Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Israeli doctors in Boston treated injured and suspects alike

Israeli doctors in Boston treated injured and suspects alike

The victims, and the alleged perpetrators, of the Boston bombings were treated by two Israeli expatriates in senior positions at the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center • "It is difficult, but you check your emotions at the door and treat any patient that arrives," one of them tells Israel Hayom.
Yoni Hirsch

Professor Kevin Tabb

Many of the injured in the Boston Marathon bombings last Monday were rushed to the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. Several days later, on Friday, the two suspected bombers, Tamerlan and Dzohkhar Tsarnaev, were admitted, separately, to the hospital's emergency room after sustaining wounds from their shootout with the police. The older brother, Tamerlan, later succumbed to his wounds.

Jewish immigrants founded the Beth Israel Hospital in Boston in 1916. Eighty years later, its merged with the nearby Deaconess Hospital. Two of its most senior staff members are Israelis, both of whom were actively involved in the unfolding drama of the past several days.

Associate Professor Kevin (Ilan) Tabb has served as the medical center's president and chief executive officer since September 2011. Tabb studied medicine at the Hebrew University, where he also got his bachelor's degree. According to the Beth Israel Deaconess website, the U.S.-born Tabb "emigrated to Israel at the age of 18 and served in the Israel Defense Forces." The site notes that Tabb completed his residency in internal medicine at the Hadassah Medical Center, and after 20 years in Israel, returned to the U.S.

"Unfortunately, the way events unfolded was very similar to what we have become used to in Israel," Tabb told Israel Hayom over the weekend. "It is difficult, but you check you emotions at the door and treat any patient that arrives."

Tabb praised the hospital's medical team for doing "an amazing job." He noted that the suspected bombers were given the same level of medical care as their victims.

"One of the [Tsarnaev] brothers died shortly after his arrival; the other one arrived in serious condition and has since stabilized," Tabb said. "Whenever an injured party arrives at the emergency room, at the trauma section, the doctors and the nurses do what they are trained to do, and forget everything else."

Associate Professor Daniel S. Talmor, who is the director of trauma, anesthesia and critical care in the Anesthesia, Critical Care and Pain Medicine Department of at Beth Israel Deaconess, echoed Tabb's comments.

"There was a feeling of deja vu," Talmor told Israel Hayom. Talmor was born in Jerusalem and studied medicine at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, graduating in 1991. He arrived in Beth Israel Deaconess 12 years ago as part of a fellowship and chose to stay in the U.S.

"I can remember how, when I worked at the Soroka Medical Center [in Beersheba], we used to have injured soldiers lying next to terrorists," he said. "Luckily, [before the bombing] all the hospitals [in the Boston area] had already been reinforced because of the marathon, but rather than dealing with dehydration, they had to treat trauma patients. The past 36 hours were pretty frightening, with sirens howling all the time, and I could even hear shots being fired near my house. I am pretty sure that people around here are now going to understand Israel a little better now."

From Shimon Peres on Israel’s birthday, a healthy dose of dissatisfaction

From Shimon Peres on Israel’s birthday, a healthy dose of dissatisfaction

Our near-nonagenarian president is in optimistic mood. We could make peace relatively rapidly, he says, 
and we can heal divisions with the Diaspora by focusing on common denominators. So why the talk of dissatisfaction?

Three months after Israel turns 65, Israel’s president will turn 90. As Shimon Peres mentions in this interview, conducted to mark Yom Ha’atzmaut (Independence Day) on Tuesday, just a couple of centuries ago, people tended to live only to 40. Doubtless his own longevity is a key contributor to the insistently positive world view he emphasizes here — for the Jews, for Israel, for the region, for humanity.

Shimon Peres, April 2013 (Photo credit: Miriam Alster/FLASH90)

As the last member of the modern Jewish state’s founding generation still central to Israel’s development, Peres speaks from the vantage point of one who has seen it all — and all those decades have bolstered his certainties. He says he laughs at the “waste of journalism” in the innumerable pessimistic articles about where this region is heading. He is cavalier in dismissing geography as thoroughly irrelevant to our instantly connected world. “We learned in geography that there are five continents, each of them separate. Nonsense.” And that is why Mark Zuckerberg’s constructive Facebook revolution is prevailing, he says, where murderous would-be revolutionaries like Lenin and Stalin went bankrupt.

As he has done for so many years, Peres peppers his conversation with oratorical flourishes — some familiar, some apparently conjured up at the instant. He can switch, unpredictably, from grand rhetoric to narrow specifics. He can sound magisterial in detailing the flux of history one moment, and speak with humility the next about the unpredictability of humanity’s journey. Dull, he is not.

The following is a near-full transcript of Peres’s interview with The Times of Israel, conducted at the President’s Residence last week. At the end of our conversation, in the spirit of the age, he also moved from the sofa in his office to a more formal chair beside the national flag to record a short Yom Ha’atzmaut video message to our readers.

The Times of Israel: President Peres, let me start by asking you about Israeli-Turkish relations. A phone call as President Obama is leaving, and suddenly we’re friends again. What’s your sense of Prime Minister Erdogan and where he’s really headed?

President Peres: Their policy is flip-flopping. On the one hand, they want to have America [with them]. On the other hand, they want to have the Arabs. Those are different audiences. What appeals to the strategic audience of the Arabs, or the Israelis, or the Americans, is not a united message…

We’ve had this reconciliation conversation, and now Obama is getting ready to host Erdogan…

The Turks will have to pay attention to the world. They’ve discovered they have their own problems. The Kurds, for instance. For hundreds of years they were a silent audience. All of a sudden it became public.

[The Turks will have to ask themselves:] Are you permitting terror or not? Are you justifying terror or not? You cannot justify terror in Gaza and condemn terror among the Kurds.

The present government in Iran doesn’t have a future. The problem of Iran is timing, not verdict

Basically, the interest of Turkey is really a peaceful Middle East, the end of terror. They don’t have a choice. Erdogan did a great job on the economy. That’s the source of his strength. In the last 10 years, the Turkish economy has grown three times over. Unbelievable. This year for the first time they’ll have a GNP of a trillion dollars.

That creates a different structure of society. And all the values change. When you are poor, you’re basic problem is bread. When you are becoming middle class, it’s education, it’s housing. And when you go up higher, it’s more — it’s to produce, to create. You must make up your mind, which is the goal of your policy.

Let’s put that in the Iranian context — the goal of Iran’s policy, and the choices Iran is making.

The present government in Iran doesn’t have a future. The problem of Iran is timing, not verdict. It’s a government that doesn’t have a message — not only for humanity, but for their own people…

I think Obama conducts the right policy [on Iran]. Why do I say that? What makes America exceptional is that it is the only country in history, the only force in history, that became great by giving, not by taking. In the American historic balance, they gave more than they took. It’s wise, because if you take, you create enemies. To maintain enemies, my God, it is so costly. If you give, you create friends. Nothing is 100% of course, we’re talking about the mainstream. America for the last 235 years became greater and greater by giving, not by taking. People don’t realize that the Marshall Plan was a quarter of American GNP. Who in history did something like that?! They went to fight for other countries. They won. They lost soldiers. They gained assets. They gave back everything. They didn’t keep anything for themselves. And that’s why, for all the criticism, you know, people prefer America.

President Shimon Peres and President Barack Obama seen leaving a joint press conference at Peres’s residence in Jerusalem on March 20, 2013. (Photo credit: Uri Lenz/FLASH90)

You say you trust Obama to take care of Iran. But the prime minister, I’m not so sure he does…

You’re interviewing me, not the prime minister.

Do you think that the Obama visit moved the prime minister? Do you think he has more faith now in Obama?

I think so. Yes. I can’t tell you how much. I cannot measure it. And nobody can measure it.

But it had an impact?

It had an impact. And I think the Israelis have more faith. The trust in Obama was raised by 20%. I personally believe that he is a friend, a profound friend.

You spent so much time with Obama on this visit.


What did you learn that impressed you, that gave you more confidence in him?

We belong to what I would call the “Exodus Camp.” We are peoples who ran away from slavery, oppression. Four words of a song tell it best: “Let my people go.” We belong to the same camp.

I think Obama is highly intelligent, a real intellectual. He represents the America that used to be, and the America which is. It used to be WASPy; now it’s made of differences. Democracy in the beginning was an attempt to introduce equality. And now the attempt is to give equal rights to everybody to be different.

Whoever says there’s no chance [of Israeli-Palestinian peace] is really demonstrating his ignorance, I can tell you

[Coming back to Obama's approach to Iran:] There are threats to freedom, to peace, to stability. We have to help people to gain freedom. But we don’t do it by starting to shoot. Let us first of all use all other means. As we say, all options on the table.

You never start by shooting. People will say, are you crazy? You have to show your own people, before you turn to the shooting game, that you tried. [You have] to create a coalition; Obama worked for a coalition. So it won’t be America alone. [You have] to use non-military means — like sanctions or pressure. [You have] to help legitimate the estimation of international bodies — so nobody will say you are fighting for a narrow American interest. And [you have to] be patient — try to negotiate, time and again. If nothing, the last resort — the [Americans] are not freiers, as we say — they’ll have to use force.

What do you think Obama has in mind now in terms of Israeli-Palestinian efforts? The conventional view is that there’s no chance of a permanent accord, that it’s a case of conflict management. But then you hear that Secretary Kerry believes there is a chance.

Whoever says there’s no chance is really demonstrating his ignorance, I can tell you.

If in May 1945, the last month of the Second World War, the most extreme war in European history, terrible — 60 or 70 million people lost their lives, including the Holocaust — if somebody had stood up and said, ‘In six years there’ll be a united Europe,’ people would have said, ‘What are you talking about?’ It happened.

David, it’s already 70 years that there have been no wars [in Europe]. Finished. If somebody would have stood up after the Holocaust in May 1945, and said in three years there will be a Jewish state — tell me, who really forecast that? Who can claim that he knew? And now, when modern communication shortens the time, you can change minds overnight almost.

So not only is Israeli-Palestinian peace possible, but it’s possible fairly quickly?

Yes, yes, yes. I don’t say it’s assured that it will be quick, but I say it’s possible it will be quick. There are many reasons to justify a new speed.

The whole story — before Oslo and after Oslo — from my point of view, we made mistakes. I know it’s easy to blame others. It sounds very patriotic. For me, patriotism also involves self-criticism. If we had accepted the London Agreement, we would have a new Middle East. We rejected it. If the Jordanians and Palestinians had come under the leadership of King Hussein, we wouldn’t have any problems. We rejected it. So, what was left? Arafat…

Oslo made a group of peace among the Arabs. Don’t forget that. And then the Arabs made a mistake. Because after Oslo, who but Arik Sharon could decide to leave Gaza? He left Gaza completely. It was difficult. We had to mobilize 75,000 policemen to bring back the settlers from Gaza and spend $2.5 billion to build alternative houses.

They got Gaza. They could have built a Palestinian entity. Why did they turn it into a base of missiles?

That’s very discouraging. Israel left Gaza. The Palestinians had an opportunity to encourage Israel to pull out of the West Bank as well…

My dear friend, don’t jump to conclusions There are setbacks and steps forward. It’s a dialectic. The world is dialectically built. Things have happened since then which encourage me. Until quite recently the Palestinian Authority didn’t have a security force. The difference between Jordan and the Palestinians was that Jordan had the Arab Legion. Otherwise, there wouldn’t be a Jordan. Since then the Palestinians built a security force. Not a large one, of 15,000 young people, trained by [Keith] Dayton, an American general, in Jordan. Occasionally a military force is more important than a political force. Those 15,000 youngsters are loyal to Abu Mazen [Mahmoud Abbas]. They wouldn’t like to see people from Gaza coming and taking them out. They don’t want that. That’s one change.

The second change is what’s taking place in the Arab world. The Arab world is now in disarray or uprising, whatever you call it — the Arab Spring. But for the first time since 1948 what’s happening in the Arab world has nothing to do with Israel. The changes in Syria, Libya, Yemen — nothing whatsoever. It’s really a result of their own young generations. It’s creating a new situation. The only link that remains is the conflict between us and the Palestinians, which is being used improperly by the extremists in the Arab camp. It’s artificial, but they use it.

We had a beginning of peace with the Palestinians and since then we have agreed also on the solution, which is the two state solution. In between there are disagreements with the negotiations. If we had an agreement, we wouldn’t need negotiations. Knowing all the details, it’s possible to overcome [the disagreements].

President Shimon Peres meets with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on March 16, 2013. Netanyahu informed the president he had formed a coalition. (Photo credit: Kobi Gideon / GPO/FLASH90)

We have a government in Israel now that could make peace? This coalition?

Politics is not a matter of governments, but also a matter of realities. In my observation, realities affect leaders more than leaders affect realities. So you’re talking about government and I’m talking about the situation. No government can remain indifferent to the strategic audience. It’s not only a matter of war and peace today. There’s the economy, for instance. I don’t think this government can turn its back to realities. Maybe for a while.

So everything is open. I don’t want to give you a prescription, that I’m sure 100 percent. [But] I’m giving you a description of what the options are.

Did you get the sense that President Obama is interested in trying to move things forward?

100 percent.

And will give presidential effort? The phone call to Erdogan showed that, in a second, something was changed because the American president willed it.

Overnight, in 50 hours, he really changed the views of many Israelis.

What holds us from understanding what’s happening [in today's world] is our schooling. We learned the wrong things. We learned in geography that there are five continents, each of them separate. Nonsense. There are no more continents. The geography books are an old story. There’s just one globe and whoever says Atlantic, Pacific — nonsense.

You have a world of 7 billion people — a billion and a half Muslims among them. Can you divide it geographically? Can you turn your back on them? Can you ignore them? No. The heart of the problem of the Muslim world is here — not between us and the Palestinians, but the whole Middle East. How can the US president ignore it? All these [pessimistic] stories are a waste of journalism. I read all the articles and I laugh. Sixty percent of the world’s fish come from the Pacific but the people that eat it are in the Atlantic. Are you going to keep the fish from the people? Nonsense. And the president knows that.

There’s a famous saying. ‘If you have a hammer in your hand, you think that every problem is a nail.’ You don’t solve problems with hammers. It’s much more varied and sophisticated. You have to have patience and understanding. You have to have the double capacity: to be patient and from time to time, to be decisive. I find that Obama has the two [qualities]…

Turning to Israeli-Diaspora relations, let me ask you about the controversy over women’s prayer at the Kotel as an exemplar of decades of disconnect between Orthodox-controlled religious Israel and largely non-Orthodox American Jewry.

Women of the Wall, with Anat Hoffman at center, posing for David Rubinger at the southern section of the Wall (photo credit: Oren Nahshon/Flash90)

Judaism is made of variations. It’s un-Jewish to adopt [just] one of them… We cannot order everybody how to pray or how to behave. They won’t listen to us. What we have to reach with the Diaspora is the common denominator. The common denominator that we can all accept is made of three parts. One is respect for the 10 Commandments — a return to our specialty: that the top consideration must be the moral one; that values are more important than assets. That’s what we need in our lives. For that reason, nobody could kill us because you cannot kill a spirit. We must teach our children that Israel is not just politics, but Israel is basically a carrier of the preference for the ethical consideration.

The second part is the pursuit of knowledge. Since we didn’t have land, we are living on our knowledge. That’s in our DNA. People ask me what is the greatest contribution of the Jewish people to the rest of the world. My answer is: dissatisfaction. A good Jew cannot be satisfied. It’s not Jewish. That’s what makes us great contributors to creativity. We are seekers of betterment.

The third part is to pursue peace.

I think on these three principles we can unite, and we should unite, voluntarily. It doesn’t mean that there won’t be conflicts that we have to settle. Or frictions. Yes. The world is not made of totality. It’s made of individuality. The 99.8 percent versions of us are alike. But the 0.2 percent that remains enables every person to have different fingerprints. Even cancer is individual. Everything is individual.

President Shimon Peres, right, on Sunday comforts Shas spiritual leader Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, left, upon the death of his son Yaakov (Photo credit: Yosef Avi Yair Engel/GPO/Flash90)

You have this friendship with Shas spiritual leader Rabbi Ovadia Yosef. Is he part of the potential common denominator. Don’t some of the keepers of Orthodoxy have an uncompromising and narrow-minded approach?

When it comes to peace, yes [he is part of that common denominator] and I want to keep him pro-peace. On knowledge, yes. Ten commandments, yes…

How concerned are you about the various unpleasant phenomena in Israeli society, such as hostility to migrants, price tag attacks…?

We have to change the proportion between teaching and educating. We put too much emphasis on teaching information instead of educating on how to behave. A nation is not made of laws, but also of culture. Clearly you have to have stronger courts and better police but also to emphasize education…

Your philosophy is ultimately that freedom and modernity and a desire for better education will triumph over hatred and narrow mindedness even in this terrible region?

President Shimon Peres writes on Mark Zuckerberg’s wall (Facebook)

What I’m saying is that it doesn’t depend on us any more. There’s a young boy, 28-years-old, whose name is Mark Zuckerberg. He created a better revolution than Lenin and Stalin. Lenin and Stalin probably killed 20 million people and they went bankrupt. This boy didn’t kill anybody and he’s extending. A billion people are already registered [on Facebook] and affected by it. I’m not sure if Mark read Karl Marx. I don’t think it’s a matter of ideology. I’m sure that Karl Marx never envisaged that there’ll be a Zuckerberg. And you and me don’t know: The minute you go from the known land to unknown science, we’re on a journey full of surprises.

But essentially a positive journey?

Clearly the answer is yes. The world is progressing — from the time of the caves, to this day. The world is not based on repetition, but on mutation. And it doesn’t have a reverse. It moves forward. That doesn’t mean that in the meantime you don’t have people who are regressors.

Today you live 80 years. Two hundred years ago, you lived 40. What you have today, a king didn’t have. When a king had a toothache he was crying like a baby. He didn’t have running water or a telephone. But the more we have, the more we want. Dissatisfaction: that is permanent.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

A song of hope for Independence Day

A Song of Hope for Independence Day

By Idan Raichel 

Sitting with friends in Atlanta, Georgia, Idan Raichel tried to explain how the great joy on Israel's Independence Day, a joy that doesn't know left or right, rich or poor, native-born citizens or new immigrants, is about one thing - celebrating the fact that we are here.

Exactly a year ago, I was sitting with friends in Atlanta, Georgia, and telling them why, in Israel, stores and shopping malls don’t have Memorial Day sales.

I tried to explain to them how, unlike in America, Memorial Day is filled with such deep sorrow that it’s not a day for shopping trips or picnics in the park. I told them how every Memorial Day, my mother rides her bicycle from our house to the cemetery for fallen soldiers in Kfar Sava to visit the graves of two of her high school friends who never lived to be 21. She’s been making that trip every year for over 40 years.

I tried to explain to my friends in Atlanta about the minute of silence on Memorial Day eve, and the two minutes the next morning, during which the whole country stands still. They refuse to believe that an entire country completely freezes for a moment of remembrance − they try to imagine the sight, and to them it sounds like a scene from a movie.

I tried to explain to them how in just one moment as Memorial Day ends, like the moment that ends Shabbat and begins the new week, we transition from mourning to the happiest day of the year. We emerge from our great sadness, and while giving thanks to those who made it possible for us to be here, we begin Independence Day, and fireworks light up our beloved country.

I tried to explain how our great joy, a joy that doesn’t know left or right, rich or poor, native-born citizens or new immigrants, is about one thing − celebrating the fact that we are here. We are here in this crazy country of ours, where there’s always breaking news, where everything is tense and seems to be always teetering on the edge, but also where we have everything, old and new: Just a 15-minute drive away from the spot which housed the First Temple, built to praise God, where the Western Wall now stands, someone is filming the Big Brother reality TV show, complete with celebrity contestants.

We have sacred and secular here: We have old and new, Hebrew and Arabic, Russian and Amharic, Moroccan and Yemenite and more. In this country we live and celebrate independence, and democracy. We celebrate with old-fashioned sing-a-longs on kibbutzim, and trance parties in the desert. Happiness floods this country of ours, which after all is barely a dot on the world map, but makes a great deal of noise − as only we know how. Every Independence Day in Israel, throughout the country, everyone takes to the streets for celebrations that could hold their own against those of any country in the world.

I miss the days when I would go with my parents and siblings to the main square in Kfar Sava to join in the celebration. To my regret, but also to my great joy, I’ve been a performing musician from the age of 12 and since then, I’ve only experienced Independence Day from the other side − up on the big stage, facing a sea of people, tens of thousands in every city. In those huge crowds there are native Israelis together with new immigrants from every corner of the world.
Big crowds weren’t something one used to see very often in the Middle East − not until the past two years.

On this Independence Day, I think about the people who have taken to the streets recently: in our country, in Egypt, in Syria, and many others. Millions of people who want not only to survive today, but to dream about what is possible tomorrow. People who are looking for new meaning in their independence, or trying to return independence to its original meaning.

Independence, and great hope.

Idan Raichel is a well-known Israeli musician. His new album “Quarter to Six” contains songs played with artists from all over the world. In June, he will launch the new album with a series of concerts in Caesarea.

It’s Not About the Peace Process, but About Peace as a Value

It’s Not About the Peace Process, but About Peace as a Value


The peace process has returned to our public and political discourse. With President Obama's visit, coupled with Secretary of State Kerry's fresh enthusiasm, Israeli and Palestinian leaders are being challenged to dust the cobwebs off their negotiation strategies and find ways to renew the conversation about our common future.

Is peace, however, a process or a value? Over the years, under the belief that the other side no longer sees it as a value, Israeli society has followed suit. In a deep way we have relinquished the aspiration for peace, relegating it to the back shelf of messianic dreams and the prayer book. Since we have perceived it as unattainable, instead of living with the pain of unfulfillable yearnings, we have realigned our expectations. And so, peace has become a "process," to be managed, to be spoken about at appropriate times, in particular, when it serves our public relations interests. The maintenance of the process has become an end unto itself.

The beauty of a process lies not only in the immunity it provides from disappointment but also in the lowering of demands that are required of us. We merely have to show that we are negotiating in good faith and are willing to show up and talk at any time and at any place, with no preconditions. The latter is of particular value, as it enhances the chances that the process will continue, God willingly, indefinitely. As long as everything is on the table, the peace process is guaranteed an inexhaustible supply of issues to talk about. As long as we are talking, we are fulfilling our duties to the process.

Truth be told, there is a value underlying the "process," and that is the survival of the State and the security of our citizens. As long as one is committed to the peace process, war is off the table and acts of violence which exceed what is perceived as a tolerable level are condemned. Those who are committed to the process are by definition committed to doing everything in their power to limit such acts. And so, we are committed to the process, for in the unpredictable and volatile Middle East, it provides some comfort and stability and maintenance of a status quo which is an improvement on the alternative.

The Israel whose 65th birthday we are about to celebrate, the Israel which I love, however, never saw the status quo as a goal. While survival and security are certainly values of tremendous worth, they never exhausted the hopes of our people. We come from a tradition in which peace is not a process but a value, a value which far transcends the absence of bloodshed. When our rabbis teach us that all of Torah was given for the sake of peace, they are asking us to reorient our consciousness of ourselves and of our reality.

Peace as a value challenges us to think of the possibilities of what life would be like when we live in harmony with ourselves, others, and our surroundings. It is a life not defined by a zero-sum game consciousness but by the possibilities of win-win. It is when a sum total far exceeds the value of its parts. When we see the other and are open to being enriched by the lessons they can teach us. It is when we enable ourselves to transcend self-interest and to experience the joy and completeness which come from giving. It is when justice for all truly reigns within the land.

Like all values, peace is difficult to attain. The world of realpolitik does not merely question it but attempts to erode its place within our system of values. In a harsh world in which naivete is often dangerous, the value of peace is often undermined. And thus, we give birth to the peace "process."

However, when something is a value, truly a value of such significance that it can be spoken of as the goal of all of Torah, one does not let the exigencies of reality destroy it. The meaning of holding something to be a value is that I shape my world in its light and do not allow the world to shape it. Now, to hold peace as a value does not mean that one is naively innocent and childish. It does not mean that I expect "peace now." It does mean, however, that I want peace now.

As a value whose implementation never ceases to obligate me, I think about it, speak about it, dream about it and constantly ask myself one simple question: What do I have to do today to bring peace closer? The attainment of peace, like a process, requires two sides. However, while a process is by definition a negotiation among parties, peace as a value obligates everyone independently. While the fulfillment of peace is not only dependent on me, the actions of others do not absolve me of my responsibilities. These responsibilities include the ongoing education of my fellow citizens to ensure the immunization of our values in the face of the cynicism potentially promulgated by the "realists." It requires the education of our citizens to prefer the pain of unattained hopes over the short-term comfort of lower expectations and the self-righteous aggrandizement of arguing, "It's not our fault."

It obligates us at the very least to assess all of our actions and ensure that there is nothing that we are doing to hinder its implementation. Only when peace is truly a central value within our national culture, can such an honest assessment occur.

Finally, embedded within the notion of a value is the willingness to reprioritize, to take risks, and to be willing to pay a price not merely for its implementation but also to enhance the chances of its implementation. As a value it is more valuable than other things, and our politics must give expression to this not only in words but in actions.

When peace is a process, acquiescing beforehand to preconditions, confidence-building measures, and pre-commitment to a particular outcome or framework for resolution is unnecessary. The goal of the process itself is precisely to work these things out, hopefully indefinitely or at the very least until blame is placed on the other side, at which time we can freeze the process, to be resumed at an as yet to be determined later date.

When peace is a value, however, we must do a tremendous amount of work first and foremost among ourselves, assessing how it can best be achieved and co-exist with our other values. We are engaged in a never-ending process among ourselves to determine the principles which will shape our policy, a policy founded on the yearning to implement the value. As such, we neither fear confidence-building measures nor preconditions, as long as they are in sync with our principles. To negotiate in good faith is not to come to an empty table but to one in which both sides have done extensive work and can show how their values get translated into policy. These are not concessions that we make to the other but strategies which we are willing to execute to enhance the possibility of implementation of the values which are ours.

We are now 65 years old and can celebrate the gifts of Jewish sovereignty, power, and success. What do we want to celebrate when we are 66? Will we want to give thanks to one more year in which we were able to maintain the status quo, or will we be able to celebrate a year in which our national identity reconnected with its noblest values and aspirations? Will we dare to emerge out of the "process" and embrace the value? It may not make any difference in the status of our relationship with our neighbors, but it will at the very least change who we are and what we do. As for the rest, who knows?

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Margaret Thatcher, an Admirer of Israel

Margaret Thatcher, an Admirer of Israel

An admirer of Israel who backed Peres over Shamir, diplomacy over settlements
Margaret Thatcher’s insistence that Israel ‘safeguard the rights of Arabs in the occupied territories’ prefigured Obama’s very similar comments here last month

Margaret Thatcher with Yitzhak Shamir in Jerusalem in 1986. (photo credit: Yossi Zamir/Flash90)

Margaret Thatcher, who died Monday at the age of 87, was an ardent philo-Semite. The Finchley constituency she represented from 1959 to 1992 was a factor in her strong relationship with the Jewish community in Britain. When Thatcher first became the local MP in 1959, it was believed that about 20 percent of the constituency was Jewish.

However, it would be deeply misleading to claim that her Finchley constituency was the main reason for her support of Jewish causes. It has been claimed that her sympathies toward Jews went back to the 1930s, when she shared her childhood home with her sister’s pen-pal, Edith, an Austrian Jew who escaped the Nazis. Edith’s plight would have strengthened Thatcher’s identification with Jewish suffering. She had great admiration for what she perceived as traditional Jewish values such as family, responsibility and self-help.

Prime minister Shimon Peres with British prime minister Margaret Thatcher, during Thatcher’s official visit to Jerusalem on May 26, 1986. (Photo credit: Sa’ar Yaacov/GPO/FLASH90)

Thatcher was a great admirer of the chief rabbi of Great Britain and the Commonwealth, Sir (later Lord) Immanuel Jakobovits, and shared his belief in self-help and individual responsibility. Indeed, her reverence for Jakobovits could be contrasted with the derision she felt for the then-archbishop of Canterbury, Robert Runcie. There was also a large number of Jews who served in the various Thatcher governments.

It is therefore no surprise that Thatcher was also a great admirer of the State of Israel. She viewed Israel as a democratic, Western place surrounded by autocracies. Her daughter, Carol, had been a kibbutz volunteer. Thatcher’s admiration for Israel is expressed clearly in her memoirs: “The political and economic construction of Israel against huge odds and bitter adversaries is one of the heroic sagas of our age. They really made the desert bloom.” Moreover, the views of Israel’s supporters within the Finchley constituency would not have gone unnoticed by Thatcher.

Yet Thatcher did not view the Arab-Israel conflict in black-and-white terms. While she understood the dilemmas facing Israel, she was also from the generation that lived through the Mandate period. Thatcher’s hostile attitude toward Menachem Begin and Yitzhak Shamir (both prime ministers during her time in office) was influenced to some degree by their violent actions against the British prior to the establishment of the State of Israel.

Thatcher was a concerned friend of Israel. She feared that the continued failure to resolve the Arab-Israel conflict would be damaging both for Israel and western interests, in general. Her strong ideological opposition to the Soviet Union became an increasingly influential factor in her Middle East policy. The prime minister was worried that the Soviets would exploit their support for the Palestinians as a means to build influence in the Arab world at the expense of the West.

The Thatcher government’s Middle East policy was dictated mainly by concerns over threats to the stability of the moderate Arab states. Thatcher may have enjoyed a warm relationship with the Reagan administration, but serious differences emerged over the approach toward Israel’s Likud leadership. Thatcher was angered by the settlement-building policy supported by both Begin and Shamir. She believed it would damage any chance of a comprehensive peace agreement in the region. Thus, Thatcher did everything she could to support the dovish Shimon Peres who served for two years as prime minister in Israel’s National Unity Coalition Government of 1984-1988.

She strongly believed that a diplomatic solution rested on the shoulders of Peres and Jordan’s King Hussein. Like Peres, she was convinced that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict could best be resolved within the framework of a federation with Jordan rather than through an independent Palestinian State. Thatcher saw eye to eye with the Foreign Office on the need to strengthen Peres at the expense of Shamir. This approach was unsuccessful since the Reagan administration was unwilling to exert pressure on Shamir to make concessions to the Palestinians. Within seven months of the outbreak of the first Palestinian Intifada in December 1987, Hussein had cut his links to the West Bank, with the more radical PLO becoming the new address for negotiations with the Palestinian side.

Thatcher was often critical of Israel when she addressed Jewish audiences. For example, in December 1981, she strongly condemned Israel’s decision to annex the Golan Heights during an address before the Board of Deputies of British Jews. Yet these audiences accepted her criticism since they believed that it came from a candid friend. When similar criticisms were made by figures such as Lord Carrington, the first foreign secretary of the Thatcher era, there was often bitter resentment among Anglo-Jewish leaders.

Thatcher was also an outspoken supporter of Soviet Jewry. In May 1986, she became the first British prime minister to visit Israel while in office. During her visit, Thatcher paid tribute to the Jewish state’s “remarkable achievements” while also telling Israelis that they would only find security by recognizing “the legitimate rights of the Palestinian people.”

‘A future in which two classes of people have to co-exist with different rights and different standards is surely not one which Israel can accept, nor one which Israel’s reputation allows.’

At a dinner given by Peres in Jerusalem, Thatcher told her audience, “Because of your own high standards, more is expected of Israel than of other countries, and that is why the world looks to Israel to safeguard the rights of Arabs in the occupied territories, in accordance with the principles which Israel respects and demands should be respected elsewhere. A future in which two classes of people have to co-exist with different rights and different standards is surely not one which Israel can accept, nor one which Israel’s reputation allows.”

If this sounds familiar, it might be because identical sentiments were found in President Barack Obama’s recent address to Israeli students during his visit to the Jewish State. Perhaps the US president has taken a leaf out of Thatcher’s book? Although the late prime minister would not have seen eye to eye with Obama’s domestic policies, she would surely have agreed strongly with his perspective on the Israeli-Palestinian impasse.

The Top 65 Ways Israel is Saving our Planet

The Top 65 Ways Israel is Saving our Planet

Since 1948, Israel has set itself a task of finding creative solutions to some of the world’s most pressing problems. To celebrate Israel’s 65th birthday, here is a look at some of the best achievements.

A member of IsraAid helping out local residents in the wake of Hurricane Sandy. Photo courtesy of IsraAID.

When 22-year-old Emmannuel Buso was pulled barely-alive from the rubble of a three-story building 10 days after an earthquake devastated the island of Haiti, the first faces he saw were those of the Israeli rescue workers who had flown across the world to save lives.

For Haji Edum, from Zanzibar, his life-saving moment came twice, when he was flown at age 15, and then again at 23, to Israel for open-heart surgery. He is just one of thousands of youngsters to receive emergency heart care from volunteer doctors in Israel.

War veterans suffering post-traumatic stress in the US; farmers in Senegal, India and China; young women in South Sudan; the wheelchair-bound in Africa; cardiac patients in Gaza and Iraq – all have received 
life-changing help and expertise from Israeli specialists.

Today we all know the story of Israel the startup nation. News of its technological prowess and incredible innovation has spread far and wide. But what many people don’t know is that Israel is exporting far more than just technology. It is also sharing its experience and skills in a whole range of humanitarian and environmental fields to help people everywhere live better, fuller and healthier lives.

Since Israel was founded in 1948, the country has set itself the goal of becoming a light unto the nations. In the early years of the state, despite austerity rationing, the Israeli government founded MASHAV, the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ Center for International Cooperation, as a vehicle to share Israel’s creative solutions with the rest of the developing world.

Israel remains true to that vision and every year, with little fanfare, and sometimes very little press attention, Israelis work long hours to find solutions and offer relief to some of the most pressing problems of our times.

From environmental breakthroughs that will help reduce greenhouse emissions, to technologies that can increase food production and save vital crops, to humanitarian aid missions in the wake of catastrophic natural disasters, Israelis are providing significant assistance.

To celebrate Israel’s 65th birthday, ISRAEL21c takes a look at some of the many creative and varied ways Israel is helping to enrich and improve our planet.

The list comes in no particular order, and is by no means exhaustive. There are hundreds, if not thousands, more worthy projects going on every day. If you’ve got a project worth hearing about, we’d be delighted if you include it in our comments section at the end.

1. An Israeli company is developing a toilet that needs no water, and generates its own power to turn solid waste (including toilet roll) into sterile and odorless fertilizer in 30 seconds. Liquid waste is sterilized and then used to flush the toilet. Developer Paulee CleanTec has been awarded a grant by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which reports that about 80 percent of human waste goes into rivers and streams untreated, and 1.1 billion people don’t use a toilet.

2. Fifty years ago, Lake Victoria carp was a significant part of the diet of Ugandan villagers. But when Nile perch was introduced to the lake, it decimated the carp population. Villagers had neither the equipment nor the expertise to catch the huge perch, and symptoms of protein deficiency started becoming apparent in their children.

Prof. Berta Sivan of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem came to the rescue with a multiyear project to help these African families. Using expertise developed in Israel, her project not only successfully spawned carp on Ugandan fish farms, but also provided training on how to dig and fill ponds and raise the small fish. Now local children have an abundant supply of protein.

3. About 50 percent of every grain and pulse harvest in the developing world is lost to pests and mold, but an Israeli scientist has developed a surprisingly simple and cheap way for African and Asian farmers to keep their grain market-fresh. International food technology consultant Prof. Shlomo Navarro invented huge bags, now marketed by US company GrainPro, which keep both water and air out. The bags are in use all over the developing world, including Africa and the Far East, and even in countries that don’t have diplomatic ties with Israel.

4. In January 2010, Israel won international praise for the speed and expertise with which it responded to a devastating 7.0-magnitude earthquake in Haiti that killed 300,000 people, injured hundreds of thousands and laid waste to the poverty-stricken country.

A team of 240 Israeli doctors, nurses, rescue and relief workers arrived in Haiti just days after the quake, bringing medicines, communications and medical equipment. Israel Defense Forces (IDF) volunteers set up the country’s most advanced and well-equipped field hospital in the capital of Port-Au-Prince. Israeli search-and-rescue missions pulled survivors from the rubble, saving many Haitians, including a man trapped for 10 days.

The delegation included volunteers from IsraAID, the IDF, ZAKA, Magen David Adom (MADA), Tevel B’Tzedek, the Negev Institute, and Alyn Hospital. It was the largest Israeli civilian relief mission ever assembled, and was one of the biggest and most skilled on the island.

In the wake of the disaster, Israel continues to send aid and assistance, including educational projects, trauma programs, micro-financing, development and relief work, rebuilding of communities and schools, aid packages, empowerment for women, and medical assistance.

5. The invention of drip irrigation by Israeli Simcha Blass and its development by Netafim, and later Plastro and NaanDan Jain, has completely revolutionized agriculture across the world, enabling farmers to increase their yields with less water. Constantly upgraded Israeli drip-irrigation techniques are regularly shared with other countries through MASHAV, Israel’s Center for International Cooperation.

6. Tal-Ya Water Technologies has developed reusable plastic trays to collect dew from the air, reducing the water needed by crops or trees by up to 50 percent. The square serrated trays, made from non-PET recycled and recyclable plastic with UV filters and a limestone additive, surround each plant or tree. With overnight temperature change, dew forms on both surfaces of the Tal-Ya tray, which funnels the dew and condensation straight to the roots. If it rains, the trays – which are now on sale – heighten the effect of each millimeter of water 27 times over.

7. About 1.6 million children under the age of five die from untreated drinking water in developing nations every year. An Israeli company has developed a water purification system that delivers safe drinking water from almost any source, including contaminated water, seawater and even urine.

WaterSheer’s Sulis personal water purifier is a small 10-gram mouthpiece that attaches to the top of a water bottle. The company has also developed systems to treat large quantities of water.

Sulis has been used in Taiwan, Myanmar and Haiti, and will be part of contingency plans in case of disaster at the 2016 Olympic Games in Brazil.

8. Israel is building a model agricultural village in South Sudan to teach local farmers about Israeli agricultural methods and technologies to help the fledgling African nation thrive.

9. In plants in China, Italy and the United States, Israeli company Seambiotic is using algae to turn carbon dioxide emitted by power plants into fuel and nutraceuticals. The company’s algae ponds, which are nourished by power plant effluent and sunlight, generate 30 times more feedstock for biofuel than do crop alternatives. The algae are a good source of valuable nutraceuticals, especially popular in China and the East.

Seambiotic is also working with the US National Aviation and Space Administration (NASA) to develop a commercially feasible biofuel variety from algae that has a higher freezing point than biofuels from corn or sugarcane.

10. The lives of thousands of endangered animals in West and Central Africa are being saved thanks to the tireless efforts of Israeli law enforcement activist Ofir Drori, who founded the Last Great Ape Organization (LAGA) in Cameroon, the first wildlife law-enforcement NGO in Africa.

The organization helped propagate a zero-tolerance approach to illegal wildlife trafficking in Cameroon, which has resulted in hundreds of arrests and prosecutions. The model has been replicated throughout West and Central Africa in activities that go beyond nature conservation to the defense of human rights.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Historic Damascus synagogue looted and destroyed

Historic Damascus synagogue looted and destroyed
Assad forces, rebels trade blame for destruction of country’s holiest Jewish site; ‘it’s the Syrian heritage regardless of religion,’ says official

Copied from timesofisrael.com

Inscription on the Jobar Synagogue, near Damascus, Syria (photo credit: screen capture YouTube)

The 2,000-year-old Jobar Synagogue in the Syrian capital of Damascus — the country’s holiest Jewish site — was looted and burned to the ground.

The Syrian army loyal to President Bashar Assad and rebel forces were blaming each other for the destruction of the historic synagogue, according to reports on Sunday.

The synagogue was said to be built on the site where the prophet Elijah concealed himself from persecution and anointed his successor, Elisha, as a prophet. It had been damaged earlier this month by mortars reportedly fired by Syrian government forces.

The rebels said the Syrian government looted the synagogue before burning it to the ground, Israel Radio reported Sunday.

The government said the rebels burned the synagogue and that so-called Zionist agents stole its historic religious items in an operation that had been planned for several weeks, the Arabic Al-Manar Television reported, citing the Arabic Syria Truth website.

The news came as Jews around the world marked the final days of Passover, the festival of freedom.

One of the oldest synagogues in the world, the shul was partially destroyed by Syrian government shelling four weeks ago, according to a video posted to YouTube.

The video, uploaded by the Syrian opposition’s military council, appeared to show that portions of the building and roof were blown off, with debris seen on the ground in front of the synagogue.

An inscription in English at the synagogue reads, “Shrine and synagogue of prophet Eliahou Hanabi since 720 B.C.,” although the actual date of founding is disputed. One of the earliest mentions of the synagogue is in the Talmud, which states that Rabbi Rafram bar Pappa prayed there.

Another inscription, in Arabic, said it was the tomb of Al-Khizr, held in some Islamic traditions to be a prophet who traveled with Moses.

The synagogue served a large Jewish community in the medieval period, but by the mid-1800s only one Jewish family lived in the area. Still, Jews came from across the city to pray there, and there was a tradition of leaving the sick in the building in the belief that Elijah’s spirit might heal them.

On Monday, people from both sides of the conflict said they were sad to see the site ruined.

“It’s the heritage of the homeland regardless of religion, whether it’s Jewish, Muslim or Christian,” Maamoun Abdul-Karim, head of the Antiquities and Museums Department of the Syrian Culture Ministry, told The Associated Press. “It’s the Syrian mosaic and the heritage of the people.”

Abdul-Karim said some objects from the synagogue had been stolen last year, but that officials hadn’t been able to visit the building in about four months because rebels control the area.

After establishing footholds in a number of Damascus suburbs last year, rebel fighters sought to push into Damascus through Jobar, where they now clash daily with government troops.

An anti-government activist in Jobar reached via Skype on Monday said the synagogue had been looted continuously during recent months and was damaged by government shelling meant to push rebels from the area.

He said he visited the facility in early March and found the main sanctuary undamaged.

“I don’t know exactly what was there originally, but we know there were lots of old books and artifacts that are not there anymore,” said the activist, who goes by the name Abu Hassaan al-Damishqi.

He said the site had been looted by government soldiers or thieves taking advantage of a lack of security.

“This is the history of the city, and it doesn’t matter if you are a Muslim or not,” he said. “This is the history of our country, so we all want to protect it.”

Syria’s Jewish community faced rampant discrimination after the establishment of Israel. With Jewish property rights severely limited, the synagogue was taken over and converted to a school for Palestinian refugees.

Only some 20 Jews are believed to live in Syria today, all of them in the capital.

In early 2011, Assad announced plans to rebuild about a dozen synagogue across Syria, including in Damascus — a move that was regarded in part as an effort to gain some support from American Jewry.

The nearly two-year-old civil war in Syria has caused damage to six World Heritage sites, according to Al Arabiya. UNESCO called for the protection of the country’s cultural heritage sites last March, expressing “grave concern” at the time.

The UN estimates that 70,000 people have died in the fighting between Assad regime forces and Syrian rebels.



by Allison Kaplan Sommer

Why are Israelis so damn happy?
It's thanks to both the wars and the weather, and those Friday night dinners that keep us from feeling lonely.

Happy Israelis at the Boombamela beach festival. Photo by Limor Edrey

It’s happened again. An international survey has been published showing that Israelis are, compared to their counterparts in other Western countries, very happy and content people. That information confounds everyone, not least Israelis themselves.

How in the world can it be, we ask ourselves, that citizens of a tiny embattled nation, surrounded by enemies, targeted by boycotts, officially and unofficially loathed by a major portion of the world, with compulsory army service, where regularly scheduled wars and “operations” take place at least once every few years, where complaining about the "situation" is a national pastime, can feel so fine and dandy? It makes no sense.

It’s reached the point where even the stories reporting the news of these polls suggest that the Israelis taking the survey must be lying. The latest survey, as relayed in Tuesday's report, Haaretz suggested as much, and the journalists writing the piece sounded utterly confounded:

“Israelis are among the most content people in the Western world, even though the country doesn’t measure up by many of the criteria in a study by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. ... It’s not clear why Israelis are so happy, despite a relatively poor showing on measures such as housing, income, job security, community support and education. It could be that what makes the average Norwegian happy doesn’t do the trick in Israel. Or maybe Israelis try to appear happy even when they’re not and respond to pollsters accordingly.”

While I understand the writer’s skepticism, I really don’t think people are lying to the pollsters. It just can’t be that the same results, survey after survey, among different organizations with different sample groups, time after time, are fraudulent. Nobody can lie that consistently. I think we are just going to have to make peace with the crazy fact that for the most part, Israelis are comparatively happy campers. We just have to figure out why.

A few years ago, I discussed the topic with the leading world expert on happiness, Dr. Tal Ben Shahar, who famously taught the most popular course at Harvard on positive psychology, earning the nickname “Professor Happiness” and who, despite his tremendous success in the United States, moved back to Israel with his family because he was, well, happier living here.

His explanations for the Israeli happiness factor are helpful in understanding the situation. Ben Shahar believes that the top predictor of happiness is spending time with people we care about and who care about us. With Israel being so geographically small, there is little that stands between Israelis and their close friends and family. Friday night dinners with extended family are a matter of course, even for the young and hip. And in the typical Israeli community, there are a lot of people who care about us - if anything, who care too much. Friends, family, neighbors, co-workers, the guy who runs the corner store, often feel too close, too "in our face," and we often wish everyone would butt out of our business, but, apparently, it's a good thing in the long run; human connection is human connection, even when it’s extremely annoying. At least this contact prevents utter isolation, which seems to be a leading cause of unhappiness.

Another Shahar-ism is that “happiness lies at the intersection between pleasure and meaning.” Even when Israelis run low on pleasure, they are never, ever short of meaning. We overdose on meaning. The national narrative means that simply living in the state of Israel and making it through any given day is meaningful. Certainly, those who believe they are helping to realize the Zionist dream believe their lives here, even the most humdrum, hold great meaning. Even more so for those who are religious and believe that their existence here is part of an active larger plan. And even on the hardest of the hard left, those who live in Israel and have not left in disgust for London, Berlin, or New York, and remain here to fight against injustice and for a better, more humane state, may feel frustrated in many ways, but still, in their fight there is certainly meaning.

Beyond Ben Shahar’s theories, there is also what I call the ‘goat’ factor. I base it on the old Jewish tale of a man upset with his family’s crowded and miserable living conditions who asks a rabbi what to do, and is told to move a goat into his home for a week. At the end of the week, he was told to sell the goat. Suddenly, he told his rabbi, his home felt so big, so clean, so spacious! He was thrilled - and happy.

We’ve got a lot of goats around here in this country: wars, missiles, terror, strife and life-and-death crisis on a regular basis. Stressful as it is, the strife also offers perspective and the ability not to "sweat the small stuff" that we face in life, and increases appreciation for a normal, boring life. Israelis don’t wish each other a fun, exciting, thrilling weekend as they leave at the end of a work week; they wish each other a "quiet" weekend. Quiet is enough to keep us satisfied.

For even more perspective, we only have to look at our neighbors. Let’s face it: everyone looks at the house next door to size up their own situation. Things may be far from perfect here, but with what's going on in Syria and Egypt right now, things feel safe and stable in Israel. Logically, of course, having neighbors in turmoil should make us more worried - and it does. But it also makes us feel lucky.

Finally, I may be writing this too close to a two-week stay in a bitterly cold overcast European city, but there’s something about beautiful weather that can keep one’s spirits up. Looking at the OECD survey, Israelis can only envy the folks in Norway and Sweden their cushy economic situation and rich package of social benefits from the state. However, day after frosty, gray, chilly day, financial security doesn’t necessarily keep your soul warm.

So, even when the national news might be scary and depressing, we might be barely covering the mortgage or the rent, and have no idea what we will do in our retirement, a morning lingering over coffee in a sunshine-splashed café, preferably with good friends, can certainly cheer you up. I know this sounds superficial, but I do have evidence: note that the six OECD countries with the lowest suicide rates - Spain, Israel, Italy, Mexico, Turkey and Greece all happen to include regions with consistently beautiful weather and gorgeous coastlines.

Perhaps happiness can be as simple as a day at the beach.