Of Men and Mensches

By Craig Snoyman

South African social media has been scorching hot this week.  The former President of South Africa, Jacob Zuma, was sentenced to 15 months direct imprisonment for contempt of a court order. The order was handed down by the highest court in the land, the Constitutional Court. It also ordered his imprisonment. Virtually the whole of South Africa was sure that he would do something to prevent his arrest, after all his so- called “Stalingrad Defence” has managed to stall criminal corruption charges against him for at least ten years . Cell phones were literally burning as discussion, speculation, conspiracy theories and humour jammed the internet.

One of the pictures widely disseminated was a photo-shopped pictures was of President Zuma disguising himself as an Arab, with him thinking of going to Dubai.  It is widely rumoured that many of his illicit millions are there. What we do know, is that his son owns a very expensive apartment there.  The Gupta brothers, who are alleged to have looted billions of rand from the South African fiscus in cahoots with Zuma, are also hiding out there.

Former South African President, Jacob Zuma has started his prison term

Normally it is completely politically inappropriate even refer to “black-face” or in this case “brown-face”, let alone circulate such a picture but these are very strange times in South Africa. President Zuma, once referred to “Msholozi” (number one) and now in whispered references as “Jailkop Zuma”, is likely to spend some of his immediate future behind bars. At the same time as he sets out on a new path, so does Israel’s former President, Reuven Rilvin.  Two pictures tell the difference between the two Presidents.

On his last day as President, photographs of President Rivlin in disguise, were released to the press. In the picture that appears in the Israeli press, President Rivlin is heavily disguised with a dark-haired wig, a bushy beard and spectacles (and possibly an altered nose and shoulder padding) and a long black overcoat. He certainly did not look like an 81 year old man.  His security detail said that he spend several hours walking around, disguised and incognito, amongst his fellow citizens. 

Deep Undercover. The President in his disguise, happily mingled amongst unsuspecting Israeli citizens.

From our perspective at the bottom of Africa, it never looked like President Rivlin put a foot wrong. He was the image of the perfect statesman, (almost perfect because he looked a little too cuddly) representing the State of Israel in an extremely dignified manner. And then these pictures were released! Not furtively onto a site on the internet, but publicly released to all the national newspapers.  Clearly an affectionate gesture by his secret-service protection, with his full consent.

All of a sudden, President Rivlin is seen in a different light! No longer the upright, ceremonial state representative.  In one fell swoop, he is seen as an avuncular scamp – a man with a sense of humour, your favourite uncle playing a trick on you! He is transformed and now, he’s just an ordinary person, one of us.  Sometimes we forget that the politicians are human to.  For me, this is probably going to be my lasting image of President Rivlin, all his other accomplishments will slip into the recesses of my memory. Farewell President Rivlin, may your future journeys be filled with joy and wonder and much good health and happiness… and lots more impish humour. I doff my kippa to you, President Rivlin, a People’s President.



About the writer:

Craig Snoyman is a practising advocate in South Africa.





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

Talk about Change!

As Israel’s 11th President, Isaac Herzog is tailor-made for transformation

By David E. Kaplan

A new President, a new Prime Minister and for the first time in Israel’s history, something extraordinary – a NEW religious Arab Muslim party (Ra’am) in Israel’s ruling coalition government. People can disagree on multiple issues of what is evolving, what they cannot disagree is where it is heading –  CHANGE.

Exactly what that change will be, nobody is too sure.

As Israel awoke the morning after ‘chaos in the Knesset’ to a new political reality, I received emails from friends and family abroad, all variation of a theme:

Nu, what does this mean?”

For the most part I replied it was a case of ditching deadlock.

The country is moving on, first a new president now a new Prime Mister and we will have to wait how this political theatre plays out. True, most of the cast remains the same actors; but there is a touch of Shakespearean irony here with Herzog’s ascendancy to the Presidency recalling the Bard’s – “The play’s the thing that will catch the conscience of the king…”. In 2015, Herzog vied to oust Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu; and as chance would have it, he was elected President a few years later on the day that a coalition united in a bid to remove the veteran Prime Minister from power!

Further irony for this writer, “Enter Isaac Herzog” was the title of my interview with Isaac Herzog back in 2007 when he was then Minister of Diaspora, Society and the Fight Against Antisemitism. The article was for Haaretz magazine and it was concerning Jewish youth around the world focusing on “nurturing tomorrow’s leadership”.

Face to the Future. Former Jewish Agency head, Labour chief and son of the 6th President, Israel’s 11th President, Isaac Herzog –  seen outside the Knesset  – says that he’ll work to ‘build bridges’ within Israeli society and with Diaspora.

All these years later, “enter” the former Leader of the Opposition and Leader of the Labour Party as Israel’s 11th President!

From the stable he comes he has inherited the family mettle. The son revealed in the 2007 interview an illuminating story about his father, Chaim Herzog, Israel’s 6th president, and the birth of a nation.

On the 11 March 1946, a car bomb exploded beneath the Keren Hayesod wing of the Jewish Agency in Jerusalem. The bomber, an Arab in the employ of the American Consul was a trusted person at the Agency. “He said he had stuff to deliver and needed to park as close to the building as possible.” Why should they have doubted him? Only two weeks previously, he had supplied weapons to the Hagana (pre-curser to the Israeli Defence Force). What they did not know was that he was a double agent, and that ignorance resulted in eleven fatalities, including the Director of Keren Hayesod, Leib Jaffe.

Emerging from the Rubble. March 11 1946, Arab terrorists bombed the headquarters building of the Jewish Agency for Palestine in Jerusalem killing eleven and wounding eighty-six. Among the injured was Isaac Herzog’s mother, Aura who was rescued under the rubble by his father, the future 6th President of the State of Israel.

My father had been the Chief Security officer of the Jewish Agency at the time of the bombing. Luckily, he was in the toilet when the bomb exploded,” says Isaac. Not so fortunate was his mother, Aura, who was buried under the rubble.

My dad had to dig her out. She was unconscious and remained in hospital for six months. After riding in the ambulance with her to the hospital, he then had to rush afterwards to an important meeting with a representative from the United Nations. He had no time to change, so his clothes were covered in my mother’s blood. The UN man took one look at my Dad and said:

 “If this is the way you come dressed to a meeting, no one will deter you from winning this war”.”

How right this UN representative was!

Ever since, the UN has been mostly wrong about Israel and it was Herzog senior who in 1975 gave his memorable firebrand speech to the UN General Assembly  rejecting the resolution equating Zionism with racism. It was described by prizewinning historian Simon Sebag Montefiore as “one of the great speeches of the 20th century.”

Herzog stated that the resolution’s supporters were motivated by the “two great evils” of “hatred and ignorance”, something that has not changed to this day. So poetically and poignantly he ended his speech with:

For us, the Jewish people, this is no more than a piece of paper, and we shall treat it as such,” before tearing the draft resolution in two.

The wife he earlier saved three decades earlier in the rubble in Jerusalem, Aura Herzog became a social activist and in 1968, she founded The Council for a Beautiful Israel – a public non-profit organization focused on improving the quality of life in Israel – and remains at 96, its international president. This family name has a presidential ring about it!

The Israel Connection. An old generation cellphone, Isaac Herzog being interviewed in 2007 by the writer, on ‘connecting’ with Jewish youth around the world. (photo D.E.Kaplan)

No less enlightening, his Egyptian-born mother is the one who gave Israel’s new President his popular nickname “Bougie” by mixing the French word for doll “poupee” with its Hebrew equivalent “buba”.

In his acceptance speech as Israel’s 11th President, Bougie said:

I intend to be the President of all Israelis, to lend an attentive ear to every position and respect every person. To join the connecting lines and build bridges of consensus, in order to bring in even the most distant amongst us, as well as our brothers and sisters in the Diaspora.”

These words resonated with the writer recalling what he had expressed back in the 2007 interview. Sitting in a restaurant in his hometown of Tzahala, a neighbourhood in north Tel Aviv, he said, referring to the Internet and the World Wide Web:

Press ‘enter’ today and you are connected to the world; that’s the good news. The bad news,” he continued, “is that in the new age of instant connectivity, too many Jews in the Diaspora have become disconnected – from their religion and their community.”

While the majority of Jews today live in democracies enjoying unprecedented freedom, “it has not come without a price. Too many have become alienated, a challenge to Jewish leadership the world over.”

This remains a challenge that as Israel’s 11th President, Isaac “Bougie” Herzog can pursue with the full weight of his office.

From Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. A youthful relaxed then Minister of Diaspora, Society and the Fight Against antisemitism, Isaac Herzog being interviewed by the writer at a restaurant in north Tel Aviv in 2007. (photo D.E. Kaplan)






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

Bolt from the Blue and Bennett Bolts

Opinion

By David E. Kaplan

What we don’t get done fast, won’t get done at all,” was the talk of the coalition builders – Messrs. Bennett, Lapid & Co.  That was early May when Israelis were dropping into restaurants before they were dashing to bomb shelters.

Lapid and Bennett knew they must form a coalition government quickly – or not at all.

It was ‘not at all’.

They weren’t fast enough against what most lawyers are familiar from the Latin – novus actus interveniens (“new act intervening”) that disrupts a chain of causation.

That new act came literally ‘out of the blue’ descending from  Israel’s cloudless blue summer sky when rockets from Gaza landed in the country’s capital – Jerusalem. The coalition efforts of Messrs. Bennett, Lapid & Co. were as much a target of the rockets from Gaza  than any physical location as was quickly revealed when far more disruptive than the rubble in the capital was the political fallout – the disintegration of what would have been ISRAEL’S FIRST EVER ARAB JEWISH COALITION AGREEMENT, only several days away from signing. Whatever one’s political allegiance, this would have been monumental. It went up in a puff of proverbial smoke. A direct hit.

Facing the Future. (l-r) Yesh Atid head Yair Lapid , Yamina chief Naftali Bennett and Ra’am leader Mansour Abbas  (Photo: Yoav Dudkevitch, Elad Gutman, Yaron Brenner)

From Hamas and Iran’s vantage – the war  – in terms of  important ‘targets’ – was won on Day 1.

In the wake of a changing Middle East with Israel’s increasing regional acceptance and a country “to do business with” following the game-changing 2020 Abrahams Accords, Iran and Hamas were on the back foot. These developments were anathema to Gaza and Iran and the last thing they wanted would be to seal this deal of Israel’s increasing integration in the region was a political rapprochement between Jewish Zionist and Arab parties joining together in a coalition to form the next government of the Jewish state. This would have been an affirmation of gale force winds moving in a direction that horrified Hamas and Iran and had to be stopped at any cost!

An affirmation amounting to an abomination, Iran ordered and Hamas pulled the trigger.

So, in answer to those always quick to blame Israel:

Whose fingers were on the trigger initiating this 11-day war?  

And when one examines the consequences, the Director of UNRWA, usually no friend of Israel admitted  – to the outrage of Gazan citizens  – that the IDF strikes were “precise”:

So yes, they didn’t hit – with some exceptions – civilian targets.”

Exceptions not the rule unlike the Hamas rockets that were AIMED at Israel’s civilian population.

So, again, irrespective of one’s politics, can anyone argue that had an Arab party been part of a future Israeli government it would not have endeavoured to pursue the interests and needs of the Arab community in Israel as well as offering counsel on all issues pertaining to their Palestinian brethren in the West Bank and Gaza?

Far more afraid of this than Israel’s intransient right wing was Hamas and Iran – hence the rockets. The pending evictions in Sheikh Jarrah over a  property dispute between title owners and occupants of a few homes  – although galvanizing passions in opposition – was a matter resting with the courts and not the causa belli. In legal matters, parties seek redress in the court, not commission hitmen!

In truth – it was the cover – to passionately inflame and justify the war.

It worked with the support of the international media.

Times can create surprising bedfellows. After it was reported Mansour Abbas (left) and Naftali Bennett (right) met for the first time, the reactions on Twitter from the right and the left were not long in coming. 

And although Bennett would soon bolt, Abbas displayed grit and resilience. On the very day the rockets began – 10May – it was reported in the morning local media that despite the unrest in Jerusalem, the Islamist Ra’am party of Mansour Abbas was still expected to actively back a unity government led by Yamina chief Naftali Bennett and Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid, providing the key backing that the pair needed to build a coalition. In return, the emerging government would honor a list of Ra’am demands that would meet the needs as listed by Abbas of the Arab and Bedouin communities in Israel.  By day’s end, the rockets and the ensuing unrest in Arab town and villages across Israel derailed the coalition as Bennett pulled out announcing that he was no longer willing to be part of a “change government” to replace Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Poised to become Israel’s next prime minister in a “rotation” arrangement with current opposition leader Yair Lapid – Bennett nevertheless bolted!

The deal was always contingent on bringing an Israeli Arab party – Ra’am, led by Knesset Member Mansour Abbas – into the coalition and only days before, both Bennett and Abbas seemed ready to sign on the dotted line.

Looking for ways forward together. Mansour Abbas of Ra’am (left) meets with Yair Lapid of Yesh Atid, April 19, 2021 (Courtesy)

Then came the rocket war with Gaza and the brutal and bloody street fighting throughout Israel between Jewish and Arab extremists and Bennett telling reporters:

 “I am removing the ‘change government’ from the agenda.”

Destination Israel. Amidst a civilian area, rockets are launched from Gaza Strip towards Israel on May 11, 2021. (AP Photo/Hatem Moussa)

Abbas on the other hand said:

 “I am not giving up on future cooperation. It could be that these incidents emphasize the need for true partnership with understanding, initiating together.”

One positive note, President Biden said that contingent of US support for the rehabilitation of Gaza, any reconstruction aid would be provided in partnership with the Palestinian Authority and not with Hamas, which the United States labels a terrorist organization.

This is a powerful message to the international community and sound global leadership.

So who knows, maybe there will be more bolts out of the blue and not in the shape of rockets?

True Colours. The Gulf-Israel Women’s Forum brings children draped in the flags of Bahrain, Israel and the UAE to Jerusalem’s Old City, precisely the optics that Hamas and Iran want to prevent – with ROCKETS!  (photo credit: ISRAEL HADARI)






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

Decked out in Blue and White

By Rolene Marks

I love this time of the year in Israel. The country is transformed into a blue and white celebration as the roads are lined and national buildings festooned with Israeli flags. There is a festive atmosphere as many decorate their balconies and cars with flags and of course, barbeques are sold out – all in preparation for the national holidays, Yom Hazikaron (Memorial Day) and Yom Ha’atzmaut (Independence Day).

This year as the country starts to recover from the global pandemic we are acutely aware of all that has been lost.  The feeling of celebration is a lot more subdued and pensive this year, many still fearful to gather in large groups but also immense gratitude that we are coming out of this difficult year – and for our world leading vaccination rollout.

This year our beloved country turns 73. Israel is several thousand years old but the modern state was founded in 1948. She wears the lines of her history with grace and integrity and a cheeky sense of humour. At times this is punctuated with a deep sadness and if you look a little closer, sometimes you can see a tear in her eyes.

It is no coincidence that the national holidays fall very closely to each other.  It was intended that way so we are aware of the price that we have paid to have this country. We are reminded of the pain of our past and the sacrifices of the many that ensure that we continue to live in our vibrant but flawed democracy. There is nothing Israelis value more than life and this is demonstrated with such heart around these holidays.

This week we commemorate Yom Hazikaron – Memorial Day for soldiers and victims of terror followed the next day by Yom Ha’atzmaut, Independence Day. Last year, Israelis like many around the world were in lock down and this placed a heavy burden on bereaved families who were unable to visit the graves of the loved ones. Thank goodness this year, we have the go ahead to visit cemeteries and to have gatherings to celebrate Yom Ha’atzmaut. We can return to our favourite national pastime (besides engaging in robust argument!) – the barbeque.

 This Yom Hazikaron we will mourn 23 928 who have fallen in defense of the state and hundreds of victims of terror. Every year, we immerse ourselves in remembering the lives that we have lost but also gratitude for their service. Their names; and the names of the wars and operations are etched in memory – the War of Independence, the Six Day War, the Yom Kippur War, the wars with Lebanon, Operation Cast Lead and the many others.

Their names are seared in our hearts.

And there are those whose names we will never know but whose valiant acts of bravery are the reasons that we enjoy the freedoms that we do.

At 20h00 a mournful siren will announce the start of Yom Hazikaron, followed by a ceremony at The Kotel (Wailing Wall) in Jerusalem. The time for remembrance and reflection begins.

Yom Hazikaron inspires in us a sense of awe and creates an incredible sense of solidarity amongst Jews around the world, but it is here in Israel where the emotions are seriously heightened. Our soldiers are not uniformed strangers who serve, but our children, spouses, colleagues, parents, friends and lovers.

They are the people we love.

Yom Hazikaron is also a day of gratitude. Few words can express how grateful we are for all who protect us on land, sea and air. Our brave warriors, these lions of Zion are our guardians and protectors. We are proud of them; we embrace them, and we love them.

There is nothing more important to Israelis than life. We revere it and we revel in it. And it is on this solemn and heartbreaking day that we are reminded of its fragility.

And then the whole mood of the country changes from one of somber memorial to that of celebration!

From the north to the south and everywhere in between, Israelis begin to celebrate!

One of the most special moments is the annual fly over of the IAF featuring planes throughout our history. This is a highly anticipated annual event and this year will be viewed with a lot more excitement and sentimentality because it couldn’t happen last year.

On this 73rd year of Israel’s Independence we have much to celebrate. Extraordinary achievements, historical peace deals, triumph over adversity and the temerity to face our ongoing challenges with the strength and gusto that has come to characterize the Israeli spirit.

We will continue to wear our blue and white with pride!

Am Yisrael Chai!







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

Hot Air to Hot Stuff

Back to the Polls in Israel as Voters Wade through the Waffle

By David E. Kaplan

During an election campaign the air is full of speeches and vice versa,” said the American historian Henry Adams. A descendant from two former US presidents – John Adams and John Quincy Adams –  he should know!

This March, Israelis will be voting in another general election!

That will be FOUR in TWO years, that is more than the number of times I have been to movies over the same period!

Rather than an “all-star cast”, we have the “usual suspects”to determine our future. And as to the final ‘scene’, it will again be reminiscent of American tag wrestling where men clamber into the ring mouthing menacing threats before pulvarising anyone in their way and we call this ‘delightful’ process –  “coalition building”!

If it were a movie, how would one describe it : tragedy, drama or comedy?

Whatever; we are now subjected to our 4th season in this tragic, dramatic or comedic charade and hope – or pray – that we don’t have a 5th season soon. 

As for the rhetoric we can expect from our candidates seeking our ‘precious’ votes, I am reminded  of the words from Macbeth “ full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.”

Walk On By. People walk by election campaign billboards showing Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (left), alongside the Blue and White former party leaders, in Tel Aviv, Israel, on April 3, 2019.
(AP / Oded Balilty 2019 ©FILE)

 

Ins and Outs

With always additions to the ‘plot’ in the shape of new parties and personalities, voters always hope that ‘new kids on the block’ will survive into electoral adulthood. Last time serious aspirant for PM, Benny Gantz and his Blue and White party are now blue and black – not expected to make it into the next Knesset.

Adding his hat into the “ring” this time round is Tel Aviv mayor, Ron Huldai heading a new centre-left party called The Israelis and who may just spice up the race with a proven record of ‘getting the job done’.

Huldai promises to present a “clear alternative” to the ideologically disenfranchised Israelis who feel they have no home in the current political set up.

We will lift their chins and bring back their hope…. it is high time to present a clear alternative,” he said.

He has the talent, drive and is fueled by that increasingly rare attribute –  “values”.

Exasperated. The leader of Israel’s Blue and White party, Benny Gantz, saying he cannot form a coalition government, making a third election in a year more likely. Now were heading for a fourth!

Meeting the Mayor

I recall my interview with Huldai back in 2009 after he was elected for a consecutive third term of Mayor of Tel Aviv, the same year that marked 100 years since the establishment of Israel’s first, modern Hebrew-speaking city. He had reason to be proud.

Ten years ago,” he told me, “the city was on the verge of bankruptcy. We made a real turnaround. Apart from balancing our budget within six years, we trebled our spending on public works.”

It showed back then in 2009  as the image of “the city that never sleeps” was evident from shoreline to skyline.

He went on. If businesses and banks were once leaving the City, “These days they are tripping over each other as they scout for premises.

A decade later, Forbes in 2019, ranked Tel Aviv the 2nd best city in the world and in 2020 – for the third year in a row – Tel Aviv took in more new immigrants than any other Israeli city. Huldai had more than a hand in steering his city to its attractive status.

Shifting his Sights. Aspiring to national politics, Mayor Ron Huldai standing at Dizengoff Square in central Tel Aviv.

I recall that on the far wall opposite the Mayor’s desk in his office – overlooking Rabin Square – hung a large painting of a group of people standing on a desolate beach. The distance between the painting to Huldai’s desk was only five metres.  The distance in time between the subject of the panting and the mayor sitting in his chair was one hundred years. Noting my interest and pointing to the painting he said, “There – they are our first residents; our city founders, 60 families. They called their new town Ahuzat Bayit (“Housing Project”) and after a year renamed it Tel Aviv (“Spring Hill”).”

After a long ‘winter of discontent’ with Israeli politics, can we realistically hope for a Spring?

Change of Seasons

One could be excused for thinking that the “Big City” is in the Mayor’s blood.

It’s not!

Huldai was born and bred on kibbutz Hulda from which he takes his surname – Huldai. A former combat pilot, he was decorated for his exploits during the Six-Day War of 1967 and the Yom Kippur War of 1973. Prior to retiring after 26 years in the Israel Air Force with the rank of Brigadier General, he had been the commander of two of Israel’s largest Air Force bases. Tellingly, Huldai points out that “at only 51 square kilometres, in size, Tel Aviv is smaller than my old base and yet look what is packed into it. With over 1700 bars and pubs, thousands of restaurants, a new Waterfront at the old port, the nightlife is unbelievable. This place never shuts down. It’s a city on a treadmill.”

The metaphor may well apply to the Mayor, who now in 2021 aspires to entering national politics.  

Mayors on the Right Track. Then London mayor, Boris Johnson ( right) and Tel Aviv Ron Huldai (left) cycle down Rothschild Boulevard in downtown Tel Aviv. (Photo via Facebook)

Back to School

I recalled it illuminating Huldai relating about visiting a school that morning, before our interview, “to meet its new principal.” Schools are places where Huldai naturally feels at home. Following in the footsteps of his parents who were both educators, Huldai, after his military service, served as principal of Tel Aviv’s prestigious Gymnasia Herzliya, the first Hebrew speaking school in Israel. He continued, “After my meeting with the principal, I walked through the playground and joined a bunch of kids playing matkot (beach bats). I asked if I could join in?” and the next minute was showing them his lesser known talents. This is what Huldai clearly enjoys doing, connecting with his city’s citizens of all ages.

Time for Change. Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai (left) and Justice Minister Avi Nissenkorn at the announcement on Huldai’s new party, December 29, 2020.

Hanging Out

Intrigued as to where in Tel Aviv the Mayor likes to enjoy ‘time out’, he mentions  – apart from the beach – a well-known coffee bar.

“Any reason for this one?” I asked.

“Sure, its popular with the locals,” he replies.It’s like the Knesset. People are drinking coffee, eating pastry and discussing politics.  And not quietly either! Very noisy, just like the Knesset. It’s wonderful. It reminds me of Golda Meir’s observation, when she quipped – “I am the Prime Minister of a country of three million Prime Ministers.” Everyone in Israel is well informed and knows better how to run the place. It’s an opportunity for me to connect with people and tap into their thinking.”  

Of course, whenever he enters the place, he says, “the talk usually changes from national affairs to local issues and they have questions I’m expected to have the answers.

Hardly surprising.

Having “answers” to the concerns of people should be on the minds of all who seek office. Listing the values that his party will champion, Huldai includes:  

safeguarding democracy and the justice system, create socially-minded reforms, care for small businesses, promote women’s and minorities’ rights, and oppose religious coercion and rampant violence in the Arab community”.

Illuminating City. Tel Aviv municipality lit up for gay pride. Under Huldai’s mayorship, Tel Aviv has become one of the most popular holiday destinations for LGBTQ travelers, with the city home to a plethora of LGBTQ bars, gyms, beaches and hotels, as well the largest Pride parade in the Middle East and Asia.

Urging Israelis to vote for his party as a “home of values,” he  points to the values he said he has brought to Tel Aviv-Jaffa, a city now the envy of the world, where Jews and Arabs, Orthodox and secular, straights and LGBTQ live together “without hatred and fear.”

He has described Tel Aviv as “a lighthouse city – spreading the values of freedom, tolerance and democracy to the world.”

I for one wish him luck. I like the job he has done in Tel Aviv; may he now have an impact on the future of the nation. And for sure, Huldai can expect the patrons at his favourite coffee bar to have a lot more questions!




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

Rabin Remembered

From the personal to the political –  25 years on from the assassination of Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin

By David E. Kaplan

While senior Americans may still ask each other where they were when they first heard the news on November 22nd 1963 that President Kennedy was shot, most Israelis are more likely to question of their own leader assassinated on November 4th, 1995:

What would have happened had he lived?

A Nation Stunned. Outside Tel Aviv’s Ichilov Hospital, Eitan Haber announces the death of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, Saturday, Nov 4, 1995. (AP PHOTo/Eyal Warshavsky)

Reflections of “What If” have persisted unabated  every year this time on the anniversary of the assassination of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, who was gunned down in office while addressing a peace rally in Tel Aviv in 1995. Despite his physical absence, his somewhat spiritual presence remains profoundly felt – even at places far beyond the borders of the country he so valiantly served.

More than killing a man, the assassin killed a peace process leading to an accelerated and deepening polarization in Israel  that has influenced the country’s domestic and foreign policy ever since. One wonders if Rabin had not been killed by Yigal Amir that fateful Saturday in November, would Israel be different today?

Whatever one’s perspective today on the Oslo Accords  – that had earned Rabin  the 1994 Nobel Peace Prize together with Shimon Peres and Yasser Arafat – it was a daring gamble. What made the Prime Minister pursue this course was a question I put to his daughter, Dalia Rabin in an exclusive interview for Hilton Israel Magazine following the opening in 2010 of the  Yitzhak Rabin Center, which she serves as Chairman.

A Noble Affair. The architects of the Oslo Peace  initiative, Yasser Arafat, Shimon Peres, Yitzhak Rabin share the 1994 Nobel Peace Prize for their efforts at reconciliation between Israelis and Palestinians.

A former Member of the Knesset and former Deputy Minister of Defense , Dalia explained it this way:

Look, for many years he was trying to deal with the local Palestinian leadership in the West Bank. He set up a forum, when they used to meet in his office on Friday mornings, but he realized that no sooner had they returned to their offices in Ramallah, they would call the guy in Tunis who called the shots.

So he reasoned, rather than talk to Tunis via Ramallah, why not talk directly to the guy in Tunis. If he is so strong, respected and charismatic, maybe he is the one who can deliver the goods and bring peace and so began the dialogue between my father and Yasser Arafat.”

The writer David Kaplan interviewing Dalia Rabin at the newly opened Yitzchak Rabin Center in Tel Aviv in 2010.

It was a huge risk on the shoulders of someone who caried the weight of the future of the Jewish state. He knew that to openly negotiate with Arafat would confer legitimacy on an international terrorist, whose oranisation had been associated with such atrocities as  the Coastal Road Massacre in March 1978, the Munich Massacre of Olympic athletes  in September 1972, and the Achille Lauro hijacking in October 1985.

Was it worth the risk

Depends on the man taking it said the late Eitan Haber who was one of Rabin’s closet friends. I interviewed the late Haber in 2015 on the 20th anniversary of Rabin’s assassination.

Yes, I met him in 1958. I was eighteen, drafted into the IDF and serving as a reporter for ‘Bamachaneh’, a military newspaper when the commander of the Northern Command befriended me. Little did I know that he would one day become Prime Minister?”

It was the beginning of a long and enriching journey. In 1985, when Rabin was Minister of Defense, he appointed Haber – then the military correspondent with Yedioth Ahronoth – as his special media adviser. The relationship peaked, when following Rabin’s election as Prime Minister in 1992, he appointed Haber as his adviser and bureau chief.

So why the risk of legitimising Yasser Arafat and the PLO (Palestinian Liberation organization)?

From Bullets to Handshake. (left-right) Yitzchak Rabin in his suit and  Yasser Arafat in military uniform, shaking hands at the White House, ensconced in Clinton’s wide embrace, immediately after signing their historic peace agreement in 1993. (Ron Edmonds/Associated Press)

Haber directed the conversation to one of Rabin’s biggest risk-taking decisions –  Operation Entebbe in July 1976. On Rabin’s orders, the IDF performed a long-range undercover raid to rescue passengers of an airliner hijacked by terrorists and brought to Idi Amin’s Uganda.

Haber says that “Rabin felt that the Entebbe Operation was probably the hardest decision in his life. Think of it, to send your best soldiers, thousands of kilometers away in Africa to rescue passengers guarded by highly-trained terrorists with the support of a crazy, unpredictable ruler like Idi Amin! Think of the odds. This was a ‘Mission Impossible’ – it was the stuff of a far-fetched movie. And yet, as it turned out, what was ‘far-fetched’, emerged within anxious hours a ‘stunning success’. Movies were later made – many of them – only it was based on fact not fiction, and it was a very, very brave decision of Rabin to give the go-ahead.”

In the end, only one Israeli lost his life – the commander of the operation, Lt.-Col. Yonatan Netanyahu, brother of Israel’s current Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu.

‘You left a worried country, return to a proud one’. In one of the greatest rescues of all time, Shimon Peres (left) and Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin (right) shares emotional moments with the rescued hostages following the Entebbe Raid in 1976.

Haber cited another example of Rabin’s risk-taking recalling when the broad, straight-back shoulders, always projecting the physical stature and demeanor of a military man showed emotion.

It was when the news came in during Rabin’s second term in office that Wachsman had been killed.”

The kidnapping in 1994 of 19-year-old IDF soldier Nachshon Wachsman by Hamas terrorists, was a traumatic event that emotionally drained the nation. Held hostage for six days, the incident ended in a failed Israeli rescue attempt during which Wachsman was executed by his captors. Three of the terrorists were killed. Tragically however, an Israeli officer was also killed in the operation, reminding Israel’s leadership of the high cost involved in authorizing risky rescue missions.

Rabin was sad, very sad and he showed it,” says Haber. “The political echelon was hopeful that Wachsman would be rescued; after all, they knew where he was held. Instead, we lost an Israeli officer as well.”

It nevertheless sent a resounding message that Rabin was ready to take risks to save the threatened lives of Jews – whether for a soldier close to home like Nachshon Wachsman or a plane-load of Jewish passengers on foreign soil, on a foreign airline, hi-jacked by terrorists. “Rabin gave credence to the policy that Israel – the Nation State of the Jewish People, would come to the rescue of Jews in peril anytime, anywhere,” said Haber.

Servant of the People

In contrast to the ‘cigar and champagne’ image of some of today’s leaders, “The trappings of high office never got to Rabin, as it might others with less moral stature,” says Haber. Supporting this observation, Haber reveals a feature of Rabin’s personality that was quite unique.

He constantly voiced to me the need to justify his monthly salary. He might have held the highest office in the land, but this man never forgot he was a servant of the people and that he had to give it his all.”

And in the end it cost him his life, not as a warrior on the battlefield but as a warrior for peace.

Maybe, Rabin subconsciously had a premonition. “He was obsessive with time,” revealed Haber. “He even used to eat quickly – within minutes his plate was empty. It’s not that he was being impolite – it’s that eating was boring, a diversion of doing something important; food for him was like gas for the car – you needed it to get somewhere.”

Arriving late anywhere was against his nature said Haber. “While I have known Prime Ministers who didn’t think being late was a big deal, this was not the case with Rabin. I recall when we were abroad, he always made sure he left early for a meeting or function and typically questioned his driver how long it would take to where we were going and had he considered the amount of traffic there might be on route. He had this nagging feeling that time was short; that it was against him and so he had to make the most of the time he had.”

“Did he fear his life might be cut short – that he would not live out his term of office?” I asked.

Who knows?”

Roads of Revelation

While streets in Israel are typically named after those that have contributed to the Jews in their land over four thousand years,  “I believe,” said Haber, “that it was most fitting that Israel’s Cross-Israel Highway (“Highway 6”) was officially dedicated as the ‘Yitzhak Rabin Highway’. He was such a powerful force behind this project as he was in pushing ahead with road development throughout the country.”

The Road Ahead. Instrumental in changing the landscape of Israel, Rabin championed Israel’s road building surge in the 1990s.

Haber’s observation resonated with this writer who recalls a meeting he attended in the Prime Minister’s office in 1995 with a delegation of the Jewish leadership from South Africa. After welcoming us each individually, he said, “I am not sitting behind a desk, please grab a chair and let’s sit in a circle.” We complied.

Well into addressing us on the political, economic and security situation, the Prime Minister suddenly paused and asked:

Do you know what still excites me?”

The question was rhetorical, so no-one ventured an answer, but for sure, most were thinking, “What could still excite a guy who was in his second term as Prime Minister, had previously been Minister of Defense, Ambassador to the USA, Chief of Staff and participated in most of the major national events, from all the wars to the Entebbe Raid?”

What’s left?” all thought at the time.

Rabin answered: “Waking up on mornings knowing that I would be cutting a ribbon that day opening a new stretch of road, a bridge or an underpass.”

After a lifetime of excitement, this sounded so mundane!

Only on the drive back from Jerusalem to Tel  Aviv, did the proverbial shekel drop! It was not so much the “stretch of road, bridge or underpass” where Rabin was cutting the ribbon that was so significant – it was what potentially lay ‘down the road’. The ‘road, bridge and underpass’ signified to the Prime Minister easier access to a better future – for they would lead to expansion – new towns, new factories and new lives. Rabin was a man of foresight, he looked not only at the road but down the road and beyond!

On friendship and Loyalty

Rabin’s  character reveals itself in a spat he had with Israel’s first Prime Minister – David Ben Gurion, following the latter’s insistence of the dissolution of the Palmach (elite fighting force of the Yishuv during the period of the British Mandate for Palestine), which Rabin had fought in.   Rabin – who was naturally proud of his Palmach record – found he faced a crisis of loyalty following his appointment in 1949 as commander of the Negev Brigade.

Yitzchak Rabin while serving in the Palmach.

While he had agreed with his Prime Minister that it was right to disband the Palmach – for the sake of one nation, one army – he could NOT bring himself to cut the strong ties of friendship and brotherhood that bound him to his wartime collogues in the strike force.

All this came to a head when the Palmach called its third international conference in October 1949 at the Tel Aviv Stadium. IDF officers, who were Palmach veterans were placed in an awkward position, since Ben Gurion had ordered his most senior ranking officers not to attend. Rabin, as the most senior ranking Palmach veteran was in a dilemma. Not wanting to disappoint his erstwhile Palmach comrades by not attending while at the same time did not want to jeopardize his career following rumors that the Prime Minister would dismiss any officer who did attend, Rabin nevertheless attended.

This act of defiance on Rabin’s part might be considered “as courageous or foolish,” as expressed by the late Robert Slater in the 2015 biography ‘Rabin – 20 Years Later’, but “it certainly demonstrated his integrity and strength of his convictions.” As Rabin later said, “I saw in Ben Gurion’s order a demand to disassociate myself from my friends, with whom I had fought and passed through the seven circles of hell, both before and during the war.”

As it turned out, the premier did not dismiss him but two days later he was reprimanded for breach of discipline.

This episode proved that Rabin was a man of principle who stood by his friends and comrades and a credit to the ethos of the Palmach that forged a nation.


Makers of History. Chief of Staff Yitzchak Rabin  (right) congratulates David Ben Gurion on his 80th birthday.

Leader’s Legacy

My father was a happy man; he loved life and loved his tennis,” Rabin’s daughter Dalia Rabin said concluding the interview at the Israel Museum in the Yitzhak Rabin Center in Tel Aviv in 2010. We were standing next to the glass-encased cabinet of Rabin’s rackets and tennis balls, testimony to the relaxed side of a personality that carried the weight of a nation on his broad shoulders.

Yesterday, Today, Tomorrow. To promote democratic values, narrow socioeconomic gaps and address social divisiveness, the Yitzhak Rabin Center in Tel Aviv is dedicated to the legacy of the late Israeli Prime Minister, Yitzhak Rabin.

Earlier in the interview she had stressed the expectations of the Center having an impact on future generations. She explained:

We need to reach today’s young generation. We are all concerned about the increased level of violence, a thread, I believe, traceable to the night of the assassination. People woke up the next day to a new reality they were not prepared for. Unfortunately, the shock was never dealt with by the leadership of all political parties at the time and that has impacted on our culture. When you have tensions that are not addressed, when your minorities do not have adequate platforms to express their ideas and beliefs, it leads to frustration. Seeking an outlet, this pent up frustration can lead to violence. We believe that our initiative to ensure every schoolchild in Israel should visit the museum and hopefully thereafter attend our workshops will help address some of the pressing issues confronting our society.”

Adieu

Saying farewell to the daughter, I left with the pictorial image of the father  captured in a black and white photograph with the late King Hussein of Jordan, both conferring in private and puffing away at their cigarettes. It was taken at the royal residence in Aqaba after the signing of the historic peace treaty between their countries.

Time Out. From warriors in war to worriers in peace, King Hussein of Jordan and Prime Minister Rabin celebrate the fruits of friendship and peace at the royal residence in Aqaba after signing a peace treaty.
(photo credit: YAACOV SAAR/GPO)

 

From Warriors at War, they appeared as ‘Worriers’ for Peace.

It is this transition that Rabin is likely to be most remembered.



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

From 3 No’s to 3 Yeses

A dramatic turn-around towards peace

By David E. Kaplan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How the atmospherics has changed since 1967.

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

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

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

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

Message Misread

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

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

This is a pity.

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

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

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

The year 2020 heralds a new dawn.

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

Appearing on October 16, Abdulaziz writes:

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

An Iraq Surprise

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

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

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

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

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

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

As Abdulaziz concludes in Al-Arab:

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

These are welcome words from the Arab world media.

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

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






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

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

To my Breslov and Balfour Brothers and Sisters

….And to all brethren who prioritize acting upon their beliefs and desires at the risk of spreading COVID-19 by flouting the regulations

(Courtesy of the Times of Israel blog)

By Richard Shavei-Tzion

I feel your pain!

Having to desist from the sacred acts which you have been performing zealously for decades and which define your lives, seems intolerable.

Passion is a potent component of the human experience. Without it, there would be no oomph to life. It is the catalyst for great love and joy, spirituality and depth, but it can drive hatred and war, destruction and death. None of us have the monopoly on fervour. We do not share Muslim and Christian beliefs, but we can agree that their adherents are as ardent as us in their devotion. Yet this year St. Paul’s Square, the Catholic Holy of Holies, stood empty through Easter as the Pope conducted virtual video services. The Hajj in Mecca was performed by 1,000 symbolic pilgrims rather than the regular two million worshipers.

My Breslov brothers, we have something in common. For many years, we have met at the airport as I too set out annually to far off lands for the High Holidays, to sing the melodies and invoke the magnificent liturgy which has become wrapped around my soul. I will sorely miss this pilgrimage of sorts, made all the more painful by our local rabbi’s judicious decision to strip our services of much of its sublime poetry. While I cannot comprehend the spiritual value of the Rabbi Nachman experience, ordinarily I would defend your right to participate in this ritual as long as it did not impinge on the freedom and safety of others.

Ultra-Orthodox Jewish men pray close to the tomb of Rabbi Nachman of Breslov in the Ukrainian city of Uman. (File photo: Reuters/Konstantin Chernichkin)

As for my brothers and sisters who gather en mass every Saturday night outside the Prime Minister’s house in Jerusalem’s Balfour Street, I admire your commitment. While I am not a great proponent of taking to the streets, I do support your fundamental democratic right to protest and commend your efforts in pursuit of your political principles.

However there are times when we are faced with the competing right to personal freedom and the societal need for order and control. We must all sacrifice one for the other to a degree. Without balances, we can have no liberty to pursue our dreams, mutual and personal.  There are times when matters of life and death, tilt the scales, when sacrosanct individual privilege is outweighed by the right to personal safety, to the protection of life itself. It is our communal misfortune to be living in such times, when the gathering of multitudes has become the seed of suffering and death.

Israelis protest against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu outside his official residence in Jerusalem, June 27, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

While there are those who claimed at the beginning of the pandemic that they had the “Ear of God” who said that “He would protect the pious”, it turns out that God’s word got lost in the translation. Finally, now that many of the pious of all religions have been stricken by the plague, we must accept what Paul Simon has known for decades. “God only knows, God makes his plan. The information’s unavailable to the mortal man.” (Slip Slidin’ Away.)

As for our Balfourites, you will agree that actualizing your license to protest thereby exposing thousands of heavy breathers to contact with one another has not managed to tilt the balance of power an iota. In addition, perhaps gathering outdoors reduces risk but it does not eliminate it.

So many people have sacrificed so much in compliance with the harsh decrees imposed upon us. If there is great disappointment in being deprived of a seminal once-a-week or annual event, consider the anguish young couples have experienced as their once-in-a-lifetime wedding dreams have been shattered. (That is of course unless you are related to the Belz Rebbe or an insider in the celeb scene in Tel Aviv or family of an important hamula.) Think of the heartache of parents, siblings and offspring who this year on Remembrance Day, with great, silent forbearance, forfeited their holy right to visit the graves of their loved ones who have fallen in the defense of our nation, in order to protect us all.

For the first time since Israel’s founding, military cemeteries on Israel’s 2020 Memorial Day to the country’s war dead were blocked off due to Covid-19 with people asked to pay their respects in private. Seen here  was the normally busy market in Jerusalem during the sound of the siren.

Representatives of both your camps point fingers at each other, reminding us of the other side’s transgressions. Please understand, not only do two wrongs not make a right, they also make fertile ground for disease and hardship.  This is not the time to assert one’s claims to freedom of individual expression based on the other’s wrongdoing. This is the moment for cooperation and compromise in a cause that unites us all.

“One Voice” A Gift to Israel. A first-of-its-kind video 15 Choirs from around the world sing “Oseh Shalom” in honor of the State of Israel’s 70th Anniversary. Music: Roman Grinberg. Concept and production: Richard Shavei-Tzion

Imagine the impact you Breslovers would make by declaring that you were ceding your holy experience, just this once, in favor of the safety of the House of Israel. Consider the Kiddush HashemPikuach Nefesh and Or Lagoyim, three of the loftiest Jewish principles achieved by one act of Loving Kindness.

I believe Rabbi Nachman would agree.  

Think of the material support you would accrue for your heartfelt cause if you Balfourites announced that henceforth your protests would be implemented through social media rather than on the streets, in order to ensure the wellbeing of the thousands of attendees and by extension, every citizen in the country.

What a great paradigm of leadership and unity you would all display. How many healthy souls and hearts could you win over to your great causes?

Gratitude in the Corona Age. 60 People share their gratitude for special moments and to special people

Our decrepit leaders have raised the “Divide and Rule” maxim to a new level. Defy them.

Think bigger than the confines of your communes to our greater commonality and we will all be blessed.

[The author has been traveling for many years to serve communities in the Diaspora over the High Holidays]


You’ll Never Walk Alone. The Ramatayim Men’s Choir, Jerusalem sends a blessing in this time of Carona



ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Richard Shavei-Tzion is a widely published poet and is the author of “Poetry in the Parasha” and the Prayer for the Preservation of the Environment. His occasional articles on human and Jewish topics have been published around the Jewish world and his photographic images have been displayed in solo and group exhibitions Richard is the director of the Ramatayim Men’s Choir. He manages commercial property and a medical center in Jerusalem.


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