish players and nobody is interested in BDS’s divisive tactics. Needless to say, the boycott failed miserably.
At the same time BDS were whining about boycotts, Brazil and Israel were planning a match to be played in Haifa. The Shalom game, a friendly match between Brazil and Israel was played on the 29th of October, 2019. This was billed as a celebration of “Football, Peace and Fraternity” and featured legends Ronaldinho, Kaka, Rivaldo, Batu, and other major Brazilian team players who have won the World Cup and visited the Jewish State to promote the message of peace and brotherhood. Ronaldinho took to his social media to speak about how happy he was to be in Israel and faced a barrage of hatred. It didn’t bother him at all – the message of brotherhood and peace is greater than hate.
Some have not fared as well.
This lesson was learnt the hard way by Iranian Judoka, Saeid Mollaei who was instructed not only to lose his match with Israeli counterpart, Sagi Muki, but said that even his family were threatened should he face off against his rival. Mollaei was afraid to return home after exposing and criticizing his government’s pressure on him to deliberately lose and avoid a potential bout against an Israeli opponent.
Moallei fled to Berlin after the championships, where he had been hoping to secure a place at the 2020 Olympic Games. He was recently granted asylum.
International Judo Federation has suspended Iran indefinitely for the regimes’ discriminatory treatment of Israel.
Sport has the unique ability to unite and inspire and improve the prospects of tolerance and brotherhood.
It doesn’t matter what kind of sport it is or what level, when unity and tolerance trumps conflict, this is the ultimate championship. Just ask Siya Kolisi.
Why a Unity Government Would Be Much Worse Than Useless
By Gidon Ben Zvi
Ever since Israel’s snap election drew to a close on September 17, the country’s chattering class has ginned up its campaign to convince Israelis that what they really want is a national unity government. To drive home their point, pundits, commentators and other members of the country’s intelligentsia have drawn parallels between Israel circa 1984 and today.
This is a false equivalence. When Likud leader Yitzhak Shamir and Labor’s Shimon Peres agreed to share power, the Israeli economy was teetering on the verge of collapse, with inflation running rampant. Israel was also a country at war in 1984 – the first Lebanon War.
Fast forward to the here and now. Israel’s economy and security are relatively stable and have been that way for some time. Despite regular skirmishes with Hamas in Gaza and Hezbollah in Lebanon, the Israel Defense Forces aren’t waging a ground war on enemy territory.
Yet Israeli’s cultural, media and educational elites are bum-rushing citizens like a pesky used car salesman trying to unload a wreck. Why? Because in a country increasingly divided along political, religious and economic lines, even seasoned observers are intoxicated by the appeal of national unity. But their enthusiastic embrace of a grand coalition is worse than naïve, it’s dangerous to the wellbeing of Israeli society.
A national unity government would be a clunker for most Israelis because of the exploding cost of living here. Sure, the country’s macroeconomic performance is impressive, especially compared to 1984. But a report released by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) is setting off alarm bells that most citizens have been hearing for years.
Daily life in Israel is expensive. Food here is 19% higher than the OECD average. Meanwhile, apartment renters in Israel spend 25% of their gross adjusted disposable income on rent while homeowners paying mortgages spend 15%, a discrepancy that’s among the highest in the OECD. Since 2009, according to Israel’s Central Bureau of Statistics, housing prices have shot up by over 90%.
If you’re raising children in Israel, good luck. Elementary school education and academic studies are 17% more expensive than a decade ago, while the average cost of preschools has risen by 14%. And Israel’s floundering public healthcare system is forcing many Israelis to supplement their mandatory universal medical insurance with out-of-pocket private policies. According to the OECD, only 8% of Israelis rely solely on public healthcare.
Here’s one more stat to consider: Israel ranked a lowly 38th on the economic freedom scale, dropping one place from 2018, according to the Economic Freedom of the World: 2019 Annual Report. In general, the higher a country’s level of economic freedom is the better off its citizens are.
What you won’t hear advocates for a national unity government say is that history shows that such grand coalitions hit the pause button on the implementation of seriously needed policy changes. Neither Shamir nor Peres were able to advance any major issues during their national unity government because each of them was immediately scuttled by the other.
Israel’s next government will be tasked with an awesome responsibility: to develop and carry out policies that remove the disproportionately large financial burden being carried by Israel’s working men and women. For millions of Israelis today a government of national paralysis is not a viable option.
The cost of prolonged stagnation is simply too high.
Gidon Ben-Zvi is an accomplished writer whose work has appeared in The Jerusalem Post, The Times of Israel, the Algemeiner, American Thinker, the Jewish Journal, Israel Hayom, and United with Israel. Ben-Zvi blogs at Jerusalem State of Mind (jsmstateofmind.com).
A former Californian, the writer lives with his wife and four children in Israel.
Maligned, misunderstood, and derided, provocative, emotive and polarizing. Often condemned, just the mention of the word Zionism is enough to raise the blood pressure of many. This often results in both pro and anti-Israel activists engaging in a battle of words. Frighteningly, this battlefield has expanded way beyond the Social Network to university campuses and other congregating venues where Jews identifying as Zionist are at physical risk.
So, what is Zionism exactly and why is it such a hot-button issue?
Simply put, Zionism is the National Liberation Movement of the Jewish people. It is a guarantee of the rights of the Jewish people to organize themselves politically and assign it a name that hearkens back to ancient roots and love for Zion.
Zion is synonymous with city of God; the place that God loves – Jerusalem. ‘Mount Zion’ – on the southeast side of the Old City – is the high hill on which King David built a citadel. The word Zion occurs over 150 times in the Bible and essentially means “fortification” and has the idea of being “raised” as a “monument”.
Zion is described both as the City of David and the City of God.
The word Zion is embedded into Jewish religion and culture as it is embedded into the rock and masonry of Israel’s capital – Jerusalem.
The great American civil rights leader, Rev Dr Martin Luther King is rumoured to have described Zionism as “nothing more that the yearning of the Jewish people to return to their ancient homeland”.
After thousands of years of being made aware that we are unwelcome in many countries, Jews have returned en masse to our ancient and ancestral homeland. The word Zion refers to those biblical ties since time immemorial. It is proof that Jews have “indigenous people’s rights to the land” and in case anybody has doubt, there is antiquity being discovered every day that supports this.
Israel’s detractors are quick to point out that Nelson Mandela, the father of democratic South Africa and the icon of the anti-Apartheid struggle’s support of Palestinians. What they neglect to conveniently mention is Madiba’s support for the Jewish people’s right to self-determination – Zionism.
Mandela has been quoted as saying
“As a movement, we recognize the legitimacy of Palestinian nationalism just as we recognize the legitimacy of Zionism as a Jewish nationalism,” he said in 1993. “We insist on the right of the State of Israel to exist within secure borders, but with equal vigor support the Palestinian right to national self-determination.”
There has been much debate, discussion and social media brouhaha over who is or what defines a Zionist. Zionism is not restricted to Jews, but many Christians, Druze and yes, even Muslims consider themselves Zionists. Supporting Jewish rights to self-determination in no way makes one anti-Palestinian. Sadly, so much misunderstanding about what constitutes Zionism has resulted in alienating people who have an emotional attachment to Israel. Too many would prefer that Zionism be relegated onto the pile of other unwanted “isms”.
Many thought that with the realisation of the modern state of Israel, anti-Semitism would disappear but instead it has reared its head in a new form – anti-Zionism.
The world has emerged a hostile place for Zionists.
Ask the students on campus who are bullied and sometimes physically threatened for their political beliefs. Or the store owners in Europe who find their shops ransacked for carrying Israeli products. Or the travelers turned away from accommodation for being Israeli. The rise of the alt-right in the USA with their Nazi salutes and propensity for spray painting swastikas or the neo Nazis, the UK Labor party with its ongoing accusations of institutionalized antisemitism and BDS supporters in Europe, South America and South Africa has many Jews feeling afraid and isolated.
The argument “I am not an anti-Semite, I just don’t like Zionists” is spurious.
Even the French President, Emmanuel Macron says anti-Zionism is “a new type of antiSemitism.” He told the Israeli Prime Minister when speaking in Paris at an event to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the Vel D’Hiv round-up, in which 13,152 French Jews were deported to Nazi concentration camps that France will “not surrender” to anti-Israel rhetoric.
There are an estimated 50 Muslim countries in the world, and an estimated 30 countries that define themselves as Christian. There is only one Jewish state and yet, so many have an issue with its very existence?
Saying that the Jews have no right to organize themselves politically and call it Zionism is in fact, racism.
Is it politically correct to criticize Israel?
Criticising the government and its policies is the national sport of Israel.
Is Israel perfect? No. And it is perfectly okay and healthy to say so. However, saying that Jews have no right to national self-determination or that Israel has no right to exist is racist and anti-Semitic.
I believe part of being a Zionist is being able to criticize and improve. I believe that Zionism means that you want to see an exemplary Israel – a light unto the nations. An Israel that is tolerant and welcoming and grateful for all who support her. This is dignified, this is keeping with the tenets of our founders who envisioned this. There is room in the Zionist tent for everyone – Jew, Christian, Muslim, as well as from left to right across the political spectrum.
These values are enshrined in Israel’s Declaration of Independence:
“The State of Israel will be open for Jewish immigration and for the Ingathering of the Exiles; it will foster the development of the country for the benefit of all its inhabitants; it will be based on freedom, justice and peace as envisaged by the prophets of Israel; it will ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex; it will guarantee freedom of religion, conscience, language, education and culture; it will safeguard the Holy Places of all religions; and it will be faithful to the principles of the Charter of the United Nations.”
I invite anyone who is somewhat skeptical or perhaps undecided about their views on Zionism to ask themselves how different it is to their national aspirations. Perhaps this will lead to a lot more understanding, a lot less maligning and hopefully an end to the rising violence that so many supporters of Israel are currently enduring.
With the great election redo of 2019 less than two weeks away, Israelis across the political spectrum are meeting up in living rooms, pubs and coffee shops around the country to discuss the great issues of the day…not.
The political fatigue is palpable right about now: Picture an old basset hound passed out on the front porch, trying to escape the summer heat. Sure, the major media outlets continue to breathlessly report on corruption allegations and the latest attempted mergers and acquisitions of splinter parties, whose potential votes could prove to be the difference between a center-left or right-wing government. But Israelis by and large have tuned out of the incessant focus on labyrinthine negotiations, political jockeying and mudslinging.
Their concerns are more immediate. Parents are busy getting their kids back into the school year swing, young men and women are gearing up for their university studies and those who’ve recently returned from vacation are just now trying to figure out how on earth to pay off that 7-day luxury trip to Greece. Israelis, once the most politically engaged citizens of any democracy on the planet, have settled into a low-grade stupor just days before a national election.
What’s this epidemic of ennui all about? Some of it can be traced to that point in Israel’s history when personalities began to trump platforms. Local journalists have only fueled this Gossip Girl approach to covering politics. As a result, there are no great issues, only rumors, allegations, spin and endless innuendo. It’s not surprising that people would rather spend their well-earned Saturday afternoons at the beautiful Beit Yanai Beach not discussing politics with their family and friends.
The problem is that such apathy is anathema to the long-term wellbeing of any democracy. What truly legitimizes any form of representative government isn’t its regulations, laws, Constitution or Declaration of Independence. These are but procedural mechanisms that will blow away like dust in the wind if people stop cherishing and fighting for the values that undergird free nations everywhere.
Democracies can’t long function on auto pilot. The very legitimacy of a representative government depends on a proactive public holding its leaders’ feet close to the fire. To paraphrase Robert Kennedy, a passionate and engaged citizenry, “…dreams of things that never were, and asks why not.” But detached, disinterested citizens accept the smallness of its countries’ leaders and settle for small victories: holding on to a job, making the monthly rent, getting through an entire summer without a call from the bank.
When the national discussion isn’t about Israel’s security, economy or place among the family of nations, playing matkot or backgammon is surely a more productive way to spend one’s time. But viable democracies demand much of their citizens. Escaping these responsibilities will only prolong and deepen Israelis’ crisis of confidence in the country they so love.
Gidon Ben-Zvi is an accomplished writer whose work has appeared in The Jerusalem Post, The Times of Israel, the Algemeiner, American Thinker, the Jewish Journal, Israel Hayom, and United with Israel. Ben-Zvi blogs at Jerusalem State of Mind (jsmstateofmind.com).
A former Californian, the writer lives with his wife and four children in Israel.
It is difficult not to savour the irony of two United States congresswomen who advocate boycotts of Israel crying foul at being denied entry into the very country they seek to erase.
Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar, two members of the Democratic Party’s “Squad” of neophyte congresswomen from the Party’s radical left faction, have made their names by seeking to collapse decades of bipartisan support for Israel in US politics and using America’s democratic ally in the Middle-East as a wedge issue to divide their Party.
Omar, who courted Jewish support during her election campaign by declaring her opposition to organised boycotts of Israel, before promptly embracing them upon her election, has brandished virtually every antisemitic slur imaginable in her brief political career. She accused Israel of “hypnotizing the world” and called on “Allah to awaken the people” to Israel’s evil.
She accused American Jews who support the Israel alliance of dual loyalties.
She accused American Jews of buying political influence.
And she has declared her support for boycotts, divestment and sanctions of Israel artists, academics, and businesses, a campaign which in the words of its framers seeks the “complete and total isolation of Israel”, and the end of a Jewish state within any borders whatsoever.
Her congressional colleague Rashida Tlaib, openly supports a “one-state solution” to the conflict by which the solitary Jewish state is replaced by what would be the 22nd majority Arab state, and has recently taken to falsifying history, claiming that good-hearted, kindly Arab Palestinians opened their homes to Jewish interlopers fleeing the Holocaust. In fact, the majority of Israelis are from the Middle East and have no historical connection to Europe. More so, the Palestinian leadership sought at every turn, through violence and political maneuvering, to block entry into the land by fleeing European Jews. Their leader, Haj Amin-Al Husseini was a key Nazi collaborator and recruited Muslims to the Nazi killing squads and called on them to “kill Jews wherever you find them; this pleases God, history and religion.”
To be sure, the decision to bar entry into Israel to Congresswomen Omar and Tlaib is a fraught one which will have immense political implications for Israel. For decades, the imperative of American Jewish leaders has been to ensure that support for Israel transcends party politics. While some US Presidents and Congresses have been more sympathetic to Israel than others, baseline support for the peace and security of Israel has been remarkably resilient, even as politics has become more bitter and divided. But the decision of the Israeli Government, which (although now said to be unconnected) followed a Twitter statement from Donald Trump that “it would show great weakness if Israel allowed” the congresswomen entry, will only serve to rally the Democratic Party around the anti-Israel congresswomen and position them as the popular symbols of opposition to Donald Trump.
Just last month, despite intense lobbying by Omar and Tlaib, the US Congress adopted a resolution by a whopping 398-17 that rejected the anti-Israel boycott campaign, affirmed the two-state solution and calling for increased military aid to Israel.
But seeking to travel to Israel was a clever gambit by the congresswomen, who have carved out a unique ability to at once advance their agenda by using their power as influential public figures, while decrying the “privilege” of opposing political forces that supposedly keeps them in subservience.
A leaked itinerary for the congresswomen confirmed that they weren’t scheduled to meet with any mainstream Jewish groups or political figures and were being chaperoned by the NGO Miftah, which has accused Jews of using the blood of Christian children for Passover rituals and regularly praises Palestinians who kill Israeli civilians as “martyrs”.
If Israel allowed them entry, the congresswomen would have without question used the opportunity to advance their aim of turning public and political opinion against Israel by embarking on a carefully choreographed and live tweeted escapade showcasing the noble Palestinian struggle against the insatiable blood-lust of Jewish Israelis.
But by refusing entry, Israel inevitably opens itself up to criticism of being, at best, glass-jawed, and at worst, non-democratic. The former is a judgement call, but the latter is a spurious claim, given that countries routinely bar entry on character grounds, even to elected politicians of friendly countries (Dutch MP Geert Wilders was initially denied entry to Britain in 2009). Only in the case of Israel does this lead to the country’s democratic character being called into question.
The claim appears more dubious still when it is advanced by those who support the Palestinian national movement, the leadership of which is split between the wholly corrupt Fatah, whose President Mahmoud Abbas is currently luxuriating in the fourteenth year of a four-year term, and the Islamist Hamas, which regularly takes to tethering political opponents, suspected homosexuals and trade unionists to the backs of motorcycles and dragging them through the streets of Gaza.
The long-term implications of the Israeli Government’s decision on public opinion in the United States and Democratic Party support remains to be seen, though the alliance has spanned seven decades and has withstood far greater challenges than this. But with both a pro-Israel US President and the anti-Israel congresswomen cynically using the Jewish State in their campaigns to divide and conquer, it is difficult to envisage a scenario in which this latest skirmish ends well for Israel and those who support it.
Alexander (Alex) Ryvchin is an Australian writer, advocate, commentator, and lawyer. A former spokesman for the Zionist Federation UK, Ryvchin’s writings on the Arab-Israeli conflict and Jewish history have been published in numerous international newspapers including The Australian, The Sydney Morning Herald, The Guardian, The National Post and The Jerusalem Post. Ryvchin is a regular columnist for The Spectator.
The thin veil for Antisemitism in British Labour Party exposed
By Paul Charney, Chairman of the Zionist Federation UK and Ireland
The Labour Party have just announced another new initiative to deal with antisemitism of their members. The UK Jewish community is seething with anger and even Jewish Labour members will be wary and sceptical. Labour cannot spend years allowing an antisemitic culture to flourish under Jeremy Corbyn and expect another plan like this to be accepted with open arms.
True Colours. Jeremy Corbyn at the launch in Bradford of the Labour Party manifesto for the general election in May 2017. The line “FOR THE MANY, NOT THE FEW” has morphed since then into “FOR THE MANY, NOT THE JEW”. See below. Between January and June 2019, Labour received 625 complaints about members relating to anti-Semitism.
The demands by the community for a proper independent process have not been met – just a promise to speed things up.
Recently the UK watched a BBC1Panorama (broadcasted on the 10th July) exposé about antisemitism within the Labour Party, and what was clear was even the non-Jewish whistleblowers showed little room for optimism as to how this party can comeback from being labelled as the most antisemitic party since the Nazis, and worse yet, as to how they would behave in Government. Furthermore, they are the second party other than the far-right nationalist British Nationalist Party (BNP) to be subjected to a full enquiry by the UK Equality and Human Rights Commission since its establishment.
The BBC Panorama documentary on antisemitism within the British Labour party broadcasted on July 10 2019 exposed Jew-hatred within the party as well as exposing “smokescreening”, i.e. camouflaging its antisemitism. It also revealed that some members of the Labour party are “actual Holocaust promoters” with one former staffer revealing that she was regularly told that “Hitler was right” and “Hitler did not go far enough.”
Regarding Israel, while Labour talks of “two states”, it fails to ever add “an Israel within secure borders”. It talks about Palestinian refugees and their descendants, meaning a Palestinian “right of return” for Palestinian refugees to Israel but always under UNRWA’s endless generation rules. This would translate to the world’s only Jewish State ceasing to exist.
Is this Labour’s aim?
Labour behavior shows it has little time for Israel supporters and certainly only accepts Israel’s legitimacy as conditional.
Jeremey Corbyn has provided a legitimate open space for people to feel safe in expressing not just unmitigated anti-Zionist rhetoric, but also allows for that thin veil of masked antisemitsm to be removed. Once you allow the disease of antisemitism to flourish it becomes very difficult to eradicate it and most Jews will remain sceptical whilst the present leadership remains in place. The rest of us will remain uneasy about the future leaders of a party that we know has been hijacked by anti-Western, anti-establishment extremists.
Whilst Zionism has finally found a safe legitimate and justifiable place within UK politics, education and society – including leaders outwardly expressing their Zionists credentials – there remain the critics who will gladly provide endless condemnation against Israel. “No matter what Israel does its simply not good enough because of the occupation”. We at the Zionist Federation continue to strive to rebrand Israel as it truly is. However, if you start off by hating Israel then you will not be able to see anything else. We must subsequently focus on those that have not been brainwashed and allow them to form a genuine opinion of a complicated issue that is simply not black or white.
Israel and particularly Zionism is now an important issue for the next generation of Jews in the UK. For good or bad, Jewish youth are forced into a position by their peers to either support or condemn Israel. They feel that no matter how far they remove themselves from any discussion, since they are Jewish, then they are seen as representatives of the Jewish homeland.
This compels future generations to identify one way or another.
Whilst the rest of the country remain focused on dealing with Brexit.
Paul Charney was first elected Chairman of the Zionist Federation UK and Ireland in 2012 and has been re-elected three times. He writes and speaks frequently on Israel and represents Zionist supporters across the country. Born in South Africa, Paul lived for many years in Israel, where he served for 4.5 years as a Tank Platoon Officer in the IDF. Having initially studied Law and worked as a lawyer in the UK, he now runs his own Land and Planning Company across the UK.
The Israel Brief – 01 July 2019 – We are on the move – Iran violates clause in enriching uranium, PA arrest attendees to Bahrain confab and off duty policeman investigated for murder of young Ethiopian.
The Israel Brief – 02 July 2019 – Solomon Tekah z”l laid to rest. Iranian nuclear standoff intensifies. Is this the return of Ehud Barak?
The Israel Brief – 03 July 2019 – Riots in Israel. Netanyahu open to peace plan. Disturbed dedicates Hatikvah to IDF.
The Israel Brief – 03 July 2019 – Tekah family appeals for calm. More Trump peace plan soon and Netanyahu reassures South.
head of Israel Section, SAICC / SA Israel Chamber of Commerce Johannesburg, South Africa.
Time passes, memories fade, events are forgotten. I needed to remind myself of past traumas in Israel, and I did.
In 2001, Hamas, Islamic Jihad, the Al Aqsa Brigades and other terrorist groups began launching Qassam rockets at Sderot (the small town that lies about a mile outside of the Gaza Strip in the western Negev Desert) as part of the Second Intifada (2000-2005), and have continued intermittently since then.
Not only continued but intensified!
In a single day in November 2018, more than 460 rockets were launched into the south of Israel, cruelly outmatched a few months later when over a 24-hour period in May 2019, 500 rockets were fired at Israel from Gaza.
Back in 2002, the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) installed a radar warning system known as Shakhar Adom, or ‘red dawn’. It operated as follows: an alarm was sounded across the town when the IDF realised that a rocket was inbound. It worked extremely well, and citizens mostly had time – about 15 seconds – to find shelter from the inevitable destruction which followed.
In 2007, a young 7-year old Israeli girl by the name of Shakhar complained about her name being associated with the warning system. In true Israeli style, ensuring that as little discomfort as possible would affect the citizens, authorities changed the name to TsevaAdom – meaning ‘red colour’ or ‘code red’ – and Tseva Adom became known across the Jewish world as ‘15 seconds’ – the difference between life and death.
Seventeen years: 17 years during which the citizens of Sderot, and later those of other cities and towns near Gaza, have lived with the terror of imminent attack, imminent destruction, imminent death. 17 years of treading softly, holding one’s breath, praying that children and spouses have reached safety in time, wondering when the next warning would come. 17 years of angst, of apprehension, of foreboding – how do people live like that?
Three years after the first radar warning was installed in Sderot, it was installed in Ashkelon, a city lying north of the Gaza Strip near the Mediterranean coast, further away from Gaza than Sderot, then also under siege from rockets and imminent death. But aha! Ashkelon did better than Sderot. Why? Because its citizens had 30 seconds’ warning instead of 15 – much more time to find shelter. And did the citizens of Ashkelon cope with that trauma? 30 seconds – the difference between life and death. Not quite shades of Sophie’s Choice, but near enough.
While everyone involved suffered unimaginable horrors, it was the children who really bore the brunt of the attacks. Post-traumatic stress disorders, hyperactivity, problems with sleeping, detachment from friends, from activities, from integration into any social world – that was then, but those children who are now adults are still traumatised, still terrified, still emotionally fragile. Yet because the actual number of deaths caused by the rockets was very low, what happened there has taken a back seat as people continued to live every day and to marginalise their horrific experiences. And as for the media? Of course, there were no stories – there seldom are, when they concern Israeli tragedies.
The New ‘Normal’
Let’s fast-forward 17 years and look at Sderot today, and at Ashkelon, and at the other parts of Israel where breathing is less often taken for granted and instead has become a symptom of apprehension. Sderot is now home to three converted bomb shelters that were adapted to meet the needs of teenagers for space and their own activities. Each can accommodate about 50 teens, and each can expand to make room for at least another 20. The best part of this is that those children are already gathered in bomb shelters: should there be a Tseva Adom warning, it will have no effect either on them or their pursuits, except psychologically and emotionally – does that matter?
According to NGO officials who visited Sderot to show support specifically to the teenagers, ‘We came into this large two-floor bomb shelter and it was like coming into someone’s living room. There are comfortable sofas, a well-stocked kitchen, a giant TV on the wall and downstairs there is a games room and a homework room. Everything is well maintained by the kids.” In this safe environment, the children are given leadership training courses, they are encouraged to interact socially with one another and establish healthy relationships, and they are assisted with their schoolwork.
Almost normal – almost, but not quite. These are tomorrow’s leaders of Israel: passive victims of the worst kind of hatred and enmity. Can their future be predicted? I wonder.
In the latest incident in March this year, Ashkelon was once again targeted from Gaza and Israeli families were woken up once again by the sound of air-raid sirens from Hamas rocket fire. Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad determined yet again to create as much devastation as possible in the city, firing rockets and launching several airborne incendiary devices (including kites); and there was a cross-border arson attack in which Palestinians breached the Gaza security fence and burned whatever they could find in the area.
More of the same trauma, the same anguish, the same shattering blows to the lives of those living there. Unceasing, and now focusing on central Israel, Tel Aviv, other vulnerable cities.
What is life like for those who live under this constant barrage of attack, combined with the hatred that initiates it? How do the people of south Israel, wanting nothing more than peaceful lives and opportunities to enjoy life, cope with these perpetual offensives? And what about those Palestinians who want much the same as the Israelis, but who are held hostage by their corrupt and devious leadership, forced to endure terror and torture for ideologies with which they may well disagree, as seen in the many on-the-ground normal everyday relationships that have developed between them and Israelis in their neighbourhoods?
The sound of the siren – the Tseva Adom – remains terrifying for Israelis in the south of the country, even though the attacks are less frequent than they used to be. When the siren goes off, they must drop everything, run to bomb shelters and ensure that their families are with them. They are often too afraid to leave their homes and venture out to do the tasks any normal family does, because the sirens might go again, at any moment. They fear the slamming of doors, the backfiring of cars and trucks, unusual music being played: to many of them, these strange noises sound like that dreadful sign. They cannot even stop and freeze in panic in case they don’t make it to the shelter in time. These are offensives of wartime, yet the world refuses to believe Israel is in a constant war with her enemies because the numbers of casualties are so low.
Sderot has been described by some of its citizens, with gallows humour, as “the biggest bull’s-eye on the map of Israel”. When the bombing began at the turn of the century, and because of its “proximity to the border and the concentration of Hamas-led amateur bomb-makers on the other side, Sderot has (and has) a unique civic claim: on a rocket-per-head-of-population basis, it is the most targeted town in Israel, indeed the world.” That’s quite a reputation for Sderot: Hamas is making sure that other Israeli towns gain the same reputation.
I remember years back, during the infamous Vietnam war, that one of the most iconic photos to come out of that tragedy was the one entitled “Vietnam Napalm 1972”. The caption read: “South Vietnamese forces follow after terrified children, including 9-year-old Kim Phuc, as they run down Route 1 near Trang Bang after an aerial napalm attack on suspected Viet Cong hiding places on June 8, 1972. A South Vietnamese plane accidentally dropped its flaming napalm on South Vietnamese troops and civilians. The terrified girl had ripped off her burning clothes while fleeing.” That photo, and others from that time, and the explanatory texts, made history. They were distributed widely; the world was shocked and stunned; the anger was palpable.
Israel has had more than its fair share of tragedies, of bombings, of fires, of in-bed murders, of terror attacks, yet whenever these have happened, world opinion has been quiet. Jewish lives – Israeli lives – are far less important than those of many others. We number so few in the world’s population that the thinking probably is that we have no standing. Like putting one’s finger into a glass of water, pulling it out and seeing no difference whatsoever in the level of water, so too with murdering a few Israelis here and there, some children, teenagers and the aged, the end effect is negligible. Not worthy of media attention. Not worthy of comment.
It is what it is….
Bev Goldman worked for many years in education and journalism, and she holds a master’s degree in Feminist Literature. Prior to joining the SA Zionist Federation where she dealt with media and education for 12 years, she was the editor of the ‘Who’s Who’ of Southern Africa; a member of WordWize which taught English language skills to Russian and Polish immigrants in South Africa; an occasional lecturer in English at RAU (now the University of Johannesburg); and Director of Educational Programmes at Allenby In-Home Studies. Currently she runs the Media Team Israel for the SA Zionist Federation; she sits on the Board of Governors of the Rabbi Cyril Harris Community Centre (RCHCC); she is the National Vice-President of the Union of Jewish Women South Africa; she is an executive member of the International Council of Jewish Women (ICJW); and she edits and proofs Masters and PhD dissertations.