Sunday, February 22, 2009

Further Gazan Testimonies

Following on from the previus blog, the testimonies of Gazans as described in a BBC Panorama program show the dilemma of the population at large in Gaza in relation to the Hamas terror organisation.

On thje programme, in other interviews in the Tel Al-Awa district of Gaza, invaded by the land incursion of Israel, there are people who were taken hostage twice. "Call me Naji, which means survivor, because if you write my real name they*ll kill me" begs the Palestinian householder. "The Hamas men arrived at night to sleep under the stairs. First in uniform, then in plain clothes and with concealed weapons. We tried to bolt the door, but there was nothing to be done. The entire building was used as a shield by the militiamen and could be bombed at any moment."

When the men of Hamas won the elections in the Gaza Strip, Naji was pleased of the change, but now he hates them. "They launch rockets without any military result other than self destruction" says the survivor. "They do it to get money from their Iranian and Syrian sponsors." When the Israelis arrived, the "resistance" fighters in the district had disappeared. To find them the soldiers entered the building. Together with the other men of the condominium, the Palestinian was held prisoner for a day and a night. "I was taken hostage twice in the same war", sighs Naji. "And the Hamas men have even threatened to settle the score at the end of hostilities, because I protested".

In other cases, the thugs of the Izzedine al-Qassam brigades, the armed wing of Hamas, did not limit themselves to threats. Osama Atalla was 40 years old and his youngest daughter, Iman, had been born five days earlier. He was killed on January 28, 11 days after the cease-fire. Atalla was an elementary school teacher and an activist of al-Fatah, the party of the moderate Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, better known as Abu Mazen. "He openly criticized Hamas, but never wielded a weapon against them" claims Mohammed Atalla, a relative of the victim.

The murderers came to his home to apprehend him with two off-road vehicles full of armed people. With masked faces they showed membership cards of the Palestinian internal security. "Just a few routine questions. We'll bring him back within half an hour " they told the family. The elementary school teacher was tortured for a whole night. Then they killed him, shooting him point-blank in the hip, just before leaving him dying in front of the Shifa hospital.

And this is the terror organisation that Europeans are planning to talk to. Do they really think that they are prepared to change their charter. Not a hope! When will Europeans just try to understand this culture?

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Testimony of a Gazan

FAUSTO BILOSLAVO from the BBC Panorama programme came to Gaza to look at some of the personal stories behind Hamas rule in the Gaza Strip. The following story is just one of a number that he reported on the programme.

"To die with us is a great honor. We will go to Paradise together or survive until victory. Allah's will be done." In this way Hamas militiamen responded to the entreaties of the Palestinian civilians not to use their homes as positions during the recent Israeli offensive in the Gaza Strip.

With the international spotlights turned off, the Panorama team went to see what happened in Gaza and discovered the other side of the war that has not been told: entire buildings taken hostage, the population used as human shields and, for the dissidents,even today the risk of getting a bullet as "quislings".

And far from theoretical danger: since the end of December, 181 Palestinians have been summarily executed, kneecapped or tortured because they opposed Hamas.

But it is not over: now the Islamic movement that rules Gaza with the Koran in one hand and a gun in the other wants to control everything, including aid and reconstruction.

The building of the Andalous family in the Al-Karama neighborhood of Gaza City has been reduced to a skeleton of concrete. The Israelis have hit hard, and this middle-age Palestinian couple has nothing left but to pick up the rubble of an apartment not yet paid for. They escort us on what remains of the indoor stairs, on the condition that Panorama team uses only their family nicknames. "We knew that it was going to end up like this. Since the early days of the attack the the guerrilla fighters of the Palestinian resistance had positioned themselves in the twelfth and thirteenth floors, with the snipers. Every now and then they tried, to no avail, to shoot down one of those UAVs that the Israelis use", says Abu Mohammed, shaking his head.

In the building, not yet finished, lived 22 families: more than 120 civilians, including women and children. The Israelis had begun calling the tenants' cell phones ordering them to vacate the premises. Then, the militiamen got a more explicit message: a fighter dropped a bomb on the empty courtyard on the other side of road without causing injuries, but opening a huge crater. "A delegation of householders beseeched the militiamen to leave" said the tenant." The answer was: "You will die with us or we will survive together".

On January 13 the Israeli F16's hit the building at 9:30 P.M. "At night we would go to sleep at our relatives' homes: we were saved, but no longer had a home and we still have to repay 9 years of the loan' said a tenant in despair, a veil on her head. The Islamic Bank does not grant exceptions.

Friday, February 13, 2009

No Water Anywhere!!

So the elections are over, until the next time. some say it will be within the next 18 months!! All the so-called experts are giving the benefit of their “experience” and serving to confuse the issue further.

The issue of security is uppermost in most people’s minds but one matter seems to have been avoided by all the candidates and that issue is WATER.

The Sea of Galilee is at an all time low, the rains of this winter are drastically below what we need, agriculture is going to suffer further this year and yet where were the budding politicians words on this most delicate issue.

It is said that average January rainfall represents 40% of our needs. This year instead of 325 million cubic meters of rainfall, we got less than 50. Our agreement with Jordan requires that we allocate the Jordanians part of the water resources and so just where is the plan for the future?

The country currently needs of the order of 850 million cubes of water per year from the Sea of Galilee and the various aquifers along the coastal region. With rainfall at the levels of the last few years, we can barely provide 250-300 million cubic meters.

So what is to be done? Well there are plans but these needs to be put into operation. Two operating desalination plants are today producing 135 million cubic meters and there are tenders out for quotation to increase their capacity to 150 million cubic meters by the end of this year. An additional plant at Hadera is to nearing completion later this year and will give an additional 100 million cubic meters expanding to 127 million cubic meters shortly thereafter.

Another plant at Ashdod with a capacity of 100 mill c.m. will not be completed before 2011 and further south yet another new plant of 150 mill c.m. is slated for completion in 2012. This last plant will be the biggest
reverse osmosis plant in the world.

Meanwhile the treatment of waste water continues to increase and to provide agriculture with some of its needs as does the use of
brackish water.

And for the man in the street? Well, gardens cannot be watered and the use of hose pies for washing cars is prohibited and although some are still ignoring these restrictions, the awareness of the need to save is mounting.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Sancho the Medical Clown

It was a day like any other for Emek Medical Center’s Sancho, the medical clown, the Dream Doctor, writes my friend from the hospital. He appeared at children’s bedsides, dressed in baggy patched up pants, a flowered shirt with multi-colored flowing scarves, oversized shoes, adorned with bells, whistles, plastic flowers, a fluffy orange feather duster, toy stethoscope and with balloons and chains hanging from his pockets. On his head he wore a red plastic bowler hat and a large red plastic nose was held in place by an elastic band. That’s how he looked when he accompanied his long-time oncology friend, M., an eighteen year old girl who had been treated for cancer and later returned with recurring pain. They walked together into the newly renovated lobby of the Pediatric Outpatient Clinic.

The colorful child-friendly lobby was filled with the buzz of kids and their parents as they waited for treatment while playing with toys, arts & crafts, computers and puzzles. It was a healthy mix of Jews and Arabs who were all there for the same reason … seeking medical assistance for their loved one. Sancho immediately began examining the children as well as the parents with a combination of feather dusting, plastic stethoscope and an invisible thermometer. He then accompanied M into the treatment room where her fate remained uncertain. After several minutes of teasing nurses and physicians while bringing endless smiles to the kids being treated, Sancho and M returned to the suddenly silent lobby.

Seated off to the side was an Arab wearing standard brown prison garb (Militant? Terrorist?) and whose wrists and ankles were securely restrained by locked steel. Standing on either side of him was a heavily armed uniformed security detail made up of two powerfully built men holding automatic weapons and two stern women with holstered hand guns. Tension and fear filled the lobby like smoke from an untamed fire. Children stood close to their parents who avoided making eye contact with the prisoner or the guards. Was he a terrorist? Had he intended to kill?

Sancho, in clear view of everyone, began rummaging through his flowered shirt pockets, spilling out balloons, whistles, plastic keys and flowers until he found what he was looking for. He straightened his small frame, assumed a serious expression in spite of his plastic red nose and slowly removed a tiny blue plastic water pistol. He mimicked the stern expressions on the faces of the guards and then began a mock security scanning of the largest guard using his feather duster as the electronic scanner. He made slow high squeaked beeping noises until the feather duster reached the guard’s machine gun. That set off a confused flurry of beeps that had everyone in the lobby suddenly alive with laughter. Even the shackled militant forgot for a moment his predicament and joined in the laughter. Sancho then continued with a series of security checks on the children and their parents.

Sancho, in his infinite wisdom, proved once again to everyone present that it was ok to smile in the face of fear and the unknown.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Jewish Assets in Muslim Lands

More than 850,000 Jews fled or were expelled from Arab lands and Iran, most after Israel's founding in 1948. Estimates of the value of the property they were forced to leave behind are hard to come by, ranging from as low as $16 billion in known assets to as high as $300b. when estimates of the value of their abandoned real estate are included.

Now a government ministry has created a new department that will now to collect specific claims by Jews who lost their property when they left Arab countries during the 20th century. The department will begin to collect the claims of the Jewish refugees, about 80 percent of whom settled in Israel.

Thus it was reported recently in the Jerusalem Post

A spokesman of the department said "the new effort comes to fill a gap in awareness both in Israel and abroad. The UN has dealt at least 700 times with Arab refugees and their property, but not once with the issue of Jewish property."

There is little awareness in the world at large, and Israel in particular, thus it is thought it is now time for Israelis to get to know better the history of the Jews of Arab lands, who make up some 60% of the ethnic ancestry of Israeli Jews.

"It's time to deal with this amongst ourselves," says the spokesman. "I say that as a citizen, as a father and as an academic. We should know the history of the pogrom in Baghdad in 1941, of the Lybian Jews who ended up in Bergen Belsen. It's time for people to know that there was this part of the Jewish people and its history was brought to an end."

In late 2007, a Baghdad-born American Jew representing the World Organization of Jews from Arab Countries (WOJAC), called on the Israeli government to begin to seriously examine the issue of Jewish property left behind in Arab lands. At the time, WOJAC had a staggering 100,000 square kilometers in property deeds.

Internationally, the project has support. "The US Congress [in mid-2008] decided that any discussion of refugees in the Middle East must include the Jewish refugees from Arab lands. The current presidency of the EU, the Czech Republic, agrees with this position," said the spokesman.

In addition to the government, "Justice for Jews from Arab Countries" (JJAC), has been increasing the awareness of this problem which has been totally overshadowed by the pressure from Arab States to consider only one side of the coin. The goals of JJAC are:
1) To conduct public education programs on the heritage and rights of former Jewish refugees from Arab countries; and
2) To register family history narratives, and catalogue communal and individual losses, suffered by Jews who fled from Arab countries.

Both sides of the argument should be considered in parallel, not one withut the other

Monday, February 2, 2009

And This is in Haifa - Wow

The original aim of this blog was to look at the issues in the north of the country. With the attention being diverted to the south over the last year, many of the postings reflected topics not specifically devoted to the north of Israel.

Last week, I was invited to meet an organisation in Haifa that I feel is totally under reported and, together with my wife, we had an exhillerating experience.

The visit was to MASHAV, the arm of the Foreign Office, the Center for International Cooperation,

In this visit we attended the closing ceremony of a 3.1/2 week course dealing with problems in early childhood education. The course language was Spanish on this occasion and as certificates were presented to the participants, we saw representatives from Equador, El Salvador, Guatamala, Panama, Mexico, Bolivia, Chile, Honduras, Peru, Paraguay, Dominican Republic and Uraguay. Many of the certificates were presented by the Ambassadors of the countries concerned and the atmosphere was electric.

The MASHAV center is the home where participants live, work, explore new ideas and form friendships. They learn from each other and alos learn about the backgrounds, cultures and traditions of the participants countries.

Seeing all these countries in the same room with Israeli specialists in their field made the present international political climate against Israel seem so far away.

Lunch followed the closing ceremony and we found ourselves sitting with the Director of the Center and the Kenyan Ambassador who had "popped in" to say goodbye before returning home after a 5 year tour of duty in Israel.

At events like this, we realised how much Israel has to offer the world in such a positive way. The conflict in the south seemed so far away.