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Archive for July, 2010

“The latest flotilla preparing to leave from Lebanon fully exposes not only the hypocrisy but the danger of these provocative vigilante flotillas. The Lebanese flotilla, whose organizers claim injustice while ignoring the dire human rights situation of the Palestinians in Lebanon, amply demonstrates that these flotillas have nothing to do with humanitarian concerns and everything to do with delegitimizing Israel.”

Read the rest of Danny Ayalon’s article here.

Big news! I’m very excited to be part of an exciting trip for bloggers to visit Israel in August. The trip is called Once In A Lifetime – and it is very well-named!

I’ll be away 10 days and will get to see everything from the Kotel, to Abu Gosh, the Jerusalem Hills, the Dead Sea and Neve Tzedek. While I’m there I’ll be reporting with video and text blogs about my experiences.

I’m so excited to be one of the four bloggers chosen for this. One of the most powerful ways I’ve found to counter anti-Israel propaganda is to talk from personal experience about the people I’ve met and things I’ve seen for myself during my trips. Having a tour of the country and being shown things I couldn’t normally see is going to be a huge help.

I’m leaving on Sunday for the trip, which has been arranged by Stand With Us. I’ll write more about the trip in the coming days, and then report from it starting next Monday.

This is a guest post from Louise in Liverpool

I first wanted to visit Israel when I was a mere spring chicken aged 21. My friend’s sister was working on a kibbutz. She had sent me a letter raving about the brilliant time she was having and urged me to join her. Sadly I declined this enthusiastic invitation due my lack of finance and my father’s protestations of how dangerous it was in Israel.

Being in the decade of age where life begins, I began to regret not having taken up that tempting invitation all those years ago. So when Penny who had once lived on a kibbutz for a year announced she was going back to Israel, I asked if I could go with her. She was delighted and I could afford it which meant I would finally see Israel for myself.

The 4 ½ hour flight was pleasant enough for someone who is just not keen on flying. On filling in the flight questionnaire I could confidently tick the box that expressed my choice to fly with El Al was to ensure my safety. I had been randomly selected to have my shoes and handbag brushed so I could see that a well seasoned terrorist or even 007 would have to be pretty ingenious to pass through the thorough but most necessary security procedures of El Al Airlines.

We picked up the car at Ben Gurion and we began our long night time journey to Ein Gev, a kibbutz on the shores of the Sea of Galilee. On our arrival we were greeted and checked in by two very friendly and I have to say, attractive young men, which to my delight was to be another feature of our visit repeated on several occasions. And thus the ‘Phwoar Factor’ scale was born, closely followed by the ‘Charm Factor’ scale. Almost every male we encountered in Israel could find a rank in one or both scales!!

After unpacking we sat outside our room by the shores of the Galilee sipping a well-earned coffee. Immediately I noticed the serenity of the lake and my surroundings. As I admired the beauty of the place, observed the twinkling of the lights on the far shore, listened to the birds singing (at 1am) and got drenched by the sprinklers, I felt my tired spirits lift. I felt so happy to be in Israel at last

The next couple of days were a mixture of ‘dossing’ by the shores of the lake, bathing and avid sightseeing, taking in the Mount of Beatitudes and Capernaum, flagging somewhat in the heat of the day but constantly inspired by the beauty of the Kinneret. Apart from eating St Peter’s fish drizzled with garlic butter, which is delicious and a ‘must do’ activity in this area, the highlight was meeting Israelinurse and her partner in their kibbutz home situated in the Golan Heights which have a barren beauty not unlike the highlands of Scotland. Israelinurse showed us around the kibbutz with pride. As she talked about their way of life I felt that a real sense of community existed there.

Standing in a once-occupied bunker where Syrian snipers had taken pot shots at Israelis below going about their daily lives brought home the harsh reality of Israel’s history and in areas close to Gaza its present reality. This reality was further emphasized when Israelinurse pointed to their bomb shelter and joked about her drinking vodka through the IV lines in there. The rest of the evening was spent very pleasantly sat on the terrace, drinking tea, engaged in intelligent conversation about real issues, far removed from the often superficial chat I listen to at home which is mainly concerned with what happened in X Factor last week or who’s got the longest false eyelashes in the office.

The next day we drove to Eilat through the stunning scenery of the Negev desert. We marveled at the breathtaking vista from the Ramon crater as I maneuvered the car round hairpin bends in my best grand prix style (sorry Penny!). A chorus of, “Oh wow!” in perfect sync accompanied every curve which came with signed warnings of ‘dangerous’ and/or ‘slippery’ to which no other driver bar me seemed to pay heed. Around every corner were mountain views to rival the Grand Canyon displaying amazing rock formations and colour.

Eilat in complete contrast to Ein Gev is a huge sprawl of hotel complex and shopping malls with a touch of chic. When we first arrived and checked into our hotel we were extremely tired from our eight-hour journey and it had taken ages to find our hotel. Music blasted out from surrounding establishments into the wee small hours and it wasn’t the kibbutz environment we had expected, a far cry from the beauty and tranquility of Ein Gev. But my stay in Eilat was to make a huge and very favourable impression on me, one that contributed greatly in ensuring that my love affair with Israel would be a lasting one

Although diving with dolphins was very enjoyable and our trip across the Jordanian border to Petra was amazing, what impressed me more was the friendliness and willingness of people to go out of their way to help us. One example is the waitress who phoned her friend, used her computer and finally phoned our hotel to ensure we found it. Another was the diver who changed the flat tyre on our hire car and wouldn’t accept any payment for doing so. I could list several more examples as this overwhelming kindness was not the exception in Israel but the norm.

Eilat is a young people’s holiday resort and although the music, as mentioned earlier, was at times very loud, the young people were not. Their behaviour was respectful. They didn’t shout, sing or swear at the tops of their voices. They weren’t brawling, staggering about or throwing-up in the street – because they weren’t rotten drunk. When they came back to the hotel after a night out they sat around the pool quietly enjoying each other’s company instead of throwing each other in it. This started Penny and I to question and wonder why they were so different to the youth of Britain, a discussion which continued throughout our holiday and beyond

We took Route 90 up to Ein Gedi. As we drove around the Dead Sea I was once more inspired by the scenery. The large hillocks of salt fascinated me as did the vivid turquoise colour of the sea, but it was the stillness of the water and the perfect mirror image of the mountains reflected onto its surface that simply filled me with awe. Ein Gedi kibbutz was a paradise, a lush green oasis set against a backdrop of dramatic desert mountains. Floating on the Dead Sea and washing in its mud was extremely enjoyable and the best beauty treatment I’ve ever had

And last but by no means least, on to Jerusalem. To encapsulate this wonderful city and its inhabitants in a few words and phrases probably doesn’t it justice but here goes: Jersusalem is sophisticated, colourful, bustling, safe, clean, steeped in history, hilly, gentle, tolerant, respectful, and full of life and energy.

Whilst we were in Jerusalem we visited Yad Vashem, the Garden of Gethsemane and Mount of Olives, the Shrine of the Book within the Israeli Museum and of course the Old City and Western Wall.

Yad Vashem was an extremely emotional experience. Looking at the everyday artifacts recovered from bodies burnt on a log pile brought home the reality of this horror far more than all the films and documentaries I’ve ever watched. Viewing the footage of starving children in the ghettos, reading and listening to countless stories of death and survival made me realize how important it was that Israel must remain the Jewish homeland in order to stop this from happening again.

The Garden of Gethsemane was very pretty with its bright pink Bougainvilleas. As we trudged up the Mount of Olives from here in the heat and strolled through the Olive groves, the call to prayer from various mosques in the city and the almost simultaneous chime of church bells reminded us that Jerusalem was a uniquely tolerant city which embraced a number of religions and diverse cultures. Just walking about Jerusalem amongst people of different races, speaking different languages, and people of all ages happily going about their business or pleasure seemed to emphasise that fact.

Jerusalem has a culture of its own, a sophisticated one that enjoys all forms of art. There were open air concerts at night and modern art films projected on to the walls of the Old City. The shopping mall outside Jaffa Gate housed a variety of sculptures and paintings hung on the walls outside every shop. What amazed me was that although the mall didn’t seem to be locked or shuttered at night the paintings and sculptures remained in tact. Unfortunately this would not be the case back home.

Jerusalem is also immaculately clean. It seemed free of the litter and graffiti that characterizes some cities in the UK. Despite the fact that there is so much open air evening entertainment for crowds of people, we’d been hard pressed to find so much as a cigarette stub on the pavement.

The city has a café culture too. There didn’t seem to be any bars except for one I spotted in the Old City. Even though the café’s sold alcohol, most people seemed quite happy to eat, drink coffee and chat. One of my favourite pastimes in Jerusalem was to sit in a café, drink iced coffee and simply watch the world go by. And again as in Eilat there wasn’t any drunken or rowdy behaviour even though Jerusalem was still very busy late at night. Penny and I felt perfectly safe wandering about on our own. The presence of some police and soldiers on the city streets only added to our feeling of safety but they certainly weren’t there to police the general public. There was no need to.

If there was one downside to Jerusalem it would have to be the noise from the car horns. Penny and I affectionately nicknamed this noise, the Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra!

When I first saw the Western Wall I did wonder what all the fuss was about. It was just a wall with huge sand coloured stones and a few shrubs growing out of it. But then I touched it and my fingers tingled and I was filled with emotion. Another time I visited I was filled with an immense sense of calm and peace.

Shabbat by the Wall was amazing. It filled me with warmth to see so many people freely expressing their religious beliefs and having so much fun doing it. Men singing their hearts out and circle dancing, some with their small sons perched on their shoulders, were a joy to watch. One little rabbi danced his socks off. He was brilliant. The women were more sedate but everyone wore large smiles and people were so happy just to be there. They were greeting each other with huge hugs and the dances were so spontaneous too. One group of men walking towards the Wall suddenly started dancing in front of us, and then two young soldiers rushed over to join in.

Now I understood what all the fuss was about!

When the time came to return home, I just didn’t want to leave. I was in love with a country called Israel, a land full of contrasts, but a gentle, peaceful and welcoming place even though it is at war and constantly facing the threat of terrorism.

I was so sad to be coming back home even though I was looking forward to seeing my two young sons and telling them all about Israel. Next time I visit I would love to take them with me. So Israel, “I’ll be back!” This love affair has only just begun.

Speaking in Turkey today, David Cameron has described Gaza as “a prison camp”. He also described Israel’s response to the flotilla as “completely unacceptable”.

Cameron’s description of Gaza is utter nonsense and he well knows it. His comment on the flotilla incident is also ludicrous.

We are used to such distortion, but if even Cameron is joining the bullying of Israel then I feel a corner is being turned. We had been led to believe the Conservative government would be fair on these issues. Those promises ring hollow today.

Meanwhile, there was yet another antisemitic attack in London yesterday. Those who spread lies and hate against Israel should take a moment to consider the knock-on effect their words have.

I’m busy not being busy this week. So for the time-being I thought I’d stick with the musical theme I started yesterday by posting this. As regular readers know, I am a big fan of Matisyahu, who I interviewed for the blog last month. Silence is my absolute favourite of his songs, and the only song in the world I cannot get through without a shedding a tear. Not a sad tear, a tear of awe.

On a tangential note, my thoughts and prayers go out to the families of the six IAF servicemen and the Romanian soldier who are missing after the helicopter crash.

Mike’s Place is a bar on the sea-front in Tel Aviv. It was hit by a suicide bombing in 2003, which killed three and injured many. One of the survivors is Andy J Ross, a songwriter from London. Among his material is The Way I’ve Been – an inspiring and beautiful song, which he wrote after surviving the blast.

The first time I visited Tel Aviv, in 2006, I stayed in a hotel very near Mike’s Place, which meant I passed it several times a day. I shuddered every time, especially as the pair who had attacked it were both British. Andy’s songs are lovely, and he proves again that out of darkness can come light.

I hope it brightens up your day as it has mine.

Some of you will already be aware of the legendary Normblog and its regular features, including the Normblog Profile, in which Norman interviews a different blogger each week.

Well, this week it is my turn in the hot seat. So if you want to know my answers to a series of personal questions, then click here. I have also recently written an article for Normblog about my favourite book. You can read that piece here.

I wish everyone a wonderful weekend.

Earlier this month I spent three days on the vigil for Gilad Shalit, which was held for a week opposite Downing Street. The vigil was organised by the Federation of Zionist Youth, which deserves credit for arranging this initiative in contrast to some related organisations who mostly ignore Gilad in favour of less political ventures.

Many thousands of people walked past the vigil. It was encouraging that so many stopped to find out what we were doing and responded supportively. This reminded me that although the Israel-bashers of Britain make lots of noise, they are not as large in number as one might think. Or, to use one of their favourite words, the noise they make is disproportionate.

Of course there were a few idiots who came past. One pulled a Nazi salute before whizzing away in his car. Another shouted about Israel being “illegal”, but ran off when we tried to engage him in conversation. More representative of the overall reaction were those who had never previously heard of Gilad, but quickly sympathised with his plight. The vigil was both effective, and an encouraging tonic.

Some people are beyond reason, of course. As those who attend debates, meetings and demonstrations related to Gilad or the wider issue of Israel know, there are lots of Israel-bashers who are so consumed with hatred and envy that they at best ignore, or at worst mock, what Gilad and his family are going through. One of their favourite retorts is to ask “What about the thousands of Palestinian prisoners in Israeli prisons?”

Well, quite – what about them? It’s surely revealing that while we have built a high-profile campaign around Gilad, the Israel-bashers of Britain have never mounted a comparable effort around any specific case of a Palestinian prisoner, with the arguable exception of the ghastly Marwan Barghouti.

These campaigners are adamant that there are hundreds, possibly thousands, of unjustly held Palestinians languishing in Israeli jails. But they just can’t name any – I wonder why? It’s difficult not to conclude that this comes back to the basic truth of the conflict: that many of those who loudly claim to care about the Palestinians do not actually care about them at all, but are merely using them as a stick to beat Israel with.

Even as a passionate supporter of Israel I am willing to concede that among the many terrorists held in Israeli jails, there probably are a few wrongly-held Palestinians. These things happen, don’t they? I mean look at Britain’s miscarriages of justice: Stefan Kiszko, the Cardiff Three, the Guildford Four, the Birmingham Six, the Maguire Seven. Off the top of my head I can practically count from one to 10 in such mistakes.

So the failure of the ‘pro-Palestinian’ movement to build a campaign around such a case speaks volumes about how little they really care about the Palestinian people.  While our compassion for Gilad Shalit says just as much about us.

The initiatives around the world to mark the fourth anniversary of his kidnapping were so moving. The fact that Gilad’s name is always on the lips of Israelis, diaspora Jews and their friends might not be enough to bring him home any time soon. But it should be enough for us to feel proud of our sense of humanity. Even at weddings in Israel, toasts are made in the name of Gilad’s freedom.

Name me another country in the world that does anything similar?

We all want Gilad home even if we disagree on what price, if any, is acceptable for his freedom. We should look for the silver-lining.  As one Israeli commenter on my blog wrote: “When I think of the millions of nameless Jews throughout history who were seized, murdered and buried, I can’t help but be encouraged that we have made huge progress – thanks to having our own country.” Amen. 

This is a guest post by Jonathan Sacerdoti

The press conference room of the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs will be a familiar sight to some. I’d seen it on television and in the newspapers whenever Israeli ministers had hosted their foreign counterparts, and issued joint statements—usually about conflict. It wasn’t a room I associated with good news. Until last week, that is.

On Thursday 15th July, as the Israeli working week drew to a close, I stood on the dais between the two podiums in that room with 35 other delegates from 25 different countries, singing Hatikvah. Each of us holding our own country’s flag, we were proud to reinforce the message delivered to us 11 days before by Deputy Foreign Minister, Danny Ayalon: there is no such thing as dual loyalties when it comes to disapora support of Israel. All 36 of us standing there that day were loyal citizens of our home countries. But at the same time, each of us has our own identity in a modern and pluralistic world. The wellbeing and security of the Jewish people links diaspora Jews together, and the wellbeing and security of the Jewish people is linked with the security and wellbeing of the state of Israel. This is a fact, whether others understand or not.

As Ayalon said “We have one state. And it belongs not only to Israelis, but also to the Jews of the entire world. This is firmly recognised legally even in the UN resolution creating the state. Israel has a right to self identify as a state for the Jewish people. This extends the definition of Jewish beyond the religious. It is cultural and ethnic as well. This does not deny non-Jews the right to live [t]here with full rights. This requires loyalty from minorities, but we understand that, as a people who spent so long as a minority in the states we live in, where we were loyal.”

Conducted under the auspices of the Department for Jewish Communities at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Diplomatic Seminar for Young Jewish Leaders is a study program conducted annually by the Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The Diplomatic Seminar imparts analytical tools for understanding the political and national security challenges facing Israel, and insight into the society, economy and culture of the Jewish-democratic state. From the northern borders with Syria and Lebanon to the southern site of the Eilat-Eilot Renewable Energy Intiative, we travelled the length and breadth of Israel, meeting mayors and ministers, kibbutzniks and soldiers, professors and medical miracle workers. Each one offered something new to help us understand their country – our people’s country – and the way it rises to the enormous challenges it faces. Be it desert weather conditions or vicious hostile attack from terrorists, Israel’s creative energy provides solutions that have helped the nation not only to survive, but to contribute to the world countless technological, humanitarian and democratic advances.

Maybe it was the flags, maybe it was the room, maybe it was the song. Whatever it was, the experiences we had shared during the days running up to that moment in the press conference room resulted in an heart-warming feeling of international solidarity, and a shared resolve to work together as Jews, and together with non-Jews, on Israel’s behalf, no matter where we live.

The IDF has released a gripping video presentation that gives a detailed overview of the flotilla incident. It is a little late in coming, but all the same this is a powerful and important tool to get the truth out there.You can see part one here, and part two here.

For me, I am still flabbergasted by the bigoted reaction of much of the world to what happened that day. Some people simply refuse to be fair to Israel, even when the evidence is in front of their very eyes.

Enough negativity. My final word, for now at least, on the incident is to say that if this is a humanitarian:

Then this is an animal rights activist:

© Copyright Chas Newkey-Burden. All Rights Reserved. Thanks to Chris Morris.