Again an overload. Sorry. I don’t make the news, just distribute it.
10 items below
I wish to begin with a correction, however: a message from Who Profits that I sent out a day or two ago erred in the email address to use if you send it pictures, etc. Thanks to Annelien who pointed out the error—the address is not whoprifits email@example.com .
Now to the items.
Item 1 is a poll which shows that Israeli Jews oppose a unilateral strike on Iran. Wish they opposed any strike. Remember the famous much touted WMDS that Iraq supposedly had in enormous quantities, which justified sanctions that hit the population tremendously, and then, suddenly it turned out that there were no WMDS at all—but after 1000s of Iraqis had been killed. I have no great love for Iran’s present leaders, but that does not justify an attack. After all, I have no great love for Israel’s leaders either. I believe, as I have said, that Netanyahu and Barak are using the Iran case as a cover-up to hide what Israel is doing in the West Bank, namely filling it with Jews. That does not mean that these 2 men won’t go whole hog and strike. I hope that Uri Avnery and others are right, that Israel will not strike. How then will Bibi and Ehud (Gog and Magog, as Richard Silverstein has tagged them) explain why they wanted to attack Iran in the first place.
Item 2 is about finding a solution for the stateless Palestinians, who after over “45” years remain stateless—in other words, the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza. In effect, Palestinians have been stateless longer—since 1948 and the establishment of Israel as a state.
Item 3 is about the shock that faced Israeli Civil Rights and Advocacy organizations when Israel’s High Court recently slapped them with an enormous sum for court fees.
Item 4 says that South African Jews and the government clash over cancelled Israel visit of the Mayors. The article does not cite the number of Jews or percentage of Jews who disagree with the government on this issue. Wonder if they were many or few.
Item 5 reports on 3 American young men who came to Israel to serve in the IOF and now are returning to the States and plan to do hasbara (propaganda) on college campuses. My initial reaction was ‘silly boys to serve in the army (any army, but especially an occupation army). But when we came to Israel to live I was not more informed than they are, and was just as idealistic. Some of us change. I hope that these young men will at some point begin to ask questions and realize how wrong they now are.
Item 6 reports that a so-called ‘academic’ is suing Manchester Trust for discrimination after it dropped him from a program because he is an Israeli. The article refers to him as a professor, but does not present him as an academic but rather as the chief executive of a firm that deals with conflict resolution.
Item 7 is a brief report on how the present Gaza closure impacts on people who planned to go to Mecca to perform the hajj.
Item 8 reports that Israel is falsifying papers so as to deport asylum seekers. Well, Israel has falsified passports and other documents to cover the tracks of its Mossad and other head hunters. Why not make false papers for refugees? After all, do you expect Israel to take non-Jews to its bosom?
Item 9 is Today in Palestine for August 17, 2012—that’s where the news is!
I debated about including or not item 10. You can decide whether or not it interests you. Apparently Israeli sperm banks are finding that the quality of sperm is diminishing. I thought to myself as I read this that this should be of far greater concern to Bibi and Ehud than Iran. After all, poor sperm could mean fewer Jews! Wouldn’t that be a disaster? I don’t mean to be crude. I would not deny any mom or dad their children. But under present circumstances, why in any case produce more future soldiers?
That’s it for today.
All the best,
1+972 August 18 2012
Independent commentary and news from Israel & Palestine
Poll: Israeli Jews oppose a unilateral strike on Iran
Most Israelis do not back the Prime Minister and Defense Minister’s call for a pre-emptive strike on Iran, but most won’t do much to oppose it either. Here are some numbers and thoughts on why.
Just one-quarter of the Jewish public (27 percent) in Israel supports a unilateral Israeli strike on Iran, according to a new Peace Index survey from August 7-8, focused mainly on Iran. Fully 61 percent of the 516 Jewish respondents are against such a strike, with over one-quarter strongly opposed – even a majority on the right is opposed (51 percent).
If Prime Minister Netanyahu and Defense Minister Barak truly hope to rally the public for war, they are not succeeding. Barely one-third (33 percent) expect them to actually carry out attack, while 56 percent do not. Fifty-seven percent are convinced that the duo is bluffing and posturing.
Worse still for Netanyahu and Barak, a strong majority of the Jewish public doesn’t even trust them to make the decision: the survey, run by the Israel Democracy Institute and Tel Aviv University, shows that barely over one-quarter (28 percent) are convinced by Barak’s message that Israel must act “before Iran attains nuclear capability.” When given a choice, 57 percent chose instead to believe the senior security echelons, who oppose an attack; even the self-identified right is split dead even on which figures to trust.
Perhaps Netanyahu’s single greatest failure on this issue is that the Israeli public rejects his cherished baby, the existential threat. Poor Netanyahu: For three years, he has been hammering away at the theme that Iran equals the holocaust of the Jewish people. He has recited this at every opportunity, almost to the exclusion of anything else. He is nothing if not “on message.”
But the Israeli public merely displays resilience:
When presented with the proposition that Iran’s nuclear program cannot be stopped, and Israel must formulate its defense strategy on the assumption that it is no longer the only nuclear power in the region – in other words, reconciling itself to a nuclear Iran – an absolute majority of 60 percent agreed; only 35 percent disagreed.
To be sure, Israeli Jews would be far happier if Iran’s program would be stopped, and do not trust Western diplomatic efforts; 70 percent feel that Israel cannot rely on US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta’s promise that Iran will not have nuclear weapons. Three-quarters believe that a strike coordinated with the U.S. has a high chance of seriously delaying the Iranian nuclear program.
Given how skeptical the Jewish public is about the effectiveness of international diplomatic efforts, the lack of support for Netanyahu and Barak’s approach is, well, striking.
Actually it’s amazing that despite the near-obsession of Netanyahu, Barak and the press, there seems to have been no movement of public opinion at all in recent months about Iran. Surveys I gathered this spring showed practically identical numbers. This is from April:
…The public…diverge[s] sharply from the leadership’s policy: Survey after survey, as I wrote in March, showed that only a minority – somewhere between 19 percent and 31 percent – favors a unilateral Israeli attack on Iran. The majority – at least half (here’s a similar survey in Hebrew), and up to nearly two-thirds (Hebrew) – is against a unilateral attack.
Here are my educated guesses about why such majorities of the Jewish interviewees aren’t excited about an attack.
•It won’t work: A majority of 55 percent said there were very low or moderately low chances that a strike will significantly delay the nuclear program; just 36 percent gave somewhat high or high chances.
•It’s not Osirak: It would be natural to compare the Iran debate to Israel’s strike on the Osirak nuclear reactor in Iraq in 1981. The general mantra in Israel is that our crack defense establishment does what’s right even (and sometimes especially) when it’s not politically correct, the world condemns us, and everyone’s secretly happy in the end. But we don’t hear much about Osirak lately. That’s because there’s a big difference: Iraq did not go to war with Israel following the strike and there were not 500 or even 300 Israeli casualties, in return for moderate-to-low chances of a mere delay in nuclear armament.
•It’s the economy, tembel (stupid): In focus groups about various political issues I ran a few weeks ago, Iran hardly came up. People did talk at great length about daily economic hardships, like the cost of day care for the kids: “It’s crazy, it’s like another salary. For me, that’s everything at this point. Sure, there’s the security thing and the Iranian threat, but I get up and go to work and that’s what bothers me,” said one participant. The way our brave leaders quake at the thought of trimming the defense budget, preferring instead to gouge the middle class, is wearing thin.
That leaves the eternal paradox: if people don’t support the policy, why don’t they actively oppose it? Despite noble attempts to hold Facebook-driven anti-war demonstrations all week, just a handful attended.
Here’s my opinion about why: First, the security mystique reigns supreme. Although people don’t like the idea of a strike, I hear many saying “there are things we don’t know” – as they nod their heads and accept the mysterium tremendum. (Personally, I think that if the government expects me to rally round a war it starts, I deserve to know why that war is right for the country. A possibility of a 1-2 year delay is not sufficient. I want a list of concrete benefits – a long list.)
Second, the Peace Index shows that Israelis don’t place much faith in the other (international, diplomatic) options.
Third, the social protests proved to many that the government does not listen to people. So why bother? That’s what some friends wrote on Facebook this week. And that’s exactly what this government likes to hear.
2 Al Jazeera
August 17, 2012
Searching for a solution for a stateless people
After all these years, are Palestinians any closer to a just and democratic solution and just what form might that take?
It has been more than 45 years since Israel’s occupation of Palestinian land began [Reuters]
The Palestinians are still waiting. Waiting for a state of their own. It’s been 45 years since Israel’s illegal occupation of their territories began in the Six-Day War. It’s been 19 years since the start of the so-called peace process at Oslo. But there is no peace and there is no process.
Israeli settlements continue to mushroom; new figures from Israel’s interior ministry in July revealed that the number of settlers in the occupied West Bank has crossed the 350,000 mark for the first time. In the past year alone, the number of West Bank settlers skyrocketed by more than 15,000. (These figures, incidentally, don’t include the 200,000 settlers living in occupied East Jerusalem.)
You can’t help but notice the vast settlements as you drive into the West Bank from Israel. They dominate the landscape.
But the real surprise comes in Palestinian-controlled Ramallah, the cultural, commercial and political hub of the West Bank. It’s a boom town, with major construction projects, fancy foreign cars and fine houses, funded by international aid… and guilty consciences.
There’s a grand presidential palace that would make a sultan blush, but it sits just round the corner from poverty-stricken refugee camps and Israel’s “apartheid” wall.
“It’s a bubble,” says young businessman Khaled al-Sabawi, who says much of the donor money has been wasted and sees foreign aid, as a whole, as a form of “bribery” – a way of keeping the Palestinians subdued.
These days, rather than resisting the Israelis or standing up to the international community, the Palestinians are fighting each other.
The occupied Palestinian population is now split between the Gaza Strip, under the control of the Islamists of Hamas, and the West Bank, governed by the secular Fatah-led Palestinian Authority (PA). There has been much talk of a “unity government” but, so far, the two factions have been unable to form such a coalition for any decent length of time.
Meanwhile, in Ramallah, many accuse the PA, and its president Mahmoud Abbas, of being nothing less than Israeli stooges and subcontractors – and the PA’s mismanagement of the economy and constant postponing of elections has made it deeply unpopular. Abbas’ own presidential term expired in January 2009; he rules by presidential decree and diktat.
Human rights groups have criticised both the PA in the West Bank and Hamas in Gaza for flagrant human rights abuses, including the torture of detainees. PA and Fatah officials – funded by the West – may speak of democracy and human rights but they have no qualms about throwing Palestinian journalists and bloggers behind bars or shutting down the websites of their political rivals.
The Al Jazeera film crew was temporarily detained in Ramallah for daring to point their cameras at Abbas’ grotesque palace.
So what does the future hold for the Palestinian people?
A one-state solution, backed by activists such as Diana Buttu, the former PLO negotiator, in which Palestinians and Jews live side by side as equals in a single, secular, bi-national state? A two-state solution, backed both by the international community and PA officials such as Nabil Shaath, which envisages an independent Palestinian state on the territories occupied and colonised by Israel since 1967?
Or, in the words of Fatah politician Mohammed Shtayya, a nightmarish “three entity solution”, in which the status quo becomes permanent, entrenched and irreversible, with Palestinians divided between Fatah rule in the West Bank, Hamas rule in Gaza and Likud-led rule inside Israel?
After all these years, are the Palestinians any closer to a just and democratic solution?
Watch The Cafe from Ramallah at the following times on Al Jazeera English: Friday, August 17 at 2000GMT; Saturday, August 18 at 1200GMT; Sunday, August 19 at 0100GMT; and Monday, August 20 at 0600GMT. Click here for more on The Cafe.
Mehdi Hasan is political director of the Huffington Post UK and the presenter of Al Jazeera’s The Cafe.
Follow Mehdi Hasan on Twitter: @mehdirhasan
August 17, 2012
NGOs shocked by High Court’s imposition of NIS 45,000 in court costs
The court imposed the fee on the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, Physicians for Human Rights and the Adva Center, which had petitioned unsuccessfully to prevent doctors from offering private treatment in the public hospital being built in Ashdod.
By Tomer Zarchin
Chief Justice Asher Grunis Photo by Alex Kolomoysky
Israel Supreme Court Civil rights and social advocacy groups are reeling from the High Court of Justice’s decision Wednesday to impose NIS 45,000 in court expenses – a startlingly large sum – on petitioners in a healthcare case.
The court imposed the fee on the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, Physicians for Human Rights and the Adva Center, which had petitioned unsuccessfully to prevent doctors from offering private treatment in the public hospital being built in Ashdod. The groups said that paying the court expenses will seriously damage their ability to function.
Activists say Supreme Court President Asher Grunis has been imposing exceptionally high court expenses on groups that petition on the public’s behalf. They say Grunis believes the court should reduce its intervention in government and Knesset decisions. He has spoken in the past in favor of limiting the ability of watchdog groups to petition the High Court.
In recent months, petitioners on sensitive public issues have been hit with considerably higher court expenses than in the past. Last month the Ometz NGO, which fights government corruption, was charged NIS 15,000 in court expenses – much more than it had ever been charged before – after submitting a petition to instruct the attorney general to open a criminal investigation into the Harpaz affair.
Former journalist Arye Avneri, Ometz’s leader, said he was shocked by the large sum. “Ometz exists only on contributions,” Avneri said. “We don’t take money from tycoons, we’re all volunteers and can only pay for a part-time secretary. NIS 15,000 makes us think several times whether we can petition for the public again.”
He said Ometz will have to reconsider submitting a petition it is working on against what he called the state prosecution’s foot-dragging over whether to indict mayors suspected of criminal offenses, including Bat Yam Mayor Shlomi Lahiani and Ramat Gan Mayor Zvi Bar.
The Movement for Quality in Government was also charged with heavy court expenses over two cases in recent months. The movement, which submitted nine petitions to the High Court since the beginning of the year, was charged NIS 17,000 after its petition against alleged police misconduct was denied.
“Such high expenses on public petitioners, most of whom rely on donations, can curtail the movement’s legal activity,” says the movement’s attorney Mika Kohner Kerten.
Disagreement on bench
The Supreme Court this month reduced the fee imposed on the Gisha advocacy group, which appealed the NIS 25,000 charge imposed by the Be’er Sheva District Court after denying a petition on behalf of six women over 40 to pray at Al Aqsa Mosque on the Muslim holidays.
Justice Uzi Vogelman reduced the sum to NIS 12,000, emphasizing the importance of such petitions and appeals. He said such court actions advance the rule of law and constitutional principles and rectify fundamental flaws in public administration.
Vogelman wrote that the courts should restrict the expenses they impose on public petitioners to avoid deterring them from taking legal steps for the public good.
In contrast, Supreme Court deputy president Miriam Naor, who was also on the panel, thought the expenses should not be reduced. Naor wrote that even if the fees were higher than in the past, the Supreme Court should not intervene in the lower court’s discretion on this issue.
In April, Gisha was charged NIS 3,000 in expenses after petitioning for a prisoner who had asked the Israel Prison Service to return him to his home in the West Bank, not to his home in Gaza. In another, similar case, Gisha was not asked to pay expenses at all, as had been customary in such cases.
Gisha attorney Sari Bashi said she was worried by the increasing trend to charge human rights groups and Palestinian petitioners for court expenses. “This is how they discourage Palestinians from seeking judicial help pertaining to issues that deeply affect their life,” she says.
Attorney Dan Yakir of ACRI said that until this week, the association had only been charged court expenses once in its 30 years of activity. That was in 1989, when the association represented a private petitioner whose petition was denied. This week’s petition, on the other hand, was public, Yakir noted.
Courts spokeswoman Ayelet Pilo said the court “imposes expenses in each case according to the circumstances. The expenses are usually determined by considerations regarding the petition. … When the petitioners are commercial, unlike public ones, the expenses are higher.”
August 17, 2012
South Africa Jews, government clash over cancelled Israel visit
Delegation of mayors bows to pressure from BDS group, calls off planned trip; deputy foreign minister: ‘We discourage South Africans from visiting Israel.’
By Jeremy Gordin
Jewish supporters protest against a proposal from South African Trade Minister Rob Davies in Cape Town, June 29, 2012. Photo by AP
Deputy International Relations Minister Ebrahim ‘Ibie’ Ebrahim (standing) drew heat for saying that the South African government discourages visiting Israel. Photo by Jeremy Gordin
This past week, South African-Israeli relations sunk to one of their lowest points since the “new” South Africa began in 1994. The only other incident that caused such a fuss was the 2010 Gaza flotilla debacle when Israeli Ambassador Dov Segev-Steinberg received a dressing-down from then-deputy minister of international relations, Sue van der Merwe, and South Africa withdraw its ambassador from Tel Aviv for a period of time.
The latest conflict, which is more specifically between the South African Jewish community and the South African government, involves the cancellation, announced August 10, of a visit to Israel by mayors and other members of municipalities in the KwaZulu-Natal (KZN) province.
Similar trips for representatives from eight of the country’s nine provinces have been organized over the years by the South Africa-Israel Forum to promote agricultural and technological cooperation between the countries.
Following the cancellation, Deputy International Relations Minister Ebrahim “Ibie” Ebrahim said in the Mail & Guardian newspaper, “We discourage South Africans from visiting Israel, we don’t ban them.”
Ebrahim, now in his late 70s, was badly tortured as a political detainee in the 1980s and spent many years as a political prisoner on Robben Island (South Africa’s political Alcatraz), including 10 years in the same communal cell as current South African president Jacob Zuma. Ebrahim, who claims not to be anti-Israel but merely anti-occupation, denied that his comments represented a toughening of the government’s attitude toward Israel.
“This is not a new position,” he said in the City Press newspaper on Sunday. “Israel is an occupier country that is oppressing Palestine, so it is not proper for South Africans to associate with Israel. We discourage people from going there, except if it has to do with the peace process.”
Referring to the latest incident, as well as to the brouhaha caused by the government’s proposal to label goods from the occupied territories as such, Segev-Steinberg said it was now clear that the intention of the South African government was to boycott Israel. “The cat is out of the bag,” he said.
Ebrahim denied that there was any plan to boycott Israeli goods.
Asked if President Zuma, who has good relations with the local Jewish community, would make a statement, spokesman Mac Maharaj laughed.
“No, no, we’re definitely leaving this one to the International Relations Ministry,” said Maharaj, who knows Ebrahim well. “Let’s see how Ibie does with this one with the Jewish community.”
A group calling itself Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions South Africa claimed responsibility for the decision by the KZN officials to cancel their visits.
“The South Africa-Israel Forum has attempted several ‘boycott-busting’ trips to Israel,” the group’s statement said, calling the forum a covert arm of the Israeli lobby in South Africa with direct ties to Cape Gate, a company they claim “supplies material to, and profits from, the construction of Israel’s notorious ‘Apartheid Wall.’”
They accuse the forum of circumventing South Africa’s national policy toward Israel. “The Israeli lobby in general, and the South Africa-Israel Forum in particular, have been taking members from the academic, sports, business, media and local government sectors to forge relations with the Israeli establishment,” the group said.
The group sent a petition to the KZN officials, supported by Cosatu (the Congress of South African Trade Unions), former minister of intelligence Ronnie Kasrils, a permanent thorn in the side of South Africa-Israeli relations, and Sandile Phakathi, president of the South African Union of Students.
KZN premier, Zweli Mkhize, who arranged the cancellation, made no comment but his spokesman said that Mkhize knew about the invitations and that he had cancelled the trips.
“During the days of Apartheid we had similar attempts by the regime to undermine the isolation of South Africa,” said Kasrils. “It is not surprising that the Israeli lobby is also attempting to ensnare the unwary into boycott-busting trips. The KZN provincial administration’s rejection of this opportunistic invite is commendable and an example to all South Africans believing in justice and solidarity for the dispossessed Palestinians.”
On Tuesday, during a radio interview, Ebrahim clarified his position. “The government did not say people were forbidden to go to Israel. South Africans go there on a daily basis. However the government discouraged prominent individuals and government officials going to Israel.”
“Israel is an occupying power,” he said, “and visiting it would give legitimacy to its occupation.”
Radio host Chris Gibbons interjected by asking Ebrahim if the government had the same policy with other human rights abusers such as Myanmar and China.
Ebrahim responded that the African National Congress, South Africa’s governing political party of which he is a member, has a One China policy and does not recognize the Tibet issue. He also added that the government looked at Israel in harsher light because “it has been an occupying force for over 60 years, with no process to resolve the issue.”
The South African Jewish Board of Deputies, Chief Rabbi Warren Goldstein, and the South Africa Zionist Federation issued a statement on Tuesday saying, “The South African Jewish community deplores Deputy Minister of International Relations and Cooperation Ebrahim Ebrahim’s statement that he is discouraging South Africans from visiting Israel. Such a stance is grossly discriminatory, counter-productive and wholly inconsistent with how South Africa normally conducts its international relations and contradicts its official policy of having full diplomatic ties with Israel.”
In an interview this week with a local Jewish website, Segev-Steinberg said that the king of the Zulu people, Goodwill Zwelithini kaBhekuzulu, had accepted an invitation to visit Israel in the near future.
“The King spoke of his passion for rural development and said he would especially look into new possibilities to cooperate with Israel in the fields of health, agriculture and education amongst other areas of interest for the benefit of the Zulu people,” said Segev-Steinberg.
The Zulu king, though revered by the Zulu people, has a mainly ceremonial role and is quite often at odds with the ANC government.
5 Jerusalem Post
August 18, 2012
American IDF soldiers serve on campus
LAUREN SCHMIDT, ICB REPORTER
Three American-born IDF veterans have returned to the US after completing military service. Each has been involved in campus Israel advocacy efforts. Photo: REUTERS
Many campus Israel groups have brought Israeli soldiers to speak at their schools in recent years because they value the insights and perspectives IDF veterans bring to the campus Israel dialogue. But some people who have had life-changing experiences serving in the Israel Defense Forces later earn their college degree in the United States. These students offer a unique view on Israel, based on their experience, and their advocacy on campus conveys that.
Sam Besser, who enrolled at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign after serving nearly two years in the IDF, noted that he came to campus with perspectives that differ from those of his peers. “It is unfortunate that so many people are misguided by lies and it’s even scarier that a lot of American Jews don’t have the knowledge to combat these lies and untruths,” he said.
Although he knows more than many other students, Besser is careful not to preach or bombard people with more information than they can process. He encourages people to develop their own opinions after they have gathered reliable information.
Israel Campus Beat spoke with three American-born IDF veterans who have returned to the US after completing their military service. Each has been involved — or plans to become involved — in campus Israel advocacy efforts. They told their stories and explained how their army service has turned them into effective and authentic voices for Israel.
David Abraham, who will begin graduate school at Teachers College at Columbia University in the fall, earned his bachelor’s degree at the University of Arizona prior to serving in the IDF. Now, looking forward, he sees a tangible change in his level of advocacy.
“While in college, talking about and supporting Israel just seemed like the right thing to do. I didn’t have [as much of a] physical connection to Israel, [but] I never really considered the option of not being an advocate on campus,” Abraham explained. “Now that I have done the army and I am about to attend graduate school at Columbia University, I see the importance of Israel for the Jewish people in a completely different light.”
Abraham grew up in a Zionist household where he received what he described as a typical education from Hebrew school and “stories of [his] Mom’s trips to Israel were just as important as going over the nightly math homework.” After spending a gap year in Israel on the Nativ program, studying in Jerusalem and volunteering Be’er Sheva, Abraham fell in love with the language and mix of cultures in Israel. When he finished college, he wanted to return to Israel.
“I found the only plausible way to integrate into society was to join the IDF, where I would feel that connection of tradition and history to the modern day Jewish people while also learning the language,” he explained.
Abraham joined the IDF through a program called Garin Tzabar, which places groups of 20+ immigrants together on a kibbutz before they join the army. Although he was excited about this opportunity, he was nervous about the uncertainty of what would happen.
“One of the most special things about the army is that it places people together who never would have had the opportunity to meet while at the same time everyone is thrown into a similar confusion and hardness that they have never experienced before,” he explained. Additionally, he became fairly fluent in Hebrew and gained what he described as the mental ability to do anything, which he finds applicable outside of the army.
After serving in the army for two years in the Armored brigade, first as a tank driver and then a tank commander, Abraham was given responsibility for training new soldiers in fighting tactics in the tank before they defended the country’s borders.
“I felt as though from that moment on I could go anywhere in Israel or the world and be seen as an Israeli Jew, and not just a Jew, and that meant a lot to me,” he said. “It was as if I had put my foot into society and was now able to go after whatever I desired. The army or just contributing to society in some way was the key to making it with the Israeli people and I had successfully completed that.”
As Abraham prepares to return to the academic world, he relishes the opportunity to share his perspective on campus.
“I think that I can definitely convey my experiences, but something so wonderful about life in general is that no two people will ever experience the same thing in the same way. I feel fortunate that I had such a positive impact from my time in the army and can only hope that others would be open to learning from my experience and maybe try to find their own experiences in helping Israel,” he said.
Elliot Charles felt propelled to join the IDF from an early age. His grandfather survived the Holocaust and his grandmother served in the Haganah( which would later become the IDF). In 2006, Charles’ good friend, Michael Levin was killed in action in Lebanon, fighting for the state of Israel, when he was 22 years old. Charles recalls that Michael had written to a friend in his yearbook ‘you can’t fulfill your dreams unless you dare to risk it all,” a quote that would become his legacy.
Charles joined the IDF in 2008 after he turned 18 and served for two and a half years in a combat infantry unit in the Nahal Brigade.
Before he enlisted, he was anxious, nervous and excited, and he knew it was something that was vital for him to do.
“I wanted to ensure that someday my children and grandchildren — if faced with another mass genocide of my people — will have a safe haven,” Charles said.
Like Abraham, Charles participated in Garin Tzabar, through which he and his group volunteered on a kibbutz and then enlisted in the military together.
His period of military service presented Charles with both the most amazing and difficult periods of his life. He trained for eight months, served as a squad commander and specialized in Hummer patrols.
“The friends and comrades that I served with were and still are very important to me. I learned Hebrew, humility, sacrifice and appreciation for all that I have,” he said. “I did not know Hebrew very well in basic training, to the point that I wasn’t able to hold a conversation. This was both frustrating and challenging. As my Hebrew improved I was able to understand and speak, thereby allowing me to integrate into my unit.
“I matured greatly through my service,” he added, noting that he grew stronger from the experience.
After the army, Charles moved back to Denver, Colorado, where he will start his sophomore year at Metropolitan State University in the fall.
“My experience has helped me advocate for Israel due to my strong connection and patriotism for America,” he explained. “Now back in America, I plan to give much more to the country that has given both me and my family all that we have.
“It’s not necessarily that my connection changed,” he continued. “I just envision something different than others when I think about Israel. I think most American Jews envision a utopia when thinking of Israel while non-Jews think of a desert or chaos with bombs exploding everywhere. I think of the good and bad times, of my friends, but most importantly, I think of what Israel was, has become, and could someday be.”
Sam Besser spent almost two years in Israel as a soldier in the IDF, during the time that most of his friends were in college. Besser attended Solomon Schechter Day School in Chicago and knew basic facts about Israel, but after his first visit — in high school, for a distant cousin’s wedding — he knew a little bit more about the place that would soon become so important to him.
Besser said that some of his older friends had not been ready for college when they enrolled. He wanted a different experience and — after promising his parents that he would attend college later — he decided to volunteer for IDF service. He participated in Machal, a program for volunteers from outside of Israel. When he departed for Israel, he had every reason to be nervous: He didn’t know much Hebrew, had no idea how to get around the country, only knew a few distant relatives and knew he would have to adjust to a completely different culture.
“It was scary to be on my own,” he said. “I was only an 18-year-old American kid. When most of my friends were getting ready for college, I was preparing to go to the army.”
He served for 20 months as a machine gunner, attaining the rank of sergeant before being discharged.
Besser learned that he can accomplish anything that he puts his mind to whether it was a 13-hour march, surviving the harsh conditions of the Negev or thriving while based on the border of Israel, Syria and Lebanon. The other people in his unit became like family to him.
“If we don’t stand up and protect ourselves and our holy land, no one else is going to it,” he said. Noting that there are many ways to support Israel, he said that volunteering to serve gave him a special connection and a deeper understanding of the Jewish homeland.
After his discharge, Besser enrolled at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, a school that he knew had a large Jewish population. He will graduate in December.
He serves on the Chabad board as one of the Israel chairs, as well as organizes pro-Israel speakers, and passes out literature; He’s also helped bring Sgt. Benjamin Anthony of the IDF as a speaker and helps promote a pro-Israel image on campus.
Although he said he would have been involved in campus Israel affairs even if he had not served in the IDF, Besser is convinced that his experience has made him more knowledgeable and a more confident advocate.
“Israel is my home,” he said. “I was born in America and I am proud to be an American, but I always phrase it that I am a Jewish American.”
6 Israeli Academic Accuses Manchester Trust of Discrimination
7 NY Times
August 17, 2012
A Gaza Border Slams Shut, and With It, Chances for a Pilgrimage to Mecca
By FARES AKRAM
GAZA CITY — Every Ramadan for the past two decades, Mouin Mushtaha has made the pilgrimage to Mecca during the last 10 days of the Muslim holy month. This year, as Ramadan ticked away, he sat gloomily at the office of his tourism agency here, watching the festivities on television.
For Mr. Mushtaha, it was not just a lost spiritual experience, but a missed business opportunity: the Ramadan pilgrimage to Saudi Arabia is a major annual source of profit. But Gazans were unable to go to Mecca this season because exits through the Rafah crossing to Egypt were extremely restricted after an Aug. 5 attack nearby that killed 16 Egyptian soldiers.
“I, my wife and our 500 clients were supposed to be there now,” said Mr. Mushtaha, 64, pointing at the television in the air-conditioned office of his agency, the Mushtaha Company for Tourism and Travel. “My wife bursts into tears when she watches the Kaaba,” he added, referring to the cube-shaped building in Mecca that is among Islam’s most sacred sites.
Egyptian officials closed Rafah completely for a week after the attack, amid concern that the perpetrators, believed to be from the Sinai Desert, had support from Palestinians in the Gaza Strip. Though the crossing was reopened several days before this weekend’s conclusion of Ramadan, exits were limited to those with passports or residences in Arab or European countries, or Gazans with humanitarian needs.
Hamas, the Islamic movement governing Gaza, has denied any involvement of local residents in the fatal attack, and it shut down smuggling tunnels to Egypt in an effort to show cooperation.
Since most residents of the Gaza Strip cannot travel through Israel, these restrictions meant that few were able to make it to Mecca this Ramadan. Muslims are expected at least once in their lifetime to make a major pilgrimage, known as the hajj, during the final month of the Islamic lunar calendar. A minor pilgrimage, known as an umrah, can be undertaken at any time of the year. But an umrah during the final 10 days of Ramadan is considered spiritually equivalent to the hajj.
Most Gaza travel agencies primarily handle “religious tourism,” with hajj and umrah trips forming the bulk of their business. Awad Abu Mazkour, who represents the travel companies, said that about 3,000 Palestinians were registered for umrah trips over the past 10 days. He estimated the losses of the tourism companies at $2 million.
Mr. Mushtaha said that his clients had each paid him $1,000 or more, which he had spent weeks ago to book buses, airline tickets and hotel rooms. Now, the would-be pilgrims want their money back, and Mr. Mushtaha said the Hamas government would try to help adjudicate. Portions of ticket fees might be returned, he said, but recouping money from hotels — given their normally strict Ramadan booking policies and the short notice of the cancellation — was less likely.
He said it was the worst crisis facing the company since his father founded it 46 years ago. “There has never been a closure like this during religious occasions,” Mr. Mushtaha said. Suggesting that losses be split between the customers and the companies — or, better yet, covered in part by the Hamas government — he added, “This is a complicated issue that all parties should work to resolve.”
As he spoke, Mr. Mushtaha was interrupted by frequent telephone calls from customers seeking assurances that they might still make their way to Saudi Arabia; he could offer none.
“I spent three years saving money and dreaming of this moment,” said Subhia al-Masri, 46. “Losing the money I paid is nothing compared to losing the opportunity to visit the Kaaba.”
8 The Independent
18 August 2012
Israel kicks out migrants – by changing their nationality and sending them to another country
“It is a bad situation in South Sudan. If I go there I am sure something bad will happen to me”
Sudanese asylum seekers in Israel are being issued with documents changing their nationality, allowing them to be removed from the country or imprisoned.
They have recently been issued with documents labelling them as South Sudanese – despite holding passports showing they were born in areas that remain in Sudan.
Four migrants from the Republic of Sudan have already been flown from Israel to South Sudan, an entirely different country that was formed last year. However, the South Sudanese authorities refused to accept them at the border and they were sent back to Tel Aviv.
Non-governmental organisations (NGOs) estimate that at least 100 more Sudanese asylum seekers in Israel may have been issued with the wrong nationality in the past three months, and fear there may be more attempts to remove them.
South Sudan came into existence only in July 2011 after a 21-year civil war. Intense hostilities remain between the newly formed country and the Republic, with conflicts regularly breaking out on the border.
Israel is unable to deport people to Sudan as it has no repatriation agreement with Khartoum. But a recent deportation order allows it to deport migrants to the country’s newest neighbour, South Sudan.
Now, NGOs based in Israel report that people from the Nuba mountains region of Sudan are being issued with temporary visas stating they are South Sudanese by the Israeli ministry of the interior, making them eligible for removal from the country. South Sudanese asylum seekers have been asked to leave Israel voluntarily, but those who do not face imprisonment.
Thomas Abdallah Tutu, 32, who lives in Arad, in the south of Israel, is one such case. He is from the Nuba mountains in Sudan and arrived in Israel in 2007. Mr Tutu recently had his documentation recalled and was issued with a temporary visa for Israel that gave his nationality as South Sudanese.
Now he fears he will lose his job as a hotel steward, and could be imprisoned and flown to South Sudan.
The prospect of moving to South Sudan, which even before secession was in conflict with Sudan, is worrying for migrants. “It is a bad situation in South Sudan”, Mr Tutu told the Bureau of Investigative Journalism in a phone call. “There is nothing there and no one has family, houses or money. They are afraid to go, and confused,” he said. “If I go there I am sure something bad will happen to me.”
The African Refugee Development Centre, an NGO based in Tel Aviv, which works with African migrants, has seen around 70 people with passports and birth certificates suggesting they are Sudanese, who have been given South Sudanese documentation. It estimates the number of those affected may be twice that. The UNHCR (the UN refugee agency) and two other Israeli NGOs, the Hotline for Migrant Workers and Students for Refugees, also reported witnessing Sudanese migrants being issued with South Sudanese documentation and being imprisoned or coerced into leaving Israel.
Peter Deck, senior protection officer at the UNHCR in Tel Aviv, said: “There have been cases of confusion of persons from Nuba mountains and Darfurians considered as from South Sudan who had their visas taken away.”
Paul Hirschson, a spokesman for the Israeli ministry of foreign affairs, explained how the confusion arose. He said: “The vast majority of people arrived in Israel before South Sudan existed. We’ve been working very closely with South Sudan to identify who is South Sudanese.” He added that it is the South Sudanese government’s responsibility to issue passports and travel documentation.
The UNHCR has voiced concerns over Israel’s immigration policy. “The return taking place from Israel to South Sudan does not meet UNHCR standards outlined in the formulated UNHCR guidelines for voluntary return,” Mr Deck said.
Several NGOs report that children have been imprisoned in unsuitable conditions, people are given insufficient time to make preparations, and some are imprisoned despite having signed up to “voluntary departure”.
African migrants are an issue of concern for the Israeli government. According to the ministry of foreign affairs there are approximately 60,000-65,000 illegal immigrants in the country. However, two-thirds of those come from Eritrea, Somalia and Sudan – countries which Israel cannot repatriate citizens to, due to their collective-protection status.
Confusion over nationalities has occurred before. The Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported how the government used a loophole to deport people from Eritrea to Ethiopia based on an Eritrean law granting citizenship to anyone whose mother or father was an Ethiopian citizen. The rule change allowed the Israeli government to deport Eritreans to Ethiopia, claiming that they could obtain citizenship there.
The ministry of foreign affairs categorically rejects the notion it is using vagueness around nationalities to allow for the removal of some Sudanese to South Sudan.
A version of this article appears on the website of the Bureau of Investigative Journalism (thebureauinvestigates.com)
9 Today in Palestine
August 17, 2012
August 16, 2012
Israel sperm banks find quality is plummeting
Sperm quality is down everywhere, but Israel is worse off than other developed countries. Theories about why vary from cellphones in pockets to estrogen in milk or water.
Ruth Har-Nir, head of Hadassah Sperm Bank in Jerusalem, first noticed a decline in quality 10 years ago. Today the bank turns away about two-thirds of potential donors.
JERUSALEM — The founder of the Tel Aviv-based specialty firm raves about his product with the same gusto distillers reserve for their top-notch scotch. He’s particularly proud of his “premium” line. Sure, it costs a bit more, but it’s targeted at a more discriminating client.
Dr. Jacob Ronen is in the sperm business. Among other things, as head of Cryobank Israel, the country’s largest private sperm bank, he guarantees that his stable of superior donors includes only tall, twentysomething ex-soldiers whose sperm has passed rigorous genetic testing.
But finding such super sperm isn’t as easy as it used to be. Only 1 in 100 donors makes the cut. A decade ago, it was 1 in 10.
And it’s not just first-rate sperm that’s in short supply. All of Israel’s half a dozen or so sperm banks are scrambling to keep their liquid-nitrogen freezers stocked.
Simply put, the quality of Israeli sperm is falling at an alarming rate, and no one’s sure exactly why.
Fertility is a major issue in Israel, where memories of the Holocaust genocide are fresh, and having children is an entrenched part of Judaism. There’s also a political aspect, because birthrates among Arabs in Israel have at times been as much as double those of Jews, triggering a population race that some believe could one day affect who controls the land.
So the drop in the quality of sperm is raising some red flags, even though the cause remains a mystery. Speculative theories range from the mundane (carrying cellphones in front pockets) to the far-fetched (depleted uranium from exploded munitions). Some Israeli scientists are looking seriously at naturally occurring hormones, particularly estrogen, in Israel’s water and milk and suggest that it’s a mark of the country’s aggressive dairy farming methods.
The white-coated director of the Hadassah Sperm Bank, Ruth Har-Nir, hunches over a microscope to view a freshly donated specimen and begins to methodically count each squiggly swimmer magnified on the slide.
She is checking the quality of a prospective donor, a young graduate student hoping to earn some extra cash. Though sophisticated lab machines could be used to analyze potency, Har-Nir says the old-fashioned method works best.
After a quick scan, she sits up straight and shakes her head. The number of spermatozoa darting around each tiny grid on the slide is two to four, well below the minimum six required, and nowhere near the 10 to 20 per grid that indicates the kind of healthy concentration the bank likes to see.
Also, rather than surging forward, some of the little guys flit left and right or just stall out, suggesting a weak motility.
“Under no circumstances can we accept sperm of this quality,” she says. In the previous three weeks, her bank tested six candidates and rejected all. “This is the trend,” she adds.
When Har-Nir helped launch the sperm bank in 1991, she says, it turned away about a third of the applicants for low quality. Using the same standard today, it would reject more than 80%. Though the bank relaxed its criteria, it still vetoes about two-thirds.
Har-Nir first noticed the problem a decade ago when she began rejecting more and more sperm from otherwise healthy young men. She shared her observations with local fertility doctors and their research has confirmed her suspicion.
Over the last 10 to 15 years, the concentration of sperm samples collected by the bank dropped 37% from 106 million cells per milliliter to 67 million, according to Dr. Ronit Haimov-Kochman, a leading Israeli infertility researcher at the Hadassah Hebrew University Medical Center.
Though declining sperm quality is an international phenomenon, the change in Israel is occurring at nearly twice the pace as other developed countries, Haimov-Kochman said. If current trends continue, she said, by 2030 the concentration of sperm from Israeli donors will drop below 20 million cells per milliliter, which many international health experts define as abnormal.
So far, there’s no evidence that declining sperm quality is resulting in fewer babies. The birthrate of Israel’s Jewish population has risen in recent decades, thanks largely to the increase in the number of ultra-Orthodox Jews, who tend to have large families.
Haimov-Kochman estimated that infertility rates in Israel have risen from 10% to 15% over the last 15 years, but says that’s in line with international trends. But she said male infertility — once believed to be the cause about half the time, just as in the U.S. — is now suspected in 70% of the cases here.
Most worrisome, she added, is that research so far has focused on sperm-bank donors, mostly students who are younger and healthier than the general population.
“If this is happening to the guys on our A-team, we might only be seeing the tip of the iceberg,” she said.
Sperm banks are struggling to cope. Rather than rely on walk-ins as they once did, they use marketing campaigns, posters in college sports centers and Facebook pages to attract virile candidates. The going rate for a donation has doubled over the last decade to about $270.
“The decline has been dramatic,” Cryobank’s Ronen said. “It’s a shame. We see these macho, beautiful guys come to give donations, but then we’re embarrassed to have to tell them that their sperm quality is so low they may actually end up coming back as a client.”
He’s capitalized on that, though, by offering to freeze sperm of young men with borderline quality who want to set aside a reserve in case their potency declines with age.
Har-Nir says her bank sometimes refers men with the most serious deficiencies for counseling or medical advice. But she emphasizes that rejection by the sperm bank doesn’t necessarily mean they won’t be able to have children naturally. It just means that their sperm isn’t, well, commercial quality.
Even with the drop in sperm quality being well documented, the cause remains unclear and the theories controversial. Some scientists fear that Israelis are being overexposed to female hormones.
“People in Israel are getting quite a load of estrogen,” said Laurence Shore, a retired hormone and toxicology researcher at the Kimron Veterinary Institute near Tel Aviv. “I don’t think it’s a good idea to expose children to such high levels of estrogen.”
He said that no studies so far have determined that estrogen levels in Israel are harming humans, adding that exposure may be too low for that. But he said it might be a factor in the sperm decline.
His research has found Israeli milk and associated products such as butter and cheese can contain 10 times as much estrogen as products from other countries because of Israel’s aggressive milk-production practices.
Israel is a world leader in producing milk, pumping twice as much from its cows as other parts of the world, he said. That’s partly because cows here are milked up to their eighth month of pregnancy, when natural estrogen levels in the milk soar, according to Shore. In nature, he said, cows usually stop giving milk to their own young when they are three months pregnant with a new calf.
Even though many other nations have adopted similar milking practices, Shore said, Israel is one of the first and most aggressive, so it could be seeing the effect sooner.
Haimov-Kochman is looking into water quality. As a tiny nation with a shortage of water, Israel reclaims much of its used water and sewage, which is processed, used in agriculture and may find its way back into groundwater.
The water, she says, has been found to contain traces of ethinyl estradiol, a synthetic estrogen used in birth control pills, which gets into the water through the urine of women taking the pills.
“You can’t clean this from the water,” she said.
Haimov-Kochman is also studying the effect of phthalates, chemicals used in plastic products that are suspected of affecting male reproductive development.
“But I can’t prove any of this,” she said.
Industry and government scientists dismiss fear about Israel’s water and milk as unfounded, saying levels are too small to affect humans.
“Only a tiny part of the total estrogen produced by the cows ends up in the milk,” said Dr. Stefan Soback, director of the Ministry of Agriculture’s National Residue Control Laboratory. “It is not sufficient to determine estrogen content in milk in order to claim physiological effects to somebody that consumes it.”
Haimov-Kochman worries that the government is not taking what’s happening seriously enough. She met with government officials a few years ago to discuss her findings, but there was no follow-up, she said.
“I don’t see any urgency about this from the government,” she said. “IVF [in vitro fertilization] is such a robust tool it can overcome bad sperm, so that’s reducing the pressure. But to me, it’s like putting your head in the sand.”
Meanwhile, sperm banks are struggling to stay afloat.
Said Haimov-Kochman, “If something isn’t done about this, Israel might find that its sperm banks can no longer survive.”
Batsheva Sobelman of The Times’ Jerusalem bureau contributed to this report.