In their obviously ill-judged comments about Israel, criticschoose to waste their time at checkpoints on the borders gazing at the brave boys and girls making up the Israeli Defence Force, whose sole job is to protect Jews living in Samaria and Judea who just go about getting on with their jobs, and to provide a strong deterrent that ensures that murderous individuals do not infiltrate into Israel.
When I visit Israel, I look in another direction:
– I see schools and youth villages where at-risk children are given the care that will give them hope and a future in life
– I see Ethiopian children given the means to make that leap across centuries and cultures and find their own excellence.
– I see the Rambam Hospital in Haifa where, when Israel’s enemies decide to destroy lives, they continue saving them
– I see The Bar-Ilan Medical Centre in Safed set up to bring the finest possible medical treatment to Muslims, Christians, and Druze villages throughout the country.
– I see the Laniado Hospital in the Netanya whose founder, a holocaust survivor who lost his wife and 11 children in the Nazi camps of death and there made an oath that if he should ever survive, he would dedicate the rest of his life to saving life
– I see the Wolfson Medical Centre where free, quality, paediatric cardiac care is provided for children from developing countries who suffer from heart disease, and whose dedicated doctors and surgeons have created a programme to create centres of competence in those countries so that they can carry out life-saving surgeries on the spot
– I see caring for every life and notice that every life is sacred, where mind-blowing Israeli technology, and eye-opening developments in medical science are applied to the common good.
That and much more is what I see in Israel, the will to life with its hospitals, schools, freedoms, and rights.
– I see, Christians, Hindus, Sheiks, Muslims, and from my experience, Israel is a source of inspiration to everyone because it tells every single person on the face of the earth that a nation doesn’t have to be large to be great. A nation doesn’t have to be rich in natural resources to prosper.
Israel has been surrounded by enemies and yet it has shown that even so, you can still be a democracy, still have a free press, still have an independent judiciary. Israel is the only country in the Middle East where a Palestinian can stand up on national television and criticise the government and the next day still be a free human being.
Israel’s demonisers would have us believe that they have the best interests of the Palestinians at heart. Quite the contrary – their decisions and actions are far more likely to bring war, poverty and hunger to the West Bank and Gaza.
The only conclusion any reasonable person can come to is that only prosperity, with robust industrial, commercial and even cultural relationships between the Palestinians and Israelis can lead to mutual acceptance and a durable peace. This can be achieved if only the BDS activists would acknowledge the true interests of the Palestinians above their own narrow, political ambitions and shallow priorities, and the Palestinians would recognise Israel’s right to exist.
Some twenty years ago, Palestinian businessmen and workers from the West Bank and Gaza entered Israel without much interference. Security over the years increased commensurate with the increase in attacks against civilians. Approximately 146,000 Palestinians working in Israel at the time accounted for about 20% of Palestinian GDP.
A very successful industrial zone was created at Erez, employing about 5,000 workers in some 200 businesses half of which were Palestinian-owned. This was part of a larger Gaza Industrial Estate, scheduled to provide up to 50,000 jobs. In addition, a joint industrial zone was planned south of Tulkarm intended to provide jobs for more than 5,000 Palestinians. Additional areas were planned for Jenin and the Kerem Shalom area near Rafah in Gaza.
And then came the politicians and BDS for whom such developments meant nothing. They are the true destroyers of peace, jobs, families, development and prosperity.
Israel has much to offer the world. The chairman of the South African Zionist Federation in the Cape, Rowan Polovin recently returned from the 2019 “Our Crowd” Global Investment Summit in Israel where the technological advances were on display to 18,000 delegates from 182 counties who reveled in what 500 vendors had on show and business to the tune of one billion dollars was transacted.
“This makes the destructive tactics of BDS seem irrelevant” said Polovin.
Rather than follow the “destructive” path of boycotts and diplomatic downgrades, why not in the interests of South Africa benefit from Israel’s advances in medicine and the sciences and capitalize on lucrative business opportunities.
Surely this is the better way where all will benefit!
Why an Israeli Hospital is Treating Wounded Syrians
About the author
Rodney Mazinter, a Cape Town-based businessman, writer, poet and author, has held many leadership positions within a wide range of Jewish/South African, sporting, educational, service and communal bodies, and currently serves as vice-chairman of the South African Zionist Federation in the Western Cape
On the Sunday, preceding Yom Ha’atzmaut (Independence day) on Thursday, Israelis could not escape the question:
“Will we be celebrating Independence Day, or will we be at war?”
It was a fair question in light of some 700 missiles fired at Israel from Gaza over a period of 48 hours.
Come Wednesday evening however, bands were playing on open-air stages in cities and towns all across Israel and people were joyously dancing in the streets under a night sky ablaze not from missiles but fireworks!
The quick transition from ‘dodging rockets to dancing in streets’ reminded me of a 2014 interview with the late Yehuda Avner who served as speech writer and English secretary to Prime Ministers Levi Eshkol and Golda Meir, and personal advisor to Prime Ministers Yitzhak Rabin, Menachem Begin and Shimon Peres as well as Israel’s Ambassador to Britain, Ireland and Australia.
Closeted in the very nerve center where life and death decisions were taken, Yehuda was in prime position to record intimately those monumental events and the cerebral machinations that determined the destiny of a nation.
Yet it was Avner’s experience on Israel’s first day – 14th May 1948 – that encapsulated the transition from battle to bliss.
The 14th of May 1948 was a Friday, and unbearably hot. “For three consecutive sun-grilled days and restless nights,” 18-year-old Yehuda Avner from Manchester and his 25 comrades, armed with pickaxes, shovels and a dozen WWI Lee Enfield rifles, had been fortifying a narrow sector of Jerusalem’s Western front, overlooking the Arab village of Ein Karem. They had heard rumors that an Arab offensive would be launched that night from Ein Karem, joined by Iraqi irregulars and a Jordanian brigade but with no communication with the outside world – “no field phone, not even a radio” – they were totally cut off. Needing to find out what was happening – “particularly whether the British had evacuated and whether Ben Gurion had or was going to declare independence or not” – our commander, Elisha Linder, instructed Holocaust survivor, Leopard Mahler to go into town and return “with hard news.”
A grandnephew of the famous composer Gustav Mahler, “Leopard never went anywhere without his grey knapsack from which the neck of his violin protruded.” He had been a violinist with the Berlin Philharmonic until the Nuremberg Race Laws dispensed with his services. Surviving Auschwitz, he tried unsuccessfully to obtain visas to join the Chicago Philharmonic and later the Sydney Symphony Orchestra, and reluctantly settled for an opening in the Palestine Philharmonic in Tel Aviv. “When he finally got his Australian visa, Jerusalem was already under siege and the poor fellow tried to get out to Tel Aviv on a convoy, but it was ambushed, and he had to return to embattled Jerusalem.”
Being a violinist and the obvious concern about protecting his hands, “we were happy that instead of joining us digging trenches in the rock-hard earth, he should be the one to go into town and fish for information.”
He came back close to midnight shortly after there had been a lengthy exchange of fire, crying “I have news; I have news!” He related that “the British had evacuated the country and that our forces were in control of the centre of the city.”
Substantiating his claim, he opened his coat to display a Union Jack tied to his waste. “He then began pulling from his bulging pockets forgotten luxuries – Kraft cheese, Mars Bars, Cadbury chocolate, and a bottle of wine, all compliments from an abandoned British officer’s mess. And then, from his knapsack, came out cans of peaches, jars of Ovaltine and a bottle of Carmel wine.”
But most important was the news that: “David Ben-Gurion had declared independence that afternoon, and that the Jewish state would come into being at midnight.”
There was dead silence, midnight was only minutes away!
“Hey, Mahler!” shouted Elisha Linder, cutting through the excitement, “Our new state – what’s its name?”
The violinist didn’t have a clue. “I didn’t think to ask,” he said.
“How about Yehuda? suggested someone. “After all, King David’s kingdom was called Yehuda – Judea.”
“Zion,” cried another. “It’s an obvious choice.”
“Israel!” called a third, “What’s wrong with Israel?”
Filling a mug to the brim with the wine, Elisha settled it with, “A l’’chaim to our new State, whatever its name.” But before the wine touched the lips, a Hassid whom we all knew as ‘Reb Nusesen de chazzan’ (he was a cantor by calling), shouted “Wait,” It’s Shabbos. Let’s make Kiddush first.”
“That was a Kiddush I shall never forget,” says Yehuda whimsically, and added, “Next day we were relieved to rest up and we went into town where masses of Jews were dancing the horah in the courtyard of the Jewish Agency building. Someone was playing a banjo and another a harmonica and before not too long Mahler took out his violin and joined in, playing HavaNagila (Jewish traditional folk song).” Picking up the beat, he began reworking it into a widely spiraling variations, his notes fluttering this way and that, improvisation upon improvisation, as if a man and instrument were rediscovering each other in shared pleasure after a long separation.”
This was the uplifting feeling of independence after 2000 years; “we were discovering ourselves as a People after 2000 years of separation from our Land.”
Now 71 years later, we were again experiencing days of war and music, and while we braced ourselves early in the week against missiles, we now pleasurably ‘brace’ ourselves for the upcoming 2019 Eurovision Song Contest in Tel Aviv from the 14th to the 18th May.
Israel’s song in the competition to be performed by Kobi Marimiis “HOME”. Having re-established our national homeland 71 years earlier after 2000 years of exile, the last three words of the song resonate:
“I’m coming home”
It’s a mesmerizing melodious message three weeks after Pesach (Passover) where we celebrate delivery from slavery; two weeks after Yom HaShoah (Holocaust Day) where we pledge “Never Again”, and a week after Yom Haatzmaut, where we rejoice of our return to national sovereignty in our ancestral homeland.
The final verse speaks of “standing tall”, “not giving in” and “I’m coming home”.
“I am standing tall not giving in
‘Cause I am someone, I am someone
And now I’m done, I’m coming
Now I’m done, I’m coming
Now I’m done, I’m coming home”
There are 23 741 reasons to bow our heads this Yom Hazikaron. There are 23 741 reasons to express our profound eternal gratitude. There are 23 741 reasons for our hearts to ache. There are 23 741 reasons to be proud. 23 741 reason for the tears to fall from our eyes. There are 23 741 to remember. There are 23 741 names ingrained in our hearts forever. There are 23 741 reasons for the siren to wail its mournful cry.
23 741 soldiers, security forces and police have fallen in defense of Israel since its birth as a modern state in 1948.
We will never forget them.
The stories of unparalleled bravery and selfless sacrifice like Roi Klein, who saved the life of his unit by absorbing the blast of grenade. Risking it all to leave the comforts of home in the US, to serve as a paratrooper like Michael Levine. The iconic warrior like Yoni Netanyahu who fell in Israel’s daring Entebbe operation in 1976 that rescued 102 Jewish hostages from a hijacked Air France passenger aircraft in Uganda’s capital.
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 so on.
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, Israel’s Memorial Day for fallen warriors and victims of terror.
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 not only a day of remembrance, but also one 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.
Israelis respect life. We revere life and we revel in it. And it is on this solemn and heartbreaking day that we are reminded of its fragility.
This year is particularly poignant. I write this just days after 700 rockets were fired by terror groups in the Gaza strip into Israel, killing 4 civilians (may their memories be for a blessing) and injuring and traumatizing countless others. We were reminded again that the guardians of Israel neither slumber nor sleep as they worked 24/7 to protect us. We thankfully lost no soldiers but days like this are bitter reminders of the threats we face as a nation and how achingly close we come to situations where this is a possibility.
In recent years, Yom Hazikaron has also included honouring victims of terror attacks.
Victims targeted simply for being Israeli. We remember brave men like Ari Fuld who gave chase to his murderer before succumbing to his wounds. Zidan Saif, a Druze policeman who had come off his shift when he heard of an attack on a synagogue and rushed to assist and paid with his life. We remember teenagers Gilad Shaer, Eyal Yifrah and NaphtaliFrenkel – whose names live on in heartbreaking infamy. We remember the mothers and father, brothers and sisters, grandparents and babies – gone soon, far too soon. This year the number of victims of terror is 3 146.
There are 3 146 reason to remember, to wipe the tears from our eyes, to light a candle.
In an emotional paradox, the sun will set on mourning and Israel will don her best blue and white to celebrate Yom Ha’atzmaut.
This year we have 23 741 more reasons to. We celebrate in their names.
They will forever be the watchers on our walls, the guardians of our gates. Their memories will be forever blessed.
“…And so they stand, the light on their faces, and the Lord,
alone passes among them, with tears in His eyes He kisses
their wounds, and He says in a trembling voice to the white
Igniting fires and tension, an inspiring South African couple in Israel responds to terror by sponsoring clubhouses at military bases
By David E. Kaplan
At midnight on the 25th March 2019, I recall the last sound I heard before dropping off to sleep was a clap of thunder.
Five hours later, I awoke to another BOOM! This time it was not thunder but the deafening sound of a missile having landed nearby destroying a house near Kfar Saba in the centre of Israel, injuring seven.
It was a reminder that the murderous intent of those who govern Gaza extends far and wide.
It further reminded the writer of a visit to a number of army basses close to the Gaza border a few months earlier organised by ‘English-Speaking Branch of theAssociation for the Wellbeing of Israel’s Soldiers’.
There were fifty in our group who were invited to the official opening of two new army-base clubhouses, sponsored by Dave and Rae Kopping, a couple originally from South Africa. It also provided an opportunity to learn firsthand how the Israeli civilian population in the small towns and kibbutzim near Gaza were coping under the constant threat from attack from belowthe ground from tunnels and above the ground from rockets, mortars and inflamed kites and balloons.
As I write recalling that visit, I cannot fail to reflect that the loud BOOM that awakened my family last week and had us scurrying off to the bomb shelter was nearly a daily occurrence to the brave and resilient Israelis living in the south.
While Israel battles politically to get its ‘house’ in order regarding Gaza, Dave and Rae Kopping ‘enlisted’ in their own way to provide club ‘houses’ for soldiers at IDF bases near the border.
They began four years earlier following Operation Protective Edge in 2014 when the IDF had to protect Israeli civilians facing a daily barrage of missiles from Gaza for 50 days. The Koppings showed their heartfelt gratitude by donating a clubhouse at the Palmachim Airforce Base for the Drone and Helicopter Pilots. “They operate under enormous pressure, protecting us from this constant threat,” said Ray at the official opening. “They deserve a special place to unwind and relax.”
Four years later, what had changed was not the political but geographic landscape with expansive swathes of black cutting across the North Western Negev countryside caused by incendiary balloons and kites sent from Gaza and landing on fertile fields. This was all too apparent from the bus window as we saw once green fields now black from the fires caused by the balloons and kites.
As my companion on the bus remarked “how sad that kid’s kites and balloons in Gaza are weapons of death and destruction.”
As a running commentary to the visual horror playing out on a blackened somber ‘stage’, our guide related how much livestock and natural wildlife had perished in the fires.
The Kopping clubhouses replete with comfy couches, coffee tables, kitchenettes, TVs and sound systems, honour – like the earlier one at Palmachim – the memory of the Kopping’s daughter Greer-Rose Sandler who sadly passed away fourteen years earlier from an illness, and Rae’s brother Isaac Melcer, who was killed in the Sinai during the Yom Kippur War in 1973. “He was a tank commander who served under General Ariel Sharon,” reveals Rae, “and had only been married a year.”
“What better way to honour their memory,” adds Dave, “than to know that Greer-Rose and Isaac’s names will be forever associated with those who protect Israeli citizens from harm.”
The day proved an eye-opening window into the life – with all its complexities – of the civilian population living ‘Under Fire’ near Gaza, and the role the brave soldiers play in providing protection. Entering the first base, ‘X’, we noted with surprise that far outnumbering the parked tanks, were giant bulldozers.
We did not have long to wonder why!
Earth-moving equipment usually associated with construction elsewhere, were used here to counter destruction “as we dig up the earth in search of terror tunnels,” explained a young soldier. A recent immigrant from the UK, he related a recent incident when they were out nearby on patrol.
“We were walking along single file in the fields, when we passed a plastic pipe protruding from the ground. There was nothing unusual about this, as the area is always scattered with farming equipment.” That was until one soldier, keeping up the rear, “looked back and noticed a slight sudden twitch of the pipe.”
“That’s odd; there’s no wind,” he thought!
“Rega (“wait”),” he bellowed.
Doubling back, the patrol discovered it was an oxygen tube for the terrorists deep below who were digging a tunnel, and “we radioed in for the bulldozers.”
Relieved by their discovery, “We also knew from our intelligence there were fourteen more tunnels to locate.” Last year, the IDF destroyed a 2km long Hamas tunnel that entered 900 meters into Israeli territory. The problem is, “The terrorists need to be on the job for us to detect any subterranean movements.”
Such is the day in the life of a soldier protecting Israel’s southern communities – a game of cat and mouse.
The name of the 2014 war, “Protective Edge” had a resonance about it as “protection” is what this conflict is about. On a personal level this was brought home when a soldier asked, “Anyone want to try on our bullet proof gear?”
Some did, and were surprised by the weight, and left wondering how soldiers patrolled for hours wearing it in the blazing heat. There was sadness as we were reminded “that one of our comrades, Staff Sgt. Aviv Levi, was killed last week, by sniper fire.” He had been wearing the very same bulletproof jacket! The answer to the predictable question of how the bullet lethally penetrated – “special bullets made in Iran” – was met by a collective sigh.
Moving on to the second base, ‘Y’, we saw from the moving bus, more fields black from fire – a patchwork of this new type of warfare of kites and balloons, which much of the world media presents as “child’s play”.
Passengers flicked away with their cameras in disbelief.
Arriving at the base, we were escorted by young male and female soldiers to the new Kopping clubhouse for the official opening. Members of the Kopping family spoke as did some soldiers, who explained how tense this new warfare was.
Said one soldier, “We know how terrified the civilian population is of terrorists coming up through tunnels who could murder them. It is our job to find these tunnels and prevent this.” A responsibility fraught with anxiety, all the soldiers appreciate after tough days on patrol, “we now have a clubhouse where we can relax and unwind.”
Another female soldier expressed how proud she was to be serving in a combat unit, and this writer could not escape the thought that their peers elsewhere in the Jewish world would be at universities…. here they were immersed in the “university” of life – protecting “our family – Israel.”
Later, seated for lunch in the army dining room, a young soldier, an immigrant from the Argentine, addressed our group:
“These are tough times for the civilian population and for the soldiers. It is a tough war, but we are trained, and we are equipped, and we are inspired – not only do we know WHAT we are doing but WHY we are doing.”
Yes, these are “tough times”, but so are these ‘kids’ – tough and proud – proud of their country, proud of their units, proud of their service, and proud of each other’s capabilities. The camaraderie was palpable. There was much food for thought to ‘digest’ beyond the lunch!
Witness To War
Our tour concluded with a visit to the Black Arrow Memorial, west of kibbutz Mefalsim near the Gaza Strip.
Operation Black Arrow (In Hebrew: “Hetz Shachor”) was an Israeli military operation carried out in Gaza on 28 February 1955 while under Egyptian control. It was in retaliation to Fedayeen terrorism unleashed by President Gamal AbdelNasser who broadcast on August 31, 1955:
“Egypt has decided to dispatch her heroes, the disciples of Pharaoh and the sons of Islam and they will cleanse the land of Palestine….There will be no peace on Israel’s border because we demand vengeance, and vengeance is Israel’s death.”
As we stood at the Black Arrow Memorial, we saw balloons flying from Gaza in the distance then descend on fertile Israel fields and suddenly there was a blazing fire. We were witnesses to war. Over six decades later, the message from Gaza remains:
“…vengeance is Israel’s death.”
For more information on the English-Speaking Branch of the Association for the Wellbeing of Israel’s Soldiers, contact volunteer Ian Waldbaum at Tel:
Business Manager South Africa Israel Chamber of Commerce.
Although a tiny country geographically, Israel’s challenges are enormous, hence it is hardly surprising that the number of think tanks in the country increases steadily. Today, there are dozens of such institutions providing decision makers with high-quality and objective policy research on a range of critical issues.
We have seen how events can confound “even the experts” – most notably 2016. How did the plethora of experts, analysts and predictors get the Brexit vote or the Trump election to the USA Presidency so wrong?
Clearly, predictions on human behaviour are difficult to call, hence the importance of ‘think tanks’ to research and advise.“Policymakers need understandable, reliable, accessible, and useful information about the societies they govern,”according to a 2016 Go To Think Tank Index Report. “They also need to know how current policies are working, as well as to set out possible alternatives and their likely costs and consequences.”
Think tanks may vary by ideological perspectives, sources of funding, topical emphasis and prospective consumers.
In October 2017, a new think was launched in Jerusalem, billing itself as Israel’s “new conservative security think tank” that “seeks to counter debilitating currents in Israeli defence and diplomatic discourse and recapture the mainstream in Zionist security thinking.”
The Jerusalem Institute for Strategic Studies (JISS) has already made a name for itself as a result of its activities in a number of areas, including “the Jewish people’s historic connection to the land of Israel as a central component of strategic worldview; the salience of security in diplomatic agreements; rejection of unilateral Israeli moves that strengthen adversaries; the importance of strategic cooperation with like-minded allies; the imperative of Israel being able to defend itself by itself; and, critically, the importance of a united Jerusalem to Israel’s security and destiny.”
All these policies and stratagems fall under the main umbrella of reclaiming Zionism. Its worldview is conservative and strategic and, according to its vice-president Eran Lerman, a former deputy head at the National Security Council, it will deal with the basic issues of national security, with an emphasis “on the struggle for the future of Jerusalem.”
Hereunder are a few of the major think-tanks playing a vital role in the Israeli government’s policy-making decisions.
– the Taub Centre for Social Policy Studies does impartial research on socioeconomic conditions in Israel, and develops innovative, equitable and practical options for macro public policies that advance the well-being of Israelis. The Center strives to influence public policy through direct communications with policy-makers and by enriching the public debate that accompanies the decision-making process.
– the BESA Centre (the Begin-Sadat Centre for Strategic Studies) is named in memory of Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin and Egyptian President, Anwar Sadat, whose ground-breaking Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty laid the cornerstone for conflict resolution in the Middle East. On June 14, 2009, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu chose the BESA Centre podium as the venue for announcing his historic acceptance of the “Two-State Solution”.
-the Israeli Democracy Institute, based in Jerusalem, is an independent centre of research and action dedicated to strengthening the foundations of Israeli democracy and bolstering the values and institutions of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state. In the University of Pennsylvania‘s 2014 Global Go To Think Tanks Report, IDI was ranked the twenty-third best think tank in the Middle East and North Africa.
-the Aaron Institute for Economic Policy seeks to sustain economic growth and social strength in the country by developing modern and innovative strategies and policy tools for the Israeli economy. Based at the Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya (IDC) which today has over 60 students from South Africa, the institute’s main aim is to develop policy strategies that eliminate weaknesses and empower the strengths of the Israeli economy. Its research focuses on multiple industries while examining the various reform tools and cross-referencing data with modern technologically developed countries while seeking ways of increasing cross sectorial growth by changes to industrial sectors.
–the Jerusalem Centre for Public Affairs (JCPA) specialises in public diplomacy and foreign policy. Founded in 1976, it primarily researches defensible borders; Jerusalem in International diplomacy; Iran and the new threats to the West; and combating delegitimization.
This think-tank focuses on Iran, radical Islam, the Middle East, Israel, the peace process, Jerusalem, antisemitism and world Jewry. Its Director of the Political Warfare Project, Dan Diker, in January co-penned an article with David Kaplan and Rolene Marks in South Africa’s Daily Maverick “Why Oscar van Heerden insults South Africa’s intelligence’. It exposed the lack of academic research and prejudice against Israel of the South African “academic”, Dr. Oscar van Heerden.
– Established in 2000, the Institute for Policy and Strategy (IPS) – also based at the IDC Herzliya – is the convener of Israel’s most prestigious annual conference, the ‘Herzliya Conference’, which aspires to contribute to Israel’s national security and resilience. The Institute conducts integrative and comprehensive policy analysis on the challenges facing Israel, identifying opportunities and threats, producing strategic insights and policy recommendations for decision-makers, and informs the public and policy discourse. Often referred to as “Israel’s Davos”, the Conference is annually attended by participants from South Africa.
-the nonpartisan policy think tank ReutInstitute in Tel Aviv provides real-time, long-term strategic decision-support to Israeli policymakers, aiming to “identify the gaps in current policy and strategy in Israel and the Jewish world, and work to build and implement new visions.” Reut is not akin to the traditional ‘think-tank’ model in that its methodology is very different: it focuses on unique cutting-edge theory, software tools, and impact strategy. It aims to provide early warning of strategic surprises and opportunities and to design strategies to avoid or seize them respectively.
“We don’t provide the answers, we frame the questions: we help people in positions of leadership, authority and influence identify and abandon old paradigms and refocus their thinking.”
These, and other think tanks that proliferate across the land, are suppliers of vital information to Knesset members and the public. They are peopled by some of the finest Israeli minds, often drawn from the ranks of academia. They focus on ensuring that policies and strategies adopted for the security, development and future growth of the Israeli state and its citizens are aligned with the needs of the latter – their continued prosperity, the resilience and cohesion of the Jewish people both inside and outside of the country, and the country’s standing in the international community.
Reading through some of the documents that come from these various think tanks is fascinating but simultaneously puzzling.
Are they official government policy? And if not, why not?
In many cases, their proposals and tactics seem to make more sense than the myriad of bureaucratic decisions which are often made reactively rather than proactively, and which appear to fly in the face of public consensus. They are reflective and profound and have clearly been analysed at length.
The Good, The Bad and The Great
It all makes fascinating reading.
One research paper that particularly resonated for me was JISS’s Professor Ephraim Inbar’s recently published “The Future of Israel Looks Good”.
“Time,” wrote the professor, “is on Israel’s side.” His review of the balance of power between Israel and its foes; of the domestic features moulding Israel’s national power; and of Israel’s standing in the international community, “validates the assessment that Israel has the dominant hand for the foreseeable future.”
Inbar argues that Israel’s powerful military machine in overcoming numerous military challenges has enhanced its deterrence; and the decline in the intensity of the Arab-Israeli conflict is a direct result of its military superiority. The welcome beginnings of a peace process with several Arab states translates into a diminished likelihood of another large-scale conventional Arab-Israeli conflict.
Countering the endless threat of missiles on its civilian population, Israel deploys impressive anti-missile systems, which include the Iron Dome that in its encounters with Gazan terrorists, intercepted 88% of incoming projectiles. Inbar however warns that “these systems cannot provide a full defence in view of the numbers of missiles arrayed against Israel.”
The bad news – and there is always bad news – is a nuclear Iran which presents a grave national security challenge not only to Israel but to the region and beyond. This threat could start a nuclear arms race transforming a regional balance of power. While the emergence of a nuclear Iran is potentially catastrophic, Israel is believed capable of neutralising this existential threat.
But hey – what about the good, the better news? In 2010, recognition of Israel’s economic achievements opened the door to its becoming a member of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), a brotherhood of the world’s 33 most developed countries that are committed to democracy and a market economy. Sound economic policies, an emphasis on market values, and a seamless adaptation to globalisation have resulted in Israel emerging as one of the most developed market economies, driven in large part by its science and technology sectors as well as its sophisticated manufacturing and agriculture areas.
While Israel has achieved so much in seven decades, I have taken a more sombre posture noting Israel’s position within the orbit of its international placing on the world stage.
What of Israel’s other stumbling blocks? What of the country’s social rifts? The Ashkenazi-Sephardic cleavage? The Palestinian citizens in the West Bank territories? Their accusations of apartheid and ethnic cleansing? The grim lives and the overcrowding in Gaza? And what future plans are there for that populace, many of whom want only an ordinary life, transport, freedom, movement, safety, education, health care?
Worth Thinking About
Think tanks work so long as those who people them, and those to whom their findings are conveyed, work simultaneously to secure their verification and their implementation. This demands leadership of the highest calibre with a commitment to pursue improved living standards rather than only planning for military crises.
And so, despite the odds and obstacles, Israel at almost 71 is a great success story. Its future will remain bright as long as it continues implementing prudent domestic and foreign policies and remains successful in transmitting a Zionist ethos to future generations. While peace with all its neighbours “is desirable,” says Prof. Inbar, “that eventuality is not a necessary condition for Israel’s survival or prosperity in the medium-to-long-term.”
Words of wisdom, words of comfort, words of reassurance.
There is something that is quite phenomenal when women bond. Women can connect in a way that is unique and on a different level to their male counterparts. So, imagine the possibilities of what could happen when you bring together women from very divergent backgrounds!
One Man’s Vision
Israel is a country of simplicities and complexities and gorgeous diversity. This is a country that has gathered in exiles from over 80 different countries and has rich and diverse minority communities making up roughly 24% of the population and contrary to what many of her detractors would have you believe, they enjoy full and equal rights as citizens with representation in the Knesset (parliament).
But Israel, being a country filled with paradox, means that sometimes there are chasms between the cultures and creative ways to break down barriers is exactly what is needed.
David Moatty, Director of WIZO (Women’s International Zionist Organisation) Afula Community Centre had a vision. What would happen if he brought together women from different cultural backgrounds to bond over something creative – painting?
The Olive tree has long been a symbol of peace. Its roots (pun very much intended!) stretch all the way to biblical times and are an iconic image for the Abrahamic religions. In Judaism, the olive tree and its oil, symbolises justice and mercy, and according to the Christian gospels, olives are symbols of sacrifice and love. In the Quran (the central religious text of Islam, which Muslims believe to be a revelation from God), it is written that the olive tree is the “world’s axis and the symbol of the universal humanity of the Prophet’.
Bonds of Friendship
They came from a variety of different backgrounds and ages with a common interest – to create art and perhaps make a friend or two. Women from all cultural and religious groups – Jewish, Muslim, Christian and Circassian and originally from places as exotic and diverse as Romania, Lithuania, Argentina, the Caucasian mountains and with a local flavour that included Nazareth, Umm-Al Fahad and Tiberius. Thirty-five women, aged between 17 and 80, painted glorious portraits of olive trees and weaved bonds of friendship that will last a lifetime.
The project is sponsored by a host of European WIZO Federations that include France, Switzerland, The Netherlands, Belgium, Austria, Germany and the United Kingdom.
Through their mutual love for art, the women have fostered an environment of tolerance and sharing. Olive trees make no distinction between cultures and art is a universal language and this is evident in the exquisite portraits painted by the women. Each picture tells a story and transports you through their personal journeys.
Mali Schneiderman from Kfar Saba was seriously wounded in a car accident ten years earlier. Painting has helped her to heal and regain both her physical and mental health.
Hana Rozenstein, a Holocaust survivor, has painted her “Tree of Peace” in gratitude to the beautiful country she calls home. Sharing her story with the Arab women in the group has brought her a tremendous sense of joy, and Shuzanna Abu-Masoud, the sixth child in a religious, Muslim family, dedicates her painting to her mother who adores the multicultural contact between Jews and Muslims.
It is not just the paintings and their talented artists that tell a story. This project with its roots firmly grounded in tolerance and altruism, has found itself warmly received all over the world – even in the halls of the United Nations, where it has been showcased both in Geneva and Vienna.
Mention of the UN is guaranteed to raise the blood pressure of every Israeli as the institution seems to have a disproportionate amount of focus on the Jewish State but the Olive Tree project is living proof that accusations of practices of Apartheid and trumped up resolutions are figments of the imagination. The real work is done on the ground between Israel’s citizens. This is where peace is negotiated.
The Olive Tree project has recently been renamed “Shutafot le Derech” and the journey that it has inspired has not just been a tour of the world – helping to tell Israel’s stories of diversity and tolerance that are so seldom heard but do exist – but also healing.
It is here amongst the women, amongst the unbreakable bonds of friendship, where the roots of peace are firmly planted.