Afternoon Tea in Jerusalem Blog

Life in Israel

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Israeli commercial life and society

In addition to my work as a business coach, one of my interests is blogging about life in Israel. This is a country full of contrasts – over eight million citizens living in an area the size of Wales. You can see snow and the lowest place on the globe in the same day. Although surrounded by geopolitical extremes, Israel has achieved a decade of high economic growth. My work brings me in contact with an array of new companies, exciting technologies and dynamic characters. Sitting back with a relaxing cup of strong tea (with milk), you realise just how much there is to appreciate in the Holyland. Large or small operations, private sector or non profit, my clients provide experiences from which others can learn and benefit.

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Israel’s medical system: The Palestinian interface

During the month of December, the UN is expected to pass 15 resolutions condemning Israel. This is five less than in 2016, when the UNGA did find the time to tick off four other countries. Just how fair is this castigation of the modern Jewish state?

To answer the question in depth would take a book, of several volumes. So let us concentrate for three minutes on the medical sector.

In the past, I have written extensively about the Wolfson Hospital in south Tel Aviv, which hosts the Save A Child’s Heart scheme. Offering high level medical services for thousands of infants around the globe, roughly 50% have come from the Palestinian territories. For the record, the aid includes training for local doctors and hosting families of the children on site.

In the north of the country, Israel has treated a similar number of refugees from Syria since 2013. It is an operation that has no equivalent for all the world effort that has been distributed to tackle this humanitarian disaster. And it is even more remarkable considering how the two countries have no diplomatic relations.

And then there is little-known and near heroic story of Dalia Bassa. She is the health care coordination officer of the Civil Administration in the West Bank and Gaza (COGAT) , and is one of the few officials of either side to win the praises of just about everyone. Now 66 years old, Dalia has been working in this field for 47 years.

It is estimated that she is responsible for coordinating the medical attention received by around 5,000 Palestinians every year in Israeli hospitals. These are mainly life-threatening situations. Just as significant, COGAT makes strenuous efforts to ensure that Palestinian doctors are also trained. Hundreds of training sessions take place annually.

To make the point, the Israeli newspaper “Yediot Ahronot” was allowed to accompany Bassa last week on a visit to a 150-bed private hospital just outside Ramallah. 14 floors high, Istishari was opened in 2016 and has treated such notables as President Abbas. A further 850 beds are planned.

During the trip, Bassa sought to help a doctor extend his visa. She also looked for ways to extend cooperation. After all, the hospital lists several doctors who have been trained in Israeli hospitals, such as Hadassah in Jerusalem. Its PGD unit is so advanced that a few Israelis have found their way there to test the state of difficult pregnancies.

And meanwhile, this week, you can expect further condemnation of Israel at the UN. Makes sense, don’t it?

Is Israel a model state?

According to Emily Thornberry, the British Labour Party’s Foreign Secretary-in-waiting, Israel is not a model state for its neighbours to emulate. And her core argument is based on her judgment of Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and the Golan Heights.

Thornberry is a lawyer, possessing a strong background in human rights. So, what she says does not just sound politically correct. Clearly, she knows what she is talking about.

But I could not believe her logic was that simple. First, it makes those countries surrounding Israel less of pariah states. Strange that. Check out for yourselves on Google what Thornberry herself has said about Egypt and Saudi Arabia, to name but two. Nothing very complimentary. On the other hand, she never complains about the abuse of human rights by the Palestinian Authority or Hamas.

Second, if Israel is not her model state, then who is? I assume from the interview with her that is not referring to any members of the Arab League. I assume she is not referring neither to China nor to Russia. Obviously, she detests the policies of America under Trump. And she is so critical of her own government, that she has effectively ruled out the UK.

In other words, she does not have a model country in mind. Her statement is purely designed to denigrate the state of Israel, the sole democracy in the Middle East. What we are left with is a politically correct stance that is acutely ridden with poison. Next she will be asking us to believe that her leader, Jeremy Corbyn, is a Zionist, when the man cannot even utter the word “Israel” in a civil manner.

I am reminded that last year at Cambridge University, a motion was debated suggesting that Israel is a rogue state. The pro Israel supporters encouraged the audience to vote ‘yes’ on the grounds that Israel is so different – ie so much better – than its neighbours that it is obviously rogue. For example, according to Freedom House, Israel is the only country int the Middle East that is ranked as “free”.

I will leave you with a taste of Israel and how its Arab citizens view their country. I hope this will allow you to assess for yourselves if it is a model for democracy. (My thanks to bloggers Ellis Simpson and IsraellyCool).

Palestinian economy; and the good news is…….

The World Bank’s latest report on the Palestinian economy points describes 2% growth rate in Gaza, trying to support an unemployment rate of over 40%. Clearly this is unsustainable. What can be done?

The recent moves of reconciliation between Hamas and  the Palestinian Authority (PA) offer some hope. According to Doron Peskin from Concordmena, The agreement should lead to an extra US$165 m of support from the UAE. This will be in addition to the current annual payments of:

  • US$140 m from Iran
  • US$120m from the PA, primarily for salaries and electricity
  • US$100m from Qatar
  • US$50m from Turkey

Tax revenues are rarely revealed but Hamas leaders clearly find a way to finance their own lavish life styles, assumedly from willing local contributions.

Clearly all of these amounts are fickle. For example, the UAE contribution is apparently dependent on former Gaza bully and aspiring successor to President Abbas, Mohammed Dahlan, being handed some level of power in the territory. So, what other revenue sources can emerge?

One possibility is the extraction of the estimated 32 billion cubic meters of national gas just off its coast line. There are rumours that an agreement has been signed with a Greek developer and a contractor called CCC. However, concrete details remain sketchy.

A second source of relief could come from “impact investing“. For example:

A project to produce tablets for schoolchildren and their parents, a company that reduces the need for pesticides, an IT development centre in a crisis-ridden location and a bond to fight type 2 diabetes….They are all cited by investors and entrepreneurs as examples of impact investments in Israel and the Palestinian territories.

Yet again, the question remains if political stability will allow enough such entrepreneurs to come forth? There are already reports of the PA arresting Hamas representatives.

Another angle could be a hoped for relaxation of central control of the Palestinian economy. One small indication of change is entrance of a second mobile provider in Gaza. The hope is that prices will drop, service will improve, and thus improved corporate taxation will allow the exchequer to benefit.

The reality is that Gaza needs open borders with its neighbours. This is unlikely to happen so long as Hamas considers Israel to be a pariah state and wages war against it. This policy was most clearly indicated last week, when the Israeli army destroyed a tunnel from Gaza. Those Palestinian soldiers killed had crossed the border, underground. (It should also be noted that it takes considerable investment and raw materials to construct such tunnels.)

The unfortunate bottom line is that the Palestinian leaderships can always blame Israel for their woes. With a willing international community and a supportive set of UN institutions, this stance absolves them from any form of responsibility. Hoorah!

And meanwhile most people in Gaza will continue to be dependent on handouts.

Israel’s contrasting economy – not what you may expect from intelligence

Israel’s economy is a study in contrasts“. Thus headlined “The Economist” magazine a few days ago.

The article is wide in its scope. For example, it highlights the desert city of Beersheva as a world leader in creating cyber technology. And that is just for starters. The economy grew at 4% last year. Unemployment resides at a lowish 4.3%. Public debt at 62% of the GDP is one of the best ratios in the OECD. The shekel currency has appreciated by 13% against a basket of leading global currencies. And so on.

The magazine does feature the weak side of the Israeli economy. Restrictive import and licensing practices keep the cost of food unnecessarily high. Productivity stats are poor. And with boring predictably, the authors cites Israel’s defense policy for the main cause of the a weak Palestinian economy. Thus, in real terms, “Gazans are about 25% poorer today than they were at the time of the Oslo Accords”.

This is an argument that sounds politically powerful. However, it bares up, neither in the numbers game nor against the facts on the ground. First, as I have mentioned in the past, when the World Bank examined the Palestinian economy prior to 1994, when it was governed by Israel, “the annual growth rate (for the period 1968 to 1999) establishes itself at 5.5%.” As the author Sebastian Dessus observed, this was one of the highest rates in global terms, even allowing for substantial population growth.

The point is that this begs the question as to why the Palestinian politicians refuse to allow cooperation with Israel.

And then there is 8200, renowned as Israel’s high-tech unit in the army, whose geeks produce software and hardware that James Bond filmmakers cannot even dream about. In parallel, for some years, many of the alumni of this elite group have struck out in the start up world. And it is no secret that against what might be considered assumeded norms from around the globe, they have been openly seeking cooperation with the Arab sector in Israel.

Well the 8200 “Hybrid Accelerator” has just initiated its latest round of intakes. They include SAF, Brainkos and Shareshipper to name just three of the seven involved. One cardinal condition for acceptance into the programme is that each team must include at least one Arab member on its staff.

It is this form of contrast which sets the Israeli economy apart, especially from those of its neighbours. This approach, embracing the views of all religions and backgrounds, that is one of the key reasons why Israel has become known as the start up nation. And that is why “The Economist” is able to report on such positive economic stats for the Holy Land.

Israel’s independence and the relevance of Zionism today

Earlier this week, I wrote how Israel’s 69th birthday party, the celebrations for Independence Day, reflect its amazing economic progress over the decades. In this third and final review, I want to look at one of the lesser known aspects of Zionism – how to relate to Arab minorities.

While pre-state / pre 1948 Zionist leaders fought amongst themselves, many accepted that there must be room for non Jews to play a full roll in the new country. Given geopolitical dynamics, that statement has not been easy to fulfill all the time and there is still much to be done. What can be said is that today, about 25% of the population is not Jewish and this is roughly represented in  the Kenesset, the Israeli Parliament.

How does this outreach manifest itself outside the realms of politics? I want to delve into the complex situation in Syria. The international media, even those outlets known to be hostile to Israel, has often reported and filmed how Israel has been treating thousands of wounded civilians fleeing from the battles in Homs and elsewhere.

I have read an analysis on the activity of the hospital in Nahariya. This is located near the Israeli-Lebanese border and whose managing director is Dr Masad Barhoum, an “Israeli, an Arab and a Christian – in that order“. Since 2013, the hospital has looked after about 1,600 Syrians, roughly 70% of those treated in Israel. The average period of hospitalisation is about 23 days, which reflects the seriousness of the injuries. And the cost of this treatment, estimated in the hundreds of millions, comes out of the purses of the taxpayers.

Remember, from time immemorial, Syria in its various forms has displayed nothing but outright hostility to Israel. And it is difficult to latch on to similar outreach work from Arab countries in the region. In the worst case scenario, Iran is investing its precious oil revenues in strengthening the armies of Hizbollah and Hamas, the very opposite of what Israel is practicising.

My hope is that when there is a Palestinian leadership that comprehends what this form of Zionism can offer them – as per Egypt and Jordan previously – then the path to peace can open up for all.

The business of the Israel business boycott

Boycotting Israeli businesses has been a policy of Arab nations since May 1948, when the State of Israel was founded. Just how effective is it today, nearly 70 years on, in a period of globalisation?

The boycott has seen many forms. Initially, the Arab League simply adopted the methodology of the Nuremberg Laws from Nazi Germany. And for decades, most Japanese companies stayed away from the Holy Land. Since the year 2000, the BDS campaign has taken up the call, demanding a disassociation from anything to do with Israel, including overseas players who visit the country.

Surely, over the years, there has been an unmeasured level of success of the messages of such policies entering the minds of neutral thinking people. The result is an increased distrust or worse of Israelis for some. But more than that?

My wife was recently talking to a leading techie in one of Israel’s premier IoT companies. He frequently travels to exhibitions, where Israeli companies are sought after. Any talk of a boycott is simply a joke. Business is business, and political vicissitudes have no place. And that is good for all of us.

As proof of that, look at today’s announcement by SAS to relaunch its flight schedule between Sweden and Israel. Now the Scandinavian country is no friend of Israel’s on the diplomatic scene, to say the least. However, the combination of tourism and business disrupts those paths towards hatred.

To quote from today’s announcement coming out of Israel’s Ministry of Tourism:

The following companies (have also) announced the opening of new routes(to Israel): WOW, Ryanair, Wizz Air, Hainan Airlines and Air India………..Incoming tourism increased 24% in the first quarter 2017 on the same period in 2016.

“Boycott” was a term born in violence in the 1880s. It was hijacked by the revolting racism of the Nazis. It is now employed by the enemies of Israel, hatred wrapped in politically platitudes. Ironically, BDS has a lot of support amongst leading Swedish politicians.

Let us hope the new trade and transport agreements show the way forward for all towards peace for all.

The conflicting trends of the Palestinian economy

For years, the Palestinian economy has been a dominant theme on the minds of international politicians and diplomats. Ironically, in an era of ‘fake news’, it seems to have fallen down in the pecking order of world issues. Is that because the champions of the Palestinian cause like Presidents of Syria and North Korea are more demanding, or has the reality on the ground changed?

There is no doubt that there is increasing evidence that the Palestinian economy has been on the up for some time.

And so the list goes on. However, in the opposite corner, there are plenty of downers, not helped by the insistence of Hamas in Gaza to devote resources to war rather than basic human development. For example: –

And meanwhile, in defiance of American law and European directives, the PA continues to fund the families of Palestinian martyrs and the welfare of cell mates in Israeli prisons. Officially, this was valued at US$180 million in 2016 alone. And it should be pointed out that much of the PA budget comes from overseas donations, which means the pockets of Western taxpayers.

In truth, the average Palestinian is still very poor. The official GDP is less than that of Egypt. And yet, the weaponry of Hamas becomes more sophisticated by the month. Leaders of the PA and Hamas live a life of luxury. Corruption is never far away from the talk of the day.

It is sad to see. The Palestinian economy, that could be so vibrant as its nascent high-tech industry is testing, continues to be doomed by leaders concerned with violence rather than people.

BDS? Those surprising Palestinians who do not boycott Israel.

I have just returned from a visit to a large medical in clinic in Jerusalem. People of all persuasions and languages – pensioners, soldiers, Arabic, English, Hebrew and Russian.

And this started me thinking how some of those in the waiting room might define themselves as Palestinians. Surely there are other areas of cooperation between the sides that the world media just does not allow others to learn about. A quick consultation with Rabbi Google, and I was stunned to learn just how embracing are the joint areas of activity. For example: –

  • Let us start with a practical example of everyday life. A dog sanctuary, located in Beit Sahour near Bethlehem, is often short of resources. A way has been found by the Palestinian Authority (PA) to enable Israeli animal lovers to help out.
  • The Negev desert has seen many projects involving both Israelis and Jordanians. Much of the effort is focused around the Arava Institute For Environmental Studies. With nearly a thousand graduates over two decades, “about 29 percent are Israeli Jewish, and about 24% are Arabs from Israel, Jordan and the Palestinian Territories“.
  • Israel’s scientific partnerships with the EU are well documented. However, I came across this EU sponsored consortium, the SESAME Project – Synchrotron Light for Experimental Science and Applications in the Middle East.

Based in Jordan, it is an independent laboratory formally created under the auspices of UNESCO nearly 15 years ago. The founding members of SESAME include Israel and countries that do and some that don’t have diplomatic relations with each other, including Iran, Bahrain, Cyprus, Egypt, Iran, Jordan, Pakistan and Turkey, as well as the PA.

  • Water has often been a cause of sharp rhetoric for those campaigning against Israel. Last Sunday, “Israel and the PA signed a water cooperation agreement , the fourth major infrastructure deal agreed to in the past year and a half.” Other accords refer to electricity, mobile phones and mail distribution. Significantly, the document on water takes a long term approach, allowing for parallel changes in population for many years to come.
  • And finally, if all of that is a tad too gentle for you, yes, cooperation between Israel and the PA exists over security issues. Maj. Gen. Majid Faraj is the powerful head of President Abbas’ General Intelligence Service. He has also been seen as a potential successor to his octogenarian boss. Interviewed by “Defense News” last year, at the height of tensions with Israel, Faraj confirmed that in previous months “PA intelligence and security forces have prevented 200 attacks against Israelis, confiscated weapons and arrested about 100 Palestinians – claims that were not rejected out of hand.”

The past month has revealed a flood of stories from university campuses in the USA and the UK, where Jewish and Israeli students are physically and verbally abused. This is part of the  BDS campaign to boycott anything remotely resembling a link to the Jewish State.

As I have frequently observed, such a campaign is nothing short of anti-semitic. It is certainly hypocritical because has less to do with Palestinians and more to do with denigrating Israel. And BDS proponents simply lie, because they will not admit that Palestinians – from top leaders down – are also working, very well, with their Israeli counterparts.

BDS – has it done its dash?

BDS – Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions of Israel – has been around for about 15 years in its present structure. Formally, it calls on the world to punish Israel on behalf of the Palestinians.

There is no doubt that its politically correct slogans have attracted many to its cause. Occasionally, a pop group may cancel a tour of the Holy Land. A company may reduce or cease trading with counterparts in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.

On the other hand, as I have repeatedly pointed out, it is a movement founded upon hypocrisy. Its leader studied at Tel Aviv University with all facilities open to him. It is a movement that fails to condemn human rights abuses by Palestinian leadership. Above all, it is not looking for change in Israel, but its obliteration from the map.

In the past year, there has been a wake up move, rejecting the fallacy of the BDS argument. Four Spanish cities have reversed resolutions, which had called for sanctions against Israel. A guitarist from the Bruce Springsteen outfit notoriously used an expletive to dispel any notion that he would support a ban on visiting Israel. And foreign investment continues to pour into the Holy Land, as the seen by the growing list of over 350 multinationals with R&D centres in the country.

In parallel, it is fascinating to note the increase in demand for space in industrial areas, located in the West Bank. Ostensibly, these would be the first companies to be face boycott calls if their exports were to reach overseas markets. And yet, we learn that the opposite seems to be true, especially when the trade is directed to the very countries BDS supporters had seen as natural allies; China, India and much of Africa.

It is noteworthy to look at the Barkan region, where there is a waiting list of 60 factories. Many of the current facilities ensure that Arabs and Jews work together. And by law, all employees have to receive full employment benefits, which far outweigh anything offered under the Palestinian Authority.

BDS is replete with the bile and hate of the worst elements of politically correct movements. It has impacted on specific individuals, companies and artists. Fortunately, it worst aspects seem – for now – to be over.

As a final thought, maybe if Israel’s detractors would lay down their weapons, then the Palestinian economy would achieve the  3.8% economic growth that Israel reached in 2016. Now that would be a true and direct benefit to the average person on the street in Gaza and in Nablus.

7 facts which show why Israel has a stand out economy this December

December 2016 – It is nearly time for those end of year celebrations; Christmas and Chanukah fall on the same day this year. So lots of candles to light.

The economy of the Holy Land also stands brightly. I have not hidden my complaints about how certain population sectors have been ignored during recent booms nor how restrictive practices remain in place, such as in the ports. That said, just have a look at this impressive list of achievements as we prepare for a new year.

  1. Israel’s economy is growing at a little over 3% per annum. This is a real increase, factoring in the rise in population. Further, it is close on double the average rate for the OECD.
  2. Unemployment is at a 30 year low, around 4.5% of the work force. Again, this is a stat that other countries can only be jealous of.
  3. Despite a rise in the cost of commodities and the internal growth mentioned above, Israel has managed to ensure that inflation has been kept within reasonable and acceptable limits.
  4. Looking ahead, a strategy is emerging to lower taxes, particularly in the corporate sphere. This will encourage direct foreign investment and thus feed into further growth.
  5. The Palestinians are also set to benefit from this good news. An additional 22,000 daily work permits will be issued for them to cross over from the West Bank and from Gaza. (It is just a shame that they refuse to reciprocate and formally allow in Israeli exports, which would enhance the peace process).
  6. Jordan too is expected to benefit. It will receive cheap gas from new reserves developed by Israel. Jerusalem also intends to double its supply of water to the Hashemite Kingdom in the next few years.
  7. Large conglomerates are continuing to invest in Israel. I mentioned last week that Microsoft is about to invest US$0.25 billion in a new campus, just north of Tel Aviv. GE, BMW, Tata are just some of the other world leaders that have been in the news during the past month, when it comes to extending their activities in Israel.

All in all, 2016 has turned out well for the Israeli economy. I just hope more people can be part of that triumph. Meanwhile, there is cause for optimism regarding 2017.

Minority groups in Israel – something’s changing

For a country of a little over 8 million people, Israel has more than its fair section of minority interest groups.

It is not just that about 25% of the populace is not Jewish. There are Muslim Arabs, as well as Christian Arabs. Bedouins and Druze do not see themselves as Arabs. Moving along, you have the ultra orthodox people, who can then be subdivided, and so the listings go on. And all of this is wrapped around the geopolitical instability of the region.

And through all of this, Israeli society has some amazing positive things to teach others. Last week, I mentioned the amazing work at Beit Issie Shapiro – teaching autistic kids of all backgrounds to communicate via an Ipad. this work has received the blessing of the UN. Previously, I had referred to the ever increasing role of women in Israeli society, despite many internal religious pressures.

What is pleasing to see is that these patterns of change are continuing. In the past two weeks, different news agencies have informed us that:

A) There is a special business accelerator for start ups led by Israeli women. To date, participants in the programme have raised US$20 million.

B) Lucy Aharish is an amazingly talented TV presenter. She has been prominent in celebrations of Israel’s Independence Day. And she is very proud of her Arab heritage, which she uses to break down barriers presented by all sides. Her story and triumphs should be an inspiration for all.

C) And then there is the university scene. The latest set of stats refer to 2014, when 3,600 additional students enrolled. Most of these come from the ultra orthodox sector, which are not normally associated with tertiary education. In total, females make up nearly 59% of the numbers, again somewhat surprising as there are so many conservative forces at work.

What does this all add up to? No, Israeli is not a perfect society, although I have yet to find such a thing. On the other hand, the efforts to create a pluralistic society in the Holy Land, where opportunity is available for all, are truly producing results that need to be observed if not copied by others.

Autism, Ipad, Issie Innovation and Israel

Having a child with autism must be very challenging, if not downright stressful. Over the past few years, Beit Issie Shapiro (BIS) has been channeling the innovative wonders of Israel into finding solutions for autistic kids and others. This triumph deserves a bigger audience.

I happened to attend a talk given in Swiss Cottage London by Jean Judes, the Executive Director, of BIS. She highlighted the most fascinating of case studies in their efforts to bring children with extreme special needs back into Israeli society. In brief, the stories focused on reaching out to children, many of whom are still at a pre school age, but are unable to communicate with the outside world.

The key part of these efforts is the use of an Ipad. It appears that there is something in screen technology that allows the infant to ‘discover themselves’. In return, the staff at BIS have discovered that some of these kids are incredibly intelligent and fun loving. In one instance, it was learnt that the toddler understood English fully, and not just Hebrew. (The parents used to speak to each other in English when they did not want the child to understand)!

Israel is known as the ‘start up nation’. Not far from BIS are the large Israeli facilities of both Google and Apple. Both have assigned teams to work with BIS staff to create new services for such children.

Judes deliberately stressed in her talk that the children are cared for in their native language, Hebrew. The one exception are those in the Arab sector – Muslim, Christian or otherwise. This is particularly true in the Kalansua Family Advancement Center for early intervention.

BIS now has partnerships with similar centres as wells as governments and academic institutions in tens of countries, including China. Their work has been presented at UNICEF . This is as much an Israeli export as the high-tech services or its agricultural produce.

This knowledge – these changes – are just another aspect of Israeli innovation. They are enabling tens of thousands of children internationally to take their place in society.

 

Israeli society – 3 things you never knew

The Western Wall Plaza in the heart of the old city of Jerusalem is arguably the holiest site in the world. In a proximity important to three great religions, people have been allowed to practice the beliefs freely since it fell into Israeli control in June 1967.

This week, UNESCO will vote on a resolution that effectively abrogates Jewish and Christian history. In an effort to denigrate Israel, the organisation will call for sanctions against the Jewish state. And it is this clear divide between the reality of pluralism as opposed to the world of vicious political or diplomatic manipulations that brought me to question:

‘What else does the world not want to hear about Israel?’.

With incredible timing, this morning I came across three seemingly unrelated pieces of news. Individually, they may be interesting. Together, they reveal a society in Israel that is bubbling, at least partially integrated, and continually struggling to improve despite of all the surrounding external threats. For example: –

Let me deliberately start with some news from the military. The IDF (Israel Defence Forces) has just completed its latest and largest programme to induct people with special needs. In the past few days, 80 young recruits finished a basic training course and are starting to find their way to their designated units.

Then there is the contentious issue as to how Israel treats Palestinians. Now I am not going to boast that all is rosy. However, I can say that this week, I will be starting with a new client who may claim that he is a Palestinian. And this video clip presents a whole different take to what is reported in places like the New York Times and similar. War is created through distrust, while on the ground Israel is doing much to break down barriers with Palestinians.

Number three on my list is actually a set of three women: Miriam Banki, Adenko Sabhat Haimovich and Esther Tapeta Gradi. Not exactly household names. All three ladies were  appointed as judges a couple of weeks ago, not something you would see in most other Middle Eastern countries.

And now look again. Banki’s teenage daughter was murdered last year, when she marched in a gay a parade. There was mass condemnation at the outrage, and this “promotion” must also be seen in that context. In contrast, Haimovich and Gardi were born in Ethiopia. And for all the struggles of the community which has emigrated from there, they represent the progress towards integration that has been made over the decades, and the more that still needs to be done.

Yes, Israeli society is not perfect. However what these stories and anecdotes illustrate is that UNESCO’s resolution today is based on one big fabrication. Is it not ironical, sad and shaming that the leading global agency for cultural integration is promoting a modern form of that classic hatred, known as anti-Semitism?

Palestinian economy, Autumn 2016 – beyond the rhetoric

For decades, Palestinian leaders have been trying to convince the world that heir economy is bankrupt, and that can only be the fault of Israel. In a year of Brexit, a bizarre American election campaign and continued global retrenchment, has that rhetoric changed. And anyway, who is still listening?

Some facts: In July of this year, an IMF team warned that overseas donations, a critical part of the numbers for the exchequer in Ramallah, were slowing down again. Israel had held up its contributions, due to the Palestinian Authority’s (PA) massive state to Jerusalem. Unemployment is 27% in the West bank and much higher in Gaza. While their is growth of over 3%, this does not cover the growing population.

The World Bank status report, released this week, also makes for depressing reading. The fiscal system is under pressure. And because there is such a disproportionately large public sector, there is a looming threat of a pensions crisis.

The problem for the Palestinians is that the world financial crisis, which continues to fizzle along, ensures that there is no longer so much spare cash available for international aid. In parallel, the competing crisis of refugees from Syria and elsewhere in the Middle East has demanded that large sums be set aside for them.

Add into that equation the continuous flow of stories and rumours about corruption and mismanagement within the Palestinian leadership, and what do you end up with? Less funding!

Even the notoriously conservative thinking British government’s Department for International Development, which has handed out hundreds of millions in aid over the years, observed: “…we will work with organisations in the right way to make sure that we are delivering the right outcomes that meet our Government priorities—both peace and stability, as well as humanitarian causes.” That is Oliverian Newspeak for ‘we are reviewing the situation…you have all been warned’.

One positive factor did emerge this week. Israel and the PA finally settled their argument over how the Palestinians owe Israelis for use of their electricity and other amenities. A time schedule was established to pay off the debt, while Israel wrote off a billion shekels in back payments. Such a deal also answered the critiques, who have repeatedly claimed over the years that Israel has cut off power to the Gaza Strip.

However, the future does not look too bright. 81-year old President Abbas is clearly losing control over the West Bank. That is probably the true reason why elections there have been postponed. In addition, it is becoming horrendously apparent that Abbas will block any challenge to replace him, especially if that means the financial empires of his two sons are threatened. The Falcon Enterprise is evidently worth hundreds of millions of dollars.

Whatever the true size of the Abbas family’ private fortune (and that of Hamas leaders), as the Autumn of 2016 approaches, the rhetoric of hatred directed against Israel continues unabated. Many Palestinians continue to live in poverty. And their representatives continue to prosper.

Israeli society and UK lawmakers – spot the differences

A British JP, Joy Wolfe (who I know) yesterday wrote on her Facebook page that:

I am deeply disturbed by the growing evidence of virulent antisemitism at the top level of the Labour Party. The latest examples come from members of the Shadow Cabinet and are frankly mind blowing and would seem more at home in Nazi Germany that multicultural Britain.

Communities spokesman Grahame Morris wants British Jews who serve in the Israeli defence force to be treated as suspected terrorists.

And Justice spokesman Richard Burgon has urged MPs and party members to quit the Labour Friends of Israel group, declaring: “Zionism is the enemy of peace.

I suppose that in trying to support the Palestinians at any price, such comments may appear justifiable to the socialist politicians. There again, I fail to find any statements from them regarding the 3,000+ Palestinians killed in Syria since 2011. Thus, clearly, the hate contained in their words is directed solely against Israel and its citizens.

So let us spend two minutes and look at some recent developments in Israeli society – three quick ‘did-you-knows’ and a bonus package for the MPs themselves.

  • Did you know that the Israeli army has 18,000 thousand volunteers? And did you know that approximately 25% of them – about 4,500 – come from Arab communities (Muslim or Christian)? For the record, the numbers of Arabs in the army continues to grow every year.
  • Did you know that in the aftermath of a fatal terrorist incident last month in the West Bank, one the first people on the scene to help was Dr Ali Abu Shareh. Now this is man, who assumedly rejects the concept of Jews living in places like Hebron and the West Bank. Yet he rightly and proudly placed humanity before politics. He tried to save lives. Ironically, Dr Shareh has since been fired from his job by his Palestinian superiors. Coincidence? Whatever – it has been left to the Jews of Hebron to help him find new employment.
  • Did you know that Check Point, an Israeli company and a global leader in the fight against software fraud, has just discovered mega security flaws in 900 million android devices around the globe. I could cynically imagine that our intrepid MPs would prefer the bugs to remain in place rather than benefit from technology emanating from such a wicked country, ‘the enemy of peace’.

But here’s the crunch issue for the esteemed reps of the British people. It is now horrendously apparent that large chunks of British aid for the Palestinian people have been diverted towards the private bank accounts of their leaders – I suppose that technically they too are a part of the ‘people’ – or towards means of war against Israeli civilians. The trouble is that these monies come from the pockets of British taxpayers. They could have been used more effectively by true sufferers in other regions.

In other words, basic democratic principles of accountability and transparency have been flouted in the name of hatred. I can but presume that this is what Joy Wolfe is so rightly concerned about. It is the kind of ‘politically correct’ deceit that was used by Mosley in the 1930s.

It is the language that was rejected by one of the great democratic socialists of all eras, George Orwell, who described it as the defence of the indefensible. Shame upon them and their supporters.

Palestinian economy: The fifth “giveaway”

Last week’s blog on “4 takeaways of the Palestinian economy” highlighted how so much money seeps into Gaza and the West Bank. Yet so little is accountable and so much seems to escape the notice of Western donors.

As one person commented that rather than ‘takeaways’, this is a policy of “giveaways”! And thus on that note, I would like to apply one more comment to this huge generosity from Western taxpayers.

 Alex Fishman wrote a detailed commentary this weekend on the continuing tension between Gaza and Israel. While the government of Jerusalem is investing billions in new tech to prevent tunnels reaching its territory, Hamas has upped the level of digging and shoveling beyond anything previously known. 50 or so terrorists – captured, or those that gave themselves up – have spilt the beans on what is being dug, where, by whom and how.

But let me concentrate on the financials and stats that Fishman alluded to:

  • To date, in 2016, it is estimated that Hamas has channeled up to 300 million nis towards the tunnels. (About US80 m)
  • Approximately 20% of the Hamas budget is allocated to military needs.
  • Despite Egyptian efforts, Hamas still has around 10 or so tunnels pointing in the direction of Cairo. (It is worth recalling, Egypt is furious that ISIS operators in Sinai receive regular support from Hamas, including escape routes and medical treatment.)
  • The tunnel creation is a 24/7 project that has already cost at least 20 lives this year alone.
  • Roughly 5,000 Hamas militia are being trained for ‘tunnel warfare’, more than double the total available in 2014.

Now Fishman did not offer any directs sources to substantiate these facts. However, I think it reasonable to state that Hamas are up to no good. These tunnels are designed to cause injury and destruction.

So, where does the concrete come from? Lorries enter from Israel, ostensibly with raw materials for new homes. Oh come off it!!! No wonder, UNWRA complains that home building is behind schedule.

And where does the financing come from? Strange how that question never seems to be asked in European Parliaments………..even if these same governments give hundreds of millions directly and indirectly every year to Gaza and to the West Bank?

The unreported Palestinian economy: 4 takeaways

The default reporting mechanism for the Palestinian economy is that it is bust and that is mainly due to Israeli oppression.

The facts that Ramallah and Gaza and surrounds are today replete with shopping centres or that the economy leapt forward when under full Israeli control up to 1999 seem to be irrelevant. So I briefly want to take a quick survey of anecdotal evidence as to what is happening.

Ostensibly, the answer is nothing. The Ma’an News Agency in Ramallah has not updated its economic section in English for over two months. Moving beyond this bizarre situation, I found out that:

1) Certainly, the EU continues to pour in hundreds of millions of Euros on behalf of the Palestinians. It justifies this on the grounds that the money stops a complete collapse of the two-state economy. The strange thing is that the donors from the Arab states are still around US$1 billion short in meeting their commitments, and show little real to pick up the slack.

This does beg the question why the oil-rich nations revoke on their financial pledges to the leadership of Abbas and Hamas? What do they know?

2) That the Palestinian economy is in dire straights is not an argument. It is a fact. The perennial question is where does all the aid go to?

It is significant that even the British newspaper, the Guardian, considered one of the most hostile to Israel for two decades now accepts that:

About 6 percent of the Palestinian budget is diverted to prisoner salaries. All this money comes from so-called ‘donor countries’ such as the United States, Great Britain, Norway, and Denmark.

Thus, by one calculation: “The Palestinian Authority is paying them (prisoners) up to £1,957 a month – more than the average salary of a UK worker.” Absolutely stunning!

Why the complete lack of accountability? Why does UNWRA, what I describe as the largest charity in the world, have no external auditor? Why is so much of taxpayers’ money poured into bottomless pot, yet relatively little is spent elsewhere?

3) The blog of Haifa Diary picked up on a small yet significant news item. The Israeli security services arrested a small-time Palestinian smuggler. No big deal, except that he was carrying thousands of dollars intended to fund Hamas terrorism in the West Bank.

So what is it? The average Palestinian does not need the cash, or their livelihood is just irrelevant for their leaders in this incessant game of hatred?

4) And if we are talking of illegal trade, did you hear about the illegal spare automotive parts, which were nearly smuggled into Gaza? No? Silence in your media?

Well, I bet you did not hear about all of these stories? And maybe it is time to ask why?

Look whose money is invested in the Palestinian economy – 3 takeaways

For decades, we have heard that the Palestinians do not have any money. We know that their brothers in the Arab League do not readily convert financial promises into actual deliveries. Despite that, Palestinians mange to build extravagant tunnels and shopping centres.

So who is paying for the development of the Hamas regime in Gaza or the perpetuation of the Abbas empire in Ramallah? Consider these three anecdotes that shows what happens on the quiet to the earnings of Western taxpayers.

First, the generosity of the UK knows few limits. It was revealed in the Parliament of Westminster on July 4th by the minister for the DFID, the Department for International Development that: –

DFID provided almost £157 million to the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPTs) between 2014/15 and 2015/16 to help build Palestinian institutions, deliver basic services and promote economic development. DFID has either met or exceeded the majority of its targets for programmes in the OPTs.

DFID supported over 390 companies to improve their operations and increase competitiveness. In each of the two years, through UNRWA support, over 26,000 families received social transfers (either food or cash) and almost 45,000 children were provided basic education. Furthermore, over 1.6 million medical consultations were provided over the two years.

In addition to this support, the UK provided more than £17m in immediate humanitarian assistance for those affected by the Gaza conflict in the summer of 2014. Non-food Item (NFI) packages were provided for 23,400 families covering their needs for three months.

Very noble. And this does not mention contributions to the EU for Palestinian-specific projects.

So, turning to Brussels, there is no doubt that the EU can be incredibly supportive. It recently contributed 10 million Euros towards a much needed desalination plant in Gaza. Officially, the EU contributes around 170 million Euros annually to the Palestinians. This does not include the hundreds of millions, which find their way to UNRWA. Could this be one of the reasons that the British voted to opt out of Europe?

And finally, some may say ironically, there is the support and training provided by Israel. Yes, the government in Jerusalem is not immune to what happens in the West Bank and in Gaza. One prominent expression of this can be found in the agricultural sector, where two sides met up regularly.  In fact is staggering just how much Israel gives to the Palestinians via business centres, education, medical assistance and much more.  This must be worth tens of millions of dollars in any given year.

This week, a flotilla of aid from Turkey arrived in Israel. The goods are to be transferred under supervision to Gaza. This act of charity may save face for the Turkish regime, but it is not what the Palestinians necessarily need not will it directly help the overall cause of peace.

It is time to change the narrative. The Palestinians do have money – not a lot, but it is right there. They do need more investment, not in its leadership but directly in the people. And as the UK Parliament is beginning to understand, the monitoring of these donations has to become transparent and accountable, which simply is not what happens today.

A ‘Spiritual Response’ from British Isles to Israel’s economy

Thursday 30th June 2016 represented a day of mixed feelings for Israel

Early in the day, a Palestinian entered the home of an Israeli family and slew a 13 year old girl in her sleep. A few hours later, there was another stabbing incident on the costal city of Netanya.

While that was going on, the British Labour Party released its report on anti-Semitism in its ranks. Led by Sami Chakrabarti, it concluded that “too much clear evidence of minority hateful or ignorant attitudes” amongst members. Fair enough. However, party leader, Jeremy Corbyn, when commenting about the findings, made his central point the equivalence of Israel with ISIS!

While wondering if Corbyn realises (or cares) that Jews pray in the direction of Zion in Jerusalem, it did not take long for the leaders of the   Jewish community to dismiss outright such a statement. Yet if Corbyn’s language was not vile enough, his apparent supporters were caught on camera uttering further anti-Semitic remarks…… and never a mention of a few words for the wretched family, whose daughter had just been stabbed to death ‘in the name of peace’.

In total contrast, a few hours later, I was on my way to take part in the 3rd Tel Aviv Whisky Live event. Thousands attended, of every creed and colour. And arguably the most popular stands were those with reps – whisky ambassadors – from the distilleries from the British Isles.

For example, Tomintoul had an excellent display, and I admit to being pleased with my tasting their 12 year old malt. What I found particularly interesting was their understanding of the kosher laws regarding this very special drink, an issue that most seem very obscure to the Speyside team. Similarly, I was delighted to learn about Teelings single malt, whose base is in the heart of Dublin, Eire. And to be honest, I left with a very healthy looking bottle of heavily peated Jura.

The point is that these companies and their competitors and fully engaged now in the Israeli market. They look beyond the hypocrisies and misjudgments of people like Corbyn and fellow politically correct animals – who would advocate people to boycott such an event.

Spiritually, and in more ways than one, the distilleries are simply working with the Jewish nation, treating the local populace just like any other country. Which raises the question as to what sinister issue is preventing Monsieur Corbyn from doing the same?

Unexpected Israel – Unexpected Jerusalem

People who live in Israel often have a problem explaining the ‘true Israel’ to outsiders. They are encouraged to believe by international media that the modern-day Holy Land is engulfed in violence 24/7, while the locals are rude and abrasive.

Moving rapidly away from this over simplification, Ruth Corman has released a beautiful book entitled “Unexpected Israel”, which rightly highlights unusual individuals or the peculiar characteristics of groups in Israel. Together, the sum of the parts is what makes Israel so wonderful and thrilling.

The book reflects close to 90 anecdotes, descriptions or just cameos, all enriched by some excellent photography. For example: What is so unique about playing ‘matkot’ on the beach at Tel Aviv? Alternatively, Corman gives deserved space to the amazing fauna and birds that have entered and conquered the country over the centuries. And she then describes the numerous types of pilgrimages that swamp the country throughout any given year.

It is this last point that truly struck me. So many of her observations seem to focus on people outside Judaism. On reflection, this is a triumph for the pluralism inherent in most Israelis.

However, as  a blogger who tries to find the ‘unusual’ in Jerusalem, I must quickly acknowledge that this is where Corman excels.

  • Tsegue-Mariam, the Ethiopian nun, who escaped fascist and Marxist torture in order to play the piano in the Holy city.
  • Elia Kahvedjian, an Armenian, who survived Ottoman persecution and set up a thriving photography business in central Jerusalem
  • Those many worshippers who write notes of hope and prayer, leaving them in the cracks in the Western Wall.
  • Hassadna, a musical school that strives for excellence, while deliberately looking out for the physically and financially distressed children who want to learn.

Unexpected, but this is only a partial list. That said, my favourite story refers to Dr, Yossi Leshem, who realised that more fighter planes are lost through “clashes with migrating birds” than through enemy action. His solution was to create a fleet of aerial drones to report about the movement of birds.

Leshem’s scheme is so successful that it is supported by Palestinian ornithologists. Jordan and Turkey have incorporated his techniques. And he is in the process of setting a system that will bring together countries along the whole of the African Rift Valley.

Without fuss, Leshem along with countless other Israelis have found a way to breach the established rules of hatred in the Middle East. But you will not read about these stories in the established media.

Israel is a country that never ceases to surprise, and Jerusalem remains at the core of this adventure. It is a duty of Ruth Corman and her others to reveal yet more ‘secrets’ of this small country.