In rural Uganda: Let there be light


We take light for granted. But in the Torah’s opening chapter of Bereshit, it was God’s first gift.

It seems fitting, then, that when a local synagogue committed itself to helping an impoverished village in rural Uganda, the first gift would be to turn on the lights — to give the gift of solar-powered electricity. With light, doctors can deliver babies with more than just candlelight late into the night; people can see one another and plan activities in the long evening and night hours. Indoor classrooms in schools can be lit, so students can learn more easily.

The project began a couple of years ago, when the spiritual community of IKAR first conceived of founding its first nursery school for its congregation. Rabbi Sharon Brous and IKAR executive director Melissa Balaban saw an opportunity to do more than just offer one more educational program in Los Angeles; they wanted to instill a sense of connection to a larger world in the “DNA of the preschool,” as Balaban put it. They knew it would take about $100,000 to establish their school, so they decided to allocate 10 percent of all donations to another school project somewhere else in the world, where it could benefit others. “To teach our kids, this is what it means to be a Jew; it’s our responsibility,” Balaban said. 

Brous and Balaban had both just read the book “Half the Sky: Turning Oppression Into Opportunity for Women Worldwide,” by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn, and they were inspired by its message that even a small amount of cash can have a ripple effect, effecting enormous change in communities by allowing people to rebuild their own lives.

“We spent a lot of time fretting about which school and where,” Brous told a group of supporters who gathered one evening last August at a Santa Monica home to learn about the project. After lots of research and one false start, Brous and Balaban, working with a group of IKAR volunteers, came across an organization called Jewish Heart for Africa (JHA — jhasol.org). It employs Jewish people in African communities to bring Israeli solar systems to power African schools, medical clinics, orphanages and water pumping systems.  

It was a perfect match for IKAR, to partner with a Jewish group that could oversee their project on the ground and to bring “the best of Israel,” as Balaban said — Israel’s technology — to a remote place where a little could go a long way.

JHA connected IKAR with the village of Katira, some five hours from the Ugandan capital city of Kampala. And in early August, the lights went on.

IKAR donated about $12,000 for this initial project, and JHA installed solar panels on the roof of the Katira Primary School, a simple, blocky building with large, unadorned classrooms, that serves nearly 1,400 students from the surrounding area, according to JHA. People in Katira live in primitive thatched-roof huts, and their school had the lowest academic performance in its district.

As it turned out, the school’s pitched metal roof was perfect for capturing the strong African sunlight, and the JHA representatives have trained the locals on the simple techniques of maintaining the panels so they can keep it working themselves, without outside help. And now, although the solar-powered electricity lights only the one building, students — who once had nowhere to go to do their homework after spending long days in school and then helping with the housework at home — can now go to the school to study late into the evenings. They will have the opportunity to study harder, enhancing their chances of future success.

No IKAR members could make it to Katira for the ceremony, but witnessing the lights going on was still important. So, Brous’ mother, Marcia Brous, made a connection to a woman she had met through Rotary Club here — Marsha Hunt, who travels regularly to Uganda through the Uganda Development Initiative (udiworks.org), an aid group. Hunt was already planning a summer trip there, and she readily agreed to become IKAR’s emissary, adding to her trip a visit to Katira to watch the ceremony of the lights being turned on.

“I thought I’d be doing a simple report,” Hunt said. Instead, she arrived at the village to a scene of “tears and celebration, singing and dancing.” She became a witness to a modern Bereshit.

The Israeli solar panels had already been installed. And as she watched, lights for the first time lit the school’s classrooms. 

“They were so gracious and wonderful,” Hunt said of the villagers. And in thanks, the people of Katira gave her gifts intended for her to bring back home to Los Angeles — a turkey, a chicken and a rooster. For obvious reasons, those didn’t make it back to L.A.

But what did was the sense of accomplishment, extraordinary joy and connection between the people of Katira and the people of IKAR, as evidenced through photos that you can see by viewing this article at jewishjournal.com. 

And the project continues, Balaban said. “We are now raising money to light the medical clinic, and hopefully to install a solar-powered water pump.”

The light that came from God is now being harnessed to power a different kind of light — an electric energy that will also sustain growth, vision and warmth into the future.

And it is being channeled from Los Angeles via Israel to a remote village in Africa.

As Balaban said, “This is what it means to be a Jew.”


Susan Freudenheim is executive editor of TRIBE Media Corp./Jewish Journal. She can be reached at editor@jewishjournal.com. You can follow her on Twitter at 

Harvesting solar power in Negev Desert


Yosef Abramowitz is running out of time. 

With only minutes to go until he has to speak to a group of donors at the Jewish National Fund (JNF), Abramowitz looks like he just finished a workout. He’s wearing sneakers, shorts and a white T-shirt featuring an outline of David Ben-Gurion’s head superimposed on the picture of a sun. 

He excuses himself from the table at a Tel Aviv cafe and jogs to the bathroom to change into his “costume,” which includes slacks and a clean, ironed shirt. Immediately after the donor meeting, he flies to the United States for a few weeks to court more donors. 

Abramowitz, 48, is fundraising for the Arava Power Co. (APC), which aims ultimately to provide 10 percent of Israel’s energy needs through solar power. The company now has a 4.9-megawatt field up and running in the Negev Desert and is building a 40-megawatt field nearby. 

It’s an unlikely mission for the Boston-raised Abramowitz: His background is in human rights activism and journalism, not science and technology. 

“Isn’t that crazy? It’s the craziest thing,” he said. “It’s not like you wake up one day and say, ‘I’m going to move to Israel and do solar.’ “

But as he tells it, that’s more or less what happened.

After success as a college student in the 1980s fighting for imprisoned Soviet Jewry activists in Russia and against apartheid in South Africa, Abramowitz served in the Israel Defense Forces and earned a graduate degree from the Columbia University Journalism School. Abramowitz, whose activism has rankled the organized Jewish world for years, then spent the 1990s and early 2000s writing for a handful of Jewish publications. His journalism career included writing a 1996 series of articles that called into question JNF’s finances.

In 2006, looking for a quiet lifestyle, he and his wife moved with their children — they have five, including two adopted from Ethiopia — to Kibbutz Ketura, near Israel’s southern tip, where Abramowitz had volunteered following high school. The plan was to spend the year writing, but Abramowitz scrapped that almost immediately upon arriving at the kibbutz.

“We got there on Aug. 24 at the end of the day, and this hot rush of air just hits you, and you go,‘Oh my God,’ and the sun is setting and it’s burning my skin,” he said. “I thought, ‘I’m sure the whole place works on solar power.’ ”

It didn’t, because no commercial solar power existed in Israel. Hoping to change that, Abramowitz partnered with Ed Hofland, an investor who lived on the kibbutz, and David Rosenblatt, an investor based in New Jersey, to found the Arava company.

From left: Ed Hofland, David Rosenblatt and Yosef Abramowitz, co-founders of the Arava Power Co. Photo courtesy of Arava Power Co.

Since then, Abramowitz laments the “100 regulatory battles” he says he’s had to fight against the Israeli government to build the 4.9-megawatt field, which began running last year, and to launch several other solar energy projects.

Officials from the Public Utilities Authority, which administers Israel’s energy infrastructure, did not respond to several calls for comment. 

For Abramowitz, the process is grating. While he has launched ventures and organized campaigns before, and while he understands budgets and bills, he speaks the language of a social justice organizer, not a businessman. He calls his work “Zionist activism” and likens himself to Don Quixote “slaying dragons and tilting at windmills.” 

Abramowitz’s analogy for APC’s success is the story of the Soviet Jewry movement, not the achievements of other solar companies. 

“My point of view was, I can get a Prisoner of Zion out of solitary in the gulag and we can’t change the laws in our own country?” he said. “It was just clear as day that it was doable.”

To Abramowitz’s employees, his idealistic attitude is both an inspiration and, at times, a hindrance. Engineer Ram Duani calls Abramowitz the dream “of every engineer: He has the vision, he has the money, and he wants to invest in something new.”

Hannah Schafer, APC’s director of communications, notes that Abramowitz’s ambitions don’t always consider the company’s logistical limitations. 

“There are two opposite ends of the spectrum,” she said. “Yosef is the dreamer. Yosef likes to run off, and sometimes you have to pull him back in on a leash.”

Despite decades in the Jewish community’s public eye, and as much as he sees himself as a visionary, Abramowitz projects himself as a colorful character as well as an entrepreneur. After he left the Tel Aviv cafe to address the JNF donors, his publicist sent out two links at his request: One was to an article about Abramowitz’s near obsession with Madonna — he has traveled across continents to watch her perform. 

The other was to “Scissor Sheldon,” a video that urges billionaire Sheldon Adelson to donate his money to President Barack Obama in exchange for a sexual favor from comedian Sarah Silverman — whose sister, Susan, is Abramowitz’s wife.

While his daring personality has pushed him to dream beyond the company’s limits, it also has given him the confidence to start a solar company with no experience in the field. Schafer said that when launching APC, Abramowitz and his partners realized that all they needed to do was “look like we know what we’re talking about.”

So instead of spending years researching solar power, APC’s founders managed to install one solar panel at Ketura, which they would show investors as a model of their larger concept. 

If he is a dreamer, Abramowitz is relentlessly focused on one dream. APC’s official goal is to provide one-tenth of Israel’s power; Abramowitz dreams of a country run entirely on solar energy. He sees APC as one part social action, one part Zionism, one part Jewish values and one part business. 

Abramowitz, for example, decided that APC would donate the profits from the solar field’s corner panels to four nonprofits, in accordance with the Jewish commandment of pe’ah, which mandates that farmers leave the corners of their fields for the poor. 

He has a grandiose vision for his small company — one that is less about revenues and expenses than about values and ideals. Abramowitz sees solar energy as the key to lowering Israel’s high energy costs, cutting pollution and fulfilling Ben-Gurion’s vision of making Israel’s desert bloom. 

“I feel like we’re out of time,” he said. “That’s why I’m always on three hours’ sleep. I’m in a rush. The whole planet should be in a rush. The Jewish people should be in
a rush.”

Palestian power issues: The night that the lights went out?


The Palestinian Authority (PA) owes more than $170 million to the Israel Electric Company, and Israel is threatening to cut off the flow unless the debt is paid. Palestinian officials say that could cause widespread blackouts throughout the West Bank.

“A week ago they gave us a warning that if we don’t pay they will start to cut off the electricity,” Hisham Omari, the general director of the East Jerusalem Electricity Company told The Media Line. “They told us that it’s not a political issue, but an economic one. We understand that the Israeli electricity company needs their money. Most of our problem is with the Palestinian Authority.”

Iris Ben Shahal, a spokeswoman for the utility confirmed the numbers.

“The East Jerusalem Development Company owes $106 million dollars and the Palestinian Authority owes the rest,” she told The Media Line. Ben Shahal would not comment on what steps the Electric Company plans to take.

Officials at the Israeli company say this is not a new problem. As part of an Israeli-Palestinian agreement, they supply electricity to the east Jerusalem power company, which does not have its own infrastructure.

“There are always debts and they repay part but then the debt grows again,” an official at the electricity company told The Media Line. “We’re just asking for what they owe us. We’re having our own financial problems because the price of gas has gone up dramatically. Before we go to take out loans at high interest, we want the debts paid.”

The issue arises as Israel’s electricity consumption is at an all-time high due to record-breaking summer heat and the disruption in natural gas supplies from Egypt. The company is urging Israelis not to use washing machines and dryers between noon and 5 p.m. when demand is at its peak.

The east Jerusalem company supplies electricity to Bethlehem, Ramallah and Jericho as well as twelve refugee camps. Hisham Omari says only about five percent of the refugees pay for electricity. In Gaza, he says, most refugees are not billed for electricity. Under an Israeli-Palestinian agreement, Israel deducts the electricity costs for Gaza from the customs taxes it collects on behalf of the Palestinian Authority for exports from Gaza.

“We send bills but they just throw them away,” Omari said. “They say that since the refugees in Gaza don’t pay, they don’t want to pay either. We need the Palestinian Authority to help us with this issue.”

Of the total $106 million the east Jerusalem company owes Israel, more than $60 million represents unpaid bills from refugees. Omari is also calling for harsher penalties for those found stealing electricity.

“Right now even if we catch them and take them to court, they get a fine of $50,” he said. “We want to put them in jail for three months, but the bill is waiting on Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’s desk.”

He says cutting off the electricity could virtually shut down the Palestinian economy in the West Bank including hospitals, water pumps (all electrically-operated) and communications. Omari said he has appealed to the Israeli company to delay action for two weeks in recognition of the three-day holiday of Id Al-Fitr which is set to begin this weekend. Soon after that, Palestinian schools reopen. During that time, he says, the Jerusalem electricity company will try to work out a payment schedule and the Palestinian Authority will pay part of the debt.

Omari also worries that the dispute, while economic, could have political consequences.

“If electricity is cut off, there could be a new intifada,” he said, referring to the Palestinian uprising in 2000. “People will go into the streets and they will be angry at both Israel and the PA. Once this starts, nobody will be able to stop it.”

Head in the clouds and feet in the desert, Yosef Abramowitz dreams of Israeli solar power


Yosef Abramowitz is running out of time.

With only minutes to go until he has to speak to a group of donors at the Jewish National Fund, Abramowitz looks like he just finished a workout. He’s wearing sneakers, shorts and a white T-shirt featuring an outline of David Ben-Gurion’s head superimposed on the picture of a sun.

He excuses himself from the table at a Tel Aviv cafe and jogs to the bathroom to change into his “costume,” which includes slacks and a clean, ironed shirt. Immediately after the donor meeting, he flies to the United States for a few weeks to court more donors.

Abramowitz, 48, is fundraising for the Arava Power Company, which aims ultimately to provide 10 percent of Israel’s energy needs through solar power. The company now has a 4.9-megawatt field up and running in the Negev Desert, and is building a 40-megawatt field nearby.

It’s an unlikely mission for the Boston-raised Abramowitz: His background is in human rights activism and journalism, not science and technology.

“Isn’t that crazy? It’s the craziest thing,” he said. “It’s not like you wake up one day and say, ‘I’m going to move to Israel and do solar.’ “

But as he tells it, that’s more or less what happened.

After success as a college student in the 1980s fighting for imprisoned Soviet Jewry activists in Russia and against apartheid in South Africa, Abramowitz served in the Israeli Defense Forces and earned a graduate degree from the Columbia University Journalism School. Abramowitz, whose activism has rankled the organized Jewish world for years, then spent the 1990s and early 2000s writing for a handful of Jewish publications. His journalism career included writing a 1996 series of articles that called into question JNF’s finances.

In 2006, looking for a quiet lifestyle, he and his wife moved with their children – they have five, including two adopted from Ethiopia—to Kibbutz Ketura, near Israel’s southern tip, where Abramowitz had volunteered following high school. The plan was to spend the year writing, but Abramowitz scrapped that almost immediately upon arriving at the kibbutz.

“We got there on Aug. 24 at end of the day, and this hot rush of air just hits you, and you go ‘Oh my God,’ and the sun is setting and it’s burning my skin,” he said. “I thought, ‘I’m sure the whole place works on solar power.’ ”

It didn’t because no commercial solar power existed in Israel. Hoping to change that, Abramowitz partnered with Ed Hofland, an investor who lived on the kibbutz, and David Rosenblatt, an investor based in New Jersey, to found the Arava company.

Since then, Abramowitz laments the “100 regulatory battles” he says he’s had to fight against the Israeli government to build the 4.9-megawatt field, which began running last year, and to launch several other solar energy projects.

Officials from the Public Utilities Authority, which administers Israel’s energy infrastructure, did not respond to several calls for comment.

For Abramowitz, the process is grating. While he has launched ventures and organized campaigns before, and while he understands budgets and bills, he speaks the language of a social justice organizer, not a businessman. He calls his work “Zionist activism” and likens himself to Don Quixote “slaying dragons and tilting at windmills.”

Abramowitz’s analogy for APC’s success is the story of the Soviet Jewry movement, not the achievements of other solar companies.

“My point of view was, I can get a Prisoner of Zion out of solitary in the gulag and we can’t change the laws in our own country?” he said. “It was just clear as day that it was doable.”

To Abramowitz’s employees, his idealistic attitude is both an inspiration and, at times, a hindrance. Engineer Ram Duani calls Abramowitz the dream “of every engineer: He has the vision, he has the money and he wants to invest in something new.”

Hannah Schafer, APC’s director of communications, notes that Abramowitz’s ambitions don’t always consider the company’s logistical limitations.

“There are two opposite ends of the spectrum,” she said. “Yosef is the dreamer. Yosef likes to run off, and sometimes you have to pull him back in on a leash.”

Despite decades in the Jewish community’s public eye, and as much as he sees himself as a visionary, Abramowitz projects himself as a colorful character as well as an entrepreneur. After he left the Tel Aviv cafe to address the JNF donors, his publicist sent out two links at his request: One was to an article about Abramowitz’s near obsession with Madonna—he has traveled across continents to watch her perform.

The other was to “Scissor Sheldon,” a video that urges billionaire Sheldon Adelson to donate his money to President Obama in exchange for a sexual favor from comedian Sarah Silverman—whose sister, Susan, is Abramowitz’s wife.

While his daring personality has pushed him to dream beyond the company’s limits, it also has given him the confidence to start a solar company with no experience in the field. Schafer said that when launching APC, Abramowitz and his partners realized that all they needed to do was “look like we know what we’re talking about.”

So instead of spending years researching solar power, APC’s founders managed to install one solar panel at Ketura, which they would show investors as a model of their larger concept.

If he is a dreamer, Abramowitz is relentlessly focused on one dream. APC’s official goal is to provide a tenth of Israel’s power; Abramowitz dreams of a country run entirely on solar energy. He sees APC as one part social action, one part Zionism, one part Jewish values and one part business.

Abramowitz, for example, decided that APC would donate the profits from the solar field’s corner panels to four nonprofits, in accordance with the Jewish commandment of pe’ah, which mandates that farmers leave the corners of their fields for the poor.

He has a grandiose vision for his small company—one that is less about revenues and expenses than about values and ideals. Abramowitz sees solar energy as the key to lowering Israel’s high energy costs, cutting pollution and fulfilling David Ben-Gurion’s vision of making Israel’s desert bloom.

“I feel like we’re out of time,” he said. “That’s why I’m always on three hours’ sleep. I’m in a rush. The whole planet should be in a rush. The Jewish people should be in a rush.”

Minister’s idea to cut electricity to Gaza before Israel is ignored


Israel’s Cabinet ignored a suggestion by the environmental protection minister to cut the electricity supply to Gaza rather than have rolling blackouts in Israel.

Gilad Erdan made his suggestion during a Cabinet discussion on Sunday about how to deal with an expected power shortage this summer, when demand for electricity is high.

The Cabinet approved a plan that included allowing the Israel Electric Corp. to use an unlimited amount of highly polluting heavy fuel oil for electricity generation. Erdan’s recommendation was not part of the plan.

Erdan had called on the ministers to add a clause to the emergency energy agreement stipulating that if electricity needs to be temporarily stopped, the blackouts should first take place in Gaza, according to reports.

“Take care of your own needs first,” Erdan said. “It’s unreasonable that if there’s an electricity shortage, we’ll cut off the supply to Israelis—but not to Gaza, which we left seven years ago and have no responsibility for.”

Israel exports about 4.5 percent of the electricity it generates to the Palestinian Authority, Erdan said.

Egypt ends gas deal with Israel, stakeholder says


Egypt’s energy companies have terminated a long-term deal to supply Israel with gas after the cross-border pipeline sustained months of sabotage since a revolt last year, a stakeholder in the deal said on Sunday.

Ampal-American Israel Corporation, a partner in the East Mediterreanean Gas Company (EMG), which operates the pipeline, said the Egyptian companies involved had notified EMG they were “terminating the gas and purchase agreement”.

The company said in a statement that the Egyptian General Petroleum Corporation and Egyptian Natural Gas Holding Company had notified them of the decision, adding that “EMG considers the termination attempt unlawful and in bad faith, and consequently demanded its withdrawal”.

It said EMG, Ampal, and EMG’s other international shareholders were “considering their options and legal remedies as well as approaching the various governments”.

Before the sabotage, Egypt supplied about 40 percent of Israel’s natural gas, which is the country’s main energy source.

Israeli officials have said the country was at risk of facing summer power outages due to energy shortages.

Companies invested in the Israeli-Egyptian venture have taken a hit from numerous explosions of the cross-border pipeline and are seeking compensation from the Egyptian government of billions of dollars.

Ampal and two other companies have sought $8 billion in damages from Egypt for not safeguarding their investment.

The Egyptian decision is a potential blow to the country’s ties with Israel, already tested by the toppling of Israeli ally President Hosni Mubarak a year ago.

Egypt was the first of two Arab countries to sign a peace treaty with Israel, in 1979, followed by Jordan in 1994.

Reporting by Ari Rabinovitch, Writing by Allyn Fisher-Ilan; Editing by Michael Roddy

Electricity cut to Rambam’s tomb


Visitors to the tomb of Jewish scholar and philosopher Moses Maimonides have been left in the dark.

That’s because the rabbis who manage the site in the Israeli city of Tiberias neglected to pay the electric bills over a long period of time.

The Israel Electric Corp. cut electricity to the site after the mounting bills passed the $11,500 mark.

Visitors usually come to pray at the tomb around the clock. The tomb currently is closed to night visitors due to what a sign on the tomb is calling “a power glitch.”

Maimonides, known as the Rambam, was born in Spain around 1138, where he wrote famous works of Jewish law, philosophy and medicine.

He died in Cairo in 1204 and his remains were said to be reburied in Tiberias, on the banks of the Sea of Galilee.

Israel cuts power and fuel to Gaza in bid to stop rocket attacks


Critics may be describing Israel’s controversial policy of cutting fuel supplies to Gaza to deter Palestinian rocket attacks as collective punishment, but government leaders in Jerusalem see it as something else: humane.

In the face of unceasing rocket attacks on Israeli towns, cities and kibbutzim near the Gaza Strip, Israeli leaders approved the new policy to reduce fuel and electricity to the territory as the most humane way of trying to persuade Gaza’s terrorist Hamas leadership to keep the peace.

Critics at home and abroad accused the government of ulterior motives and blasted the policy as immoral and counterproductive.

They say the policy’s real aims are to prepare the way for a large ground invasion of Gaza to destroy Hamas’ burgeoning military infrastructure, to start a process of separating Gaza from Israel economically and to maintain a wedge between Hamas-dominated Gaza and the Fatah-led West Bank, which is administered by the Palestinian Authority.

Israeli critics warn the policy will rally Gazans around Hamas and lead to more rocket attacks by Palestinian terrorists, not less.

Defense Minister Ehud Barak approved the policy last week after the army’s top brass had urged further sanctions on Gaza following a particularly heavy rocket and mortar attack by Gaza terrorists on Israeli civilian populations nearby.

On Tuesday, Barak appeared to confirm some critics’ suspicions.

“The time is approaching when we’ll have to undertake a broad operation in Gaza,” Barak told Army Radio on Tuesday. “We are not happy to do it, we’re not rushing to do it and we’ll be happy if circumstances succeed in preventing it.”

Deputy Defense Minister Matan Vilnai drew up recommendations to impose limits on the supply of fuel, services and goods, and to cut electricity sporadically from the Beit Hanoun area in northern Gaza from where most of the rockets are fired.

Vilnai argues that these steps are in keeping with Israel’s Sept. 19 decision to declare Gaza a hostile entity.

After a daylong debate Monday on legalities, Attorney General Menachem Mazuz approved the new measures but ruled that the move to cut off electricity be deferred until a more detailed plan can demonstrate that no harm would be caused to essential services such as hospitals.

Israel has five electricity lines into Gaza, four of which deliver power to a nearby army base and to hospitals in the Gaza area and cannot be shut down. The fifth line to Beit Hanoun, the source of extensive rocket fire, is where government leaders plan to interrupt power on a random basis for between 15 minutes and an hour at night.

The government already has begun cutting fuel supplies by 5 percent to 11 percent.

Israeli officials argue that it is absurd to supply your enemies with fuel and electricity that they use to fire rockets at your civilians.

Hamas says withholding supplies is a form of collective punishment and a violation of international law. Hamas spokesmen claim they could stop Islamic Jihad terrorists from firing at Israel, but why should they if this is Israel’s response to their offer of a long-term cease-fire?

On the West Bank, Fatah leaders may secretly be pleased at the pressure Israel is putting on Hamas, Fatah’s rivals, in Gaza.

In public, however, Fatah leaders have been fiercely critical of the new Israeli steps.

In a meeting with Prime Minister Ehud Olmert last Friday, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas argued that the Palestinian Authority is responsible for Gaza’s estimated 1.5 million Palestinians, not the Hamas usurpers who drove Fatah out in June.

Saeb Erekat, a chief Fatah negotiator with Israel in the run-up to the planned Annapolis peace parley, called the Israeli decision to sever power and fuel supplies “particularly provocative given the fact that Palestinians and Israelis are meeting to negotiate an agreement on the core issues for ending the conflict between them.”

Fatah leaders contend that the tough Israeli measures in Gaza will make it much harder for Abbas to show the necessary flexibility to reach a deal with Israel in Annapolis.

The international community also is taking a strongly critical line. In a tense meeting Monday with Israeli President Shimon Peres, Benito Ferrero-Waldner, the European Union’s commissioner for external affairs, urged Israel to consider the possible humanitarian consequences of its action.

Earlier, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon argued that although Israel had withdrawn from Gaza, it still is responsible for what goes on there. Cutting off supplies would be “contrary to Israel’s obligations toward the civilian population under international humanitarian and human rights law,” he declared.

In Israel, several human rights organizations have petitioned the Supreme Court urging its intervention.

The plan also has sparked a lively media debate, most of it critical of the government.

The most scathing comments came from Nahum Barnea, the doyen of Israeli political pundits and recent recipient of the prestigious Israel Prize. On the front page of Monday’s Yediot Achronot, Barnea called the government plan “stupid.”

“Rather than severing Israel from the occupation, at least with regard to Gaza, it reinforces Israel’s image as a cruel occupier,” he wrote. “It is incompatible with the effort to reopen dialogue with the Palestinian Authority and the moderate Arab regimes.”

Writing in the left-leaning Ha’aretz, Amos Harel and Avi Issacharoff claimed that while Israeli defense officials say the tough measures will reduce rocket attacks, they know full well the opposite will occur.

Therefore, they conclude, “the real aim is twofold: to spark a new escalation to justify a major Israeli military operation in Gaza and to prepare the way for clear separation from Gaza, limiting to an absolute minimum Israel’s obligations to the Palestinians there.”

Israeli officials disagree. They say that the new policy does not look for an excuse to invade Gaza but constitutes an attempt to avoid an invasion.

Infrastructure Minister Benjamin Ben-Eliezer argues that in combating the rockets, Israel had only two choices: cutting the supplies to Gaza or “tomorrow or the next day” sending “three or four divisions into Gaza.”

He added, “And if we do that, won’t innocent people be killed?”

“Maybe this time the people that are responsible for the chaos in Gaza,” Ben Eliezer said, “will start thinking differently.”

Santa Monica Tries to Tread Lightly


How many trees does it take to absorb the emissions from your car’s commute? How much land does it take to feed and raise the beef you eat for dinner? How much space on earth does your trash take up?

The city of Santa Monica has taken up the task of answering those questions in “Santa Monica’s Ecological Footprint, 1990-2000,” released in March. The report measures the amount of land used to produce everyday products and services like electricity, transportation, garbage disposal and housing. That land use is called the ecological footprint, and it can be measured individually or citywide.

“If we are taking more from nature than can be provided indefinitely, we are on an unsustainable track,” the report notes.

“[The footprint] seemed to us it would make an educational tool to help people understand how to visualize their impacts on the face of the earth,” Brian Johnson, manager of the environmental division of the city of Santa Monica told The Journal.

Jewish environmental activists are extremely pleased.

“The city of Los Angeles and cities across the country could learn a valuable lesson from the city of Santa Monica,” said Lee Wallach of the Coalition on the Environment in Jewish Life. “They truly do make a real effort.”

The report found that between 1990 and 2000, Santa Monica managed to decrease its footprint by 5.7 percent, or about 65,000 acres. That decrease notwithstanding, Santa Monica, a city of 8.3 square miles, still has an ecological footprint of 2,747 square miles, an area approximately the size of Los Angeles County.

“Now that we have [the footprint], we must ask what lessons are learned and how can we implement them in a manner that’s good for residents, business and the economy,” Wallach said.

According to Johnson, the gains came from the city’s efforts to be more environmentally conscious between 1990 and 2000. He noted one area where government has taken the lead and business may want to follow: All public city facilities in Santa Monica are now based on 100 percent renewable energy, which is in large part where the 65,000 acres in savings came from.

“I think the experience the city had during [the California energy crisis] further confirms the decision the city had made in looking for opportunities for alternative energy generation,” Johnson said.

Those resource savings from alternative energy sources (in Santa Monica’s case, the city purchased geothermal energy) are particularly important: Energy and recycling are actually the only two categories of its footprint that the city managed to significantly shrink.

Nevertheless, Santa Monica has shown that it can make progress toward “sustainability,” which is that enlightened scenario where humanity does not consume any more than the earth can replace.

To compare, Santa Monica’s new per capita footprint is 20.9 acres. The U.S. average is 24 acres per person. A sustainable level would be a far more modest 4.5 acres per person.

To reach that goal, Wallach emphasized the importance of community working with politicians and businesspeople to create an environmental vision that is not overly idealistic.

“It takes a combination of political and communal will,” he said. “It can’t happen with only one and not the other.”

Doing that, Wallach said, is part of the Jewish duty to future generations, to leave the world in better shape than we inherited it. Santa Monica’s footprint is a tool designed to help measure progress in that endeavor.

Santa Monica is a relatively small place, and its report indicates that it has a significant, albeit shrinking, footprint. One cannot help but imagine what the ecological footprint for the city of Los Angeles would look like.

“There have been presentations and discussion at the Westside Council of Governments about sustainability and Los Angeles has been a part of that dialogue,” Johnson said. “As of yet we don’t have any direct relationships with their programs or planning, but we’re certainly hoping that the 800-pound gorilla comes along with us,” Johnson said of the second-largest city in the United States sitting next door.

To measure your “footprint,” take the quiz at