Monday, April 24, 2017

‘THE BEST AMBASSADORS OF ISRAEL YOU’LL EVER FIND’

Anat Levy  April 21, 2017 


Hosting about 1,200 students each year, AICAT has produced more than 16,000 alumni.

In the coffee, rice and rubber farms of Vietnam’s Central Highlands, 24-year-old Trung Nguyen has seen all too many relatives develop cancer, due to the unfettered use of chemical pesticides. As he nears the end of a 10-month agricultural training program in Israel’s Arava Desert, Nguyen is determined to bring what he has learned back home, to both change this stark reality and modernize farming techniques in the local Buôn Ma Thuôt community.

“We cannot depend on chemical agriculture anymore – it’s not good for our health. We also learn about sustainable agriculture. We would like to apply this kind of growth back in our country.”

Nguyen is a participant in the diploma program at the Arava International Center for Agriculture Training (AICAT), a learning institute in the central Arava Desert community of Sapir and under the jurisdiction of the Central Arava Regional Council. Established in 1994, AICAT operates with the support of the Foreign Ministry and the Agriculture Ministry, and benefits from funds raised by Jewish National Fund-USA.

Hosting about 1,200 students each year, AICAT has produced more than 16,000 alumni who are determined to adapt the skills they have learned in their communities back home in Africa and Asia, according to Noa Zer, the regional council’s resource development director.

For the duration of the Arava’s agricultural season, from about August to June, the students come to AICAT to hone both their theoretical and practical skills, all the while living with farmers in the region and earning money by working with them, Zer explained. Not only do they study new cultivation techniques and agricultural technologies, but they also learn a wealth of management, marketing and business skills in the program.

“To be a farmer today is to be a businessman in the field of farming,” Zer said. “The students are getting valuable knowledge; they are getting practical training.”
While most of the students come to participate in the 10-month diploma program, about 20 people each year have now been signing up for a master’s degree track – an option launched two years ago in collaboration with Tel Aviv University, Zer said. In addition to offering the diploma and master’s degree programs, AICAT hosts groups for short-term groups in advanced agricultural studies.

No matter which course the students choose, Zer stressed that their exposure to innovation and the spirit of the Arava Desert continues to guide them when they return home.

“The main lesson that they learn in the Arava is making the impossible possible,” she said. “It inspires them.”

Paired to work and live with individual farmers, each student in the diploma program must formulate a mini project related to the crop cultivated at that farm, and present the results of the assignment at the end of the 10-month program, explained one of their teachers and a farmer herself, Maayan Plaves Kitron.

“The most important thing that they gain here is the option or the ability to think not in a traditional way, like their parents do,” said Plaves Kitron, who is the horticulture coordinator at the Yair Research and Development Center (Central and Northern Arava R&D Center).


 “You see the change,” she said. “They take risks and they dare to think differently from the rest of the people around them. This is what I’m trying to encourage with them, to open their minds and [make them] think a bit different. Even if you grow rice, try to think how you can grow it and improve your crop.”

In order for more students like Nguyen to come learn at AICAT, JNF-USA is providing financial support for an ongoing expansion project to double the capacity of the program’s campus. As Earth Day approaches this April 22, the organization is including the training center among its top priority fund-raising efforts. Already by next year, JNF-USA executives said they hope to see 2,000 students training at AICAT, and 5,000 in the near future.

Hanni Arnon, the executive director and founder of AICAT, echoed these sentiments, describing the training center as “a bridge between peoples,” where both agriculture and the human spirit know no borders. “They learn here in the Arava that if you will it, it’s not a dream,” Arnon said. “With faith, a pioneering spirit and ingenuity, you can make the desert bloom.”

While AICAT participants may gain enormous advantages as they head back to manage their farms at home, Zer pointed out how Israel also benefits significantly from hosting them, even if temporarily.

“We introduce them to Israel. They live on farms with farmers,” she said. “They really see the real face of Israel. They are the best ambassadors of the State of Israel you’ll ever find.” 

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Hospital Visitors Primed with Explosives

This morning (Wednesday, 19 April 2017), at Erez Crossing, Israeli security inspectors seized explosives used in the production of IEDs. (improvised explosive devices)

The explosives were hidden in tubes labelled "medical materials."

The tubes were found during a security inspection, at the crossing, of the tools of two sisters, residents of the Gaza Strip, and were dealt with by Israel Police sappers.

The sisters' entry into Israel had been approved in order that one could receive treatment for the cancer from which she suffers.

A preliminary investigation revealed that the explosives were sent by Hamas. It is believed that they were to be used in Hamas terrorist attacks in the near future.

The foregoing attests to the ongoing efforts by terrorist organizations based in the Gaza Strip, especially Hamas, to exploit Israel's humanitarian initiatives and the medical assistance that it provides to residents of the Gaza Strip, in order to perpetrate attacks in Israel.

The investigation of the two sisters is continuing.

Security inspectors at the Erez Crossing were commended for thwarting the smuggling of explosives into Israel. A spokesman said "To our regret, it has been proven again that Gaza Strip-based terrorists are continuing their efforts to exploit the humanitarian channel in order to carry out attacks in Israel. The security inspectors acted exactly as expected, with exemplary professionalism." 


Tuesday, April 18, 2017

UNESCO Rewriting History

In an absurd draft resolution put before UNESCO by the Arab states on behalf of the Palestinians, due for a vote on May 1st, an attempt will be made to contest Israeli sovereignty over West Jerusalem ( having already done the same with East Jerusalem) This resolution is, in effect, an attempt to erase over 3,000 years of Jewish history in the Israeli capital. One of the primary reasons UNESCO was founded was to preserve history, not rewrite it. 

PLEASE SHARE and help us contest this ridiculous resolution.



Friday, April 14, 2017

Agitating the Beduin?


by David M. Weinberg   April 6, 2017

)Ed:- there is a lot of publicity whenever the subject of home demolitions is acted upon. Little is known by journalist of the background of this subject. With uncontrolled expansion of Beduin villages, more and more land is being taken up with no services available.

In spite of tremendous efforts by the government and considerable agreement amongst many Beduin clans, negative external influences are pushing the chances of progress with the Beduin backwards.)

Arab nationalists, the Islamic Movement, and the EU are provoking the Beduin to resist Israel’s benevolent development plans.

 The usual professional anti-Israel activists – rabble-rousing Arab MKs, far-left activists in Israel and from abroad, and some EU officials too – are stirring the Beduin pot to advance an incendiary and false narrative of Israeli dispossession and discrimination.

They are seeking to turn the Beduin issue – a professional planning and social development issue on which Israel is trying to do good – into a nationalist tug-of-war and yet another tool to delegitimize Israel.


It was they, in fact, who forced the breakdown in negotiations in January between Israel’s Beduin Development and Settlement Authority and the villagers of al-Umm Hiran, which led to confrontations and the killing of both a policeman and a local Beduin man.

After a long legal struggle all the way up to the Supreme Court (which they lost), the villagers had mostly agreed on a broad deal with the government for relocation to modern housing. But at the last minute, the radical activists swooped down on the Negev, and shamed and threatened the village leaders into rejecting the understandings reached with the government.

This is the pattern of radical agitation, rejection and violent struggle that could repeat itself over and over again in the coming years, stymieing Israel’s considerate and responsible plan for boosting the Beduin.

This would be a tragedy, because most Beduin undoubtedly want to work cooperatively with the government in lifting their marginalized communities out of poverty and crime; and because the government must seize the opportunity to husband the lands of the Negev for all Israelis – before it is too late.

The battle is being played out in the E1 quadrant as well, where Israel plans to demolish an illegal and provocative Beduin encampment called Khan al-Ahmar, near Ma’aleh Adumim. The EU has threatened Israel with retaliation if it does so, out of “deep concern” for Palestinian rights in Area C of Judea and Samaria. Of course, the Beduin shantytown is there in order to block Israel’s plans to develop E1. And the Italians funded a Beduin school there for the same purpose.

Outrageously, the EU has begun to intervene in Beduin Negev matters, too, monitoring and protesting Israel’s every move – which is gross and hostile interference in Israel’s internal affairs. Essentially, the EU is conflating the Beduin struggle with that of the Palestinians in the West Bank, advancing a narrative of Israel as a colonial occupier against indigenous and oppressed peoples.

AT LEAST 210,000 Beduin live in Israel’s South, making up 30% of the Negev’s population, sprawling uncontrollably and illegally across ever-greater tracts of land in the northern Negev. One-third to one-half the Negev Beduin live in 1,700 “non-recognized” rural settlements where little, if any, municipal services exist, including basic water and sewage infrastructure. There is no municipal planning or taxation.

It’s no surprise that these Beduin communities suffer from extraordinary high rates of unemployment, poverty, criminal activity, violence against women, and Islamic radicalization.

The matter is exacerbated due to the high rate of growth of the Beduin community.

In 2013, the government adopted the “Prawer-Begin” plan, based on the recommendations of a committee chaired by former Supreme Court justice Eliezer Goldberg, and named for a professional team of high-ranking officials headed by Ehud Prawer, and later by MK Bennie Begin. Hundreds of meetings with Beduin leaders were part of the consultative process leading to this point.

Under the plan, some 30,000 of the 100,000 Beduin who live in squalid and illegal encampments were to be relocated, and moved to developed lots in nearby farming, suburban or urban communities, with compensation.

But under pressure from the radicals, the Beduin resisted the plan. And right-wing figures accuse Begin of handing thousands of dunams of land (10 dunams equal 1 hectare) to the Beduin as a gift, without significant legal source for the Beduin claims.

So the Prawer-Begin plan died. It was abandoned, despite the fact that it drew support across Israeli political party lines, and despite the fact that many brave Beduin leaders bucked the bullying of militant Israeli Arab leaders to speak out in favor of the plan.

LAST YEAR, the cabinet adopted Construction Minister Uri Ariel’s revised plan to invest NIS 3 billion over the next five years in upgrading Beduin communities in the Negev. Ten new industrial areas will be established in Beduin areas, NIS 420 million will be invested in improving employment opportunities (including job training programs for Beduin), and NIS 250m. will be spent on developing Negev public transportation routes.

Minister Ariel’s approach is to quietly negotiate tribe by tribe and family by family, to encourage the move of Beduin from wretched to honorable towns; from ramshackle to modern villages; from anarchic to organized and legal settlements. He is acting to save both the Beduin and the Negev.

Of course, social engineering is no easy task, even without the interference of professional agitators who are hell-bent on co-opting the Beduin as a tool against the state. Altering the Beduin patriarchal culture and pre-modern mode of desert living, and integrating the Beduin into Israeli society, will take years of careful negotiation and cautious planning.

The Netanyahu government should be praised, not vilified, for advancing comprehensive, judicious (and very expensive!) plans that will both ensure advancement for the Beduin community and preserve Israel’s lands for the broader public.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Young ANC leader defies Israel-apartheid comparisons, sees his political future doomed

 

By   April 10, 2017, Times of Israel

Comparing Israel to apartheid South Africa is all the rage again. A United Nations agency recently published (and the United Nations secretary general rejected) a report accusing the Jewish state of having “established an apartheid regime that dominates the Palestinian people as a whole.” Campuses around the world are currently marking Israel Apartheid Week to “raise awareness of Israel’s apartheid system.”

The question of whether today’s Israel is akin to the old South Africa was forcefully rejected by former anti-apartheid activist Benjamin Pogrund in an op-ed in The New York Times last week, once more triggering passionate discussion over the question.

The African National Congress, Nelson Mandela’s revolutionary movement currently rules the country, endorses the Israel-apartheid comparison. In 2012, ANC chairperson and former South African deputy president Baleka Mbete accused the Jewish state of being “far worse than Apartheid South Africa.”

But in recent months, a growing number of young black South Africans — including members of the ANC’s youth division — have visited Israel and now forcefully reject the parallels drawn between the racist regime under which their parents suffered and the current reality for Palestinian Arabs — in Israel, the West Bank and Gaza. Prominent among them is Nkululeko Nkosi, a 23-year-old member of the ANC Youth League.
“Precisely because we South Africans know intimately what apartheid involved, we have a duty to question whether it is an appropriate term to be used in the context of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict,” Nkosi wrote in a recent article for a pamphlet published by “Africans for Peace,” a group trying to change the narrative about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. “Put simply, because nobody knows the pain of apartheid better than we do, we are able to guide the rest of the world on when to describe a situation using that term and when to avoid doing so.”

Nkosi, who hails from Kathlehong township in Johannesburg and recently obtained an undergraduate degree in law, went on to argue that apartheid was about race, while the Israeli-Palestinian conflict encompasses both religious and territorial disputes.

Nkululeko Nkosi /courtesy)
“On my last trip to Israel, I found that unlike apartheid South Africa, there is no deliberate effort by the government to segregate a specific group in Israel,” he wrote. “In day-to-day discussions with ordinary Israeli citizens, I learned from Arabs and Jews, and I sensed their burning desire to live together as harmonious neighbors. In apartheid South Africa, Afrikaners disdained black South Africans, these sentiments are still in evidence today.”
Nkosi ended his article with a plea to fellow South Africans not to “steal” the term apartheid by inaccurately applying it to the Middle East.
During Israel Apartheid Week at Columbia University, pro-Israel students countered anti-Israel displays with a 12-foot-high Pinocchio doll meant to call attention to “lies about Israel,” March 1, 2016. (Courtesy Students Supporting Israel – Columbia)
“For black South Africans, apartheid was more than just systematic discrimination against our people. It was a project that aimed to rob a specific race of its history, culture, dignity, and humanity,” he wrote. “Those who apply the term ‘apartheid’ to the Israeli-Palestinian impasse are guilty of perpetuating that same theft, by denying the uniqueness of the racism and hatred that we faced.”
Israelis and Palestinians may feel that one group hates the other, but this reality “is very different from the legally-blessed racism, based on the discredited idea of white supremacy, that once reigned in my country,” he posited.
Nkosi, who once hoped to run for national office for the ANC but has been shunned by the party for his pro-Israel views, first learned about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in 2013, when a group of students disrupted a performance by a famous Israeli pianist.
“For a while, I held the view that Israel was an apartheid state and suspected that something was amiss when a couple of colleagues visited Israel only to face backlash here at home,” he told The Times of Israel in a recent interview. “I then also wanted to visit Israel for myself and develop my own views on the matter. It was after my trip to Israel that I started to question a lot of things and sought more information and made comparisons between apartheid South Africa and Israel.”
Even though the ANC officially discourages travel to Israel, thousands of South Africans visit the country every year. According to Israel’s ambassador in Pretoria, Arthur Lenk, the number of South African tourists who visit the Jewish state “significantly” increased in 2016.
 “Many are Christians who come as pilgrims, others are business leaders of all faiths looking to boost trade or tourists to discover Israel or to visit friends or family,” Lenk said. “I am glad so many South Africans are seeing Israel for themselves instead of believing politically motivated rhetoric of some who gain from divisiveness.”
Nkosi’s all-expenses-paid visit to Israel in 2016 was organized and sponsored by the South African-Israel Forum, a nonprofit seeking to promote bilateral relations. “I got the opportunity to meet with Israelis and Palestinians,” he said, recalling that he visited universities with “vibrant Arab student populations,” as well as the Qalandia refugee camp.
In 2015, the ANC publicly denounced the South African-Israel Forum’s work, calling it a “campaign by Israel to distort our stand on Palestine” that will put the party “in disrepute.”

Ironically, perhaps, it was the ANC’s encouragement to think differently that impacted Nkosi. “My view differs from the ANC’s because I have been taught by the ANC to discuss and question everything,” he said.
 “I used to have hopes of ascending the ANC ranks,” Nkosi told The Times of Israel, but its current politics “suggest that there may not be an ANC to inherit for young people like myself.”
The disdain is mutual, as the party not only officially discourages travel to Israel but also publicly shames members who speak positively about the country.
‘What is clear is that my political career in the ANC and youth structures is finished’ Last week, the ANC Youth League’s secretary-general issued a statement condemning a “certain individual [who] is parading around, on a pro-Israeli trip in the USA, claiming to be a youth leader of the ANC.” He and “other foreign agents” who “advance the agenda of the imperialist Israeli regime,” automatically lose their membership, according to the statement. Nkosi, too, has been insulted and intimidated due to his pro-Israel activism, it seems my trip to Israel and my subsequent views translate to the end of any [political] ambition.”


And yet, Nkosi is optimistic regarding the future of Israel-South Africa relations. While he acknowledged that the ANC, which is closely affiliated with the Boycott, Divest and Sanctions (BDS) movement, is unlikely to engage in constructive political dialogue with Jerusalem, he hopes that Pretoria’s current economic worries will lead to some sort of rapprochement down the line.

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Doing Good is Going Strong


By Liat Collins   March 30th 2017

Any day can be a Good Deeds Day and tikkun olam (repairing the world) can begin at home, as a way of life.

 One good turn deserves another, so 1.1 million good deeds deserve at least a mention in a humble column, especially as similar selfless acts are spreading from Israel around the world.

More than a million Israelis marked Good Deeds Day on March 28. Doing good is a growth industry. International Good Deeds Day will be held on April 2, when volunteers will be thinking and acting positively in 93 countries.

Good Deeds Day is one of Israel’s best exports, right up there with Waze and the disk-on-key (flash drive). It is a modern adaptation of an ancient precept: - that behaving as a decent human being comes before everything else.

Creating a specific day dedicated to doing good was the idea of businesswoman and philanthropist Shari Arison, who launched the project 11 years ago via Ruach Tova (Good Spirit), her nonprofit, which is part of the Ted Arison Family Foundation.

We have built an immense infrastructure of good deeds,” Arison said in a press statement ahead of this year’s events. “Each individual can do a good deed, but togetherness creates power. Together we can shift the pendulum to the positive side, tapping into a tremendous source of hope.”

It is easy to mock Arison’s feel-good approach – who doesn’t believe we, too, might have a happier attitude were we the country’s richest woman, heir to a family fortune, whose family business includes being the major stakeholder of a bank (Hapoalim, in the case of the ever-smiling Arison)?

But she seems to be on to something because the project gets bigger from year to year, and part of the attraction is its simplicity. It is much easier to commit to participating in a one-off project than to dedicating time and energy in ongoing voluntary and philanthropic works.

In the beginning, in 2006, some 7,000 people took part. But all that positive energy has created its own momentum and now nearly all municipalities in the country, representing all sectors of the Israeli population, and hundreds of schools, academic institutions, businesses, organizations and the IDF, offer their services as part of the project.

The activities were as varied as the participants and included volunteers painting houses and daycare facilities for the elderly; cleaning up beaches and parks; renovating daycare facilities for children at risk; planting and tending community gardens; packing and delivering food packages for the needy; and recycling projects.

Among my favorites are the hair stylists who volunteered their services cutting hair to be donated to make wigs for cancer sufferers. In a “pet cause” close to my heart, the members of the Jerusalem Municipal Veterinary Services carried out necessary renovations at the Jerusalem Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, and veterinarians volunteered their time and surgical skills to neuter dogs and cats at the shelter to help keep the city’s stray animal population down. The JSPCA and other animal groups also used the day as a marketing tactic, the perfect date to adopt a four-legged friend for life.

As Arison posits, we are all rich with potential, body and soul when it comes to doingsomething good and being a positive force. It’s never too late to start, but obviously it’s easier to grab kids while they are young and make doing good a part of their lives.

The Israeli state education system considers fostering a spirit of volunteering an essential part of the curriculum. Students from 10th grade on have to participate in a 60-hours-a-year “personal commitment” program, volunteering in projects including helping in hospitals, health fund clinics and old-age homes; serving with the ambulance, police or fire services; packing food packages for the needy; repairing old computers for use by those unable to afford new ones; and helping children with illnesses and disabilities.

The Ted Arison Family Foundation presents its worldview as rooted in three Jewish values: charity, acts of loving-kindness and tikkun olam (repairing the world). But obviously you don’t have to be Jewish to share these values.

Any day can be a Good Deeds Day and tikkun olam can begin at home, as a way of life.


GIVING EAR - Co-Existence Project


BY BARRY DAVIS   MARCH 16, 2017

 Violins, not violence: The Nazareth-based Polyphony venture fosters musical and cultural harmony.

It has been mooted that the basic difference between discrimination and mutual acceptance is that, while in the former case, we see anyone different from us as inferior, possibly threatening and certainly unwanted, the latter entails the realization that, if someone is different from us, by the same token we are different from them.

Then again, there are always common denominators to be sought and found, and that can help to bridge discrepancies in cultural, religious and political lines of thought.

Nabeel Abboud-Ashkar certainly goes along with that ethos. Abboud-Ashkar is cofounder of Polyphony, which sprang into life in 2012 in Nazareth when he joined forces with Jewish American social entrepreneurs Craig and Deborah Cogut. The idea was, as the organization’s brochure has it: “to bring together Arab and Jewish youth in Israel by offering them equal opportunities in music.”

The venture title certainly fits the stated conceptual and artistic bill. The online font of vocabulary definitions, dictionary.com, describes polyphonic music as “having two or more voices or parts, each with an independent melody, but all harmonizing.”

That all sounds delightfully healthy and uplifting, and the project appears to be making waves across the upper echelons of the international music community.

The Polyphony Artistic Partners cross-disciplinary roster includes the names of such illustrious members of the global art world as conductors Zubin Mehta and Sir Andras Schiff, opera singer Renée Fleming, multimedia artist Yoko Ono, jazz saxophonist Branford Marsalis and Israeli singer-songwriter David Broza.

Marsalis was recently in Nazareth himself, to help a bunch of budding Arab and Jewish musicians progress with their instruments and spread the musical word in general. Schiff was also here a month or so ago. “Branford gave a workshop for the kids and a concert for the parents,” says Abboud- Ashkar. “That really helps.”

The professional supporter lineup is mightily impressive, and there appears to be an abundance of layman backing, too.

“There is great interest from the international musical community. There is also interest from the Jewish community in the US,” the director continues, “and there is, obviously, a strong interest in the Arab and Jewish communities of Israel for Polyphony to work.”

Getting youngsters to play and enjoy classical music, says Abboud-Ashkar, offers added value for all, and not just in the Middle East. “When you appreciate this kind of music, and are able to perform it, you immediately become part of a much larger and more international community.

Straightaway it makes you part of something much bigger than your immediate surroundings. So that, I think, makes Western classical music important for us. By us, I mean the Arab-Palestinian community of Israel, and Israeli society in general – both Arab and Jewish communities.”

The ostensibly extraneous nature of the art form, he feels, also helps to bridge cultural and personal gaps. “Because it is not coming from one side or the other, classical music being so international, it is a wonderful means for bringing people together.”

Then there are the rewards to be gained from engaging in an activity that is not only creative but also requires the participants to cooperate and to listen to each other in order to reach a pleasurable and quality end result.

The Nazareth-based initiative is clearly managing to provide young Jews, Muslims and Christians here with a bridge spanning sociopolitical and ethnic gaps that can sometimes appear to be entrenched and permanently divisive.

However, it wasn’t just about getting kids enthralled with the idea of producing harmonious sounds from their instruments. For the project to succeed, it needed the blessing and backing of the wider community, too. “Parents have become more and more aware of the importance of what we are doing, and the importance of music education.”

In Keshet Eilon, Abboud-Ashkar and his cohorts in the Nazareth-based program found a natural bedfellow. “We founded Keshet Eilon [at Kibbutz Eilon in the Western Galilee] in 1990,” says general manager Gilad Sheba. “We called the program ‘keshet’ because of the bow of the violin, but also in the sense of a bridge between cultures and people.

There are wider-reaching rewards. “When students come here from abroad they discover a different Israel from the one they see in the media,” Sheba adds. “They see the finer side of Israel – the culture and excellence. Don’t forget, we engage in people who chose a very competitive profession and one of our goals is to turn them into a family. Nabeel and Polyphony come into this context.”

Polyphony continues to go about its educational and enlightening business, which takes in joint ensembles with Keshet Eilon.

Abboud-Ashkar is conscious of the need for spreading the word as far and wide as possible, in addition to enabling youngsters to acquire precious musical skills, and then helping them to raise their game. Mother Nature precludes the existence of anything in a vacuum, and that applies equally to the social environment.

Polyphony duly invests in generating the requisite support group context, to create a healthy and encouraging environment for the kids to follow their natural artistic bent.