Charles, The Prince of Wales, addressed world leaders on the 75thanniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp in Israel on January 23rd 2019. I was most moved by the words of HRH that “we must be fearless in confronting falsehoods and resolute in resisting words and acts of violence.”
Given this strong and powerful message, I was surprised and disappointed with his words spoken and message conveyed during visit with Mahmoud Abbas, the leader of the Palestinian Authority, the very next day in Bethlehem.
The “falsehoods” that he called out the day prior are the ones that emanate from the Palestinian Authority. Mr. Abbas is currently in the 15th year of a 4-year elected term. He serves unchecked as a dictator without any accountability. He terrorizes his own people with limited freedom of speech and arrests those that associate with Jews or sells property to them.
Under his leadership, Christians now make up less than 2 percent of the population in Bethlehem once a dominant Christian community. The Christians are subjected to discrimination and suffer great difficulty living in Bethlehem.
Mr. Abbas has operated unfettered with mismanagement of monies provided. Billions of dollars in aid from the US, EU and several other donor countries has flowed to Mr. Abbas. A lack of accountability and transparency from the Palestinian Authority has deprived Palestinians of a significant part of the funds.
Only after a public outcry of money wasted has the recently built $13mn Presidential Palace – that included helipads, guest quarters and administrative offices 4,700 square metres (50590.38 sq./feet) – been decided to be used “a national library” instead, according to the Palestinian Minister of Culture, Ihab Bseiso.
A $13mn library with helipads?
Beyond corruption, Mr. Abbas and the Palestinian Authority have used these funds to encourage violence. It is estimated in 2019 that $149.7 MM went for annual payments to security prisoners, terrorist “martyrs” and their families, encouraging people to kill Jews.
Instead of visiting with Mr. Abbas, I wished he had visited the sights of those killed by Mr. Abbas’ pay for slay program. I was in the region while he was there and made my commitment to bear witness where Ari Fuld (father of four), Dvir Sorek (an 18-year-old Yeshiva student) and teenagers NaftaliFrenkel, GiladShaar and Eyal Yifrach were kidnapped at a bus stop and then brutally murdered. I saw young lives taken away simply because they were Jews. Those who murdered them, solely because they were Jews, were paid approximately three times the amount they would have made working a regular job. The ramifications of this ‘Pay to Slay’ program are monumental. I can only imagine what his HRH might do if this program were to take hold in Britain.
When he visited Bethlehem, he spoke there that “It breaks my heart… that we should continue to see so much suffering and division. No one arriving in Bethlehem today could miss the signs of continued hardship and the situation you face.” The suffering is due to the choices made by the Palestinian Authority but does not accurately describe the vibrancy that does exist in many areas.
I also saw those who have made great success in their lives. I visited towns with Muslims that had thriving industry, large homes and luxury cars. I saw people that have chosen to focus on success not terror.
I had the honor to hear from Daniel Birnbaum whose company, SodaStream, embodies cooperation across Arabs, Jews & Bedouins to great success. While driven out of this area by those who choose to Boycott, Divest & Sanction Israel, SodaSteam relocated to Rahat and provides a model of coexistence between Jews, Arabs & Bedouins. This is only one example of co-existence.
At a time when anti-Semitic activity is at an all-time high, HRH’s failure to call out Mr. Abbas on his dishonesty and incitement of violence, ignites the flame that encourages hatred. His words do not bring peace but dehumanize and minimize the lives of those brutally murdered.
At every opportunity, including the most recent by President Trump, Mr. Abbas has turned down plans to aid his people and create his own “Start Up Nation.” Mr. Abbas does not seek peace; he acts as a despot and seeks the destruction of the State of Israel.
We praise the Royal family and your Princess Alice’s commitment to Jewish people at a most difficult time. However, at this juncture we must stand strong against hatred and stand firm on values of inherent democracy and decency.
Regina Raphael is a business owner in Los Angeles, CA and committed Zionist. Ms. Raphael works closely with Ben Goldstein, a reserve IDF officer and advocate for the State of Israel. The article shares moments from their visit together in late January 2020. Mr. Goldstein lives in the Region.
A letter to Israel’s iconic first female prime Minister
By Rolene Marks
I have often wondered what I would say to you if I ever was to meet you. What would an immigrant to the beautiful country that you helped establish, say to one of the greatest leaders of all time? You were Israel’s fourth Prime Minister and very first female leader at a time in the world when this was virtually unheard of; and remain an inspiration to this day. You gave the impression that even though you were a formidable leader, you were still “savta” (grandmother: Hebrew) Golda, with your trademark bun and cigarette, an approachable “bubbe” (grandmother: Yiddish) who we could count on for advice.
It is 2020; and the tiny little country that you helped birth is a thriving, cosmopolitan and beautifully flawed democracy. Women’s rights have grown in leaps and bounds since you paved the way for us to realise we can become so much more than we ever thought we could. We are pioneers and trailblazers, entrepreneurs and home makers, politicians and doctors, ballerinas, soldiers and teachers. We are nation builders. In a neighbourhood where many women are silenced, persecuted, raped and denied basic human rights, Israel’s women are the backbone of our great state.
A lot of this we owe to you.
You mentioned in your memoir of how emotional it was to sign the Declaration of Independence. I wish you could see us now!
Dear Golda, Israel has always been the birthplace of ideas. You were so proud of this fact and always encouraged education and now we are world leaders in science, medicine, agriculture and technology. We have been renamed “The Start-Up Nation”. You would be amazed at the incredible creativity bursting from our young, innovative citizens. We even sent an unmanned vehicle to the moon and arrived with a bang! It wasn’t the landing we were hoping for; but we did it regardless and now we have our sites set even higher. The sky is not our limit – we seek to explore the universe!
One of your most memorable quotes was that there would be peace “when the Arabs love their children more than they hate us”. Golda, it breaks my heart to tell you that this has not changed. You wrote in your memoir “My Life” that you worried about preparing the next generation of 9 and 10-year-olds for the army. Sadly, the same incitement and terror that you worried and opined about has not stopped and we have had to fight several more wars and endure two “Intifadas” as a result of such hostility. But you know we are a stubborn people and we sanctify life and will never lose our hope for peace. We never lose hope that our neighbours will choose to educate their children to become members of the start-up generation instead of educating them with hate filled rhetoric. We face a brutal enemy in the form of Iran and its proxies, but our hope lies with the Iranian people who seek to overthrow this brutal regime. While this is happening, many Arab countries are starting to see the benefits of warming ties with us. Who would have thought that this could happen!
Dear Golda, we have mourned together and suffered loss as a nation. Our heads have been bowed but our spirits have never been broken. Our defiant love for life sustains and motivates us to carry on. At a time when stones are weapons of war, we use ours to build homes. When barbaric terrorists behead their victims, we use ours to look for groundbreaking solutions and at a time where women are maligned and mistreated in our neighbourhood, we endeavor to follow in your trailblazing footprints.
Dear Golda, you raised the ire of some, but I reckon if people applaud every single thing you do, you probably aren’t doing your job effectively enough. You sometimes made decisions that were not always popular but as a true leader, always had Israel’s best interests at heart.
Africa held a special place in your heart, and you believed that many of the countries shared a similar history and yearning for statehood that we did. You would be delighted to see the contribution Israel is making on the continent in helping with sustainability and growth. We pride ourselves in living up to the tenet of Tikkun Olam and wherever there is a crisis or natural disaster, you will find Israel leading the way. Our enemy Syria has been engaged in a civil war for many years and despite this, Israel has saved over 2000 lives. Wherever there is a call in distress, we answer immediately and send our finest to help.
You would be amused that some of your most awe-inspiring quotes are used by us, generations later, to effectively communicate how much we love our country and how we share the same frustrations you did. You had a way with words and in today’s technologically driven world I cannot help but wonder what you would have thought about social media and its importance in telling Israel’s story? Today we will not be silent in the face of adversity and rising antisemitism and even though you are no longer with us, your words continue to inspire us and give us fortitude.
Dear Golda, we may not share the same taste in shoes but I would so love to join you in a celebratory glass of your favourite Israeli wine and toast to Israel, to her pioneering people and to you, a venerable leader who burst through the ceilings, raised the standards and blazed a glowing trail.
If someone has said to me a few years ago that the Arab world would start opening up to the State of Israel, I would have thought that they are losing their minds. But an amazing new phenomenon is taking shape in the Middle East. The frosty relations between Israel and Arab countries are starting to thaw and warm up significantly over the last couple of years and this has been demonstrated by a series of overtures from Arab countries towards Israel.
It is no secret that one of the key issues that has influenced the warming of ties between Israel and Arab states is the threat to the region posed by Iran. The hegemonic regime poses a massive threat to Gulf States who have aligned themselves more with the USA and has created a corridor via Syria and proxies in the north with Hezbollah, and South with Hamas to further encroach on Israeli territory.
One positive side effect of the Iranian threat is the realization that the tiny state of Israel is more of a potential friend or at least ally, than enemy. There is growing concern that relations between Israel and various Arab states have been somewhat covert but there have been rumours circulating that the Jewish State may be close to signing non-aggression pacts with several of these countries.
Israel has peace treaties with Egypt and Jordan but formal bilateral relations with other Arab countries would contribute greatly to stability and economic growth in the region. In fact, Israel will be exporting natural gas from the lucrative Leviathan gas field to Egypt within the next few weeks. Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz calls the permit a “historic landmark” for Israel. He says it’s the most significant economic cooperation project between the countries since they signed a peace deal in 1979.
In 2019, the Trump Administration revealed part of its much anticipated peace plan with the “Peace to prosperity” proposal that shared how the administration, with the backing of Arab states, intends to build Palestinian civilian and cultural infrastructure that would lead to job creation and lead to the foundations of a future state. This plan was presented in Manama, the capital of Bahrain and while Israel did not send an official delegation, representatives from the business sector were present – and warmly welcomed! Palestinian businessmen, who despite the invitation to participate in the conference being spurned by the leadership, attended and were promptly arrested by the Palestinian Authority for daring to engage the US administration and Israel on possible commercial solutions. Also significant, was the invitation to six Israeli media outlets to cover the event.
Since the Manama confab, the Foreign Minister of Bahrain, Khalid bin Ahmed Al Khalifa, and his Israeli counterpart, Israel Katz, met in the United States and in October 2019, an Israeli official, Dana Benvenisti-Gabay, attended the “Working Group on Maritime and Aviation Security” in Manama. In December 2019, Jerusalem chief rabbi, Shlomo Amar, visited Bahrain for an interfaith event. There is hope that this has helped create the climate for future official ties.
Bahrain is not the only state that is welcoming Israeli visitors. The United Arab Emirates is preparing for Expo 2020, where countries will showcase the best of their offerings for six months and Israel will be included.
UAE Tourism Minister announced that not only would Israeli passport holders be welcome at the event, a phenomenon that was previously unheard of, but that he hoped citizens from the Jewish state would continue to visit long after its conclusion. The real Chanukah miracle was a tweet from the UAE Embassy in London sending warm wishes to Jewish friends celebrating Chanukah.
And if Twitter is the platform where friendships are revealed, then this one between Prime Minister Netanyahu and the Emirati Foreign Minister sure says a lot:
It is not just the Emiratis or Bahrainis that are showing Israel some love. Recently, 7 bloggers from Saudi Arabia visited Israel and the results have been quite extraordinary. The bloggists have taken to their social media platforms to speak quite openly of their newfound fondness for the Jewish state.
“There is no problem with Israel. It is important because of Jerusalem that is holy to Jews and Christians, while Islam’s holy places are Mecca and Medina,” Sultan said via the social media platform.
Is this the yearning of the younger generation to have normalization of ties or is there some indirect influence from Saudi officials? Saudi Crown Prince, Mohamed bin Salman is trying to change the image of his country and perhaps the best way to do this is modernizing attitudes towards countries like Israel and recognizing that there is more to be gained bilaterally and regionally through warmer ties.
It may still be a while until formal ties are recognized but the winds of change are blowing in the Middle East and this time, they are rich with promise.
Why a Unity Government Would Be Much Worse Than Useless
By Gidon Ben Zvi
Ever since Israel’s snap election drew to a close on September 17, the country’s chattering class has ginned up its campaign to convince Israelis that what they really want is a national unity government. To drive home their point, pundits, commentators and other members of the country’s intelligentsia have drawn parallels between Israel circa 1984 and today.
This is a false equivalence. When Likud leader Yitzhak Shamir and Labor’s Shimon Peres agreed to share power, the Israeli economy was teetering on the verge of collapse, with inflation running rampant. Israel was also a country at war in 1984 – the first Lebanon War.
Fast forward to the here and now. Israel’s economy and security are relatively stable and have been that way for some time. Despite regular skirmishes with Hamas in Gaza and Hezbollah in Lebanon, the Israel Defense Forces aren’t waging a ground war on enemy territory.
Yet Israeli’s cultural, media and educational elites are bum-rushing citizens like a pesky used car salesman trying to unload a wreck. Why? Because in a country increasingly divided along political, religious and economic lines, even seasoned observers are intoxicated by the appeal of national unity. But their enthusiastic embrace of a grand coalition is worse than naïve, it’s dangerous to the wellbeing of Israeli society.
A national unity government would be a clunker for most Israelis because of the exploding cost of living here. Sure, the country’s macroeconomic performance is impressive, especially compared to 1984. But a report released by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) is setting off alarm bells that most citizens have been hearing for years.
Daily life in Israel is expensive. Food here is 19% higher than the OECD average. Meanwhile, apartment renters in Israel spend 25% of their gross adjusted disposable income on rent while homeowners paying mortgages spend 15%, a discrepancy that’s among the highest in the OECD. Since 2009, according to Israel’s Central Bureau of Statistics, housing prices have shot up by over 90%.
If you’re raising children in Israel, good luck. Elementary school education and academic studies are 17% more expensive than a decade ago, while the average cost of preschools has risen by 14%. And Israel’s floundering public healthcare system is forcing many Israelis to supplement their mandatory universal medical insurance with out-of-pocket private policies. According to the OECD, only 8% of Israelis rely solely on public healthcare.
Here’s one more stat to consider: Israel ranked a lowly 38th on the economic freedom scale, dropping one place from 2018, according to the Economic Freedom of the World: 2019 Annual Report. In general, the higher a country’s level of economic freedom is the better off its citizens are.
What you won’t hear advocates for a national unity government say is that history shows that such grand coalitions hit the pause button on the implementation of seriously needed policy changes. Neither Shamir nor Peres were able to advance any major issues during their national unity government because each of them was immediately scuttled by the other.
Israel’s next government will be tasked with an awesome responsibility: to develop and carry out policies that remove the disproportionately large financial burden being carried by Israel’s working men and women. For millions of Israelis today a government of national paralysis is not a viable option.
The cost of prolonged stagnation is simply too high.
Gidon Ben-Zvi is an accomplished writer whose work has appeared in The Jerusalem Post, The Times of Israel, the Algemeiner, American Thinker, the Jewish Journal, Israel Hayom, and United with Israel. Ben-Zvi blogs at Jerusalem State of Mind (jsmstateofmind.com).
A former Californian, the writer lives with his wife and four children in Israel.
Maligned, misunderstood, and derided, provocative, emotive and polarizing. Often condemned, just the mention of the word Zionism is enough to raise the blood pressure of many. This often results in both pro and anti-Israel activists engaging in a battle of words. Frighteningly, this battlefield has expanded way beyond the Social Network to university campuses and other congregating venues where Jews identifying as Zionist are at physical risk.
So, what is Zionism exactly and why is it such a hot-button issue?
Simply put, Zionism is the National Liberation Movement of the Jewish people. It is a guarantee of the rights of the Jewish people to organize themselves politically and assign it a name that hearkens back to ancient roots and love for Zion.
Zion is synonymous with city of God; the place that God loves – Jerusalem. ‘Mount Zion’ – on the southeast side of the Old City – is the high hill on which King David built a citadel. The word Zion occurs over 150 times in the Bible and essentially means “fortification” and has the idea of being “raised” as a “monument”.
Zion is described both as the City of David and the City of God.
The word Zion is embedded into Jewish religion and culture as it is embedded into the rock and masonry of Israel’s capital – Jerusalem.
The great American civil rights leader, Rev Dr Martin Luther King is rumoured to have described Zionism as “nothing more that the yearning of the Jewish people to return to their ancient homeland”.
After thousands of years of being made aware that we are unwelcome in many countries, Jews have returned en masse to our ancient and ancestral homeland. The word Zion refers to those biblical ties since time immemorial. It is proof that Jews have “indigenous people’s rights to the land” and in case anybody has doubt, there is antiquity being discovered every day that supports this.
Israel’s detractors are quick to point out that Nelson Mandela, the father of democratic South Africa and the icon of the anti-Apartheid struggle’s support of Palestinians. What they neglect to conveniently mention is Madiba’s support for the Jewish people’s right to self-determination – Zionism.
Mandela has been quoted as saying
“As a movement, we recognize the legitimacy of Palestinian nationalism just as we recognize the legitimacy of Zionism as a Jewish nationalism,” he said in 1993. “We insist on the right of the State of Israel to exist within secure borders, but with equal vigor support the Palestinian right to national self-determination.”
There has been much debate, discussion and social media brouhaha over who is or what defines a Zionist. Zionism is not restricted to Jews, but many Christians, Druze and yes, even Muslims consider themselves Zionists. Supporting Jewish rights to self-determination in no way makes one anti-Palestinian. Sadly, so much misunderstanding about what constitutes Zionism has resulted in alienating people who have an emotional attachment to Israel. Too many would prefer that Zionism be relegated onto the pile of other unwanted “isms”.
Many thought that with the realisation of the modern state of Israel, anti-Semitism would disappear but instead it has reared its head in a new form – anti-Zionism.
The world has emerged a hostile place for Zionists.
Ask the students on campus who are bullied and sometimes physically threatened for their political beliefs. Or the store owners in Europe who find their shops ransacked for carrying Israeli products. Or the travelers turned away from accommodation for being Israeli. The rise of the alt-right in the USA with their Nazi salutes and propensity for spray painting swastikas or the neo Nazis, the UK Labor party with its ongoing accusations of institutionalized antisemitism and BDS supporters in Europe, South America and South Africa has many Jews feeling afraid and isolated.
The argument “I am not an anti-Semite, I just don’t like Zionists” is spurious.
Even the French President, Emmanuel Macron says anti-Zionism is “a new type of antiSemitism.” He told the Israeli Prime Minister when speaking in Paris at an event to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the Vel D’Hiv round-up, in which 13,152 French Jews were deported to Nazi concentration camps that France will “not surrender” to anti-Israel rhetoric.
There are an estimated 50 Muslim countries in the world, and an estimated 30 countries that define themselves as Christian. There is only one Jewish state and yet, so many have an issue with its very existence?
Saying that the Jews have no right to organize themselves politically and call it Zionism is in fact, racism.
Is it politically correct to criticize Israel?
Criticising the government and its policies is the national sport of Israel.
Is Israel perfect? No. And it is perfectly okay and healthy to say so. However, saying that Jews have no right to national self-determination or that Israel has no right to exist is racist and anti-Semitic.
I believe part of being a Zionist is being able to criticize and improve. I believe that Zionism means that you want to see an exemplary Israel – a light unto the nations. An Israel that is tolerant and welcoming and grateful for all who support her. This is dignified, this is keeping with the tenets of our founders who envisioned this. There is room in the Zionist tent for everyone – Jew, Christian, Muslim, as well as from left to right across the political spectrum.
These values are enshrined in Israel’s Declaration of Independence:
“The State of Israel will be open for Jewish immigration and for the Ingathering of the Exiles; it will foster the development of the country for the benefit of all its inhabitants; it will be based on freedom, justice and peace as envisaged by the prophets of Israel; it will ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex; it will guarantee freedom of religion, conscience, language, education and culture; it will safeguard the Holy Places of all religions; and it will be faithful to the principles of the Charter of the United Nations.”
I invite anyone who is somewhat skeptical or perhaps undecided about their views on Zionism to ask themselves how different it is to their national aspirations. Perhaps this will lead to a lot more understanding, a lot less maligning and hopefully an end to the rising violence that so many supporters of Israel are currently enduring.
With the great election redo of 2019 less than two weeks away, Israelis across the political spectrum are meeting up in living rooms, pubs and coffee shops around the country to discuss the great issues of the day…not.
The political fatigue is palpable right about now: Picture an old basset hound passed out on the front porch, trying to escape the summer heat. Sure, the major media outlets continue to breathlessly report on corruption allegations and the latest attempted mergers and acquisitions of splinter parties, whose potential votes could prove to be the difference between a center-left or right-wing government. But Israelis by and large have tuned out of the incessant focus on labyrinthine negotiations, political jockeying and mudslinging.
Their concerns are more immediate. Parents are busy getting their kids back into the school year swing, young men and women are gearing up for their university studies and those who’ve recently returned from vacation are just now trying to figure out how on earth to pay off that 7-day luxury trip to Greece. Israelis, once the most politically engaged citizens of any democracy on the planet, have settled into a low-grade stupor just days before a national election.
What’s this epidemic of ennui all about? Some of it can be traced to that point in Israel’s history when personalities began to trump platforms. Local journalists have only fueled this Gossip Girl approach to covering politics. As a result, there are no great issues, only rumors, allegations, spin and endless innuendo. It’s not surprising that people would rather spend their well-earned Saturday afternoons at the beautiful Beit Yanai Beach not discussing politics with their family and friends.
The problem is that such apathy is anathema to the long-term wellbeing of any democracy. What truly legitimizes any form of representative government isn’t its regulations, laws, Constitution or Declaration of Independence. These are but procedural mechanisms that will blow away like dust in the wind if people stop cherishing and fighting for the values that undergird free nations everywhere.
Democracies can’t long function on auto pilot. The very legitimacy of a representative government depends on a proactive public holding its leaders’ feet close to the fire. To paraphrase Robert Kennedy, a passionate and engaged citizenry, “…dreams of things that never were, and asks why not.” But detached, disinterested citizens accept the smallness of its countries’ leaders and settle for small victories: holding on to a job, making the monthly rent, getting through an entire summer without a call from the bank.
When the national discussion isn’t about Israel’s security, economy or place among the family of nations, playing matkot or backgammon is surely a more productive way to spend one’s time. But viable democracies demand much of their citizens. Escaping these responsibilities will only prolong and deepen Israelis’ crisis of confidence in the country they so love.
Gidon Ben-Zvi is an accomplished writer whose work has appeared in The Jerusalem Post, The Times of Israel, the Algemeiner, American Thinker, the Jewish Journal, Israel Hayom, and United with Israel. Ben-Zvi blogs at Jerusalem State of Mind (jsmstateofmind.com).
A former Californian, the writer lives with his wife and four children in Israel.
The Israel Brief – 01 July 2019 – We are on the move – Iran violates clause in enriching uranium, PA arrest attendees to Bahrain confab and off duty policeman investigated for murder of young Ethiopian.
The Israel Brief – 02 July 2019 – Solomon Tekah z”l laid to rest. Iranian nuclear standoff intensifies. Is this the return of Ehud Barak?
The Israel Brief – 03 July 2019 – Riots in Israel. Netanyahu open to peace plan. Disturbed dedicates Hatikvah to IDF.
The Israel Brief – 03 July 2019 – Tekah family appeals for calm. More Trump peace plan soon and Netanyahu reassures South.
head of Israel Section, SAICC / SA Israel Chamber of Commerce Johannesburg, South Africa.
Time passes, memories fade, events are forgotten. I needed to remind myself of past traumas in Israel, and I did.
In 2001, Hamas, Islamic Jihad, the Al Aqsa Brigades and other terrorist groups began launching Qassam rockets at Sderot (the small town that lies about a mile outside of the Gaza Strip in the western Negev Desert) as part of the Second Intifada (2000-2005), and have continued intermittently since then.
Not only continued but intensified!
In a single day in November 2018, more than 460 rockets were launched into the south of Israel, cruelly outmatched a few months later when over a 24-hour period in May 2019, 500 rockets were fired at Israel from Gaza.
Back in 2002, the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) installed a radar warning system known as Shakhar Adom, or ‘red dawn’. It operated as follows: an alarm was sounded across the town when the IDF realised that a rocket was inbound. It worked extremely well, and citizens mostly had time – about 15 seconds – to find shelter from the inevitable destruction which followed.
In 2007, a young 7-year old Israeli girl by the name of Shakhar complained about her name being associated with the warning system. In true Israeli style, ensuring that as little discomfort as possible would affect the citizens, authorities changed the name to TsevaAdom – meaning ‘red colour’ or ‘code red’ – and Tseva Adom became known across the Jewish world as ‘15 seconds’ – the difference between life and death.
Seventeen years: 17 years during which the citizens of Sderot, and later those of other cities and towns near Gaza, have lived with the terror of imminent attack, imminent destruction, imminent death. 17 years of treading softly, holding one’s breath, praying that children and spouses have reached safety in time, wondering when the next warning would come. 17 years of angst, of apprehension, of foreboding – how do people live like that?
Three years after the first radar warning was installed in Sderot, it was installed in Ashkelon, a city lying north of the Gaza Strip near the Mediterranean coast, further away from Gaza than Sderot, then also under siege from rockets and imminent death. But aha! Ashkelon did better than Sderot. Why? Because its citizens had 30 seconds’ warning instead of 15 – much more time to find shelter. And did the citizens of Ashkelon cope with that trauma? 30 seconds – the difference between life and death. Not quite shades of Sophie’s Choice, but near enough.
While everyone involved suffered unimaginable horrors, it was the children who really bore the brunt of the attacks. Post-traumatic stress disorders, hyperactivity, problems with sleeping, detachment from friends, from activities, from integration into any social world – that was then, but those children who are now adults are still traumatised, still terrified, still emotionally fragile. Yet because the actual number of deaths caused by the rockets was very low, what happened there has taken a back seat as people continued to live every day and to marginalise their horrific experiences. And as for the media? Of course, there were no stories – there seldom are, when they concern Israeli tragedies.
The New ‘Normal’
Let’s fast-forward 17 years and look at Sderot today, and at Ashkelon, and at the other parts of Israel where breathing is less often taken for granted and instead has become a symptom of apprehension. Sderot is now home to three converted bomb shelters that were adapted to meet the needs of teenagers for space and their own activities. Each can accommodate about 50 teens, and each can expand to make room for at least another 20. The best part of this is that those children are already gathered in bomb shelters: should there be a Tseva Adom warning, it will have no effect either on them or their pursuits, except psychologically and emotionally – does that matter?
According to NGO officials who visited Sderot to show support specifically to the teenagers, ‘We came into this large two-floor bomb shelter and it was like coming into someone’s living room. There are comfortable sofas, a well-stocked kitchen, a giant TV on the wall and downstairs there is a games room and a homework room. Everything is well maintained by the kids.” In this safe environment, the children are given leadership training courses, they are encouraged to interact socially with one another and establish healthy relationships, and they are assisted with their schoolwork.
Almost normal – almost, but not quite. These are tomorrow’s leaders of Israel: passive victims of the worst kind of hatred and enmity. Can their future be predicted? I wonder.
In the latest incident in March this year, Ashkelon was once again targeted from Gaza and Israeli families were woken up once again by the sound of air-raid sirens from Hamas rocket fire. Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad determined yet again to create as much devastation as possible in the city, firing rockets and launching several airborne incendiary devices (including kites); and there was a cross-border arson attack in which Palestinians breached the Gaza security fence and burned whatever they could find in the area.
More of the same trauma, the same anguish, the same shattering blows to the lives of those living there. Unceasing, and now focusing on central Israel, Tel Aviv, other vulnerable cities.
What is life like for those who live under this constant barrage of attack, combined with the hatred that initiates it? How do the people of south Israel, wanting nothing more than peaceful lives and opportunities to enjoy life, cope with these perpetual offensives? And what about those Palestinians who want much the same as the Israelis, but who are held hostage by their corrupt and devious leadership, forced to endure terror and torture for ideologies with which they may well disagree, as seen in the many on-the-ground normal everyday relationships that have developed between them and Israelis in their neighbourhoods?
The sound of the siren – the Tseva Adom – remains terrifying for Israelis in the south of the country, even though the attacks are less frequent than they used to be. When the siren goes off, they must drop everything, run to bomb shelters and ensure that their families are with them. They are often too afraid to leave their homes and venture out to do the tasks any normal family does, because the sirens might go again, at any moment. They fear the slamming of doors, the backfiring of cars and trucks, unusual music being played: to many of them, these strange noises sound like that dreadful sign. They cannot even stop and freeze in panic in case they don’t make it to the shelter in time. These are offensives of wartime, yet the world refuses to believe Israel is in a constant war with her enemies because the numbers of casualties are so low.
Sderot has been described by some of its citizens, with gallows humour, as “the biggest bull’s-eye on the map of Israel”. When the bombing began at the turn of the century, and because of its “proximity to the border and the concentration of Hamas-led amateur bomb-makers on the other side, Sderot has (and has) a unique civic claim: on a rocket-per-head-of-population basis, it is the most targeted town in Israel, indeed the world.” That’s quite a reputation for Sderot: Hamas is making sure that other Israeli towns gain the same reputation.
I remember years back, during the infamous Vietnam war, that one of the most iconic photos to come out of that tragedy was the one entitled “Vietnam Napalm 1972”. The caption read: “South Vietnamese forces follow after terrified children, including 9-year-old Kim Phuc, as they run down Route 1 near Trang Bang after an aerial napalm attack on suspected Viet Cong hiding places on June 8, 1972. A South Vietnamese plane accidentally dropped its flaming napalm on South Vietnamese troops and civilians. The terrified girl had ripped off her burning clothes while fleeing.” That photo, and others from that time, and the explanatory texts, made history. They were distributed widely; the world was shocked and stunned; the anger was palpable.
Israel has had more than its fair share of tragedies, of bombings, of fires, of in-bed murders, of terror attacks, yet whenever these have happened, world opinion has been quiet. Jewish lives – Israeli lives – are far less important than those of many others. We number so few in the world’s population that the thinking probably is that we have no standing. Like putting one’s finger into a glass of water, pulling it out and seeing no difference whatsoever in the level of water, so too with murdering a few Israelis here and there, some children, teenagers and the aged, the end effect is negligible. Not worthy of media attention. Not worthy of comment.
It is what it is….
Bev Goldman worked for many years in education and journalism, and she holds a master’s degree in Feminist Literature. Prior to joining the SA Zionist Federation where she dealt with media and education for 12 years, she was the editor of the ‘Who’s Who’ of Southern Africa; a member of WordWize which taught English language skills to Russian and Polish immigrants in South Africa; an occasional lecturer in English at RAU (now the University of Johannesburg); and Director of Educational Programmes at Allenby In-Home Studies. Currently she runs the Media Team Israel for the SA Zionist Federation; she sits on the Board of Governors of the Rabbi Cyril Harris Community Centre (RCHCC); she is the National Vice-President of the Union of Jewish Women South Africa; she is an executive member of the International Council of Jewish Women (ICJW); and she edits and proofs Masters and PhD dissertations.