Why the world should care about Israel

As Israel gets slammed over and over again in social media during its recent conflict with Hamas, the more apparent it is that many people are not aware of what impact the small country (about the size of New Jersey) has had in the world.

Here’s a reminder, courtesy of israel21c:


Israel’s medical discoveries have already improved the lives of millions of people around the world. These include an ingestible video camera that fits inside a pill that helps doctors diagnose cancer and digestive disorders; fingertip monitors for sleep disorders and cardiac issues; and an emergency bandage that closes open wounds quickly and temporarily before further evaluation and treatment.

This year, Israeli researchers and engineers are working on a number of innovative projects that the world will benefit from, including a radiation-free alternative for breast-cancer detection; a patented lens to improve radiation therapy for cancer patients of all ages; the world’s first 3D holographic display and interaction system for use in operating rooms; the potential for restoring memory and protecting the brains of patients with Alzheimer’s disease; a way to preserve the fertility of young female cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy; products for families of children with autism; an “internal bra,” affixed to rib bones underneath the breasts of women with sagging breasts; shoe technologies that help people avoid falls and regain proper gait after strokes and other injuries; and technology using automatic DNA analysis to streamline the process of detecting, diagnosing and tracking infectious diseases.


Israel’s high-tech developments are already used in homes, offices and businesses around the world. Pioneering technologies include the PC anti-virus software; Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP); the technology for AOL Instant Messenger; and voice mail technology. Most of the Windows NT operating system was developed by Microsoft-Israel, and the Pentium MMX Chip technology was designed in Israel at Intel. There are more than 3,000 high-tech companies and start-ups in Israel, which represents the highest concentration of high-tech companies in the world apart from the Silicon Valley.

Among the many developments Israeli inventors are currently working on are the world’s first mini-mobile printer; wearable technology; a way to turn smartphones or tablets into a machine that recognizes face movements and hand gestures, for use by people with disabilities; noise-canceling technology; and a device that can be plugged into the USB port of any shared laptop, netbook or desktop to transform it into a personal computer for each user.

International companies also seek out Israel for matters of security, including cyber-security and cyber-defense, and countries look to Israel for airport security technologies.


Israel leads the world in the environmental field, including innovations in solar power generation and seawater desalination. A drip irrigation system that minimizes the amount of water used to grow crops was developed by Israeli engineers and agriculturalists.

This year, Israeli engineers and researchers are working on several inventions, such as solar panels that fit inside “curtain walls” and generate solar electricity for a high-rise building while allowing light inside and a product that could inexpensively detect bacteria in food-processing plants, hospitals and municipal water supplies.

Religious freedom and civil rights

Many holy sites for multiple religions exist in Israel, and it’s only under Israeli rule that, barring security threats, all are free to practice their religion there. That’s not the case in neighboring Syria and Iraq, where Christians are being persecuted by Islamic State (ISIS) and being told to convert to Islam, pay a tax or face death.

Israel’s laws guarantee equal rights for LGBT Israelis, which certainly isn’t the case in other countries in the region, where LGBT individuals face beatings, imprisonment or death.

International relief

Israel has provided humanitarian relief around the world (including its neighbors in Gaza during the current war). These include after recent floods in Serbia and Bosnia, the 2009 and 2013 typhoons in the Philippines, the 2011 earthquake in Turkey, the 2011 earthquake in Japan, the 2011 tsunami in Japan, the 2010 earthquake in Haiti and Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

Israel also treats patients from around the world inside its own hospitals. In 2012, Israel hospitals took care of nearly 222,000 Palestinian Arabs, according to a 2013 report published by the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories Unit.

Meanwhile, Israel’s neighbors are currently primarily known for terrorism. Hamas, a militant Islamic fundamentalist group whose charter calls for Israel’s destruction, has ruled Gaza since 2007 (which despite the cry for #FreeGaza, Palestinian Arabs never previously had sovereignty in Gaza. It was under Egyptian rule before Israel gained control in 1967 and before that, the British and Ottoman Empires. And in 2005 when Israel disengaged itself from Gaza, it uprooted about 10,000 settlers, and left it in the hands of the Palestinian Authority).

What happened once Israel left Gaza? Hamas and other terrorists have launched thousands of rockets and mortars out of Gaza into Israel. Since its formation, Israel has transformed its land from a wasteland into thriving cities and farms. In contrast, Gaza immediately destroyed the more than 3,000 greenhouses that were meant to help Palestinian Arabs rebuild Gaza and instead of using donated concrete to build homes and businesses, Hamas built terror tunnels leading to Israeli land.

For a country that could fit into Maricopa County – and is so small on the world map that its name can’t fit inside, so it is often written in the Mediterranean Sea – Israel’s impact upon the world is phenomenal. Why does it seem to be considered such a monster on the world stage? While Israel is busy defending itself from those who aim to destroy it, Islamic militants are slaughtering hundreds daily in Syria and Iraq and many governments around the world are committing horrific human rights violations against their own people.

And yet, why are those #FreeGaza proponents only targeting Israel with their condemnations when the world can benefit so much from Israel’s survival?

Leisah Woldoff is managing editor of Phoenix’s Jewish News.

Turmoil in Israeli south paralyzes businesses


JobKatif has helped thousands of unemployed and underemployed families who were evacuated from Jewish settlements in the Gaza Strip. Photo courtesy of IMP Group

It has been nine years since Israel’s disengagement from the Jewish settlements of the Gaza Strip. About 500 of those evacuess still remain without jobs and stability, a dire predicament exacerbated by the current turmoil in Southern Israel, where many of the evacuees went to rebuild their lives. Here, Daniela Berkowitz of IMP Group writes about Jobkatif, an organization that helps bring relief to thousands of unemployed and underemployed families through vocational training, employment placement, counseling and coaching.

Itzik, a restaurant owner in southern Israel, finds himself paralyzed this summer. Normally, his café and catering company are bustling with customers. Yet this summer, because of the constant barrage of rockets targeting the region from Gaza, people are barely leaving their homes, let alone going out for a meal.

For Itzik, surprisingly, this is not grossly traumatic. While his business is suffering and he is concerned about sustaining his family and paying the bills, he remembers all the struggles he faced before he could even open his business. Itzik and his family are just one example of the thousands who relocated to southern Israel after the Disengagement of 2005.

Nine years ago, the Israeli government decided to withdraw the Jewish settlements of Gush Katif in Gaza. These families lost everything: their homes, communities, businesses, synagogues and more.

A majority of these people relocated to towns and cities in the south of Israel, which for years has been targeted by rocket fire from Gaza. Today, Israel is in a state of emergency; at least 70 percent of Israeli residents are at risk of rocket fire from Gaza and have had to experience the horror of the Code Red siren, which gives seconds’ notice before a rocket strikes.

Aside from the obvious distress that this situation brings, income is down by nearly 90 percent for businesses in the south. Many people are unable to go to work; children are staying home from school and camps. Much is left unknown.

Making ends meet

Before 2005, Itzik lived with his wife and five children in Moshav Katif.  He worked in a marketing department in Beersheba and enjoyed the rural community life in Gush Katif.  After the Disengagement, his life began falling apart.

“I was at home for nearly a year,” Itzik recalls, “I wasn’t able to hold down a job for more than three-four weeks, tops. Our whole financial situation deteriorated, until there was not enough money for food.  You are dying to work, but you simply can’t.” Like many evacuees, there was trauma and gaining stable ground seemed worlds away.

He and his wife dreamed of opening a catering business. Slowly, they saved money and recruited customers. “I remember the first Shabbat meals that we did,” he said. “To save money, I recruited our kids to help us.  The business began to turn a profit, but it was slow going,” Itzik says with a smile. In 2009, Itzik was contacted by the staff of JobKatif, an organization established for the sole purpose of assisting Gush Katif families left bereft of their livelihood to become financially independent. With some funding and advice from professionals, Itzik and his wife purchased a restaurant.

“JobKatif was a true and faithful ‘shaliach,’” he says. “They helped us and thanks to all their support, we are where we are today. They believed in us.”

More work to do

Eight-three percent of former Gush Katif residents are now employed. However, there is still more work to do, especially as the situation in southern Israel has become more severe. Because of the security situation in the south, even JobKatif needed to temporarily shut its training centers and counseling programs because people were just unable to attend. This year, the Israeli government renewed its commitment to these important endeavors and has promised to match up to 75 percent of the programming costs to help Gush Katif families find meaningful employment. But these funds are returned retroactively and dependent on JobKatif raising money from donors.

Over the past nine years, 2,500 people have found employment because of JobKatif. Among these people, 570 participated in vocational retraining courses. At least 200 small businesses are operating because of JobKatif’s startup funding and guidance.  Another 202 students now are studying in colleges and universities across the country, thanks to scholarships provided by Amutat Yedidut Toronto.

To assist those remaining without work, JobKatif developed customized programs tailored for specific populations. These groups include: Bnei Menashe (Jews from India), small business owners on the threshold of success, people over 55 years old, individuals with challenges, students and employed individuals who are dissatisfied with their jobs. The organization has over one year left to accomplish its goals.

“We have nearly accomplished our mission of assisting all Gush Katif evacuees to earn a living so that they can support their families with pride and dignity, as they once did in Gush Katif,” says Rabbi Yosef Zvi Rimon, founder and chairman of JobKatif. “We have made so much progress and with continued support, we can make sure that the burdens are eased and our brothers and sisters can live with peace of mind and stability.”

As it moves toward completing what it set out to do, JobKatif is seeking partners from across Jewish communities worldwide to join in relieving the struggles of unemployment in this difficult time.

To contribute to JobKatif’s Shabbat Chazon campaign, tax-deductible donations can be sent to JobKatif, 71-47 171st St. Flushing, New York 11365 or online at www.jobkatif.org. For more information, contact info@jobkatif.org or 011-972-2-547-4548. All donations will be matched 3:1 by the Israeli Government.

We’re in a war, speak up on behalf of life

We received the following letter from Rabbi Bill Berk, rabbi emeritus of Temple Chai, and thought readers of our blog would be interested:

Dear Friends,

Rabbi Chernow asked me to share with you what we have been going through here in Israel.  Unfortunately, I have to report to you that we’re in a war. I’m startled by my use of the “w” word but that’s what we’ve got here. Three times here in Jerusalem, we have had to run for shelter as the sirens have gone off telling us that a rocket or rockets are coming our way. It’s an unbelievable feeling. You see in your head pictures of London during World War II, and people scampering for shelter and then you realize that you are in that picture. One of my stepdaughters lives in the south. She’s got two little kids and one on the way. She and her husband often have to wake the kids in the middle of the night and carry them down four flights of stairs to the safe room. I have another stepdaughter who is in college in the south. She got a letter from her college saying, “Closed till further notice.” Imagine if kids at San Diego State or the University of Arizona got such a letter. Of course, what we have been going through is nothing compared to what the families with soldiers in Gaza are experiencing. 

We are at war with an enemy who has embraced an ideology that is very comfortable with death. This is important  to keep in mind when you see the heartbreaking pictures from Gaza. Hamas (we know this word from our Bible, Genesis 6:11, where we find the word means “violence” or “lawlessness”) has built a whole program around death: 

1. At the beginning of this war, I was trying to keep track of how many rockets aimed at Israel’s cities Hamas had fired, but I finally gave up. It is somewhere over 2,000 rockets. I have a new app on my phone that lets me know when a rocket has been fired and where it’s headed. Let’s be clear about what this means — Hamas is targeting folks like you and me. It is AIMING AT US. If not for American and Israeli scientific skill (the Iron Dome). we would have hundreds or thousands killed and cities in shambles.

2. Hamas uses civilians and does not protect civilians. I noticed that today’s New York Times asks if this is really true. Yes, it is really true. When our army has to fire at a house where rockets have been launched from we begin by sending text messages to the people in the building. Then, we phone them. Then, we drop fliers. We ask them to leave because we don’t want them to get hurt.  We have documented occasions when Hamas has asked the people not to move. They have even irritated some European governments who don’t appreciate that behavior. This is using civilians. They have children involved in the fighting and wearing suicide belts. They admit that death doesn’t bother them and that Israel’s great weakness is a reverence for life.

3. I’m sure you’ve heard by now about the tunnels we have found. There are two major reasons for these tunnels: murder and kidnapping. Thank goodness we found these tunnels. We knew about them, but did not realize the extent and how far they went into Israeli territory. We found one that ends just yards away from a kibbutz dining hall. The tunnels have one additional purpose — to hide Hamas military and political leadership. Whereas they could have built shelters for civilians (not to mention schools and hospitals and hot houses and factories), they chose instead to build military command centers. And don’t forget — we left Gaza. We don’t “rule” or “occupy” them.  These tunnels are about killing and kidnapping Jews who live across the border in a country called Israel.

4. Hamas has done a good job with propaganda. They even convinced UNRWA, the U.N. agency, to hide rockets for them! I do hope this has made the front page of the New York Times. This is not exactly Eleanor Roosevelt’s vision or America’s vision of what the U.N. should be about. When they were caught, UNRWA gave the rockets back to Hamas! I think the U.N. needs to do a little teshuvah this High Holiday season. While we are at it — the American government could do a little teshuvah. I think this would have been a good time for a strong pro-Israel stance. It appears to me that, in their frustration with Netanyahu, the State Department is being a bit too supportive of some of Hamas’ claims and issues. I have my own issues regarding how Netanyahu handled the negotiations with the Palestinians, but that has nothing to do with what we face today. They are shooting at us! We have to stop the rockets and stop the tunnels. Left and right, religious and secular — we are united on this.    

This is a tough time. People are subdued. Ask someone “ma shlom cha?” (how are you?) and you’ll get a sigh and a “beseder” (OK). People are honking horns less. People aren’t going out much. Many have postponed vacations. We’re staying close to the radio and TV. But I want you to know that we’re going to be fine. We’re a big mishpocha (family). Part of what drew me to Israel was this amazing sense of mishpachtiut (family connectedness). That’s part of why it hurts so much right now. We’ve lost a lot of boys and everyone feels it. Today, Batya and I went to a shiva call for a soldier who came from L.A. — he’s what we call a chayil boded (lone soldier, with no family here). 30,000 people came to his funeral! So there’s pain when you are connected. But there is so much strength. It’s a spiritual achievement to extend your love and caring further and further out. I hope you will be proud of your family here in Israel. I hope you will speak up proudly for Israel. Don’t let Hamas win the propaganda war. Speak up on behalf of life.       

God willing, I’ll be in Phoenix and speak at Temple Chai on Aug. 22. I’ll talk on Israel that night.

Best from Jerusalem,
Rabbi Bill Berk
Rabbi Emeritus, Temple Chai

On the front line: A family’s life on the Gaza border

Guest blogger Dan Gordon, an IDF reservist from Arizona, sent this post from Israel:

Years ago in my misspent youth, as a film student at UCLA, I saw a World War II documentary called “ Why We Fight.” So this is my go at it. But I’m not a good enough writer to do this one the way it ought to be done. I apologize for that up front. You won’t be able to feel what I felt yesterday in the the warm embrace of a an amazing family that lives in one of the small agricultural communities on the border they share the Hamas’ terrorist enclave in Gaza, and who have been under almost constant fire for 13 years.

I won’t be able to convey the emotion, the frustration, the courage, the grace, the anger at a world that refuses to see what’s right in front of them, the love, even for their so-called enemies, their unbelievable determination not to give in to the terror their terrorist enemies try day and night to instill in them, their determination to live their lives in peace in their own country, a right every American, Canadian, Frenchman Brit, you name it, takes for granted. And why not? Even if those countries go to war, no one is sworn to kill every last one of them. No one denies them their right simply to breathe. Besides, America’s and NATO’s wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, in Bosnia and Kosovo are a world away.

This family’s war is literally a few hundred meters away.

Read that one again.

I didn’t say it was a few hundred miles away. Like, say you lived in L.A. and the war was in Las Vegas.

I didn’t say it was a few hundred kilometers away. Like, say you lived in New York, and it was at the other end of New Jersey.

I didn’t even say it was a mile away.

The war they face and have faced almost constantly for 13 years is about 2,000 meters, as the rocket flies, from their front door. At least, that’s the distance away from their front door that it was up until a few days ago when the first 13 terrorists popped up like zombies from graves opening up on their FRONT LAWN! Except these weren’t zombies on a cable TV series. There’s no way to switch channels on this one. These were terrorists, armed to the teeth with anti-tank missiles, machine guns, grenades, handcuffs, tranquilizers, all bent on murdering, maiming, kidnapping and taking hostage as many of them and their children as possible.

Imagine if Afghanistan wasn’t in Afghanistan. Imagine if it was on your front porch.

That’s their reality.

That’s where the war is.

Quite literally in their front yard.

You have gophers who come up out of holes and eat your petunias, let’s say?

They have Hamas terrorists who come up out of sophisticated tunnels, some of them built, by the way, with your tax dollars!

A dear friend of mine, Vicki, is married to my high school classmate who has been one of my best friends since I was a kid in Israel 50 years ago. She knows I’m “down South” in the war zone. So is her son Benji who serves as a medic in the Homefront command. She said, “Listen, if you want a shower or a chance to rest or a hot meal or even someone to wash your uniform, I have a dear friend in one of the border communities. She and her family have opened up their home to any soldiers in the area. And check with Benji and give him a ride down there, too, if he wants a break.

So I check with Benji, but he’s not getting any breaks today, not with the amount of rockets Hamas is launching against our civilians. He’s on constant alert. But I’m not that important. If I want a break, I can take it. I’d kill to stretch out on a mattress right now and take a nap. I smell a bit ripe because one tends to sweat a tad in a flak jacket. I’d love a shower and a change of uniform. So absolutely, I’m headed down to see her friend. Let’s call her Rachel. Not her real name because she asked me not to use it. So I plug the name of the community into the GPS and I’m off .

And the closer I get, the louder the sounds of war and the more I have to pull off to the side of the road and take cover from the rocket attacks. The rockets don’t bother me as much as the mortars, because there’s no warning with a mortar round. No siren, no Code Red alert on the radio, no phone app that says watch out you might just get killed if you don’t take cover in the next 15 seconds. Besides, the closer I get, the less time there is to take cover. Fifteen seconds is going to seem like a lifetime in a few more kilometers.

Now understand, I’m a former kibbutznik. I know what a little agricultural village looks like. But reality begins to change the closer I get.

The MPs have closed the road leading to this little community and the dozens of others down here. Only residents and military personal can get through. But I’m in uniform and flak jacket and show my officer’s I.D. and they wave me through, assuming obviously, I must be a fighter, a warrior on his way to take up his position on the front. In reality, I’m a lazy so-and-so, who wants a shower, a free meal and a cot.

But when I get to this little community, the thing that assaults your senses first are the sounds of battle. It’s deafening and constant. Because this is where the war is. It’s not in Afghanistan or Bosnia or anywhere else far away. It’s not even like the wars of my youth in Sinai or the Golan Heights.

It’s right here! It’s in their front yard. I don’t mean their metaphorical front yard. I mean the front yard they water. Soldiers, and not any soldiers, not sad sack, rear-echelon guys someone gave a weapon to and said “go stand guard at that latrine”-type soldiers. I mean elite combat soldiers, in full battle gear. I mean as-good-as-it-gets soldiers, weapons at the ready, helmets, flak jackets, locked and loaded soldiers. Except this isn’t an army base or some battlefield “somewhere” else, anywhere else – but here, in these people’s front yard.

I ask directions to Rachel’s house and get there and it’s locked. She’s not there. I go next door. Maybe I have the wrong house. This looks like the right one because someone has set up cots on the front porch. They’ve even put a TV outside . I’m already eyeing the cot I mean to sleep on. I knock on the door and a big-hearted woman with a smile that could light up the world comes to the door. “I’m making the pizzas,” she says, “But they’re not ready yet.”

“I’m Vicki’s friend,” I say. “She said if I was in the area …”


Soldiers take a break in the front yard of a family’s home on the border of Gaza. Photo by Dan Gordon

“What Vicki?” she says.

OK, I must have the wrong house. “I’m looking for Rachel,” I say.

“I’m Rachel,” she says.

“But you don’t know Vicki?”

“You must want the other Rachel. She lives next door.”

“Oh,”  I say. “She’s not home”

“OK,“ she says. “So come on in. Sit down, rest. The pizzas will be ready soon. You want something to eat?”

This woman doesn’t know me from Adam, but I’m a soldier, so now I’m quite simply family, even though I have the wrong house, I have the right one.

The house smells of all good things. Onions and mushrooms being sautéed for the pizza, the aroma of coffee, dough beginning to bake like fresh bread in the oven.

It smells like home.

But it sounds like war.

Artillery, tank fire, small arms fire, rockets and mortars. “How can it sound like war?” I think. “She’s making pizza. She has kids and two dogs, and Vegemite, if somebody ever wanted anything like that. But it’s a home, a normal home. Except there’s a war going on, not miles away, but a few thousand yards away.”

She introduces me to her daughter and son, two of four or five kids she has. The daughter is 30 and a beauty, in that feisty, friendly, farm girl way. The son is a teenager – tall, handsome kid, very much being the man of the house while the father is away. In addition to the pizza and the onions and mushrooms being sautéed, I smell something else. I smell a story. I explain who I am, what I’m doing, and ask if I can interview her and her son and daughter about what it’s like to live literally in a war zone, under constant fire and threat of being killed.

“I don’t want to be interviewed,” she says.

The daughter says, “Come on Ima ( Mom), it’s a chance to unload, to say what’s in your heart”

“I’m not unloading anything. I’m making pizza.”

Just then on the TV, there is a some kind of an app. It shows that rockets have just hit a few miles down the road.

“Ima,” the son says, again being the man looking after his mother and older sister. “They’re coming our way.”

The mother glances at the TV. Then, she looks at her stove as if to see if there’s anything that needs attending to before the rockets begin to fall. I turn to the daughter. “What’s it like living like this?”

And the floodgates open up. I’m just someone to talk to right now. Someone whom she can tell what it’s like. The words come out staccato, pouring out of her, as if she can’t speak quickly enough to keep up with the emotion driving each word. “What’s it like? It’s constant.”

“We haven’t slept in two weeks,” the mother says, and I know I won’t have to ask another question of anyone. All I’ll have to do is listen. “I don’t know how we function. I don’t know what day it is.”

“It hurts your ears,” the daughter says, “when we’re in the reinforced room and the rocket hits, it changes the pressure or something, the shock waves, it hurts your eardrums.”

“I’ve already lost some of my hearing,” the mother says. “In this ear, I can’t hear well anymore.”

Just then the Code Red alert sounds. We don’t have 15 seconds here. We have five seconds. That’s it. There isn’t a bomb shelter outside, because you’d never get to it in time. There’s a reinforced concrete room with an iron door.

The mother moves quickly to the front door and shouts to the soldiers who are outside like a mother hen. “Boys!“ she shouts. “Get in the shelter. Now!”

Nobody messes with Mama Rachel, and no one has to be asked twice. This isn’t like it is even 10 kilometers away where people walk a little slower. Here it’s five seconds. Suddenly, the tiny reinforced room is packed with soldiers, each with his weapon, combat slung across his shoulder. People are laughing that it interrupted a good joke someone was telling. It’s the bravado of the bomb shelter, and then the building shakes and the sound is deafening and the shock wave or change in air pressure or whatever it is whacks your eardrums. One rocket, two and then another one, all of them close. Then, there’s the all clear.

“The pizzas will be ready in a few minutes,” Mama Rachel says, patting some of her olive drab, machine-gun-wearing baby chicks as they go back to their posts.

“That’s what it’s like,“ says the daughter, “and it never ends.”

The son, a teenager, says, “It’s all I’ve known my whole life. Rockets falling. Mortars.”

“Thirteen years!” says the daughter. “What country in the world would put up with that? Thirteen years of rocket attacks? Would the Americans let that happen to I don’t know, San Diego, New York? Texas? For 13 years? Would France put up with that? Would England? What do you think Putin would do? And we’re supposed to ‘show restraint.’ Show restraint?! How much more restrained can we be?! For 13 years, we’ve been under attack! Even after the last two operations in 2009 and 2012, when there was supposedly a cease-fire.”

“What cease-fire?!” the mother says. “Every month, Hamas would fire a rocket here, a rocket there, 10 rockets, 20 in a month …”

“And Israel said, ‘Well, it’s only a few rockets a week, so we can’t react to that!’” says the son.

“A few rockets a week?! Is the whole world insane?!” the daughter says, not to me, not to anyone – to God maybe. “Are they all crazy?! Listen to that, only a few rockets a week and for them that’s normal! That’s how we’re supposed to live! Only a few rockets a week! Only what they call a drizzle of rockets! And we were restrained. We didn’t do anything because after all it’s only a few rockets! And I don’t even care about the rockets! But the tunnels, now! The terrorist tunnels. Right out there!”

She points to her front door, “Right out there!”

“You know what happened here today?” the son says.

“They tried to attack again. The terrorists,” the daughter says. “They came up out of a tunnel that just opened up in the ground. The army got some of them but then said that two were still on the loose, so they tell you to go into the fortified room and lock the door.”

“Do you have any weapons in the house?” I ask.

“What weapon?!” she says. “They have anti-tank missiles with them! Anti-tank missiles that can rip a tank apart and kill everyone inside, except this isn’t a tank. It’s my home!”

“So why do you stay here?” I ask.

“It’s our home!” the son says.

“I work in the dairy,” the daughter says. “Someone has to take care of the cows. Someone has to milk them, feed them. What did the cows do to anyone? We’re farmers. We have to take care of the farm.”

The mother says, “I work in the day-care center. There are still children here. I can’t abandon them. Someone has to take care of them. They’re children. So when the army said the terrorists were out there … I don’t mean a thousand meters away, they were somewhere within a few hundred meters from here. How fast can you run 200 meters? That’s how fast they could get to us.”

“You know they want to murder us,” says the daughter, as if revealing a truly dirty secret. “You know we’re the targets, don’t you? Not the army. They want us. We’re the divine victory they could have. To murder us, to take us hostage and drag us back through the tunnels into Gaza. We’re the targets.”

“So,” says the mother, “I’m in the day-care center. I take the children into the fortified room and lock the door and say this is just an exercise. It’s just pretending. So we know what to do. Like a fire drill. I do puzzles with them, and color and promise them ice cream and all the while, I know there are terrorists out there and the only thing between them and those little children, are our soldiers, the ones you saw on the porch, the ones you see patrolling our village, and the ones who are in Gaza fighting. What do you think they’re fighting for?”

“You think this is politics?” the daughter asks. “We’re what they’re fighting for! This is our home. This is their home! Hamas wants to kill us. And they say they want to kill us! They go on television and say we want to kill the Jews! They don’t lie about it. They announce it to the whole world and, what? They don’t see ? They don’t hear.”

This beautiful girl suddenly grabs both sides of her head as if her head is about to explode with the insanity of the life she lives. “You know the story about the Palestinian boy who got the transplant here? There was a boy … from Gaza and he needed an organ transplant and the mother brings him over here to Israel so we can save her little boy’s life. And that’s fine. I say it’s fine if we can help them, if we can save a life, a child’s life? Yes, of course! Bring him. So whose organ gets transplanted? There is a Jewish boy, an Israeli boy who is killed in a terrorist attack and his father gives the OK to transplant his dead son, his murdered son’s kidney or whatever they transplanted, into the Palestinian boy from Gaza, to save his life. And they say, ‘You know who will get your boy’s kidney? It will be a boy from Gaza, from the place that dispatched the terrorist that killed your son.’ And he says, ‘Yes, I know and I want to do it. I want to do it, so they’ll see who we are and we’ll have peace. We’ll start with this boy and his mother. That’s how we’ll build the peace.’ So they do the transplant and the boy lives. And you know what the woman says? She says it on television so the whole world can see it and hear it. She’s not ashamed. She says, ‘You saved my son’s life and you Jews have a right to be angry about what I’m going to say. That’s your right and I don’t care. Because now that you’ve saved him, when my son grows up, I want him to become a “martyr” and kill Jews, as many as he can!’ That’s who we’re dealing with and the whole world hears her and says, ‘Well, you know, you’re stronger than they are so, you know, that’s OK, that’s the only way they can fight you.’ But we don’t want to fight them. We want them to live in peace and let us live in peace! And they shout it from the rooftops that they want to kill us and when one of them blows himself up, whether he kills Jews or not, their parents hand out candy and celebrate. If they kill a few Jews, they hand out more candy. But as long as he tried to kill Jews, that’s the main thing. Then you can hand out the candy. Then, they’re happy. So when I see a woman on the television and she’s crying because her child has been killed in this war, I’m a woman, my heart aches for any child who is killed. It’s awful, but I think to myself, ‘If this is the woman who wants her child to grow up so he can blow himself up while killing Jews, while trying to kill me or my mother or my brother or my neighbor, what’s the tragedy? Is it that the child didn’t live long enough to kill me? Is that the tragedy for her?! Or is it that she’s afraid that if she doesn’t raise him to kill Jews the Hamas will kill her, or kill him?’ It’s insane!! Do you hear that? It’s insane” Again, she holds the sides of her head as if her skull is about to explode, as if it can’t possibly contain the insanity of it all.

“And we don’t hate them!” she says. “Do you understand? We don’t hate them. We had good friends in Gaza. We know there are good people there and what kind of chance does a child have there to grow up not to want to kill me? That’s all he’s raised with, rocket and guns and hand grenades. They dress their toddlers up in suicide vests and take pictures of them. That’s like their Purim costume, their Halloween. ‘Isn’t that cute? Isn’t that sweet? He’s a little suicide bomber. Here we’ll take his picture and send it to grandma so she’ll be proud.’

“We know they have a gun to their heads. But what should we do when they come to kill us? When they pop up out of the ground on our front lawn and want to kill us? What should we do? And the world blames us because not enough of us are dead? That’s the crime? We built too many shelters for our people while instead of building shelters for their people they build terrorist tunnels to come and kill us? That’s our crime? That we spent money we don’t have, that we should have spent on education, to build the Iron Dome, which saves us from their rocket attacks?! And still we warn them first. We drop leaflets and send text messages and call them on the phone and say listen, ‘We’re very sorry, but we have to bomb you in a few hours so in order that you shouldn’t be hurt could you please leave?’ That’s what we do. And Hamas puts a gun to their head and say, ‘No. Go up on your roofs!’ and they celebrate their murders and they lie!! My God how they lie! Here, did you see this picture?”

She opens the Internet and shows me a picture of a Palestinian family – father, mother and child – all killed by an Israeli bomb strike. Except. she shows me that this is really a picture of a Syrian family killed by Assad’s forces, in their civil war. “That’s really bad luck, huh?”  she says. “To be killed twice? Once in Syria and again in Gaza!? And the world sees it and they don’t care. They open up their wallets and say here we have to give them money so they can rebuild. Like they did after 2009. You Jews destroyed their homes. They need concrete and steel to rebuild. They’re not going to make bombs out of concrete and steel. So the world pays for it, and we let it in and no, they didn’t build bombs out of it. They built the tunnels that they dug to come and murder me and my family and my neighbors and their families. That’s what it went for! Did they build shelters for their children? Did they build schools for them? They hid their rockets in the U.N. schools! The U.N. just said it. That’s who we’re dealing with! And they fire them from mosques and crowded neighborhoods and we’re the aggressors? We’re the evil ones and they’re the poor victims?! Egypt offered a cease-fire and we said, ‘YES.’ What’s that expression? Learn to take yes for an answer? We said yes! But they didn’t have enough dead babies yet. Not enough dead Palestinian babies, not enough dead Jewish babies. And the world looks and it doesn’t see. That’s what makes me ill. Not the rockets. Not even the tunnels and the terrorists. The world looks and it doesn’t see or it doesn’t care. And we tell them, and it doesn’t matter. It’s like trying to empty the ocean with a teaspoon. It’s insane.”

After a few moments, she calms down. “I’m glad you’re here,” she says. “I just had to get that all out. Just had to say it to somebody. Somebody who would listen. With all the tsuris (troubles), you know what? We’re not going anywhere. This is our home. Not just our country. Our home. And everyone in it is our family. I go to bed at night and I can’t sleep because I hear the gunfire and I think of those boys out there and I know they’re fighting for me! And here I am in a nice bed. Thanks to them.”

“The pizzas are ready,” Mama Rachel says and gives me a slice and then calls to the “boys.”

“Boys,” she says, “here, eat while it’s still hot.”

I was with a Golani officer. Some of the “boys” had come out for a few hours’ rest. How were they doing?

“We’re strong. The guys are excellent. We’re going to complete the mission. We’re going to destroy the tunnels, and we’re going to put a serious dent in Hamas’ day (loose translation) and we’ll be victorious. Because we know what we’re fighting for. We’re not NATO.We’re fighting for our homes.”

Golanchick is an endearing term for a member of the Golani Brigade. “Golanchick,” I say, “if you want to get a shower and some rest and maybe some pizza, I have some dear friends. The woman’s name is Rachel.”

Dan Gordon
Capt. IDF (Res)

Delta Flight 468: On the plane that turned around

Chaim Talmon was about an hour away from landing in Tel Aviv on July 22 when he noticed on the TV route map that the plane had turned around and was headed in the opposite direction.

He asked the steward if the system was broken. “You don’t feel when a plane turns around, it’s not like a car,” said Talmon, one of 273 passengers on Delta Flight 468, the Boeing 747 that was in the air over Greece when the news broke of a rocket landing near Tel Aviv’s Ben-Gurion Airport.

The steward confirmed that the plane had turned around, but he didn’t know any further details.

“I guess I wasn’t the only one who noticed it because I noticed other people starting to ask him,” Talmon said.

About 15 minutes later, the captain came on the PA system and told the passengers that he received instruction not to land in Israel; they were headed to Paris, about six hours away.

His fellow passengers didn’t react too strongly to the news, Talmon said. “Nobody started to scream, nobody yelled. … It was like, OK, let’s see what happens. Everybody knew what was going on in Israel” and most of the people on the airplane were Israelis.

Talmon, who lives in Phoenix, was on his way to Israel to visit his daughters and their families. Before his trip, he and his wife, Carol, had collected art supplies, stuffed animals and an assortment of activities to deliver to a moshav in southern Israel, to provide children in bomb shelters with something to do. These donations, along with his personal items and gifts for his grandchildren, were distributed among a large suitcase, a duffel bag, a carry-on and a backpack. He shared his story with Jewish News via telephone on the evening he arrived in Israel. (He left Los Angeles at noon on Monday and arrived in Tel Aviv at 8:45 a.m. Wednesday. “It was a little bit crazy,” he said.)

After the plane arrived at Charles de Gaulle Airport in Paris, the passengers were told to stand in line at the Air France desk to arrange a flight to Israel.

After a period of waiting in line, a representative of the airline came out to report that Air France wasn’t flying to Israel and that none of the European companies were flying to Israel.

The El Al flight leaving from Paris that day only had a handful of seats left so the passengers were given choices: Fly back to the United States or stay in Paris. They continued to wait in line to make their arrangements.

After standing in line for more than an hour, the line hadn’t moved.

Some people decided to return to the United States, but Talmon didn’t want to. “It’s another 14-hour flight,” he said. “I’m so close and I’m going on vacation. And if I go back to the States, who’s going to pay my way back to Israel?”

Around 7 p.m., his daughter called to tell him that she booked him a flight on British Airways and he had about an hour to get his luggage, pick up his ticket and go to the gate, which was on the other side of the airport.

At baggage claim, he found his suitcase but eventually had to stop looking for his duffel bag so he could catch his flight. “Time was ticking,” he said. “I couldn’t miss the flight.”

So, with his large suitcase, carry-on and backpack, he ran to the British Airlines gate. At this point, it was after 8 p.m. He checked in, and then had to go through security. It took a while – they were curious about all the art supplies – but he finally got through. Now it was about 9:50 p.m. and the plane was delayed a couple of times before changing gates; he took a train to the new gate.

Once they boarded the plane, there was a security check; the flight attendants took each piece of luggage out of the overhead bins and made sure that each one belonged to a passenger. After another group of people entered the plane, the whole process was repeated. “It took until the last minute until we were supposed to take off,” he said. The plane left at 1:30 a.m.

The plane arrived in Israel at 8:45 a.m. on Wednesday, July 23. “The airport was half-empty,” Talmon said. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) had issued a 24-hour ban on planes flying to or from Israel; foreign airlines soon followed. Earlier today, the FAA extended its ban and the European Aviation Safety Agency “strongly” recommended that European airlines refrain from flying there; El Al and British Airways continued their flights.

As of 11:30 p.m. today, Israel time, when he spoke to Jewish News, Talmon hadn’t heard any sirens either near the airport nor at his daughter’s home near Netanya. He was still waiting to hear about the duffel bag.

Leading their people to death

Guest blogger Dan Gordon, a lone soldier in the IDF, sent this post from Israel:

Ernest Hemingway had great advice for writers. “Write one true declarative sentence,” he said. “Then, write another.” By that standard, Papa Hemingway would be proud, indeed, of Sami Abu Zuhri’s literary prowess.

Sami Abu Zuhri is a Hamas spokesman. He summed up the current situation in Gaza perfectly. And he did it in two true declarative sentences.

“We ( Hamas) aren’t leading our people to destruction. We are leading them to death.”

That wasn’t wasn’t Israel’s Prime Minister who said that. That was an official Hamas spokesman, and he said it without apologies. Two true sentences.

Hundreds of Palestinians have been killed. Each and every one of those deaths, since Hamas rejected the Egyptian cease-fire proposal, which the Arab League endorsed, was completely predictable, tragic beyond words and absolutely, 100 percent preventable. Because Israel accepted that same cease-fire proposal, immediately and unconditionally.

All the killing could and would have been stopped immediately, right then and there. But as Sami said, that’s not where Hamas is leading the Gazan people.

An event occurred July 21, which may, in the parlance of our time, provide a teachable moment. Israeli forces operating in Gaza were approached by what they suspected was a female suicide bomber. They ordered her to stop. She did not and they, in retrospect, chose the correct course of action.

They shot her.

And she exploded. Or rather the suicide vest that would have killed them all exploded. This was not the first suicide bomber Israeli forces encountered since entering Gaza.

The first one was a donkey. It appeared weighted down with an unusual load on its back and was beaten by its handler in order to urge it forward, toward the Israeli troops . The handler was a Hamas operative, who, having dispatched the donkey, promptly disappeared, quite literally, according to what I heard, down a rat hole. In retrospect, those Israeli troops also chose the correct course of action.

They shot the donkey.

It too exploded, or rather the donkey-sized suicide vest with enough explosives to murder dozens of people exploded.

I bring these two incidents up because, while I have no firsthand knowledge of Hamas’ evolving policy of using beasts of burden as unwilling suicide bombers, I have, at least secondhand knowledge of Hamas’ past and evolving policy on using women as suicide bombers. I know the world’s leading expert on female suicide bombers.

Anat Berko has a Ph.D. in criminology and advanced degrees in psychology. She speaks fluent Arabic and her parents were Jewish refugees from Iraq, where their family had lived for several thousand years and from which they were expelled in the wake of the Israel-Arab conflict that made some 800,000 other Middle Eastern Jews refugees as well. (Ironically, that is almost the exact number of Palestinian Arabs who became refugees in 1948 as a result of the same conflict.)

Dr. Berko carried out the most comprehensive study of female suicide bombers and their handlers ever undertaken. She interviewed almost every female suicide bomber in Israeli custody. These were women whose suicide belts failed to detonate or who were caught before they could carry out their attacks. Her two books, “The Path to Paradise: The Inner World of Suicide Bombers and their Dispatchers” and “The Smarter Bomb: Women and Children as Suicide Bombers,” have become classics on the subject.

What Dr. Berko found was that the majority of female suicide bombers were motivated by other than ideological or religious reasons. Nor were most of them motivated by the desire for revenge or even hatred of Israel.

The majority of female suicide bombers were unwitting, unwilling or chose the path of so-called “martyrdom” as the lesser of two evils with which they were presented. There is a saying on the Palestinian street in regard to female suicide bombers: “Shahida o sharmuta?” Freely translated, it means “(Was she) a martyr or a whore?”

The reason Palestinians might say that about one who had ostensibly committed the highly praised (when it comes to men) act of “martyrdom” is because they know that in many (if not the majority of) instances, the female suicide bomber was approached by operatives of one terrorist organization or another and told that she had been seen with men other than male relatives and had thus dishonored her family. In such an instance, she would either be the victim of an “honor killing” to be carried out by her father, brother or another male relative, or she could choose to become a suicide bomber, strap on an explosive vest, blow herself up with as many Jews as possible, and thus die not a whore, but a martyr who would be admitted to Paradise, where she would sit at the right hand of the prophet, and where, by the way, she could choose her own husband, as opposed to being forced into a heavenly marriage with someone not of her choosing.

Another category that provided fertile ground for finding female suicide bombers were victims of rape and incest from within their own families. One girl was raped repeatedly by her cousins, another by her brother. Both saw the “suicide” part of suicide bomber, as preferable to the literal hell on Earth that they were living.

To be sure, there were women so enchanted with the religious notion of Paradise and its advantages over earthly life (such as not having to take care of children, never having a period and marrying the mate of one’s own choice) that they became suicide bombers for religious reasons. Others had seen relatives killed by Israeli soldiers and wanted revenge, and others, while not religious, were motivated by nationalistic reasons. But as noted these were far fewer in number than the women who were unwilling martyrs or those choosing martyrdom instead of honor killing or as a means of escaping an intolerable life.

But what I remembered was that Hamas had, at least at one time, a firm policy against using female suicide bombers. Indeed Dr Berko had once interviewed Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, one of the founders and the spiritual leader of Hamas until his death in 2004 at the hands of the IDF..

Dr. Berko interviewed the spiritual leader in 1996. “At that time,” Dr. Berko told me this morning [July 22], “Yassin said, ‘I’m against sending women (as suicide bombers) because they have a special role. It is to give birth to children. There is not equality in Islam. Suicide bombing, that’s not a job for women. And then, too, we have enough men to be suicide bombers. So we are against it. We don’t use them.”

“What happened to make Hamas change it’s mind?” I asked.

“In 2002, there was the first female suicide bomber,” Dr . Berko told me. “She was not from Hamas. But it got a lot of good publicity for the organization that sent her. It got good media attention, and Hamas felt they had to compete with the other terrorist organizations who were getting all the attention because of the female suicide bombers. So Hamas didn’t want to be left behind.

“And that’s why Hamas changed its mind? Because it was effective media?!”

“Yes,” she said. “Hamas had to compete with the other terrorist organizations.”

We will probably never know what motivated the female suicide bomber who exploded prematurely thanks to an Israeli marksman. But we absolutely know the motivation of the terrorist army of Hamas and its political wing as well, which dispatched her and the donkey and which have turned their own people into human shields, and which celebrate their deaths because of the great media attention it brings them.

That is the truth, the shame, the horror. It is not my, or Israel’s or anyone else’s posturing or, Heaven forbid, amelioration.

We know it because Sami Abu Zuhri, the Hamas official spokesman told us so, in two declarative, Hemingway-esque sentences.

“We are not leading our people to destruction. We are leading them to death.”

Dan Gordon is a member of the Jewish Community of Sedona and the Verde Valley.

One land, two stories: The Israeli-Palestinian conflict

With all the stories coming out of Israel recently, I have found that often the “comments” underneath the articles or Facebook posts are often just as disturbing as the stories themselves.

Where does all this venom come from and how can these commentators have such different views about the issue than I do? What have they heard that I haven’t?

Although I’m aware of the Palestinian textbooks that are used to educate Palestinian children and how those history lessons have spread hateful ideology, it wasn’t until recently that I’ve realized that those same stories are just as available to the rest of the world, thanks to the Internet.

After feeling overwhelmed by all the hatred for Israel I witnessed on social media, I recently spent some time searching for these stories that are being told. Perhaps I was naïve, but what I found shocked me.

For example, the organization What Americans Need to Know, a nonprofit started by Alison Weir, who, according to her website, is an American freelance journalist who traveled independently throughout the West Bank and Gaza Strip in February and March of 2001 and found that the way the American press portrayed the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was “significantly at odds with information being reported by media throughout the rest of the world.”

Her website – ifamericansknew.org – uses different methods to present her perception about the conflict. For example, there are charts comparing such things as the number of Israeli children killed by Palestinians to the number of Palestinian children killed by Israelis. I didn’t see anything about the fact that Israel sounds sirens to warn its citizens of incoming rockets so they can seek safety in the country’s bomb shelters or anything addressing reports that Palestinian gunmen often use civilians and children as human shields.

On her mission statement page, she announces that the organization’s main call for action is to encourage Americans to advocate cutting U.S. aid to Israel.

Her site also presents a paper titled “The Origin of the Palestine-Israel Conflict,” which says that “Zionism was based on a faulty, colonialist world view that the rights of the indigenous inhabitants didn’t matter. The Arabs’ opposition to Zionism wasn’t based on anti-Semitism but rather on a totally reasonable fear of the dispossession of their people.”

The details there are very different from the history I’ve learned and Weir’s presentation of history helps explain why so many people around the world feel the way they do about Israel.

More insight on this version of history is on 1948.org.uk, describing the same people who Israelis call heroes as “Zionist terrorists” and telling a very different story of the founding of the Jewish state and its leaders and wars.

Here is an example:

The Zionist plan to transfer Palestinians out of their land was headed by no lesser character than David Ben-Gurion himself. He plotted these schemes in his own home aided by a small ad hoc group of people referred to as The Consultancy. Its aim was to plot and carry out the disposession of the Palestinian people.

At what point is history dictated? How is it even possible that there are those who deny the Holocaust, even as those who survived it are still alive? How can there be such different perceptions of the state of Israel when its entire existence has occurred in one life span?

As a child, one learns about history how it is presented to him or her and then forms a view on the world based on these facts. But that trait doesn’t often end in childhood. With today’s busy world, many people make decisions based on stories posted on their friends’ Facebook pages and don’t take the time to research other sources to form their viewpoint.

It doesn’t help that there are extremists on both sides that hurt their own cause by committing horrific acts and instances of media manipulation that portray Israel in a negative light.

On the flip side of Weir’s website are theisraelproject.org and honestreporting.com; the first is a non-partisan American educational organization dedicated to informing the media and public conversation about Israel and the Middle East and the latter monitors the news for bias, inaccuracy or other breach of journalistic standards in coverage of the Arab-Israeli conflict.

What sources do you turn to?