The view from my veranda

Bad News – Good News

23rd June, 2023

Shabbat Shalom!

Twenty seven years ago our home was a flurry of activity, of joyous activity, and I will tell you all about it, but first I must try to explain life in the Middle East. I promise to leave you with a sweet taste before I close.

The town of Eli is on route 60, not far from the town of Ariel, in Samaria. Just outside the town is a petrol station and in that petrol station is a popular restaurant. This week two terrorists, armed with guns and an assault rifle drew up in cars with Israeli number plates and shot at those just outside. Elisha Altman (18) Harel Masoud (21) Nachman Mordof (17) and Ofer Feierman (63) were killed instantly and another four were injured. Most definitely a heinous act and one that the IDF and the security services are dealing with. The killing of four people at a small restaurant in a petrol station was foul and horrific terrorism, however, we are not revengeful people and the rampage of young LOUTS, I would venture to call them Israeli terrorists in the West Bank town of Turmus Ayya is beyond the pale. It is true that the terrorist came from Turmus Ayya, but the village is not guilty, the families of the terrorists will be questioned and it shames all of us when Jewish terrorists go on what can only be called a pogrom.

The attack on Eli is said to be a reaction to the military action in Jenin. Jenin is the fulcrum, the centre of terrorist activity, the home of Palestinian Islamic Jihad and Hamas, each trying to show that they are more violent than the other. A very different picture from the Jenin I visited years ago; a Jenin built up with the help of the Gilboa District Council. I was there with Malcolm Hoenlein and the Conference of Presidents and we heard Salaam Fayyad talk about his hopes to build a relevant police force and civil administration in the way that the Jews had in the nascent state, by learning from the Brits. Oh how it has changed.

One subject that I have avoided but must address is the internecine killings in the Israeli Arab community. Over one hundred killings so far this year. The Arab Members of Knesset are very vocal about the need to stop the violence, but are wary about the need to control guns, illegal guns which are the root of the problem. Family honour and criminal gang warfare are increasing at a terrifying rate.  

There are just one million Druze in the world, predominantly in Israel, Syria and Lebanon. A somewhat secret society, based upon Islam, they are loyal to whatever country they live, utterly loyal. Some of our finest and bravest fighters in the IDF are Druze. The Druze who live on the Golan Heights are torn in their loyalties. Since 1967 the Golan Heights is in Israeli hands, but many Druze who live on the heights have family in Syria. A few years ago, the Israeli government gave permission for a private company to buy land on the Golan Heights to build a turbine wind farm on Mount Bnei Rasan. The local Druze in the village of Majdal Shams, objected for many complex reasons which I will try my best to explain in as few words as possible. All other Druze soldiers in the IDF receive a piece of land to build themselves a home upon their release from military service, however, the Golan Druze cannot and to add insult to injury if they build a home on land near their village the are fined a vast sum, a sum they cannot afford to pay. A Catch 22 situation. The Druze community relies upon tourism for their livelihood, with wonderful restaurants, and now they believe that these huge wind turbines will take up swathes of land and ruin the quiet life. The demonstrations have been taking place since 2018 and only now have become rowdy as a result of their frustration and instead of continuing negotiations and a court order from the Supreme Court of Israel to stop the work, Internal Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir announced that he will go ahead with the turbine farm irrespective of the court order and the views of the Druze, and if they don’t like it they can go to Syria. Yes, Ben Gvir again.

The demonstrations against this government continue, the biggest after Shabbat, each Saturday night, with smaller ones on Thursdays. A wider and wider configuration of demonstrators join the fray, and more and more support for Benny Gantz as the rational centrist leader. We have had enough of extremists. MK Rothman, Chairman of the Knesset Legal Committee, however, compared our demonstrations to the attackers of Turmus Ayya.

Amit Becher won the elections for the position of Chair of the Israeli Bar Association. His opponent Effi Naveh, himself under a legal cloud, was the preferred candidate of this government and the pre-election shenanigans were most unpleasant, but as a result, the turnout for these elections was double that of the past, a sign of the times, and the anti-reform candidate won.

The Impact-se reports on UNWRA and their hate teaching has caused the Europeans, UK, Norway and many other countries including those in the Middle East, to cut funding of that organisation, and the UNWRA CEO Lazzarini is crying bankruptcy which brought hopes of them changing their policy; however, this week the United States, after already reinstating the UNWRA funding, has increased it by $16.2 million! It wasn’t just the increase but that fact that it was announced immediately after the horrific terror attack on Eli. US funding since its 2021 reengagement with the UNRWA now amounts to $917, 646,436 over 2 years. That’s your American tax money teaching hate!

Not everything in the Middle East is hate and killing, certainly not here in Israel. We make a lot of noise but that’s because we can. This is the only country in the Middle East where criticizing one’s leaders and government is not punishable by death! The Abraham Accords is a resounding success and many of the countries of the MENA region are changing the paradigm of their schoolbooks from hate-speech to tolerance and we have opened trade routes and air lanes with just about everyone. More Israelis have visited the Emirates than anywhere else, although Portugal is very popular! Last night was a perfect example of coexistence.

Right in the middle of Jerusalem, next to the Jeshurun Synagogue and the Jewish Agency building there is a monastery named for Marie-Alphonse Ratisbonne, a Jewish convert to Catholicism. The building is exquisite, huge and finished in 1917, recently most of it became residential property but the church and its high vaulted ceiling remains. Last night Zvi and I went to a concert of folk songs by many famous composers including Rimsky Korsakoff, Rachmaninoff, Bruckner and Byrd sung by the astonishing Musika Aerterna Choir under the baton of Iliya Plotkin. The choir consisted of almost exclusively immigrants from the FSU, some since 1990 and some much more recently after the Russian invasion of Ukraine. It was a truly spectacular evening.

As promised I will now get to the reason our home was a flurry of activity 27 years ago.

Picture the scene. Gideon and Rachel sitting on the floor surrounded by gypsophilia, aka Baby’s Breath, and ribbons which they expertly and beautifully decorated four long poles with. My friend Jill was helping them, her scissors expertly cutting the ribbons to the right length, all of us in pyjamas. Why? Oh, I forgot to tell you, the poles were the poles of the Chuppah or wedding canopy for Zvi and my wedding! So, let me set the scene. We were in the middle of the Jerusalem 3000 celebrations and Jerusalem was preparing for the ceremony to announce the illumination of Walls of the Old City. Zvi had spoken to the organisers and they promised to quieten the rehearsals during our wedding ceremony. Since our friends Alan and Bonnie Cohen lived in the almost empty David’s Village, formerly Mamilla, they helped us close of their street, Zvi “borrowed” some police barriers, and the caterer set up tables. Friends from all over the world, who were in Israel for the Jewish Agency meetings, mingled with our Israeli friends and of course our family, and Zvi and I stood underneath the aforementioned canopy, the newly lit Old City Walls behind us. Rabbi David Rosen, younger brother of Jeremy and the late Mickey Rosen, performed the ceremony; Gideon, Leor, Amiad and Valeri held the canopy poles, Kalman and Alla stood for Zvi and my lovely cousins Jean and Stuart Lipman stood in for my parents, Rachel and Jill held my flowers. Our friends Tsemed Re’im, Yisrael and Benny suddenly appeared singing the last blessing of the seven, surprising us with their amazing harmony. “If I forget thee oh Jerusalem” ended the ceremony and as Zvi broke the glass – 300 shofars (ram’s horns) sounded! Yes it was from the rehearsal below! The party began and Yisrael and Benny gave us a wonderful wedding gift of a performance. It was amazing.

So now you know why there was a mess in our home and to what purpose! 27 years of rare togetherness, wonderful arguments, shared grandchildren and a determined love of Israel, the Israel we defend with words; the Israel that Kalman and Alla fought to create.

Rachel and I managed to meet up with Poodle, the amazing wonderful Poodle who always puts a smile on our faces. There are a few people in this world (not enough) who without even saying anything, manage to lift one’s spirits, radiate a sense of warmth, surrounding one with love. Daniel really knew how to choose his friends!

Song number one? It really has to be by Tsemed Re’im!

Kol Sasson v’kol simcha, kol chatan v’kol calah. Translated it means Every joy and every celebration, every groom and every bride, surely appropriate for our wedding anniversary!!

On the top of the wonderful Shalva building, on top of the world, the Shalva Band and Buba Myses sing HAPPY!! Probably the most appropriate song for Shalva.

“Give us the will to love” from the Grande Synagogue de Paris, yes, it is a new one from Koolulam. It is so beautiful it made me cry, just seeing the families coming together to sing their wish to love, just love. Watch the way they look at each other, how parents hug their children……..

And so another week draws to a close, another Shabbat is about to light our lives. Tonight our table will embrace friends from Colombia, El Salvador, Finland, Argentina, USA, Panama and us two Israelis…..well, one Israeli born and one Welsh born Israeli! Zvi insists that I tell you who is coming! He’s worried they may be upset if I don’t! So, here goes – Ambassador Susi and Dave Hassenson, Ambassador Addis and Ronen Nevo, Sam and Debby Bettsak, Julio and Monika Jarak and last but far from least, Ronald Bakalarz, who has promised to sit and help me if everyone descends into Spanish! The food is almost cooked, the salads made and since the weather has changed to produce balmy evenings I think we will sit outside on our veranda and I can tell them all about our burgeoning apple tree, limes, kumquats, oranges and believe it or not – strawberries!

I will think of you all as I light the Shabbat Candles, wonder what you are doing, how you will celebrate this day. I will light my two brightly coloured “Daniel” candles, something I learned from Justin or Paddy -the trio of unbroken friendship of Poodle, Paddy and Dancam. I wish you could hear as Zvi sings the blessing over the wine, it really is spectacular.

Love, let love into your lives, learn to hold back harsh words and never forget to tell your children they are wonderful, exceptional people. A parents smile means everything as I learned from my Daddy’s smile as I entered the room.

Shabbat Shalom dear friends

With love