Helping Hand into the Arms of All

Tel Aviv rolls out COVID vaccines for illegal foreign nationals and undocumented asylum seekers

By David E. Kaplan

WOW!!!.” 

This was the exclamation of a participant from South Africa  on a business Zoom meeting three weeks ago in January after asking the six other participants – all from Israel – whether they had had the COVID-19 vaccination. Far from being out of the woods, Israel so far has outpaced every other nation in vaccinating its people, nearing 40% of its population.

Hearing in the affirmative that all the faces staring at him on his computer screen partnered arms that had all been inoculated, the Zoom participant from Johannesburg concluded his “WOW!” with:

You guys don’t realise how fortunate you are.”

It’s not only Israel’s citizens that are “FORTUNATE”  but also the migrant workers in Israel from the Philippines, Sri Lanka, Moldova, China and Nigeria, as well as Sudanese and Eritrean asylum seekers who are receiving the Pfizer- BioNTech coronavirus vaccine at the Tel Aviv COVID-19 Vaccination Center in the southern part of city – home to large migrant community.

Vaccines for All. A sign written in multiple languages at the Tel Aviv vaccination center for foreign nationals (Photo: Moti Kimchi).

As part of an initiative to inoculate the city’s foreign nationals,  Tel Aviv City Hall and the Sourasky Medical Center started administering vaccines free of charge to the city’s foreign nationals, many of whom are undocumented asylum seekers. This was all visually evident on Tuesday, 9th February – the first day of the operation – as dozens of asylum seekers and foreign workers in Tel Aviv lined up outside the building to receive their first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. Posters provided information in English, Tigrinya, Russian and Arabic.

Lay Down Your Arms. A foreign national receives the COVID-19 vaccine at the new vaccination center in Tel Aviv (Photo: EP)

I am very happy,” Indian national Garipelly Srinivas Goud told Associated Press. Lamenting that foreign workers in Israel don’t have the money or insurance to afford paying privately for the vaccine, Goud, who has been working in Israel for eight years, welcomed the vaccine drive as a “very good decision.”

A Call to Arms. French nuns, asylum seekers and foreign workers wait in line to receive their first dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus vaccine at a vaccination center in Tel Aviv, Israel, Tuesday, Feb. 9, 2021. (Photo: AFP)

While it is the government’s responsibility to vaccinate everybody within the nation’s borders, Tel Aviv municipality spokesman Eytan Schwartz, said that the city would take the next step and start “to vaccinate the illegal or undocumented asylum seekers as well.”

Thumbs Up. A very happy  and relieved foreign worker following receiving the coronavirus vaccine in Tel Aviv. (Photo: Moti Kimchi)

With Open Arms

Israel is also extending its helping hand into the arms of others.

While far from completing vaccinating its own population – having thus far delivered over 3.5 million first doses of the Pfizer vaccine and at least 2.1 million second doses –  it has nevertheless started providing the Palestinian Authority (PA) with thousands of vaccines for its healthcare workers, despite ultimate responsibility for health services and vaccine acquisition falling upon the PA, which is elected by Palestinians to govern the West Bank. 

After receiving thousands of doses from Israel, the Palestinian Health Ministry administered its first known coronavirus vaccinations last Tuesday, announcing in its statement the start of the campaign, saying Health Minister Mai al-Kaila received a first dose along with several front-line medical workers. Disappointing although hardly surprising, the statement failed to acknowledge that Israel provided the vaccines. While acknowledging the receipt of 2,000 doses on Monday the 8th February — the first batch of vaccines sent by Israel — the PA did not say where they came from.

This follows a regrettable pattern.

Petty Politics

Back in May 2020, Covid relief aid from the UAE was rejected by the Palestinian leadership because it arrived by freight plane to Israel’s international airport  without prior coordination with the PA. This resulted in 14 tons of virally needed Covid-relief medical supplies languishing at Ben Gurion airport because the PA refused to accept delivery so as not to be seen as condoning the normalizing of ties between Israel and the Arab world.

Disregarding the health of his people, the PA Health Ministry medical services director Osama al-Najjar explained that Ramallah “cannot accept shipments that are a gateway to normalization between Arab countries and Israel.”

No Thanks! Fourteen tons of medical supplies for the Palestinians to help cope with the coronavirus pandemic were still sitting at Ben Gurion Airport a week after they arrived from the UAE, as UN officials worked to find a way to  distribute the aid after the Palestinian Authority announced it would not accept it.  

Asked what he thought would happen to the medical supplies, al-Najjar responded, “I do not know where they will go, but we won’t accept them. They’re free to do with them what they please, but we will neither accept them nor welcome them.”

However, al-Najjar did acknowledge that the PA is “in need of ventilators.”

Go figure!

Rollout in Ramallah. A Palestinian health official receiving a COVID-19 vaccine from Israel before the start of a public rollout of vaccines received from Russia.

Within Arm’s Reach

What we are “all in need of” is better understanding and cooperation  as there are no borders when it comes to the health of the planet and its vulnerable citizens.  Israeli epidemiologists agree that it is in Israel’s interest to ensure Palestinians are vaccinated as quickly as possible, as the populations are too intertwined to have one gain herd immunity without the other. As recently departed Health Ministry Director-General Moshe Bar Siman-Tov told The Times of Israel in January, “The message is very simple: We are one epidemiological unit. As much as we can, we have to help them address this matter.”

To that end, Israel and Tel Aviv are proving to be ‘shot in the arm’ for a healthier world.



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)

The Israel Brief- 08-11 February 2021

The Israel Brief – 08 February 2021 – The ICC announces investigation of Israel. Lock down starts to lift! Israel Press Institute inaugurated.



The Israel Brief – 09 February 2021 – Blinken talks Golan. Greece and Israel sign bilateral travel agreement. UAE to stop aid to UNRWA. Iranian Intelligence Minister “we may be pursuing nuclear weapons”.



The Israel Brief – 10 February 2021 – Health Ministry puts forward plans to open economy. Countries join Israel against ICC investigation. IDF release military assessment.



The Israel Brief – 11 February 2021 – London Jewish Chronicle expose on Fakhrazideh assassination. Knesset takes on social media platforms. Covid infections lowest since December.



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)

Distorting the Truth

Still struggling to face its country’s complicity in mass murder of its Jewish citizens,  some Lithuanian leaders resort to – Blame the Jews!

By Dr. Efraim Zuroff

Just over two weeks ago, on January 27th, International Holocaust Remembrance Day, the Lithuanian Parliament (Seimas) convened a special session to mark the occasion. What should have been an entirely conventional event, which had been held annually ever since the 2005 decision of the United Nations to mandate this day, turned into a national scandal, the likes of which the Baltic country has not experienced since it obtained independence in 1990.

The person chosen to deliver the major speech to mark the commemoration of the Shoah was MP Valdas Rakutis of the Homeland Union Conservative Party, who heads the parliamentary committee for National Struggles and Historical Memory. After emphasizing the importance of understanding how the Holocaust took place and the identity of those responsible for the crimes, Rakutis delivered the essence of his message to Lithuanian society regarding this important event in Lithuania’s history.

False Claims. A historian by education, Lithuania’s conservative MP Valdas Rakutis  said on Remembrance Day that Jews share blame for Holocaust.

Part of it deserves to be quoted verbatim due to the importance of this text, which clearly presents the cardinal principles of the false narrative produced and promoted by the Lithuanian government from the day that the country obtained its independence from the Soviet Union.

Rakutis began by posing an important question:

But about those [the Nazis’ Lithuanian] helpers? … Are they the leaders of the Lithuanian nation, such as… Kazys Škirpa [leader of the Lithuanian Activist Front and an ardent supporter of the Third Reich who pledged allegiance to Hitler and incited violence against the Jews of Lithuania] or General Vetra [the code name of Jonas Noreika, the Lithuanian liaison with Nazis in the Šiauliai region, who played a key role in the murder of the Jewish population and the robbing of their property and belongings]? … Despite the great uproar of recent years, [the revelations by Noreika’s granddaughter Silvia Foti that he was a war criminal and a key Nazi collaborator and the controversy over the honors bestowed upon him by the state and the lawsuits filed by Grant Gochin to cancel them] there was no way to prove that they organized the Holocaust. No, it’s quite different people, often uneducated, who tend to feel important when they get a rifle in their hands, sometimes severely affected by the Soviet repression of 1941, sometimes blindly following orders.”

Hero or Horror. This memorial plaque at the Library of the Lithuanian Academy of Sciences  of Jonas Noreika also known by his post-war nom de guerre  Generolas Vėtra (lit. ‘General Storm’), the Lithuanian anti-Soviet partisan, military officer and Nazi collaborator  remains the subject of legal and political controversy and a focal point of disagreements about the role of Lithuanians like Noreika and the Provisional Government of Lithuania in the Holocaust.

In other words, these are classic excuses proffered by Lithuanian leaders and officials for the participation of local Nazi collaborators in the mass murder of the Jews. Our national heroes had nothing to do with it, and bear no responsibility (even if they had close ties with the Nazi regime).Those who did so, were either degenerates or socially marginal elements of Lithuanian society or individuals whose family members had been mistreated by the Communists during THE INITIAL Soviet occupation from June 1940 until June 22, 1941. And they were only following orders issued by Nazi officers.

Rakutis then continues:

Let’s get to know them, let’s understand why they did so. After all, there was no shortage of Holocaust perpetrators among the Jews themselves, especially in the ghetto self-government structures. We need to name these people out loud and try not to have people like them happen again. But also to answer the question of what were the views of the Jews themselves, what ideas led some Jews to cooperate with the Soviet authorities, to occupy important positions in repressive Soviet structures. Sometimes understanding the causes also makes it possible to understand the consequences, although it does not justify the actions.”

Here we come to the most outrageous statement of all. There have been attempts in the past by extremist Lithuanian nationalists to accuse Jews of being perpetrators, but to the best of my memory, such an accusation was never made by any prominent minister or MP. Besides being totally fallacious, this assertion is another way to deflect the guilt of the Lithuanians. Thus Rakutis refers to the ghetto as an area of “self-government,”  which means that the Jews ostensibly controlled their fate, and therefore those involved in their administration bear the responsibility for the deaths of the ghettos’ inhabitants. And to add insult to injury, Rakutis alludes to the fact that some Jews joined the Soviet police which cruelly treated Lithuanians prior to the Nazi invasion, another ostensible justification for Lithuanians who participated in Holocaust crimes.

Truth Unveiled. Author Silvia Foti (left) and her grandfather, Lithuanian WWII hero Jonas Noreika (right) of whom she says, “I learned that the man I had believed was a savior who did all he could to rescue Jews during World War II had, in reality, ordered all Jews in his region of Lithuania to be rounded up and sent to a ghetto where they were beaten, starved, tortured, raped and then murdered.”

The content and circumstances of this speech were so absolutely shocking, that there was a very strong, almost immediate, response. American ambassador Robert Gilchrist, tweeted on his embassy account:

It is shocking that on International Holocaust Remembrance Day, of all days, a member of Seimas should espouse distortions regarding Holocaust collaborators in Lithuania and shamefully seek to accuse Jews of being the perpetrators [my emphasis-E.Z.].”

Shortly thereafter, similar messages were tweeted by German ambassador Matthias Sonn (“To even insinuate that the victims were to blame in any way for their own murderous persecution under the Nazi German occupation is utterly unacceptable.”) and Israeli ambassador Yossi Levi, who described Rakutis‘ remarks as “insensitive” and “disturbing”. Even Lithuanian Foreign Minister Gabrielijus Landsbergis expressed his opposition to Rakutis‘ accusations. Such public criticism of the nationalist narrative, which has been in place ever since independence, is unprecedented, and therefore very noteworthy.

Those were not the only harshly negative responses to the patently distorted Shoah narrative promoted by the Lithuanian government in the wake of the assertions made by MP Rakutis. Even more surprising, were the criticisms publically aired regarding the Lithuanian government’s most important institution dealing with Holocaust-related issues, the Genocide and Resistance Research Center [GRRC], which has been at the center of numerous controversies in recent years and is notorious for its unequivocal defense of the bogus Lithuanian narrative of the Shoah. One of the best examples is the list of Lithuanian Holocaust perpetrators it prepared at the request of the government, after Yosef Melamed, the Chairman of the Association of Lithuanian Jews in Israel, published an estimate of approximately 23,000 such persons (LITHUANIA Crime & Punishment, January 1999, p.61). In response, the GRRC produced a list of 2,055, and explained that even those persons were not that responsible since they were under German command.

Another particularly outrageous example is the “expert opinion” it provided to the Vilnius District Court to defend the good name and reputation as a national hero of Jonas Noreika (“General Vetra”), despite his active participation in the persecution and annihilation of the Jews in the Šiauliai region of northwest Lithuania, against a lawsuit submitted by South African-born Grant Gochin, a descendant of Noreika’s victims, to cancel all honors bestowed upon Noreika. According to the GRRC, Noreika had no connection to the Holocaust and actually was a Righteous Among the Nations, who ordered the Jews to move to a ghetto to ensure their safety.

Righting Wrongs. South African-born Grant Gochin is pursuing a case against a Lithuanian state entity tasked with researching and educating about genocide and war crimes. Says Gochin,” Dishonesty by the Lithuanian government made me research harder, and led to a terrible discovery; the tactics previously used to prevent the rescue of my Grandfather’s family from certain death, were the same tactics still being used by modern Lithuanian bureaucrats to rebuff me.” (Courtesy)

These cases no doubt constitute part of the background to the public statement signed by 17 historians of the GRRC in which they express their concern about “The devaluation of the discipline of history through the distortion of history research in an ideologized and politicized direction (encouragement to undertake ‘the defense of history’ and ‘memory wars’)….”. In addition, they point to “The disappearance of the line between expert professional work and amateur initiatives, both in history research as well as in the field of commemoration…”

Applauding Murder. Lithuanian civilians and German soldiers watching the massacre of 68 Jews in the Lietūkis garage of Kaunas on June 25 or 27, 1941. The image was taken by a German soldier who reported that the Lithuanian crowd cheered and applauded with the killing of each Jew.

And if this was not enough, there came the announcement by the Lithuanian History Institute and three prominent Lithuanian history scholars that they would no longer cooperate with the GRRC because of the unprofessional manner in which it was working.

It remains to be seen how Holocaust-related issues will develop in Lithuania, but the situation described above does give some hope that for the first time since independence, there might be a real opportunity to displace the false narrative and convince the Lithuania government to stick to the truth. They also have to stop glorifying Holocaust perpetrators, and promoting the canard of equivalency between Nazi and Communist crimes. So now is the time for us to help persuade our leaders and governments, and Jewish organizations, to step up to this important challenge. And this will be the best way not only to remember our victims, but to truly honor their memory.

Civilian Complicity. A proud perpetrator (nicknamed the “Death Dealer”) at the massacre of Jews in the Lietūkis garage in Kaunas.



About the writer:

Dr. Efraim Zuroff is the coordinator of Nazi war crimes research for the Simon Wiesenthal Center and director of the Center’s Israel Office and Eastern European Affairs. His latest book, with Lithuanian author Ruta Vanagaite, is Our People; Discovering Lithuania’s Hidden Holocaust (Rowman & Littlefield, 2020) exposes the extent of Holocaust distortion in Lithuania, and has already also been published in Lithuanian, Polish, Hebrew, Russian, and Swedish.




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)

Aliyah on the Agenda?

Aliyah – immigrating to Israel –  is increasingly  on the radar of Jews around the world. Whether excited to be living in a thriving Jewish state, being a part of the “Start-Up Nation” at the cutting edge of the sciences and medicine, or as parents joining one’s kids and grandkids, folks are moving to Israel for a variety of – positive – reasons.

In a two part series, Shelley Berman from Johannesburg relates her thought process and experiences of the transition from Glenhazel to Modiin.


Part 1:

Leaving Glenhazel

By Shelley Berman

Aliyah? On my agenda? NEVER!

Or at least, that’s what I thought, until April 2016. But allow me to introduce myself and give you some background. I am Johannesburg born, a 60-something mother of two, grandmother of six, English teacher and writer.

My husband, Ian, and I were in our mid-to-late fifties, happily married for about 35 years, with two married children and two grandchildren. We were very comfortable in our secure (or rather, what we perceived to be secure) suburban life in Glenhazel, Johannesburg.

Family Ties

We had everything that we thought we needed: our children and grandchildren nearby, a very close extended family of siblings, nephews and nieces, a lovely home, good jobs, a warm community, and good friends.

Thank G-d we both enjoyed good health and were quite content with our lives and comfortable lifestyle. Aliyah, or any form of emigration, had never crossed our minds, was something that we had never considered, and that only other people did.

That is, until our daughter and son-in-law announced that they were going to be those other people. The rumblings first started one shabbat afternoon in early 2016, when we were having a general family discussion about emigration. I could see which way the wind was blowing in their minds, and fear gripped my heart.

The thought of my two precious grandsons being taken away from me made my blood run cold. I retreated to the bedroom and couldn’t face the rest of the conversation. I adopted an ostrich attitude, kind of like, if I don’t hear them talking about it, then it’s not happening.

But, as the weeks wore on, the rumblings became more of a constant topic of conversation, until they announced that they were going on a pilot trip, an exploratory mission to see if they could make this work.

Leaving their 18 month old and almost 3 year old boys with us for ten days, they went off to explore Israel, and the opportunities ‘She’ could offer them.

Emotional Roller-coaster

They came back with stars (of David) in their eyes, passionate about their decision to make a new life for themselves and their young family in Modiin, Israel. They started planning for a January 2017 departure, and begged me and my husband to join them on this adventure.

To say that this was a terrifying time for us would be to completely understate the emotions that were raging through me. To be parted from my beloved daughter and grandsons? Unthinkable!

But, on the other hand, to accompany them and, in the process, abandon my other child, my son and daughter-in-law, who at the time were going through their own challenges with trying to start a family? Equally unthinkable!

However, we decided to keep an open mind and go on a pilot trip ourselves, thinking that it would empower us to at least make an informed decision.

In July we took a trip to Israel. We rented a small apartment in Modiin for ten days, and made lots of appointments to see people whom we thought would be in a position to advise us.

Majestic Modiin. Once the place of the ancient Maccabees, the  city of Modiin today where Ian and Shelley Berman have joined their daughter and her family.

Sadly, this trip was not a success. The people we met with were mostly unhelpful and very negative, giving us the impression that this would be a bad move for us, and leaving us feeling quite hopeless that we could make it work.

How wrong they were!

If only I had known it at the time, we did not choose the right people to advise us. From a so-called financial advisor to a recruitment agent, to a realtor, they all only served to amplify and exacerbate my fears.

Fears of what, exactly?

Well, really, of everything related to Aliyah. But primarily, fear of financial insecurity, of parting from all my loved ones in South Africa, of the physical hardship of such a massive move, and the enormous fear of change.

We returned from that pilot trip totally deflated and deeply sad. Our babies would be leaving us, and we were utterly bereft at the thought of being parted from them. But we knew that we just had to accept the situation.

January 2017 came faster than we could have imagined. When Juliet said to Romeo, “Parting is such sweet sorrow”, she lied! There was nothing sweet about this parting. It felt like my heart was being ripped out. I was enveloped in a shroud of sorrow that lasted for weeks.

But my children were happy, and that is really what every mother wants for her children. Somehow, motherhood gives you the ability to overcome your own heartache by putting your children’s needs above your own.

We paid them our first visit over Pesach 2017, just three months after they had left. We could already see on that trip how they were starting to settle down and were enjoying life as Israelis in their homeland. We had a wonderful two weeks with them, and came again in December of that year.

A Walk in the Park. The local park in Modiin where the Bermans love to walk and have fun with their grandkids.

By that stage, we were becoming more familiar with Modiin, and were realising more and more just how much we loved Israel in general, and Modiin in particular. But nothing had changed in terms of our personal perspective.

Until April 2018. We were on our third visit, this time over Pesach (I had actually started a small home-based business to help to fund frequent trips to Israel, which thank G-d was doing very nicely). Pesach in Israel was so special. On this trip we finally concluded that this was the place we wanted to call ‘home’.

Aliyah was now seriously back on our agenda. We set up many meetings, this time with people who were better qualified and informed to advise and guide us, and by the time we stepped on the plane to go home, the decision had been made. We knew that our next trip would be on a one-way ticket.

So many people have asked me what, in fact, had changed that made us realise that Aliyah could actually work out. There is no definitive answer to that question, other than our attitude. On our original pilot trip, we came with an attitude of “Oh well, let’s see if there’s any chance that we could do this.”

I realise now that that was the wrong attitude. By April 2018, we knew that we had to find a way to make it work. Our approach changed from ‘Let’s see IF this can work’ to rather thinking ‘Let’s figure out HOW  this can work’.

“We are Home”. After collecting their baggage, Israel’s newest immigrants , Ian and Shelley Berman are welcomed by their daughter and grandkids holding up an Israeli flag.




About the Writer:

Shelley Berman and her husband, Ian, made Aliyah from South Africa in December 2018. She has always been a staunch Zionist with a strong love for Israel. With a degree in English and an English teacher by profession, she is passionate about education. She has also always loved writing, and has worked as a content writer. She is dedicated to her family, and is a proud mother and grandmother.



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)

Lay of the Land Weekly Newsletter- 7 February 2021

Unveiling the contours and contrasts of an ever-changing Middle East landscape

Reliable reportage and insightful commentary on the Middle East by seasoned journalists from the region and beyond

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What’s happening in Israel today?  See this week’s daily ‘The Israel Brief’ broadcasts on LOTL  YouTube   by seasoned TV & radio broadcaster, Rolene Marks familiar to Chai FM listeners in South Africa and millions of American listeners to the News/Talk/Sports radio station WINA broadcasting out of Charlottesville, Virginia. You can subscribe to LOTL news from Israel and enjoy at a time of your convenience.

The Israel Brief

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Articles

(1)

From Ben to Charlie

A saga of ships and the men who ‘sailed’ into modern day Israeli history

By David E. Kaplan

Men on a Mission. Fighters for Jewish statehood, American Ben Hecht (l)  and South African Charlie Mandelstam (r)

Listening this week to a webinar on Ben Hecht, the great US Jewish novelist, playwright and iconic screenwriter, instantly unlocked a historic gem revealing something in common with a volunteer from South Africa in Israel’s War of Independence. The gem? A ship – the S.S. Ben Hecht.

From Ben to Charlie

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(2)

Jews who fought back during the Holocaust

By Gabriel  Groisman, Mayor of Bal Harbour, Florida.

Fighting Back. Jewish woman and children partisans in the forests near Pinsk.

Too often we hear people ask, “Why didn’t the Jews resist?” The response from the late Holocaust survivor and Nobel Laurette  Elie Wiesel is – “The question is not why all the Jews did not fight, but how so many of them did.” The writer  reveals some of the inspiring stories of those that fought back.

Jews who fought back during the Holocaust

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(3)

False Alarm

NGO sensationalizes false narrative of Israeli ‘Apartheid’ to keep donor taps running

By Shaun Sacks

Fingering Falsehood. Contrived B’Tselem poster portraying Israel as a nefarious superpower.

In a cycle of deceit, ‘information’ providers like the NGO B’Tselem spew out factually contrived Israeli ‘wrongdoings’, which the international media then presents in sensationalized reportage. The writer exposes this assault on Israel and the truth.

False Alarm

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LOTL Cofounders David E. Kaplan (Editor), Rolene Marks and Yair Chelouche

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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)

The Israel Brief- 01-04 February 2021

The Israel Brief – 01 February 2021 – Tension in Israel over Haredim attending funerals. Kosovo and Israel to establish formal diplomatic ties. Jewish space lasers?



The Israel Brief – 02 February 2021 – Palestinians receive 2000 vaccines from Israel. Secretary of State Blinken: Iran capable of nuke soon. Is Facebook going to police the word Zionism?



The Israel Brief – 03 February 2021 – Israel to vaccinate citizens 16 and up. Biden administration embrace IHRA. Black-Jewish Alliance formed.



The Israel Brief – 04 February 2021 – Israel to start lifting lock down. UN Sec Gen hopes for new negotiations between Israel and Palestinians. Zimbabwe and Israel ties warming up?



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)

From Ben to Charlie

A saga of ships and the men who ‘sailed’ into modern day Israeli history

By David E. Kaplan

I sat enthralled listening to a recent webinar on the globally popular “Lockdown University” – born out of the Covid-19 pandemic  – on Ben Hecht, the famed Jewish American screenwriter, director, producer, playwright, journalist, and novelist.

Ben Hecht. The American screenwriter, director, producer, playwright, journalist and novelist who went on to write 35 books and some of the most entertaining screenplays and plays in America.

It was interesting to learn that his indifference to Jewish issues changed when he met Hillel Kook, also known as Peter Bergson, who was drumming up American assistance for the Zionist group, Irgun. Hecht wrote in his book, Perfidy, that he used to be a scriptwriter until his meeting with Bergson, when “I accidentally bumped into history” – that is, the burning need to do anything possible to save the doomed Jews of Europe.

Golden Boy. Ben Hecht was a master of cinema’s golden age as well a writer on the world’s blackest age  penning articles and plays about the plight of European Jews, such as ‘We Will Never Die’  and ‘A Flag is Born’.

He did!

When our superb lecturer Trudy Gold mentioned that following Hecht’s support for a Jewish State through his writing, noting that the proceeds of his successful play  “A Flag is Born”  – dealing with the subject of illegal immigration and the fight against the British – were used to help purchase a ship to support that cause and was named the S.S. Ben Hecht, I suddenly recollected a South African connection.

The Stage is Set. Bringing the cause of the Jewish state to the hearts and minds of Americans. New York City opening of Ben Hecht’s A Flag is Born at the Alvin Playhouse

Back in 1996, I interviewed a former South African in Israel who served on that vessel during Israel’s 1948 War of Independence. His name was Charlie Mandelstam.

On deck of the SS Ben Hecht was a world away both geographically and atmospherically from Charlie’s small agricultural hometown of Standerton on the Vaal River, east of Johannesburg. He came from neither a Zionist nor a religious background, but Charlie too was about to “bump into history” when “my older brother and I started reading in the press about the Jewish struggle in Palestine – it fascinated us. We both felt that the creation of a State of Israel was vital and that our family should be represented in the struggle. We had both served in WWII, me in the navy but this was now personal. Only one of us could go as someone had to stay with our widowed mother and run the family furniture business. At that time, all I was interested in was golf and girls and I certainly didn’t want the responsibility of running a business, so I volunteered.”

A young Charlie Mandelstam serving on the convoys off the east coast of Africa during WWII.

If Charlie had seen little action  on his convoy runs between Mombasa, Madagascar and the Seychelles during WWII, that would not be the case in his next war. It was the end of June 1948, and Charlie had only been in Israel for ten days when below deck on his first ship – the Eilat –  an ex-American ice-breaker that had been converted to bring across illegal immigrants – Holocaust survivors from Europe –  and then turned into a patrol boat, he suddenly heard the rat-a-tat-tat of gunfire above as three Egyptian spitfires staffed the upper deck and the bridge.

Here I was, my first day in the Israeli navy, and a fellow shipmate lay dead on the deck!”

A short while later, Charlie was transferred to a sub-chaser – the S.S. Ben Hecht. “It was only called a subchaser because it was the only ship with radar” explained Charlie, “but it didn’t have any anti-submarine equipment.”

Ready for War.  A new ‘chapter’ for the Ben Hecht now recommissioned to patrol Israel’s coastline.

It has an interesting and intriguing history before Charlie graced its deck.

Built originally as a private yacht by the German firm Krupp, it changed hands and was used, at one time, to smuggle the gold of the Republican Government from Spain to Mexico, shortly before its fall in the Spanish Civil War.  Later, it was acquired by the US Navy and used as a coastal patrol vessel until 1946 when it was purchased by a company serving as a façade for the “American League for a Free Palestine”, an organization that was connected to the Revisionist Movement. It was then that the ship was re-named for the author and screenwriter Ben Hecht who was active in Revisionist circles and financed  the purchase of the ship from the proceeds  of “A Flag is Born”.

The March to Independence. Ben Hecht’s ‘A Flag is Born’  advocated the creation of a homeland for the Jewish people in the ancient Land of Israel.

Ben Hecht vs Emir Farouk

On March 1st, 1948, the Ben Hecht sailed from Port de Bouc, France, carrying 626 Ma’apilim (Jews who illegally immigrated to British controlled Palestine in the 1930s and 1940s – known as Aliyah Bet)·. The crew of 18 was made up – for the most part – of American volunteers and when the vessel was close to Palestine, it was intercepted by two British destroyers, towed to Haifa, and the Ma’apilim transferred to an internment camp in Cyprus.

Bound for Palestine. Two child refugees aboard the SS Ben Hecht that will be intercepted by the British and its passengers interned in Cyprus. ( Courtesy the Institute for Mediterranean Affairs).

The crew was imprisoned by the British authorities in Acre Prison, and assisted in the preparations for the famous Acre Prison break.

The S.S. Ben Hecht would know greater success in the next chapter of its history with the young South African on board although Charlie relates the famed incident that followed with humour in keeping with his colourful personality.

An American friend of mine aboard the ship got the address of some girls from Ma’agan Michael who were stationed in Rehovot. We got to know them and they used to tease us, “You guys came all the way from the States and South Africa to have a good time sailing between Haifa and Gaza! Why don’t you join a fighting unit?” Soon after there was the famous incident where four speedboats, three of them homemade kamikaze torpedo boats, were launched from our ship – the Ben Hecht. When they got close to the Emir Farouk the Egyptian flagship and an accompanying minesweeper anchored outside Tel Aviv harbor trying to prevent Israel from rearming by sea, our guys jumped safely into the water, and the torpedo boats exploded on impact, sinking both enemy ships. Although the sinking of the Farouk was Israel’s most dramatic naval victory in the War of Independence, all I really saw of the whole thing was the explosion in the distance from on board our ship. However we couldn’t rush fast enough to tell the girls of how we sank the enemy ships. Well, how they laughed at us. It turned out that the guys who had actually been on the torpedo speedboats were friends of theirs from their Kibbutz – Ma’agan Michael.”

Israel Strikes at Sea. The Emir Farouk, the flagship of the Egyptian navy before Israel’s attack off the coast of Tel Aviv.

Charlie would find his “girl” after the war on moshav Habonim where many his shipmates and other South Africans had settled.  “I used to work in the fields and brought feed for the dairy. Lucy used to milk the cows early in the morning. She wore shorts and I couldn’t help notice her legs. They were beautiful; they still are,” he said chuckling. Charlie married Lucy and eventually left the Moshav in 1960 and taking a job as the coach of the newly opened Caesarea golf course, despite his mother’s reservations:

 ‘Fun golf ken men machen a leben ?’ (From golf can you make a living?”)

Charlie remained there for the next 35 years.

Life after War. Looking ever so debonair,  Charlie Mandelstam at home on Moshav Habonim.

Over those years, many of the golfers, Charlie rubbed shoulders with either on the course or on the ‘19th hole’  included Danny Kaye, Kirk Douglas, Frank Sinatra, Sean Connery, Micky Rooney, Peter Lawford and Zubin Mehta. Charlie related  a game he played with US diplomats, Asst. Secretary of State Joseph J. Sisco,  whose career in the State Department spanned five presidential administrations and who played a major role in Secretary of State Henry Kissinger‘s shuttle diplomacy in the Middle East and Alfred Atherton, who helped in the negotiations that led to the 1978 Camp David peace accords between Israel and Egypt.

Astute diplomats, they could plot the course of the political destiny of nations but on a golf course, Charlie was frank:

 “they were poor golfers!”

The night following the game, “I got a phone call from Ted Lurie the then editor of The Jerusalem Post asking what the scores were. I politely skirted the question. That Sunday, the paper ran a piece about Sisco and Atherton playing the local pro, Charlie Mandelstam who wouldn’t divulge the scores. On Monday, I received a call from Joseph Sisco telling me he had just called Abba Eban suggesting he recruit me into the diplomatic corps.”

Down to a ‘Tee’. (L-r) At a 1963 exhibition round at Caesarea – Rex Moss, club champion, Isabel Blumberg, two times South African woman’s champion and club champion; Herman Barra, most famous Jewish golfer and world senior champion and Charlie Mandelstam, club pro.
 

Charlie Mandelstam from Standerton, South Africa came to patrol Israel’s shores, but stayed captivated  by the land and its people, and of course, “a fine pair of legs!”










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)

False Alarm

NGO sensationalizes false narrative of Israeli ‘Apartheid’ to keep donor taps running

By Shaun Sacks

Last Wednesday, January 21, 2021, Eyewitness News  – a South African multi-platform news publisher (EWN) – ran an AFP story that again amplified the “Apartheid” smear campaign against Israel.

The latest installment to the “Israeli Apartheid” canard was credited to the “Israeli rights group” B’Tselem, whose analysis the AFP refers to as “hard-hitting.” However, neither the newswire service nor EWN saw fit to include any opposing point of view in their report.

From its initial headline, EWN misleads its readers by ignoring or knowingly disregarding facts that do not suit its preconceived narrative of Israel.  By referring to B’Tselem simply as “Israeli”, AP and EWN conceal the fact that almost two-thirds of B’Tselem’s budget comes from foreign [i.e., non-Israeli] governmental bodies. 

B’Tselem and many other NGOs annually take in millions in government contracts for “human rights” work. These NGOs then report back to their donors about the continued deterioration of human rights in Israel and the Palestinian territories, consequently asking donor governments for additional funds. This circular funding system ensures that B’Tselem and many NGOs like it remain well-financed and disproportionately vocal, despite their marginal role within Israeli society. Based on financial information submitted to the Israeli Registrar of Non-Profits, B’Tselem’s income from foreign governments between 2016 and 2020 was over 14.5 million US dollars. This is in excess of R200 million, a staggering amount of money for a “rights organization.”

Inflaming Passions. An assault on Israel’s internationally respected Supreme Court depicting it as an instrument of suppression in this B’Tselem publication.

Even more troubling is that this exorbitant amount of money has, by B’Tselem’s own admission, been spent on objectives that were not achieved.  Despite receiving millions of dollars in government contracts to improve human rights, B’Tselem can now claim that they will need millions more because, in their words, “A [human rights] threshold has been crossed.”

In any other field, one may ask why programs that by their own admission do not achieve results should continue to receive funding. In the case of the Arab-Israeli conflict, however, human rights NGOs like B’Tselem are immune to criticism and will perpetually receive government funds as long they continue to fail.

B’Tselem publications are geared to foreign audiences, whether in South Africa or the United States, or Europe which supplies the majority of its budget. Its latest announcement, timed to coincide with the inauguration of President Biden, appears designed to latch on to trends in American politics. In declaring Israeli Apartheid, B’Tselem appear to be appealing to the more liberal policies of the new administration, but it also employs antisemitic language of “Jewish supremacy,” recalling the title of former Ku Klux Klan grand wizard David Duke’s 2002 book “Jewish Supremacism: My Awakening on the Jewish Question.”

As with its latest publication, B’Tselem has a habit of first finding Israel guilty, and only then defining the crime and preparing information to suit its predetermined conclusion. 

For example, in order to justify its Apartheid label, B’Tselem chooses to reclassify Israelis citizens into various categories. It then claims that Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza are disenfranchised – not because the PA has refused to hold elections since 2006 – but rather because Israel has not ceded sufficient responsibilities to the PA.  It is difficult to understand how the delineation of responsibilities and rights, mutually negotiated and agreed to by the internationally recognized Oslo agreements, is proof of “Apartheid.”  Moreover, it ignores the fact that the governing body in Area A of the West Bank is the PA and Hamas in Gaza.

Fingering Falsehood. A typically contrived B’Tselem poster portraying Israel as an Apartheid and injudicious Middle East superpower.

Media outlets enjoy amplifying sensational stories, and for reasons that are never fully explained, reports of Israeli wrongdoings, regardless of their factual veracity, are always sensational. NGOs like B’Tselem, which cannot appeal to their achievements for funding, now rely instead on sensationalism to keep their funding cycle going.


About the writer: 

Shaun Sacks immigrated to Israel from South Africa in 1998. He received his BA from Bar Ilan University. Before joining NGO Monitor as a Senior Researcher, Shaun was the Senior Project Manager for NETSOURCE, an Israeli firm that specializes in providing technology employment opportunities to Ultra-Orthodox communities, and emerging market manager for McAfee Inc.









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)

The Jews who fought back during the Holocaust

By Gabriel  Groisman, Mayor of Bal Harbour, Florida.

Our communal sense of history and peoplehood, and our ties to our religion and traditions, will continue to give us the strength to continue being a light unto the nations while our enemies fall by the wayside.

Last week, leaders from around the world commemorated those who perished at the hands of the Nazis during International Holocaust Remembrance Day. This year, like most, there were statements recognizing and remembering those who were taken from us by people all over the globe. The recognition is critical and something appreciated by all from the Jewish community worldwide.

Much has been written about what needs to be done during the remaining days of the year to properly commemorate and educate the world about the horrors of the Holocaust, and what “never again” really means. A recent Pew Research poll proves that Americans’ Holocaust education is sorely lacking. For example, only 45 percent of Americans interviewed even knew that 6 million Jews were murdered during the Holocaust. Even fewer knew that Adolf Hitler became chancellor of Germany by a democratic political process.

Surely, what is far less known is how many Jews fought valiantly against the Nazis.

A group of female Jewish partisans. (Source: USHMM.)

But fight they did!

Jews fought back alongside resistance groups around Europe, organized uprisings in the ghettos, created partisan units and even fought back in the concentration camps, attempting to bomb a crematorium in Auschwitz. To properly commemorate the Holocaust, these stories must be told as well.

Group of Jewish partisan fighters in Soviet territories (Wiener Holocaust Library Collections)

To that end, I commemorate and honor the story of the following Jews who courageously fought back during World War II and the Holocaust. Their stories represent the thousands who fought to the end.

Mordechai Anielewitz

Mordechai Anielewitz

In April 1943, this leader of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising led 750 Jewish fighters armed with a handful of pistols, 17 rifles and Molotov cocktails  – all smuggled into the ghetto – in a clash with more than 2,000 heavily armed and well-trained German troops. They held off the Germans for 27 days.

Warsaw Ghetto Uprising Leader. Mordechai Anielewicz (top right) amongst with members of Hashoer Hatzair wanted to show the world that Jews could counter the German oppressors in open battle. He died along with his brave comrades, defending a basement in Mila Street on May 8, 1943.

Boris Lekach

Boris Lekach

This one is personal. My wife’s maternal grandfather, Lekach fought for the Russians against the Nazis. He enlisted at age 16 with doctored papers just so he could fight. He was also well-known to many in the Jewish community in Russia for helping Jews escape during and after the war.





The Bielski Brothers

Made famous in a number of books and in the 2008 movie “Defiance,” the Bielski brothers – Tuvia, Asael and Zus – fled their city in Belarus after their parents and two other siblings were murdered. The brothers found shelter in the forest, where they created one of the largest and most effective partisan groups during the war, focusing on guerrilla attacks against the Nazis and their collaborators, as well as on preserving Jewish life even in their hideout. In a little more than two years, the Bielski group grew to about 1,200 people.

The Bielski Partisans. Named after a family of Polish Jews who organized and led the organization,  ‘The Bielski Partisans’ rescued Jews from extermination and fought the German occupiers and their collaborators around Nowogródek and Lida in German-occupied Poland.

Tosia Altman

Tosia Altman. A courier and smuggler to Warsaw Gehtto. Tosia Altman was captured suffering severe burn wounds and handed over to the Gestapo where she died.

A young woman who used fake papers to smuggle weapons and information in and out of Poland’s ghettos. She was an active member of the social Zionist youth movement Hashomer Hatzair, active in the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising alongside Anielewitz and the other brave fighters.








Eta Wrobel 

Eta Wrobel.  Eta’s exclusively Jewish partisan unit of close to eighty people, set mines to hinder German movement and to cut off supply routes.

A young woman in her 20s, Wrobel helped form an all-Jewish partisan unit in the Polish woods. Her unit attacked German troops as they traveled through the area and is credited for saving the lives of hundreds of Jews.




Rudolph Masaryk

Rudolph Masaryk. A prominent member of the Treblinka prisoner uprising, Czech prisoner Masarek was killed on 2 August 1943.

On Aug. 2, 1943, at the Treblinka extermination camp, Masaryk and other Jewish prisoners stole 20 grenades, 20 rifles and a few handguns. Together, they attacked the SS guards, while another doused a large part of the camp with gasoline and lit it on fire. Approximately 300 prisoners escaped and 40 Nazi guards were killed during the Treblinka uprising.



May their memories be a blessing.

While it’s critical for the world to remember on International Holocaust Remembrance Day and on every other day that the Nazis rose to destroy the Jewish people, it is equally important for all to remember that the Jewish people fought back, and ultimately, as a people, we survived.

Today, the Jewish people not only survive but thrive. Our communal sense of history and peoplehood, as well as our ties to our religion and traditions, will continue to give us the strength to continue being a light unto the nations while our enemies fall by the wayside, as did Hitler and all enemies before him.






*This article first appeared in the JNS.

About the writer:

Gabriel Groisman is the mayor of Bal Harbour, Fla., and an attorney at Meland Russin & Budwick, P.A., in Miami. He has been a leader in combating anti-Semitism and the BDS movement, having written and passed the first municipal anti-BDS ordinance, as well as the first codification of the IHRA definition of anti-Semitism. He is a co-founder of the Global Coalition of Mayors Against Hate and Discrimination.








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)

Lay of the Land Weekly Newsletter- 31 January 2021

Unveiling the contours and contrasts of an ever-changing Middle East landscape

Reliable reportage and insightful commentary on the Middle East by seasoned journalists from the region and beyond

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“We Remember”

International Holocaust Remembrance Day

Lay Of The Land’s  (l-r) Yair Chelouche, Rolene Marks & David Kaplan In accordance with the UN’s General Assembly designating January 27 as “the anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau as International Holocaust Remembrance Day”, we Remember and Honour  “the six million Jewish victims of the Holocaust and millions of other victims of Nazism.”



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What’s happening in Israel today?  See this week’s daily ‘The Israel Brief’ broadcasts on LOTL  YouTube   by seasoned TV & radio broadcaster, Rolene Marks familiar to Chai FM listeners in South Africa and millions of American listeners to the News/Talk/Sports radio station WINA broadcasting out of Charlottesville, Virginia. You can subscribe to LOTL news from Israel and enjoy at a time of your convenience.

The Israel Brief

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Articles

(1)

Surviving the Shoah

By David E. Kaplan

Wezembeek Children. Roni Wolf ( front row second from the left) with fellow orphans who luckily survived the Holocaust.

Every year on the 27th of January, the world commemorates International Holocaust Remembrance Day. Of the six million Jews murdered in the Holocaust – one and a half million were children!  Lay Of The Land  talks to Roni Wolf from Ra’anana – who narrowly escaped deportation to Auschwitz while staying at the Wezembeek orphanage during the Nazi occupation of Belgium.

Surviving the Shoah

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(2)

The Long-Term Impact of the Abraham Accords in Africa

By Ben Levitas

Footprints in Africa. While Trump failed to set foot in Africa during his presidency, Biden as VP  traveled thrice in one year.

With Israel’s increasing integration into a region commonly recognised as “a dangerous neighborhood” coupled with a new US administration promising to re-engage with the world and re-build alliances, appears as positive portends for a new enlightened Middle East with Israel as a major player.

The Long-Term Impact of the Abraham Accords in Africa

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(3)

Nhonho and Nomsa

By Martine Alperstein

Cultural Connections. Enriching conversations revisiting yesterday, exploring tomorrow.

Away from her native South Africa for close to a quarter century, the writer living in Israel  revisits her past by engaging in weekly conversations with  those that were so dear to her then and forging fresh relationships that are emerging as new friends dear to her now.

Nhonho and Nomsa

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LOTL Cofounders David E. Kaplan (Editor), Rolene Marks and Yair Chelouche

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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)