Hezbollah leader threatens nuclear-type attack on Israel


Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah threatened to hit large ammonia gas tanks in Haifa that he said would wreak damage and casualties equal to a nuclear attack.

Nasrallah made the threats about a future attack on northern Israel during a speech in Beirut.

“This would be exactly as a nuclear bomb, and we can say that Lebanon today has a nuclear bomb, seeing as any rocket that might hit these tanks is capable of creating a nuclear bomb effect,” he said.

Israel’s environmental protection minister, Avi Gabbai, later told the Israeli media that he had ordered the ammonia storage facility be moved to the Negev Desert in the southern part of Israel.

Nasrallah added that Hezbollah’s military might is preventing attacks by Israel, and Israel would not attack unless it knew it could win and in a short amount of time.

He also accused Israel of planning to topple Syrian President Bashar Assad, saying those plans have failed.

Nasrallah condemned Arab countries that have or are working toward normalizing relations with Israel.

“Do you accept a friend occupying Sunni land in Palestine? Can you become friends with an entity that has committed the most horrible massacres against the Sunni community?” he asked. “You are free to consider Iran an enemy, but how can you consider Israel a friend and ally? This issue must be confronted in a serious manner.”

50 years on, Bernie Sanders still champions values of his Israeli kibbutz


Every morning, Bernie Sanders would wake up at 4:10 a.m. to pick apples and pears.

Leaving the cabin he shared with a few other American college student volunteers, Sanders would have a quick bite of bread before heading out to the orchard. After 2 1/2 hours of work, he and the other 20 or so volunteers would sit down for a traditional 30-minute Israeli breakfast of tomatoes, cucumbers, onions, butter and hard-boiled eggs.

Then it was back to work. Probably.

It’s hard to know his routine for sure, but that spartan schedule was standard fare for American and French volunteers at Shaar Haamakim, the Israeli kibbutz where the U.S. Democratic presidential candidate apparently spent several months in 1963. The name of his kibbutz had remained a mystery until last week, when Haaretz unearthed a 1990 interview with Sanders identifying the agricultural commune.

No one currently at Shaar Haamakim remembers Sanders, who has preached his doctrine of democratic socialism on the campaign trail. No records with his name survive.

But Albert Ely, 79, who managed the kibbutz volunteer program in the early 1960s, remembered someone named Bernard. And he said that if Sanders was there, he was probably picking fruit before the sun rose.

“I was astonished that the name Bernard, which is French, belonged to an American,” Ely told JTA, sitting in his home here. “I remember a lot of volunteers. I don’t remember him. If he was here, he was with the Americans.”

Democratic presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders campaigning in Fort Dodge, Iowa, Jan. 19, 2016. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)Democratic presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders campaigning in Fort Dodge, Iowa, Jan. 19, 2016. Photo by Andrew Harnik via JTA

Founded in 1935 by immigrants from Romania and Yugoslavia, Shaar Haamakim sits at the nexus of two valleys near the northern port city of Haifa. During Sanders’ time, its members grew apples, peaches and pears, and were opening a factory for solar water heaters. The kibbutz also boasts a flour mill.

But as much as agriculture or industry, ideology drove Shaar Haamakim in the ’60s. The kibbutz belonged to the Israeli political party Mapam, which in the 1950s had been a communist, Soviet-affiliated faction. Kibbutz members had admired Joseph Stalin until his death, and they would celebrate May Day with red flags. They spoke of controlling the means of production, taking from each according to his abilities and giving to each according to his needs.

“All the members were equal in all ways,” said Yair Merom, the kibbutz’s current chairman. “They lived in identical houses. There wasn’t a salary; everyone received according to their needs. The kibbutz gave everything: food, shelter, education, health.”

Merom says Shaar Haamakim is proud to have hosted a U.S. presidential candidate who trumpets its principles.

“Our values of mutual responsibility are social democratic values, and we choose willingly to create that society,” Merom said. “Sanders is talking about the social democratic approach that gives freedom to the individual, but with responsibility for the whole. We do that in a practical way.”

Socialist ethos permeated kibbutz life in the ’60s. All of the kibbutz’s 360-some members wore the same uniform: khaki slacks with a matching button-down shirt. After working in the morning and early afternoon, members often would attend committee meetings where they would discuss the kibbutz’s problems. Until 1991, as at many other kibbutzim, kids lived apart from their parents at a children’s house.

Several things, according to Ely, were considered “taboo” or bourgeois: skirts, playing cards, neckties, ballroom dancing. Instead, when they weren’t working or holding meetings, kibbutzniks would take classes on anything from English language to choir singing. Once or twice a week they would dance to Israeli folk songs. Tuesday was culture night.

“In the ‘60s, the members were very idealistic,” Ely said. “They believed in the path they were going on. They thought it was [also] the solution to other problems. They thought they had a mission to help the population outside to do as they did on the kibbutz.”

Kibbutz members tried to impart some of those values to volunteers, most of whom stayed for a one-month program of work and a weeklong hike. After they finished picking fruit at noon, ate lunch and rested for a few hours, volunteers would attend lectures on Zionism, the history of Israel and kibbutz life.

Fewer than 100 volunteers came annually to the kibbutz in the early 1960s, Ely estimates. Those who stayed longer than a month, like Sanders, likely would have worked in the cowshed or the fishery. Some volunteers also built relationships with adoptive families on the kibbutz.

Although Shaar Haamakim, like many other kibbutzim, underwent privatization in the early 2000s, its members still jointly own its factories and maintain a fund to support kibbutzniks in need.

See how teen pals found each other some 50 years later


As a librarian, Oren Kaplan researches obscure facts and utilizes databases to track down information.

So when the Haifa resident read a recent “Seeking Kin” column about someone in his city, Menahem Orenstein, who hoped to locate a long-lost childhood buddy, Kaplan decided to put his experience to work.

Within a week, Kaplan had located Orenstein’s old friend, David Bak, living in Stockton, California, about 70 miles east of Oakland. That’s Bak, not Beck (remember the names).

Orenstein and Bak, who worked together at a Haifa auto repair shop in the late 1960s while attending technical high schools, expressed delight at reconnecting and hope to meet within a year.

Much to the delight of Kaplan, a Maryland native who works at the central library at the Technion: Israel Institute of Technology. He described the gratification he feels: “a combination of solving a crossword puzzle, winning at Bingo, inventing the light bulb and watching someone taste ice cream for the first time.”

When Orenstein called, Bak admitted to being “shocked and surprised.”

“I said, ‘Is that you, Menahem?’” Bak recalled.

Orenstein would telephone Bak nearly every day for a week, and between conversations they corresponded and exchanged pictures through Facebook.

On a 2011 visit to Haifa, Bak said he searched for Orenstein, but couldn’t remember his surname – the consequence of more than 40 years’ passage.

Since his parents moved the family to the United States in 1968 – not 1969, as Orenstein had recalled – Bak has retained a passion for cars, and not just those he repaired for a living.

In the early 1970s, he bought a 1966 Chevrolet El Camino and over the years redid its chassis, souped up the engine and repainted it several times. Eventually Bak gave the car to his son, Daniel, who lives in Sacramento and drives it most Sundays. Still, at age 50, the El Camino has traveled only 66,000 miles.

Bak also repaired and enjoyed driving a 1932 Chevrolet Model A before selling it four years ago. And he’s bought, repaired and sold many other cars.

Most of Bak’s career, though, was spent working in warehouses and being a heavy-equipment operator. Now, at 64, he’s retired. In addition to his son, he has a daughter, Rachel, who lives in Los Angeles, and a granddaughter. Later this year he’ll visit the Philippines, the homeland of his second wife. The trip after he’ll go to Israel.

He recalled his family leaving Israel because his father, Benzion, was concerned by Bak’s approaching draft age. But in America, Bak learned he also could be drafted and possibly sent to Vietnam.

Bak thought then, “Forget this – I’d rather fight [for Israel].” He nearly returned, until his U.S. military draft lottery number wasn’t called.

His family settled in Oakland because Bak’s paternal uncle, Boris, had moved there several years earlier. Natives of Poland, Benzion and Boris made it to Israel after spending 10 years in a Russian prison, where the brothers were incarcerated for fighting for the partisans. Seven of their brothers and sisters were murdered in the Holocaust. Three other siblings survived, settling in Uruguay, Israel and America.

Bak’s mother, Susanna, a native of Germany who survived the Holocaust, is now 88 and lives with Bak’s sister, Sara Horn, near Los Angeles.

Now back to Bak and Beck.

In searching for Bak, the key stumbling block for Orenstein and “Seeking Kin” was misspelling his surname Beck.

But when Kaplan tried the unconventional spelling, the dominoes fell. He searched on the websites of various public-records database aggregators, such as Intelius.com and Radaris.com, where the information matched some of what had appeared in the “Seeking Kin” column, such as the names of Benzion, who died in 2005 and is buried near Oakland; and of Susanna. Kaplan even turned up a contemporary photograph of Bak that bears a striking resemblance to the one appearing in the “Seeking Kin” article.

That image, showing the teenage Bak sitting in a 1962 Bonneville, was snapped on Oakland’s Walker Avenue, in front of an apartment building where the family lived. Bak recalled with delight that he smuggled 12 high school friends who crammed into the Bonneville’s trunk into the since-razed Union City Drive-In to watch a movie.

For Orenstein, finding Bak is a climax equaling any film.

“It’s exciting – no doubt about it. It’s the closing of a loop after 45 years. It’s nostalgia,” he said. “The decades passed – the first, second, third and fourth – and the curiosity increased. We can’t return to the days of yore, but [now] we can visit each other and share our experiences.”

Orenstein said he’ll arrange a reunion of those who once worked at Garage Express, now called Hyundai Garage. The shop’s former owner, Zeev Solomon, has pledged to attend, as has the current owner, Danny Finkelstein — his late father, Baruch, owned the shop when Orenstein and Bak worked there as teens.

Coming back, too, are several long-ago mechanics with whom Orenstein has maintained contact: Uzi Balila, Yossi Itzkovitch, Yaakov Bichacho and David Kuba.

The one who’ll make the gathering complete, Orenstein said, is Bak.

Israel’s environmental protection minister pledges ‘drastic’ measures on Haifa pollution


Responding to a new University of Haifa study indicating that pollution from nearby factories may be causing birth defects in the Haifa area, Israel’s environmental protection minister pledged to take “drastic” measures.

On Monday, Avi Gabai convened an emergency meeting with Health Minister Yaakov Litzman and said that if additional studies confirm the university’s findings, the government is prepared to close factories if necessary, the Times of Israel reported.

Several oil refineries, power plants and chemical manufacturing factories are located in or near Haifa, which is also a busy shipping hub.

Gabai said the government has a plan to cut pollution in half by 2018, but did not provide details.

While previous studies found higher rates of cancer among Haifa residents than those elsewhere in Israel, the new study, made public on Sunday, also found that newborns in Haifa have smaller-than-average heads and low birth weights.

Last April, hundreds of Haifa residents held demonstrations to protest local pollution following reports that the Health Ministry’s chief of public health services had found that half of the cases of cancer in Haifa children were due to the city’s air pollution.

The new study describes the neighborhoods of Kiryat Haim, Kiryat Bialik and southeast Kiryat Tivon as the epicenters of pollution-related disorders, and says residents there are five times more likely to develop lung cancer and lymphoma than those living elsewhere in the country, according to the Times of Israel.

Haifa is Israel’s third-largest city and its most ethnically mixed. Approximately 10 percent of the city’s population is Arab-Israeli.

Israeli businessman hopes to ship goods through Jordan to Arab world


This post originally appeared on The Media Line.

Haifa, Israel – The captain peered over the side of the Turkish-flagged ship at his cargo of long metal rods that have come from Turkey and are headed to an unspecified Middle East country. The crew piled into a van at the Israel Shipyards, bound for the duty-free shop at the nearby Haifa port. On a recent afternoon, ships from all over the world were docked at this Mediterranean port, carrying goods bound for Jordan, Iraq and Syria.

The Middle East has radically changed in almost every way possible since the beginning of the “Arab spring” revolutions in 2011. In Syria, the main port of Latakia in northwest Syria has been shut down completely, meaning the goods that used to come from Turkey, Ukraine, and other countries to Syria, and then be transferred to trucks for delivery in Jordan and Iraq, need a new way to travel.

Shlomi Fogel, the chairman and CEO of the privately-owned Israel Shipyards next to Haifa port has the solution. He wants ships from all over the world to dock at the Haifa Shipyards where it will be loaded on trucks and taken across Israel’s border with Jordan. From there it will be distributed throughout the Arab world. Fogel has invested in a tax-free zone on both sides of the Israeli – Jordanian border called Gateway Jordan, that has already begun to operate.

“First of all we’re doing business, and nobody cares what religion you are,” Fogel told The Media Line in his office at the Israel Shipyards, on the Mediterranean coast in Haifa. “That’s exactly why it works. Everyone can make money out of it.”

The Shipyards, Israel’s largest privately owned port, specializes in bulk cargo. Ships carrying everything from animal feed to salt to metal to plastic. Large cranes unload the ship, dumping the goods onto plastic sheets laid out on the ground. The goods are then loaded into trucks where they cross the border between Israel and Jordan and are delivered to a free trade area called the Jordan Gateway, where it is placed on Jordanian trucks for delivery to Iraq, and other countries.

“We do business and slowly, slowly, that’s how you make a relationship with your neighbors,” Fogel said. “I might be a good thing for future peace but the way to do it is through economic progress. You don’t need governments, you only need traders, and it goes ahead.”

Business is picking up at the Israel Shipyards despite growing tensions between Israel and the Palestinians, after Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said during Israel’s recent election campaign that he does not foresee a Palestinian state. Tensions have also grown over the Palestinian Authority’s decision to join the International Criminal Court with the objective of bringing Israeli soldiers involved in last summer’s war with Hamas in the Gaza Strip up on war crimes trials. Many Palestinians are boycotting Israeli goods.

Yet, says Fogel, everyone wants to make money.

“The grain that comes via Israel goes through several people,” Fogel said. “Some of them are Arab citizens of Israel who are buying the grain, taking it to Jordan, storing it there, distributing it and doing business. Everyone makes money and everyone is happy.”

The current alternative to the Syrian port is via the Suez Canal in Egypt, he says. Goods traveling via Suez are taxed, and the distance also increases the price. Bringing the Ukrainian grain via Israel has already brought bread prices in Jordan down by five percent.

There are still difficulties. Fogel is waiting for Jordanian government approval to build a direct bridge between the Israeli and Jordanian sides of the free trade zone. For now they use the border crossing called the Sheikh Hussein Bridge.

“It took us five years to get permit from the Israeli government to build the bridge, and now we hope the Jordanian King will give us permission in the next few months,” he said. “The minute that happens we can create thousands of new jobs and huge new opportunities to develop business.”

He mentions a recent conversation with a Jordanian businessman who already imports live animals but wants to build a slaughtering house on the Jordanian side of the boder.

“He’s a Jordanian Muslim but he wants to hire a rabbi and an imam so the meat will be both kosher and hallal (adhering to Muslim dietary laws,” Fogel said laughing. “Now that’s what I’m talking about.”

Hamas homemade rocket industry bypasses crumbling supply lines


Palestinian Hamas fighters once tried in vain to copy Israel's iconic submachine gun, the Uzi. Twenty years on, their homemade rockets streak more than 60 miles from Gaza toward the northern Israeli city of Haifa.

At least 180 Palestinians have died in eight days of cross-border fighting between the guerrillas and the vastly stronger Israeli military. Israel has so far suffered one fatality, but this contrast in casualties has not detracted from Hamas's pride in its technical progress.

The variety and range of its rocket arsenal – both closely guarded secrets – have steadily improved since Hamas Islamists emerged as an underground militant group in 1987.

Ahmed Jaabari – the chief of Hamas's armed wing who was assassinated in an Israeli air strike in 2012 – masterminded the group's domestic manufacturing capability that helped allow it, analysts say, to keep launching salvoes at Israel despite the Israeli-Egyptian blockade on supplies to Gaza.

A commander in Hamas's armed wing told Reuters that before Jaabari rose to a higher military echelon in 1996, the group had only a small number of AK-47 rifles and a single rocket-propelled grenade.

“Jaabari upgraded Hamas's capability from a rifle to a rocket that hit Tel Aviv; this is in brief what he did,” the commander, who declined to be identified, said.

In 2002 Jaabari succeeded the group's chief commander Salah Shehada, whom Israel killed, along with his aide and 15 other civilians, when it bombed a residential building in Gaza City.

Now, in the worst outbreak of Israeli-Palestinian violence in two years, Israel's military says it has hit Hamas's rocket launchers and storage facilities hard. It made similar statements in previous flareups, but rocket fire from Gaza has persisted, in varying degrees, over the years.

Engineers and fighters repeatedly died in attempts to build and launch the rockets.

Hamas gauged the range of its first homemade rocket, the Qassam, by firing it out to sea before listening to Israeli news alerts and receiving reports from Palestinian spotters inside Israel, Hamas sources told Reuters.

Thousands of Palestinians and hundreds of its fighters were killed in an uprising that culminated in Israel's evacuation of its soldiers and settlers from Gaza in 2005, and Hamas's seizure of the coastal Strip from Palestinian rivals two years later.

PRIDE

The Israeli-built and partially U.S.-funded Iron Dome defense system has shot many of the rockets destined for urban areas out of the sky.

But Hamas takes pride in their upgraded firepower and the political toll they say it takes on the enemy.

“What you are seeing today is not metal and power, what you see today is blood. Thousands of people paid with their lives so that we and our people can see this day – the day Israeli leaders stood before their nation to say: 'Sorry, Tel Aviv was hit',” the commander said, speaking before the latest conflict.

Hamza Abu Shanab, an expert on Islamist groups in Gaza, said Israel, which maintains a naval blockade of the territory and tight restrictions at its land border, faces a big problem.

“It cannot end Hamas rockets because Hamas does not depend on imported weapons and is making its own, so fighters may be engaged in combat and others are making them the ammunition,” he said. “Israel cannot estimate the size of Hamas's arsenal because the tools are being made locally. So for every rocket fired, another ten are made.”

Hamas and Islamic Jihad, another more militant armed faction, have announced new grades of longer-range rockets delivering heavier payloads in the latest conflict and boast of “surprises” from other, secret ordnance.

The Israeli military said on Monday it struck down a drone flying in its airspace which Hamas called the “Ababeel” and described as its first bomb-carrying unmanned aerial craft.

“(The armed groups) have unveiled new rockets and launchers that they have made themselves: a development that makes the militants less dependent on rockets that are smuggled into the Gaza Strip to threaten Israel's main population centers,” according to Jane's Intelligence, a London-based consultancy.

Besides Israel's tighter curbs on Gaza-bound imports since Hamas took power there in 2007, Egypt has demolished hundreds of smuggling tunnels through which weapons and commercial goods had been brought. Hamas lost an important ally in the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood, which was ousted by the military last year.

Relations with Iran, widely believed to be a main patron for Hamas's military wares, may also have suffered after Hamas refused to back Tehran's ally, President Bashar al-Assad, in Syria against mainly Islamist rebels.

The setbacks may not have dealt much of a blow to Gaza militancy, which remains a dear cause for local and Arab donors.

Reuven Ehrlich, an Israeli expert on militant groups, said Hamas's Arab donors help to launder money for the movement – cash that is prioritized for military uses despite Gaza's economic crisis.

“They are still getting money and the priority for the money they have is the military priority … The money has no smell, nobody can control how the money flows,” Ehrlich said.

Writing by Noah Browning, Editing by Jeffrey Heller and David Stamp

How is this Gaza conflict different from other Gaza conflicts?


In the past week, Israel has endured a thousand rockets.

Yet not a single Israeli has died so far from a rocket strike during the week-long conflict.

In many ways, Israel’s Operation Protective Edge — its third Gaza operation in six years — is much like previous Israeli campaigns in the territory. Israel has used airstrikes to exact a toll on Hamas and has massed troops on the Gaza border, threatening a ground invasion.

So far, Israel has conducted nearly 1,500 airstrikes over Gaza, with some 175 Gazans having died as of Monday.

But in the absence of Israeli fatalities, this conflict has been like no other in the country’s history. Despite Hamas rockets that travel farther than ever, Israel’s Iron Dome missile defense system has intercepted 90 percent of the rockets heading toward population centers, and early-warning sirens and shelters have protected residents.

Iron Dome was first used during Israel’s 2012 conflict with Hamas, though the system has added batteries and been more fully developed since. In that conflict, six Israelis were killed, five of them from rocket fire.

Hamas’ total failure this time to kill Israelis — though several have been injured by rockets — has allowed most Israelis to continue their daily lives. And even amid discussion of a cease-fire, it has given the army breathing room to continue its mission.

“We are striking Hamas with increasing strength,” said Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at a Cabinet meeting Sunday, addressing Israeli citizens. “Regarding civil defense, one needs not only an Iron Dome but iron discipline as well. You have shown this up until now. This could yet take a long time, and we need both your support and your discipline.”

Israel’s goal in this conflict is to destroy Hamas’ rocket stocks and launchers while reasserting the Israel Defense Forces’ military deterrence. Meanwhile, the Israeli home front has been guarded by Iron Dome. Within seconds of when a rocket is launched, Iron Dome identifies the type of missile fired, maps where it came from and where it will land, and — if necessary — fires a missile to knock it out of the sky.

The missile defense system has managed to intercept about 90 percent of its targets.

“If anyone hit 9 of 10 in the majors, he would be cast in gold and sent to Cooperstown,” Eran Lerman, deputy chief of Israel’s National Security Council, told a Jewish Federations of North America delegation Monday, referring to America’s Baseball Hall of Fame.

Lerman hailed Israel’s “remarkable ability to defend ourselves technologically.”

Experiencing loss of life from war has been central to the Israeli experience. Yom Hazikaron, Israel’s memorial day, is a solemn occasion for the country. Civilian and military deaths have been a key part of the calculus of when to begin and end military campaigns.

With Protective Edge, Israel has so far experienced a new kind of conflict.

But Amichai Cohen, a research fellow at the Israel Democracy Institute, wrote that Iron Dome could lead to more blame being assigned to Israel because its civilians are less exposed to harm than is Gaza’s population.

“Given the real, yet much smaller threat that rockets pose to Israeli civilian lives after the invention of Iron Dome, there is a real question of whether the IDF’s freedom of action has been curtailed,” Cohen wrote in an email sent out Monday by his institute. “Is the IDF, in effect, penalized for this life-saving technology?”

One place that doesn’t benefit from Iron Dome is Sderot, a city in the western Negev that has been absorbing Qassam rockets from Gaza since 2000. Because Sderot is only about a half-mile from the Gaza border, Iron Dome doesn’t have time to intercept the rockets. Residents have 15 seconds from the time of a warning siren to run for shelter.

Speaking to leaders of North American Jewish community federations who came to show solidarity with the city, Sderot’s mayor, Alon Davidi, encouraged the Israeli army to fight until it eliminates Hamas’ offensive capabilities. He said that the long-range rockets now being fired into the rest of the country have made millions of Israelis understand what Sderot has had to endure.

“All of the country feels what it means to want to save your life,” Davidi said. “In Tel Aviv they have two minutes. We have 15 seconds. We have a joke: If we lived in Tel Aviv we could take a shower and make coffee” before seeking shelter.

“We pray the army can do the job and succeed with the operation,” he added.

Many Israelis would likely welcome the respite from running to bomb shelters that a cease-fire would provide. But Talia Levanon, head of the Israel Trauma Coalition, said that if this operation ends like Israel’s last in 2012, there will hardly be a break in the conflict for Sderot.

Whether “it’s called an operation or it’s called a war, we need to seek shelter with my children and grandchildren, “ Levanon said. “Right now we speak of a cease-fire. We’ll wait a year or two years for it to happen again. We’re always licking the wounds of the previous operation and preparing for next time.”

Making deepest penetration into northern Israel, rockets hit Zichron Yaakov


Rockets struck the northern town of Zichron Yaakov, the deepest penetration into Israel in the recent barrage of fire from Gaza.

The rockets fired Tuesday afternoon landed in an open area located about 75 miles from the border with Gaza. Reports called it the farthest north into Israel that rockets from Gaza have hit.

Shrapnel from the rockets started a brush fire in the area. One person sustained shrapnel injuries.

Hamas took responsibility, saying it was aiming for the highly populated nearby city of Haifa. The rockets reportedly were emptied of most of their explosives in order to allow it to travel farther.

More than 50 rockets had been fired at Israel on Wednesday by later in the afternoon.

The Palestinian Maan news agency reported Tuesday afternoon that the overall death toll since the start of the Israeli military’s Operation Protective Edge has risen to 35, with 300 injuries.

Israeli bombing campaign in Gaza exceeds 2012 assault


The Israeli military reportedly has hit more targets in Gaza in the first day and a half of a bombing campaign to curb rocket fire than during its entire eight-day operation in November 2012.

The Jerusalem Post quoted an anonymous senior Israeli security source on Wednesday but did not quantify the number of targets hit in the current operation, which the Israel Defense Forces has dubbed Protective Edge.

“Hamas has been surprised by Israel’s response. We systematically struck operational infrastructure, where Hamas commanders operate,” the source said, according to the Post. “There’s not a single Hamas brigade commander that has a home to go back to.”

The source said the IDF has used 400 tons of explosives against targets in Gaza.

Meanwhile, some 72 rockets fired from Gaza struck Israel on Wednesday, the second day since the launch of the IDF campaign in Gaza. Three of the rockets were fired at Dimona, the site of Israel’s nuclear plant; one was intercepted by the Iron Dome missile defense system and the other two fell in open areas.

The farthest-reaching rocket so far landed in the vicinity of Zichron Yakov, an Israeli town situated about 80 miles north of Gaza, just south of Haifa.

Haifa, which came under heavy rocket fire from the north during Israel’s 2006 war with Hezbollah in Lebanon, announced Wednesday that it was reopening its bomb shelters.

Gaza rocket crews also have targeted Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and Israel’s airport, where incoming flights have changed their usual landing routes as a safety precaution. El Al, Israel’s national airline, said Wednesday that it would allow travelers with bookings to Israel through July 18 to cancel or reschedule their trips at no extra charge.

An armed scuba diver from Gaza was killed and a second is being pursued after they attempted to infiltrate Israel by the sea for the second time in two nights on Wednesday night. Five infiltrators from Gaza were killed by Israeli troops the previous evening.

Though Israel’s Cabinet authorized the call-up on Tuesday of up to 40,000 reserve troops, the IDF has yet to mobilize significant numbers of reservists.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned that Palestinian terrorists would pay a “heavy price” for their rocket fire against Israel and said he is prepared to “further intensify attacks on Hamas.” President Shimon Peres said an Israeli ground offensive could happen in Gaza “quite soon.”

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas said the IDF’s “killing of entire families is genocide by Israel against our Palestinian people,” the French news agency AFP reported.

So far, about 40 Palestinians in Gaza have been reported killed in the operation. Israel has not reported any deaths.

The hostilities between Israel and Gaza come in the wake of the murder of three Israeli teenagers abducted last month from a hitchhiking post in the West Bank, and the subsequent murder by Jewish extremists of a Palestinian teenager in Jerusalem. The Palestinian’s murder was followed by Palestinian rioting and rocket fire from Gaza.

Israel has arrested six suspects in the case of the murdered Palestinian teen. Suspects in the murder of the Israeli teens have yet to be apprehended; Israel said members of Hamas are responsible for the slayings.

Hamas says it fired rocket toward Haifa


Hamas said it fired a rocket at the city of Haifa, northern Israel, on Tuesday in what would be the longest-range such Palestinian attack from the Gaza Strip.

There was no immediate word of any impact in Haifa, on the Mediterranean coast 88 miles from Gaza. A Haifa resident said he had heard no sirens in the city.

The announcement came shortly after air raid sirens sounded in nearby Binyamina in what Israeli media subsequently said may have been a false alarm.

Writing by Dan Williams; Editing by Mark Heinrich

Truck by truck, Israel builds trade gateway to Arab world


The hydraulic ramp of a Turkish freighter taps down on the eastern Mediterranean port of Haifa and, under a full moon, 37 trucks roll off onto an otherwise empty pier.

In a convoy that stretches hundreds of meters, the trucks travel east across northern Israel, bringing goods from Europe to customers in Jordan and beyond.

Until three years ago the cargo these trucks carry – fruits, cheese, raw material for the textile industry, spare parts, and second-hand trucks – would have come through Syria. But civil war has made that journey too perilous.

“Too much problems, too much guns, too much fighting,” said Ismail Hamad, a 58-year-old Romanian driver. Hamad has driven through Syria for three decades, he said; now, only Israel.

Three years after Syria plunged into violence, Israel is reaping an unlikely economic benefit. The number of trucks crossing between Israel and Jordan has jumped some 300 percent since 2011, to 10,589 trucks a year, according to the Israel Airports Authority. In particular, exports from Turkey – food, steel, machinery and medicine – have begun to flow through Israel and across the Sheikh Hussein Bridge to Jordan and a few Arab neighbors. Turkey’s Directorate General of Merchant Marine, part of that country’s transport ministry, said that transit containers shipped to Israel for passage on to other countries increased to 77,337 tonnes in 2013 from 17,882 tonnes in 2010.

The trade, though still small, is growing enough to encourage long-held Israeli hopes that the Jewish state can become a commercial gateway to the Arab world. Israel plans to invest at least 6 billion shekels ($1.7 billion) in infrastructure over the next six years to improve the trade route. In the past, some Israeli businessmen and diplomats have lamented the way politics have hurt economic opportunities; others have kept any trade with their Arab neighbors quiet so as not to upset them. Now they see a chance to boost economic and political relations.

“Israel is returning to its historic role, as a transit country, as a bridge between continents, where historic trade routes passed through,” said Yael Ravia-Zadok, head of the Middle Eastern Economic Affairs Bureau in Israel’s Foreign Ministry. She leads a group of Israeli government and security officials trying to figure out how best to encourage trade.

The logic is simple: Goods from Europe and elsewhere destined for the wider Middle East are usually unloaded in Egypt before they make the several-hour drive to a Red Sea port, where they are loaded onto new vessels and shipped to their final destination. The routes from Haifa in Israel to Jordan, Iraq and even Saudi Arabia – used by the Ottoman and British empires up until Israel’s founding – are potentially much quicker and cheaper, shaving days, if not more, off a trip between Turkey and Baghdad, for instance. Costs could be cut in half.

But opening up routes will not be easy. Politics and generations of enmity are difficult to overcome. Iraq itself is on the brink of civil war. Jordanian trade figures show a sharp rise in trans-shipments through Israel in 2012, but a fall in 2013. Jordanian officials say that Israel is overstating its role in the trade and point out that the vast bulk of re-directed goods still goes via Egypt.

But Israel’s gain, small though it may be, is far more surprising because countries such as Saudi Arabia and Iraq spurn official relations with Israel.

“A lot of secrecy still surrounds the topic and it is probably premature to speak of a blossoming and fast-growing trade route,” said Coline Schep, Middle East analyst with consultancy Control Risks. She nevertheless described the traffic through the Haifa-Jordan River Crossing trade corridor over the past two years as “almost unprecedented.”

SAFE PASSAGEWAY

David Behrisch, managing partner at Tiran Shipping, an Israeli shipping agency, says business sprang to life in 2011 when organizers of the Jordan Rally found they couldn’t bring race cars in from Italy through Syria.

“Somehow we put our hands on (them),” he says. “We handled 37 trucks we had to move to Jordan and then back.” Behrisch would not go into details. “Somehow, somebody connected us. You know how things happen.”

As the number of motor vehicles crossing from Turkey into Syria plummeted – by close to 50 percent, from 106,750 in 2010 to 55,701 in 2013, according to Turkey's International Transporters Association – most of the trade was diverted to Egypt. But thanks to a new Turkish route by sea to Haifa, some shipments also began crossing through Israel.

“The reason this Haifa route has opened is entirely due to the war in Syria,” said an official at the Turkish company U.N. Ro-Ro that runs the new line.

Tiran Shipping now runs 40-50 trucks a week to Jordan and moves 2,500 containers, or roughly 37,000 tonnes.

Though the amount Tiran carries is only a tiny sliver of the $35.6 billion worth of goods Turkey exported to the region in 2013, it is up from zero a few years ago.

Israel has “not even begun to scratch at the potential,” the Foreign Ministry’s Ravia-Zadok told a recent economic conference.

HURDLES

Plenty of political and practical obstacles remain.

The port in Haifa is state-owned and has limited capacity, a history of labor unrest and cumbersome security.

Freighters in Haifa bay are typically forced to wait hours to dock. Trucks and containers have to pass through Israel’s lengthy security checks and scanners. The drivers, carrying international permits, meet passport agents onboard. Only after that can they take to the roads.

An hour later the freight reaches the Sheikh Hussein Bridge and passes into Jordan. Normally, Jordanian law requires containers to be unloaded in the country's Red Sea port of Aqaba, but that doesn’t apply to those passing through Jordan in transit or those that are stripped and moved onto Jordanian trucks at the border.

According to numerous international businessmen who spoke to Reuters on condition of anonymity, goods continue from there into Iraq and Saudi Arabia.

Documentation often shows the origin of goods but not their transit route, so the receiving authorities either don't know about or ignore Israel’s role, according to Shlomi Fogel, owner of the Haifa-based Israel Shipyards. One example: steel from Ukraine, which is shipped to Iraq through Israel with Ukrainian documentation.

Return cargoes from the Arab world into Israel are inspected with even greater scrutiny. This is perhaps the weakest link in the trade route. Merchants say they could easily sell more from the Arab world through Israel were it not for Israel’s security procedures. Only 90 or so trucks from Jordan can cross the Sheikh Hussein Bridge each day and they routinely wait all day while Israeli officials check their contents.

Fogel is working to ease that strain. He wants to expand a free trade zone called the Jordan Gateway, which sits 6 km (4 miles) south of the Sheikh Hussein Bridge and straddles the Israel-Jordan border.

One afternoon a few months ago, he stood on a hilltop above a rundown Jordanian army barracks and gazed at the 300 acre (121 hectare) park. The sluggish Jordan River that marks the border snaked through the green valley below.

“Up here we will build a cafe and people from around the world will come and do business,” he said.

Working with the family of late international financier Bruce Rappaport in Switzerland and with the wealthy Dajani and Kawar families in Jordan, Fogel wants to create a customs-free zone, where cargo can be dropped off or picked up from either side 24-hours a day, companies can build factories, and everything, including security, is managed privately. Already it is one of five such zones in the country from which goods manufactured in collaboration with Israel can be sold to the United States without tariff or quota restrictions.

Seven factories are up and running on the Jordanian side of the zone, an increase from just four factories at the start of this year, the park's Jordanian general manager Qasem al-Tbaishi said. The planned industrial park will bring a boost to Jordanians nearby who depend on farming and are much poorer than the Israelis across the river.

Israel has given approval and budgeted 60 million shekels ($17 million) to build a bridge directly into the trade zone. The gateway group hopes Jordan will approve the plan within months.

Israel's Zoko Enterprises moved its car filter plant to the Jordanian side of the zone three years ago to save on labor costs and gain access to Arab markets. Gilad Hadassi, general manager at Zoko's Israeli subsidiary Gur Filter, says companies from countries like Saudi Arabia and Qatar, which don't have diplomatic relationships with Israel, are willing to buy from a Jordanian company.

“Customers from all over the world, a lot of customers from Iraq and other Middle East countries at exhibitions come to our booths to talk business. They don’t care about politics.”

FUTURE

Israel plans to build two $1 billion ports to be run by foreign operators – one in Haifa, the other 80 km (50 miles) south in Ashdod. The new Haifa port will have a capacity for 1.5 million containers a year, roughly doubling current levels.

A railway from Haifa to Beit Shean, not far from the Jordan border, will be completed this year, and a final leg is being planned, so that by 2017 a steady flow of containers could travel by train all the way to the border.

“We can be an alternative for an individual producer, but for the big picture we won't replace the Suez Canal, which is something huge,” said the CEO of the Jordan Gateway, Yuval Yacobi.

The most ambitious plan is a $400 million, 400-megawatt power station run on Israeli natural gas to generate electricity for both countries. Spearheading that proposal is Shimon Shapira, a former military secretary to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu who together with Fogel has been meeting Jordanian officials. “Jordan today suffers from blackouts and has a big shortage of electricity,” Shapira said. “They are paying about 12 cents per kilowatt, and we will be able to provide it to them for a lot less.”

The developers hope for approval from Amman this year. The project would take up to five years to build. Some analysts remain skeptical that Jordan will agree to use Israeli gas. But in February the partners in Israel's huge Tamar field signed a 15-year deal with two Amman-based companies to supply $500 million worth of gas.

Wounded Ukrainian mayor ‘stable’ in Israeli hospital


The mayor of eastern Ukraine's biggest city was in a stable condition on Tuesday in a hospital in Israel, where he was flown after being wounded in the highest-profile assassination attempt in the standoff between Kiev and Moscow.

Gennady Kernes, one of Ukraine's most prominent Jewish politicians, was shot in the back on Monday in Kharkiv, and underwent surgery in Ukraine on Monday. Officials had said his injuries were life-threatening.

“He is stable. That is all we can say right now,” a staff member at Elisha Hospital in Haifa, north Israel, told Reuters.

Israel Radio said Kernes was in Elisha's head injuries department and that doctors believed he did not require further surgery for now as his operation in Ukraine had been successful.

After protesters toppled pro-Moscow Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich in February, Kernes, 54, supported calls for Kharkiv to become independent from Kiev's new, pro-European leaders.

But he changed his views after being accused of fomenting separatism and when Ukrainian police forced pro-Russian protesters out of administrative buildings in the city.

A Ukrainian local government official said Kernes was either riding his bicycle or jogging when he was shot by someone probably hidden in nearby woods. His bodyguards were following in a car but were not close enough to intervene.

The Ukrainian embassy in Tel Aviv said it was not involved in Kernes' hospitalization in Israel, which may have been privately arranged and funded. Israel Radio said an Israeli doctor examined him in Ukraine before he was airlifted out.

Writing by Dan Williams; Editing by Jeffrey Heller and Andrew Heavens

The Mensch List: The matchmaker


For a moment, it seemed like Jacob Segal was the interviewer.

Walking into Delice Bakery on a recent Monday morning, the 67-year-old businessman was already there, sitting by the window facing Pico Boulevard, huddled over the Los Angeles Times.

He stood up energetically, gave a broad smile worthy of a good Jewish zayde, and asked in a hybrid Israeli and Eastern European accent, “What do you want for breakfast?” 

And over the course of the next 45 minutes, Segal’s questions illustrated why he’s so good at what he does.

“Where do you live?” he asked curiously. “Are you seeing anyone?”

That’s just who Jacob Segal is — a networker, shmoozer, people person and volunteer shadchen, or matchmaker. No, not for prospective couples, but for Israeli entrepreneurs looking for capital and expertise in Southern California.

Since 1994, Segal has been a real-life LinkedIn, connecting Israeli entrepreneurs with investors in Southern California. As the head of the Southern California Israel Chamber of Commerce (SCICC), Segal works tirelessly with a handful of dedicated volunteers to help Israeli entrepreneurs find what and who they are looking for in the local economy.

Never taking a dime of compensation for the valuable relationships he helps create, Segal arranges monthly meet-and-greets, usually midweek breakfast events at different venues in the city. 

In April, he brought Haifa-based Chagit Rubinstein to an early-morning bagel breakfast in Century City to talk about her microfinance initiative. It was a unique opportunity to make her pitch, shmooze, and network with potential investors. 

Some of the shidduchim — matches — turn into long, happy business relationships. Some last for a few years and then sputter out. And some, well, let’s just say they weren’t meant to be.

From coupling an Israeli electrical grid monitoring company with local energy firms to helping the non-profit Israel for Africa set up a 501(c)(3) in America, Segal is, in a way, repaying the country that helped get him out of the former Soviet Union and into the free world.

Born in August 1946, Segal grew up in Iasi — a city known as the cultural center of Romania — under communist rule. Secretly tuning in to radio broadcasts of Kol Israel and the Voice of America, Segal was eager to leave Romania. 

In 1965, he got his wish, moving to Israel, where the government paid the costs of resettlement for Segal, then 19; his mother; and his brother and sister.

Segal believes that growing Israel’s economy, relationship by relationship, helps the world see Israel in a different light. “Economics is the best way to do good diplomacy,” Segal likes to say, explaining how products and technology made in Israel help frame the Jewish state in a light that doesn’t involve green lines, negotiations and settlements.

Shai Aizin, who was Israel’s consul for economic affairs to the West Coast and based in Los Angeles between 2005 and 2009, said that Segal and SCICC have helped him in his role as a private businessman since he moved to Israel.

“They’ve helped tremendously,” Aizin said in a phone interview from Israel in April. “They are always willing to see what they can do and how they can help.”

As Segal put it as he polished off the last of his cheese-and-spinach boureka, “If there’s a need, we’ll find a way.” 

Then he sat down and waited for his next interviewee — a girl he wanted to speak with before recommending her to a local businessman and friend looking to fill an opening.

Yigal Kipnis on Yom Kippur War’s lessons


Yigal Kipnis is an Israeli historian; since 1978 he has been a farmer and a resident of the Golan Heights. He teaches at the University of Haifa and researches the settlement geography and political history of Israel. Kipnis also served as a pilot in the Israeli Air Force for 31 years (26 of them in the IAF reserves). The following exchange focuses on his book, “1973: The Road to War,” which came out in Hebrew in late 2012. The book has received fantastic reviews in the Israeli press by various acclaimed critics and is scheduled to appear in English later this year.

Shmuel Rosner: Your book, and this is no big secret, was immediately embraced by the Israeli so-called “peace camp.” I always find it a little disturbing that history books become a political tool, but in today’s political environment this is probably unavoidable.

The conclusion drawn by many of your readers was this: Israel wasn’t vigorous enough in pursuing peace back in 1973, and the result was devastating. It should therefore be careful not to miss such opportunities today, and be more forthcoming in its conduct when negotiating with its neighbors. 

Is this your conclusion as well? Are we in danger of repeating the mistakes of 1973?

Yigal Kipnis: Your question links the realm of my research — history — and the area you deal with: investigating and interpreting the present.

The book “1973, The Road to Waris entirely devoted to the events of 1973 (except for the Marwan story, which continues up to the present). As I wrote in my introduction, the findings relating to that year were that: “Decision makers in Israel had been mistaken in thinking that their military superiority and deterrence, along with the political support of the United States, would both prevent a political process which they did not want and uphold the favorable (to Israel) status quo. The Israeli prime minister and minister of defense did not comprehend that, in order to ensure Israeli security, military superiority was not enough; a peace agreement was also necessary.”

But I was careful to end the introduction with the following paragraph: “Despite the fact that the book discusses the events of 1973, the attention of many readers will be directed toward the present. History, as is well known, does not repeat itself, but it is important to be familiar with it, as such knowledge assists us in better evaluating current events.”

Nevertheless, many readers examined the book’s findings in accord with their own attitudes about the present-day political situation, a fact that you justifiably deplore. Members of the “peace camp” were indeed happy with these findings so that they could base their present positions on the lessons of 1973. Correspondingly, for the same reason, the “right-wing camp” found it difficult to accept the facts about 1973, some without even learning these facts. There were those who went further, ignoring the findings and viewing only the present, maintaining that Israel should not have considered coordination with the United States and should have launched a preventive attack. With regard to 1973, they are mistaken.

In this paragraph, I reply specifically to your question:

“The actions of the prime minister and the minister of defense that led to the Yom Kippur War evoke thoughts about the role of a national leader, about the relations between decision makers and evaluation bodies, about the price of silencing a mobilized or a paralyzed media, about the price of the ‘national euphoria’ that characterized Israeli society in the ‘euphoric period’ between the Six-Day War and the Yom Kippur War, and, particularly, about the price of a sense that time is working in Israel’s favor.”

But the position that Israel should take at present must be investigated comprehensively considering the Zionist process and present realities, and not according to those of 1973.

I believe, and with no connection to the events of 1973, that Israeli peace agreements with the Arab states surrounding it were and have remained a strategic Israeli goal and thus, it had to act to achieve this goal and still should. These agreements must be based on the international border that defined, for the first and only time in history, the state entity of the land of Israel. This definition stemmed from a decision by the Israeli unity government in June 1967, nine days after the end of the Six-Day War. This decision also expressed how its ministers, both on the left and on the right, and including Menachem Begin, conceived of the way to turn the military achievement of the Six-Day War into a political achievement. This policy was implemented in the peace agreements with Egypt and Jordan. The withdrawal from Lebanon was based on this borderline, as were the negotiations with Syria, conducted by Rabin, Peres and Netanyahu in two terms of office, Barak and Olmert. The problem remaining is what happens within the international border of Israel — the west bank of the Jordan River. One state? Two states? If there are two states, how will we share the land?

In my opinion, without casting doubt on the historical connection of the Jewish nation to the entire land, realization of Zionist aspirations and ensuring the existence of the State of Israel as a national home for the Jewish people requires us to reach an agreement with the Palestinian leadership, if only to ensure proper security and freedom of entry to places that will not remain under Israeli sovereignty. The outline of this agreement is well known. The problem is how to achieve it. In this context I expressed my opinion a few weeks ago in an op-ed article in Ha’aretz: “The Arab initiative for comprehensive peace with Israel is one of the important political achievements of Zionism. Its implementation is likely to lead to regional stability, which will enable Israel to direct its resources and its efforts to the areas of education, society and the economy. No Palestinian leader will be able to reject an agreement that has been accepted in this discussion channel, under the patronage of the Arab world, the United States and the European Community. This patronage will make it easier for both Israeli and Palestinian leaders to compromise on issues that would have been difficult to agree on in direct negotiations between the sides. An Israeli leader who really aspires to peace and security must accept this initiative.”

In addition, I believe that the Israeli public will support a leader who adopts this policy. Not as a lesson drawn from the price we paid in the Yom Kippur War because the Israeli prime minister rejected a peace initiative from President Sadat, an initiative whose principles formed the basis of the treaty Prime Minister Menachem Begin signed six years later with Egypt, but as a vital interest of the State of Israel as a national home for the Jewish people at present in the land of Israel.

For more of this exchange, read Rosner’s Domain at jewisjournal.com/Rosnersdomain.


Shmuel Rosner is senior political editor. For more analysis of Israeli and international politics, please visit Rosner’s Domain at jewishjournal.com/Rosnersdomain.

Al-Qaida-affiliated terror group says it’s resuming holy war against Jews


A terrorist group affiliated with al-Qaida that claimed responsibility for a rocket attack on northern Israel said it has resumed a jihad, or holy war, against the Jews.

The Lebanon-based Azzam Abdullah Brigades said the rocket attack last week was carried out “as part of the resumption of the jihad against the Jews.”

“We’ve frozen the activity for the sake of the blessed Syrian revolution,” read the statement posted Monday on the Twitter account of a radical Salafist cleric.

Azzam Abdullah Brigades, an offshoot of al-Qaida in Iraq, claimed responsibility for firing four long-range missiles into northern Israel, including two that fell in residential areas, causing damage to houses and cars in Nahariya and Acre.

The “green light given by Israel and the Western countries to Hezbollah in the fight against our people in Syria, so that Israel could safeguard its security, will not provide it with security,” the statement said. “Rather, it will bring it closer to the fire of the jihadi fighters and make it much more exposed to them.”

The attack gives the “Jewish conquerors an indication of the quality of rockets in our possession,” it said. “Haifa should be decorated with the most magnificent shrouds to greet our rockets.”

At least one rocket in the attack was intercepted by an Iron Dome anti-missile battery deployed in the area, according to the Israel Defense Forces.

Tending tolerance in ‘The Gardener’


Movies from D.W. Griffith’s “The Birth of a Nation” to Leni Riefenstahl’s “Triumph of the Will” have stirred political passions and ruffled international diplomatic feathers, and now comes “The Gardener.”

There are a number of ironies about this lyrical documentary. To start with, one of Iran’s greatest directors shot it in Israel, the Zionist bête noire of his country’s regime.

It is a movie about the common humanity and worth of men and women everywhere but has been met with emotional denunciations of the director in his native Tehran.

The director, writer, cinematographer and a main character of the movie is Mohsen Makhmalbaf, one of Iran’s most prolific and honored auteurs, whose 2001 movie “Kandahar” — about an Afghan woman traveling through Taliban-ruled parts of her country — was named by Time magazine as one of the greatest 100 films of all time.

“Gardener” does not fit the common catchwords of today’s movie reviews. The film has been categorized as a surreal docudrama, but it is also a prolonged inquiry into the virtues and evils of organized religion and into the art of horticulture.

Not least, it offers an extended tour of one of the most beautiful spots in Israel, the Baha’i World Center and gardens on the slopes of Mount Carmel, overlooking the city and port of Haifa.

Working with the 57-year-old director is his son, Maysam Makhmalbaf (for simplicity’s sake, we will refer to father and son by their first names), who also serves as the irreverent voice of the younger generation and his father’s sparring partner in religious disputes.

The film’s title character is Ririva “Eona” Mabi, a middle-aged man from Papua New Guinea, who goes about tending the gardens’ magnificent flora not as a repetitive chore but as a form of prayer and worship.

In one slow, lovely scene, Eona carries some water in his cupped hands and then feeds it, drop by drop, into the leaves and stem of a single flower.

It speaks to the sometimes-odd symbolism of the movie to later see Mohsen imitate the gardener by planting the single leg to which his camera is attached into the ground, anointing the camera with water from his cupped hands.

While both Mohsen and Maysam persistently film one another in the process of filming their subjects, the father’s focus is on the gardener — working, napping, watching birds fly overhead — plumbing new depths of the man’s character.

The son is more restless and eclectic, in one passage interviewing three young Baha’i volunteers, all Americans, who had come to work at the center of their faith.

Maysam also leaves the gardens briefly and takes his camera to the Old City of Jerusalem to film three faiths at prayer — Jews at the Western Wall, Muslims at the Al-Aqsa Mosque, and Christians at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher.

As he wanders, Maysam muses that all religions use the same rituals and similar interior architectures, the same candles and contrasts between dark and light, “everything to leave reality and enter a metaphysical world.”

The young Iranian also can’t help wondering what would happen if his native country went nuclear and bombed the Western Wall, which would leave the sacred Islamic Al-Aqsa in rubble.

Baha’ism was founded nearly 170 years ago in Persia and holds that every religion represents one facet of God, that divine revelation is a continuing process, that all humans, men and women, are equal and advocates universal education and world peace.

Its founder was promptly exiled to an Ottoman penal colony in Acre, another Baha’i holy site in Israel, and members of the faith have been intermittently persecuted in its founding country.

The film’s setting lends itself naturally to a running debate between father and son on the nature of religion.

“All wars have their roots in organized religion,” argues the younger man, to which the older man responds that the younger generation has substituted worship of technology for religion and points to the peaceful philosophy of their Baha’i hosts.

Young Maysam remains skeptical. “If the Baha’i were in power, they would start persecuting other faiths,” he maintains.

Mohsen Makhmalbaf knows something about the intolerance of those in power, whether religious or secular.

As a young filmmaker, he was imprisoned for four years by the shah’s regime, and was an ardent supporter of the clerical revolution that toppled the shah. Gradually, however, he became disillusioned with the new rulers, and after the 2005 election of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as president, Makhmalbaf went into exile and now lives in London.

For the present Iranian authorities it was bad enough that Mohsen broke the taboo against shooting a film in the land of the Zionist Little Satan, but when he accepted a special jury prize last month at the Jerusalem Film Festival, the Iranian establishment went ballistic.

He was denounced as a traitor and as a man “with no roots,” while the head of the Film Museum of Iran ordered the “cleansing” of a special section at the museum devoted to the director’s works.

One group of Iranian artists and intellectuals expressed deep dismay that the director would visit a country with “apartheid” policies.

However, a smaller but still sizable group of artists lauded Mohsen in an open letter for his courage in breaking the taboo against visiting Israel. Speaking to the British newspaper The Guardian, the director himself described the taboo as a “cancer” infecting Iran’s intellectual community for more than 60 years.

In his acceptance speech at the Jerusalem Film Festival, Mohsen dedicated his prize to “all the artists, politicians and intellectuals and people in Iran and Israel who work toward peace between our two countries and believe peace is possible.”

“The Gardener” opens Aug. 2 at Laemmle’s Music Hall in Beverly Hills.

Seaport battle looms as Israel plans new competition


Israel is betting its economic future on high-tech exports but faces a low-tech bottleneck in state-owned seaports subject to work stoppages and slowdowns because of the enormous strength of their unions.

All that may be about to change.

The government, for years unwilling to risk a confrontation that could paralyse trade given that 99 percent of exports and imports are transported by ship, last month pledged to end the monopolies of the two main ports of Ashdod and Haifa.

By introducing private piers to compete with the two ports, service would improve and prices would drop across the board, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said.

The port unions — possibly the most powerful in the country with just 2,400 workers earning double the average public sector salary — are likely to be severely weakened and may have to make concessions or face layoffs.

At a time when the middle class is squeezed by slow economic growth and high costs, there is little sympathy for their plight among average Israelis, let alone businessmen.

“Labour unions in the ports are very strong, very belligerent, very egotistical and are using their control of a key state property against the state,” said Uriel Lynn, president of the Federation of Israeli Chambers of Commerce.

The unions declined to speak with Reuters for this article and referred questions to the umbrella Histadrut labour federation.

But in a rare television interview in January, the head of the Ashdod union Alon Hassan defended the role of collective bargaining and the right to strike, protected by law, and said the port workers were misunderstood.

“I have no criminal background, and sadly, they point at me in the streets like some mafioso,” he told Israel's Channel 10.

“I see and hear and read that on the outside they don't like us, the port workers, and me specifically. That they paint me as an extortionist, a problematic person. Something I am not.”

The unions will not budge, he said: “I am protecting the workers' agreements that have been signed for tens of years. Fanatically. I am not open to unilateral attempts to breach such agreements.”

Cranes at the port of Haifa. Photo by Ronen Zvulun/Reuters

Articulating the government's position, Finance Minister Yair Lapid said simply: “Let there be war.”

NETANYAHU'S MANDATE

Netanyahu was reelected in January with a mandate to do whatever it takes to fix the moribund economy, which grew 3.2 percent in 2012, its slowest pace in three years. Hundreds of thousands of Israelis staged unprecedented nationwide protests in mid-2011 over high housing costs and soaring prices.

Netanyahu has placed the blame for the high cost of living on monopolies and cartels that prevent competition and began cracking down, starting with the country's most vital services.

On April 21 the government approved an open skies deal that liberalises aviation between Israel and Europe and is expected to bring in more foreign airlines and lower air fares. A two-day strike at flag carrier El Al and two smaller Israeli airlines ended with the government agreeing to pay a higher portion of the airlines' security costs.

Car importers and television operators are also in Netanyahu's sights.

Few groups wield as much power as the port workers, as gatekeepers for Israel's international commerce, however.

The Manufacturers Association of Israel said the country lost 25 million shekels ($7 million) directly and tens of millions more indirectly in a dispute at Ashdod port in April.

The workers, who held a 10-day slowdown in protest at a new rule requiring port navigators to stay on site throughout their shift even at quiet times, forced 32 cargo ships to wait hours off the coast.

Five ships were eventually redirected to Haifa about 80 miles (130 km) to the north and five others simply “took off”, the manufacturers' group said.

OLD FOES

Netanyahu has faced off with the port workers before. A decade ago, when the ports were run by a single government-owned company, ships wanting to dock in Israel were delayed an average of 17.4 hours, according to government statistics.

Then finance minister, Netanyahu in 2005 pushed through a reform that broke the ports into three units and a separate managing body called the Israel Ports Co, all still government-owned. The unions stopped work for one month before agreeing to the change.

The government at the time made clear this was considered only the first step toward total privatisation of the port system and two years later, Israel Shipyards began operating a small private port on a floating dock in Haifa.

Service has since improved. Container vessels in 2012 waited on average 3.7 hours to dock in Haifa, which handled 24 million tonnes, and 6.5 hours in Ashdod, which received 19.5 million tonnes. Israel Shipyards handled another 1.3 million tonnes.

But the wait time is still high by international standards.

Containers at the port of Haifa. Photo by Ronen Zvulun/Reuters

“In most ports in world, the quays wait for the vessels and not the vessels wait for the quays. So anything above zero would not be acceptable,” Dov Frohlinger, chief operating officer of Israel Ports Co, told Reuters.

“What will happen to the waiting time in the next five to six years as cargo grows?”

Rafi Danieli, chief executive of Israel's biggest shipping company Zim, agreed the situation was substandard.

“In central and efficient ports in the world you work according to windows. You know exactly when to arrive and when to enter … In Israel, less so,” he said.

PROTECT THE WORKERS

In February, the state sold the rights to manage and operate the small Red Sea port of Eilat, which handles just 5 percent of the country's sea trade. Israeli firm Papo Maritime paid 120 million shekels for a 15-year deal, and it has the option to pay 105 million shekels more for an extra 10 years.

But in an example of the inflexibility of the system, negotiators had to reach an agreement with every one of the port's 120 workers, a government official told Reuters. Papo Maritime was the only bidder to hang on to the end.

Shortly after Eilat was privatised, Transport Minister Yisrael Katz outlined the rest of the plan: “Opposite each port, a private, competing pier must be built.”

The plans to build the piers, which will cost a little more than 4 billion shekels each, is awaiting final government approval. But Meir Shamra, who heads the Finance Ministry's privatisation unit, said the government was determined to make it happen.

Although no talks are currently underway, preliminary checks showed investors will come when the time is right, he said.

Avi Edri, who represents the port unions among the 800,000 public sector and other workers at the Histadrut federation, said his constituency “would never let it (competing private ports) happen”.

The unions want to explore the idea of forming a private company in which workers could own a minority stake, which would give them an incentive not to strike, Edri told Reuters. Shamra said the government might be open to the idea.

But the right to strike must remain inviolate, Edri said.

“Even if they gave a million shekels to each worker, the right to strike, or the right to unionise, or the right to protest is holy,” he said. “It is above all the money in the world.”

A worker sits as a crane unloads containers from a ship at the port of Haifa. Photo by Ronen Zvulun/Reuters

$1 = 3.65 shekels. Editing by Jeffrey Heller and Sonya Hepinstall

Civilian airspace in northern Israel closed over fears


Israel closed the airspace in its North to civilian traffic following attacks on Syrian targets that were believed to be carried out by the Israeli military.

The closure comes after the Israeli military moved two Iron Dome missile defense batteries to northern Israel near Safed and Haifa on Sunday morning.

The Israeli domestic airline Arkia on Sunday canceled all flights from Haifa to Eilat for five days, saying in its statement that the closure was “due to IDF instructions on the closure of airspace in the North until May 9.”

Meanwhile, White House spokesman Josh Earnest told reporters Sunday that President Obama  believes “the Israelis are justifiably concerned about the threat posed by Hezbollah obtaining advanced weapons systems, including some long-range missiles.” The U.S. “is in very close contact” with the Israeli government, Earnest said.

Syrian state media accused Israel of an early Sunday morning attack on what it identified as the Jamraya military research center located approximately 10 miles from the border with Lebanon.

The Reuters news agency cited an unnamed “Western intelligence source” on Sunday who confirmed the attack and said Israel targeted stores of long-range Fateh-110 missiles that were in transit from Iran to Hezbollah. The missiles have the capacity to strike Tel Aviv from Lebanon. Israel's military did not confirm nor deny reports that it was responsible for the attack.

Israel was said to be responsible for an attack on a Syrian target two days earlier; it has not confirmed or denied the attack.

Israeli hospital separates rare conjoined twins


A conjoined twin in Israel who was separated in a rare operation was in serious condition.

The Rambam Medical Center in Haifa said the twins were separated last week in a four-hour operation. It was believed to be the first time the separation surgery had ever been attempted in Israel.

One twin, born stillborn, had not fully developed and was fused into his brother’s body.

The survivor, who is fighting for his life, had another pelvis, legs, arms, kidney and digestive system. He also has a heart defect, which is common to conjoined twins.

“This kind of surgery is incredibly complicated, with low survival rates,” said Dr. Ran Steinberg, the head of pediatric surgery at Rambam. “In many cases, as here, the twin also suffers from accompanying heart defects, which further endangers the infant’s life.”

There have only been 150 documented cases of similarly conjoined twins in the last 126 years.

Israel shoots down drone from Lebanon, Israeli Military says


An Israeli fighter plane shot down a drone from Lebanon over the Mediterranean sea on Thursday as it was approaching the Israeli coast, the military said.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he was flying in a military helicopter to an event in northern Israel when the unmanned aircraft was spotted along the Lebanese coast by Israeli air defences. His helicopter landed briefly until the interception was completed.

There was no indication from Israeli officials who provided information about the incident that Israel suspected any connection between the dispatch of the drone and Netanyahu's flight, whose details had not been made public.

“I view with great gravity this attempt to violate our border. We will continue to do what is necessary to defend the security of Israel's citizens,” Netanyahu said in a speech at his destination, a Druze village where he met community leaders.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the alleged aerial infiltration.

Asked whether Hezbollah, an Iranian-backed Lebanese guerrilla group that sent a drone into southern Israel in October, was behind the incident, a military spokesman said an investigation was under way and the navy was trying to salvage wreckage from the aircraft.

“On my way here, in a helicopter, I found out there was an infiltration attempt by a UAV (unmanned aerial vehicle) into Israeli air space,” Netanyahu said in the Druze village of Julis, some 15 km (9 miles) from the Lebanese border.

“Within a short time, Israeli pilots intercepted this aircraft and shot it down over the sea.”

The military said the unmanned aerial vehicle was detected in Lebanese skies and intercepted by a F-16 fighter jet some 5 nautical miles west of the Israeli port city of Haifa.

A military spokesman said the drone had been flying at an altitude of about 6,000 feet and had been monitored by Israel for about an hour before it was destroyed by an air-to-air missile.

“We don't know where the aircraft was coming from and we don't know where it was actually going,” the spokesman said.

In the incident in October, a Hezbollah drone flew some 35 miles into southern Israel before being shot down by an F-16.

Israel and Hezbollah fought a war in 2006, and Lebanon has complained to the United Nations about frequent Israeli overflights, apparently to monitor the group's activities.

On Monday, Israeli Defence Minister Moshe Yaalon said Israel would not permit “sophisticated weapons” to fall into the hands of Hezbollah “or other rogue elements” in Syria's civil war.

“When they crossed this red line, we acted,” Yaalon said at a news conference with U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, in comments widely interpreted as confirming reports that an Israeli air strike in Syria in January had targeted a Hezbollah-bound arms convoy. (Editing by Alison Williams)

What Boston hospitals learned from Israel


Minutes after a terrorist attack killed three at the finish line of the Boston Marathon, doctors and nurses at the city’s hospitals faced a harrowing scene — severed limbs, burned bodies, shrapnel buried in skin.

For Boston doctors, the challenge presented by last week’s bombing was unprecedented — but they were prepared.

Many of the city’s hospitals have doctors with actual battlefield experience. Others have trauma experience from deployments on humanitarian missions, like the one that followed the Haitian earthquake, and have learned from presentations by veterans of other terror attacks like the one at a movie theater in Colorado.

But they have benefited as well from the expertise developed by Israeli physicians over decades of treating victims of terrorist attacks — expertise that Israel has shared with scores of doctors and hospitals around the world. Eight years ago, four Israeli doctors and a staff of nurses spent two days at Massachusetts General Hospital teaching hospital staff the methods pioneered in Israel.

According to the New Yorker magazine, every Boston patient who reached the hospital alive has survived.

“We had periods where every week we had an attack,” said Dror Soffer, director of the trauma division at the Tel Aviv Medical Center, who participated in the delegation. “It becomes your routine.”

Techniques that were “routine” in Israel by 2005, and helped save lives in Boston last week, began evolving in the 1990s, when Israel experienced a spate of bus bombings. Israeli doctors “rewrote the bible of blast trauma,” said Avi Rivkind, the director of surgery at Jerusalem’s Hadassah Medical Center, where 60 percent of Israeli victims have been treated.

Much of what Israel has learned about treating attack victims was done on the fly. In 1996, a 19-year-old soldier arrived at the Hadassah hospital following a bus bombing with severe injuries to her chest and esophagus. Doctors put chest drains on her lungs and performed endoscopies twice a day to stop the bleeding. Both techniques are now regular practices.

“We were sure she was going to die, and she survived,” Rivkind said.

Rivkind is an internationally recognized expert in terror medicine and widely considered one of the great brains behind Israeli innovations that have been adopted around the world.

Trained at Hebrew University, the Hadassah Medical Center and the Institute for Emergency Medical Services Systems in Baltimore, he has contributed to several volumes on trauma surgery and post-attack care, and authored a number of seminal medical studies. Rivkind was the personal physician for the late Israeli President Ezer Weizman, helped care for Ariel Sharon when the prime minister fell into a coma following a stroke, and has performed near-miraculous feats, once reviving a soldier shot in the heart who had been pronounced dead in the field.

But not everything Rivkind has learned about treating attack victims comes from a story with a happy ending. In 2002, Shiri Nagari was rushed to Hadassah after a bus bombing. She appeared to have escaped largely unharmed, but 45 minutes later she was dead. It was, Rivkind later wrote, the first time he ever cried after losing a patient.

“She seemed fine and talked with us,” he said. “You can be very injured inside, and outside you look completely pristine.”

Organizing the emergency room, Rivkind said, is as important as treating patients correctly. During the second intifada, Hadassah developed what he called the “accordion method,” a method of moving patients through various stages of assessment with maximal efficiency. The process has since become standard in hospitals across Israel and around the world.

Amos Shapiro, University of Haifa’s new president


University of Haifa President Amos Shapira is blunt about what he believes should be Israel’s top priority.

“Israel has no other advantage other than its human resources,” he said, “and the investment we make in education.”

Shapira knows something about using resources. Prior to assuming the office in October 2012, he served as CEO of Cellcom Israel, the nation’s largest cellular company, and before that he headed El Al, the national airline. In his business career, Shapira championed the integration of Israel’s minorities into its workforce.

On a visit to Los Angeles last November, Shapira sat with the Jewish Journal and explained why returning to University of Haifa, from which he graduated with a bachelor’s in economics in the early 1980s, makes perfect sense. Some 30 percent of University of Haifa’s student body is Arab — the highest ratio of Arab students of all the country’s universities. His school, he said, is a laboratory of Israel’s future.

“Israel will not be able to survive if we don’t learn to build a shared experience,” he said.

Shapira believes deeply in what he calls Israel’s “mosaic” of cultures and religions — and he said education is the key to every piece of it fitting together.

“The United States can survive a high level of inequality and tension because it’s so big,” he said. “Israel must take care of these tensions.”

Although the school boasts highly rated programs in the humanities and in Mediterranean studies, University of Haifa, located in the far north of the country, has long played third fiddle to its more famous counterparts, Hebrew University and Tel Aviv University.

Shapira, like a good businessman, sees a way to turn these challenges to his university’s advantage.

“We have no medicine, no natural sciences,” he acknowledged, “but we have the best humanities and social studies. We are the best in the study of learning disabilities.” 

As a CEO of some of Israel’s largest companies, Shapira spearheaded an effort to get 300 of Israel’s leading firms to promote the employment of humanities graduates in the business sector.

As for the location, Shapira notes that corporations like Intel are also based in northern Israel, and that the nation’s future is in many ways reliant on developing the north.

“If Israel were an island of peace and the north just had a few bed and breakfasts, no one would care,” he said. A successful research university is central to developing a stable, thriving population in one of the country’s most ethnically mixed regions.

“We respect the diversity of Israel in a way no other university does,” Shapira said.

As proof, he cited University of Haifa’s large percentage of Arab and Druze, as well as Orthodox Jewish students and faculty.

“Ninety-nine percent of the time these groups are learning and doing research together,” he said.

Shapira, who is 62, is lean and restless. He ticks off his priorities with an executive’s decisiveness: Boost the university’s outreach to educate Jewish and minority students in schools throughout the region; bring in dozens of top researchers across many disciplines, and raise $200 million in four years to do this, and more.

“This is the dream,” he said crisply, leaving no doubt he’s accustomed to seeing his dreams through to reality. “The whole university is an endeavor to create excellence while developing a tolerant atmosphere. 

Ayatollah Khamenei: Iran will destroy Israeli cities If attacked


Iran's clerical supreme leader said on Thursday the Islamic Republic would destroy the Israeli cities of Tel Aviv and Haifa if it came under attack from the Jewish state.

“At times the officials of the Zionist regime (Israel) threaten to launch a military invasion but they themselves know that if they make the slightest mistake the Islamic Republic will raze Tel Aviv and Haifa to the ground,” Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said in an address to mark the Iranian new year.

Israel has threatened military action against Iran unless it abandons nuclear activities which the West suspects are intended to develop nuclear weapons. Tehran denies this, saying it wants nuclear energy only for civilian purposes.

In his televised speech, Khamenei said Iran's struggles over the past year against international sanctions imposed over its disputed nuclear program resembled a battle and that its enemies had confessed to trying to “cripple the Iranian nation”.

“What happened last year, we need to learn a lesson,” he said, alluding to what he described as Iran's significant scientific and military advances. “This vibrant nation will never be brought to its knees.”

Khamenei also called for Iran's “natural right” to enrich uranium for nuclear energy to be recognized by the world. Western powers have refused, saying Iran has hidden nuclear work from U.N. inspectors and stonewalled their investigations.

Talks between Iran and six world powers – the United States, China, Russia, Britain, France and Germany – are to resume early next month in a further attempt to strike a deal on Iranian nuclear aspirations.

But Khamenei was cool to a U.S. suggestion of direct talks between the two countries, which severed diplomatic relations after Iran's 1979 Islamic Revolution.

“I am not optimistic about these talks. Why? Because our past experiences show that talks for the American officials do not mean for us to sit down and reach a logical solution … What they mean by talks is that we sit down and talk until Iran accepts their viewpoint,” he said.

“Iran only wants its enrichment right, which is its natural right, to be recognized by the world.”

Reporting By Zahra Hosseinian and Marcus George; Editing by Mark Heinrich

Iron Dome battery moved to Haifa amid unrest in Syria


The Israeli military has deployed an Iron Dome missile defense system near Haifa, according to reports.

Two other batteries also reportedly were deployed in northern Israel in recent days, Ynet reported.

The move to the northern end of the country comes as concerns in Israel and around the world have increased that chemical weapons believed to be in Syria will fall into the hands of Hezbollah or Syrian Islamist rebels.

The Israel Defense Forces told The New York Times that the moving of Iron Dome batteries to northern Israel was a routine rotation.

On Sunday, Israel's Vice Prime Minister Silvan Shalom confirmed that Israel could launch a military strike on Syria if it appears that Lebanese Hezbollah guerrillas or Syrian rebels have taken possession of Syrian chemical weapons.

Shalom confirmed to Army Radio that Netanyahu met last week on Election Day with the country's security chiefs to discuss the situation in Syria.

Amid conflict, Israel’s hospitals treat Gazan patients


(The Jerusalem Post) Israeli hospitals, amid the ongoing conflict, are treating dozens of patients of all ages who came to Israel from Gaza to get healthcare unavailable there, and are making provisions for accompanying persons.    

“We at Rambam Medical Center are taking care of sick children and adults, and we are not looking at their religion or where they come from. At the moment, we have four—a baby girl in the nephrology department, two children in oncology and an adult in urology,” Rambam director-general Prof. Rafael Beyar said.    

“Family members accompanied them,” he said. “It’s absurd that we are doing this at the same time Israelis are being attacked, but there is no other way. We are used to it. We are very far from politics.”   

Working in Haifa, Beyar was “extremely upset” when he learned that Arab students at the University of Haifa last week stood for a “moment of silence” when Ahmed Jabari, the terror chief of Hamas, was killed by the Israel Defense Forces.

“I just can’t accept that,” he said.    

Beyar also said that he had received no reports of any tension among Jewish and Arab personnel in his medical center. “We are used to working together to save lives.” 

The Hadassah University Medical Center in Jerusalem’s Ein Kerem said that in the past month, it has hospitalized six Gazan patients.    

Sheba Medical Center at Tel Hashomer said that it provides medical center to several dozen Palestinians each month, and even now, there is no change. Most are children who are hospitalized for long periods or youngsters who underwent treatment and return periodically for follow-up, Sheba spokesman Amir Marom told The Jerusalem Post.    

“Just two days ago, a nine-year-old girl from Gaza who was hurt in her palm was brought to Sheba. Her father is an Arab journalists who writes from Gaza for an Israeli newspaper. She was accompanied by her mother. An Israeli boy who was wounded by a Gazan rocket that fell in Kiryat Malachi last week is in the same room with a Gazan girl whose fingers were amputated due to injury,” Marom said. “We regard our hospital as a bridge to peace.”    

Tel Aviv Sourasky Medical Center said 50 patients and their accompanying relatives from Gaza are now hospitalized—both children and adults. Most of them are cancer patients. The relatives live in the hospital’s hotel, and there is a hospital employee who serves as a contact person and helps them.    

Medical treatment for Gaza residents allowed into Israel is paid for by the Palestinian Authority or by other bodies, including the Peres Center for Peace.

This story was written by The Jerusalem Post and is distributed with the permission of that newspaper.

Haifa a many-faceted jewel


Visiting Americans often compare Haifa with San Francisco for its hilly landscape and trendy, artsy neighborhoods, or Boston for its mix of academia and maritime culture. While this northern Israeli city is a weekend getaway for Jerusalemites and Tel Avivians, Haifa is also worth experiencing as a city of the future, with its expanding international influence as a high-tech center, or as a quaint port town with a rich, 3,000-year history.

Haifa is also a multicultural metropolis, frequently portrayed as a model of coexistence between Arabs and Jews. The third-largest city in Israel, it features six faiths and a variety of ethnic communities living together near the sea.

One of the city’s most popular destinations is the Baha’i Gardens. Located on the northern slope of Mount Carmel, the UNESCO World Heritage site features a staircase of 19 landscaped “hanging gardens” that connect Haifa with the city of Akko, which holds great significance for Baha’is as the final resting place of their prophet, the Báb. The Baha’i Gardens offer awe-inspiring, panoramic views of the city, the Galilean hills and the Mediterranean Sea. 

The Colony Hotel.

Nature lovers may want to head to Dado Beach and Meridian Beach to view rare plants, or venture out on hiking trails along one of the local rivers (Lotem, Si’akh, Ezov and Akhuza). Mount Carmel National Park is Israel’s largest national park, featuring approximately 25,000 acres of pine, eucalyptus and cypress forest.

Planning a trip to Israel around Chanukah? Don’t miss an opportunity to see the city during one of its most vibrant times of year. Extending from Haifa’s Wadi Nisnas neighborhood to the German Colony, the annual Hag Ha Hagim, or Festival of Festivals, is staged every Saturday throughout December. The festival celebrates Judaism, Christianity and Islam through music and dance performances, artistic and cultural events, an arts and crafts fair, and, of course, lots of succulent local food.

Arab Lawyers Union honors terrorist who killed 21 Israelis in Haifa


The Palestine Committee of the Arab Lawyers Union recently bestowed its “highest honor” on female suicide bomber Hanadi Jaradat, who killed 21 Israelis in a 2003 attack on Maxim’s restaurant in Haifa, Palestinian Media Watch reported on its website here.

Jaradat, who worked as a lawyer, also injured 51 Israelis in her bombing of Maxim’s. The lawyers union “created the ‘’” for her, according to an Oct 14 report in the Palestinian daily publication Al-Ayyam.

A delegation “conveyed to the family of Martyr Jaradat the good wishes of the head of the Union, Mr. Omar Al-Zayn… and also emphasized the pride of the Arab Lawyers Union for what their daughter had done in defense of Palestine and the nation.”

Preparing for war, Israel’s North looks to lessons from 2006


When missiles rained down on northern Israel from Lebanon six years ago, surgeons at Rambam Hospital in Haifa worked, terrified, on the building’s eighth floor.

That summer, missiles had struck fewer than 20 yards away, endangering the staff and patients of northern Israel’s largest hospital and the central facility for treating soldiers injured in the fighting.

“There wasn’t even a bomb shelter because we thought they’d never bomb a hospital,” said David Ratner, Rambam’s spokesman. “We weren’t ready. The message we got was that we needed to become a hospital that could treat people under attack.”

The experience has pushed Rambam’s wartime operating room a dozen stories down, to the third level of an underground parking garage that will become, should bombs fall again, one of the world’s largest emergency hospitals. At 645,000 square feet, the three stories will house 2,000 medical stations — enough to care not only for those wounded physically or psychologically from the war zone, but also for the most critically ill inpatients and outpatients needing regular treatments like dialysis.

“This changes us from a laid-back hospital to a machine,” Ratner told JTA. “People aren’t going to stop having babies” during a war.

As tensions between Iran and Israel heat up, and amid fears that Syria’s civil war could spill over into Israel (in a first since the war began, Syrian shells landed in Israel’s Golan Heights last month), Israeli cities and institutions like Rambam are planning for a potential repeat of the missile fire seen during Israel’s 2006 war with Hezbollah.

Any war with Iran is expected to prompt retaliatory strikes by Hezbollah, the Iranian proxy militia in Lebanon, and possibly by Hamas, which controls Gaza and has received funding and weaponry from the Islamic Republic.

In 2006, northern Israel was caught largely unprepared for war. For six years before that, following Israel’s 2000 withdrawal from Southern Lebanon, the region enjoyed relative quiet. But more than 4,000 missiles were fired at Israel during the 34-day 2006 war, prompting massive numbers of residents to flee their homes and leaving 163 Israeli soldiers and civilians dead. On the Lebanese side, there were more than 1,000 dead.

In the six years of quiet that have followed the war, area residents say they have remained on guard. Nahariyah, a city of more than 50,000 on Israel’s northern coast situated less than 10 miles from the Lebanese border, suffered hundreds of rockets and two deaths in the 2006 war.

Since then, the city has improved its emergency services by renovating its bomb shelters and implementing its part of a national attack alert system. Nahariyah’s hospital, like Rambam, has an emergency underground wing. But Izik Moreli, manager of Nahariyah’s security division, said the unpredictable nature of a terrorist threat means that the city may never be fully prepared for war.

“I think we’re much more prepared,” Moreli said. “But I hope we don’t encounter things we don’t expect, like we did in 2006.”

Security officials in the North credit Israel’s streamlined Home Front Defense Ministry, part of the Defense Ministry, for spearheading the improvements, including the national alert system, drills to prepare for crises, and improved oversight and evaluation of emergency preparedness.

In mid-September, the Israel Defense Forces conducted a surprise drill in the Golan Heights simulating a response to an attack there.

The Home Front Command, created in 1992 after Scud missiles hit Israel during the 1991 Gulf War, reflects the IDF’s view that “the home front is no less a battlefront than any other location,” Eytan Buchman, an IDF spokesman, told JTA.

The National Emergency Authority, a division of the Home Front ministry, will run a national disaster simulation drill on Oct. 21 that will cover interruptions in communication and mobilization of forces that also would activate during wartime.

American Jewish communities have supported the National Emergency Authority’s efforts through the Jewish Federations of North America. Since 2006, U.S. Jewish federations have raised $350 million for the North, much of which has gone to renovating bomb shelters — for air conditioning, light fixtures, water coolers, toilets and television sets in the underground spaces. The funding also has provided for social, economic and educational programs according to Lee Perlman, JFNA’s managing director of program and planning for Israel and overseas.

The Gulf War also brought widespread distribution of gas masks to Israel amid fears that Iraqi strongman Saddam Hussein would launch biological or chemical attacks against Israel. This summer, gas mask distribution accelerated again as Syria’s government indicated it would consider using its stockpile of chemical and biological weapons in the event of a foreign attack.

Some Israeli politicians still worry that the country is unprepared for war, and they’ve been critical of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for seeming to move the country closer to an attack while Israeli cities are left exposed. Bomb shelters in northern Israel can hold only 60 percent of the local population, and almost half of Israelis do not own gas masks.

“Israel has failed to learn from the Second Lebanon War,” said Ze’ev Bielski, chairman of the Knesset’s Subcommittee for the Examination of Home Front Readiness, according to the Times of Israel. “The bomb shelter situation is still dire for millions of Israelis.”

But according to Meir Elran, director of the Homeland Security Program at Israel’s Institute for National Security Studies, the statistics are not cause for grave concern. He said that while the number of bomb shelters is not ideal, the situation is manageable because people will be safe as long as they remain inside a building. Building bomb shelters for every citizen would cost too much money and take too much time, he said.

“It doesn’t make sense that there would be a bomb shelter for everyone,” he said. “It’s a question of cost and benefit. No one on the world has this, and it doesn’t make sense for here.”

Elran added that providing gas masks to the entire population also is cost inefficient, especially given that “the other side understands very well that if it uses chemical weapons, our reaction will be very severe.”

Sometimes, Elran suggested, the best defense is a good offense.

“The shorter the war is and the more severely the other side will be hurt,” he said, “the better it will be for Israel.”

Israel’s whiz kids


Mickey Haslavsky of Holon is only 18, but he’s already on his second startup.

“When I began my first startup at 16, I thought I was the only one creating Web sites at this age, but I was amazed to discover a huge community between [the ages of] 10 and 18 around the world, and I know of about 10 startups by Israelis my age,” Haslavsky said.

By invitation of Israeli high-tech godfather Yossi Vardi, Haslavsky recently gave a TEDx Youth@Holon presentation, “Teenage Nation,” about how he founded an online youth magazine.

One thousand people registered the day Haslavsky launched his second site, Machbesa (Laundry), this past spring. It’s a viral scheme for racking up genuine “Likes” on Facebook, pluses in Google Plus and views on YouTube.

“I want to bring the system to Brazil next because it has 51 million Facebook users and it’s spreading all the time,” said Haslavsky, who needs to find someone to run his enterprises come November, when he gets drafted for military service.

That shouldn’t be hard, as he is at the older end of the spectrum of Israeli teens helming a surprising number of high-tech ventures.

Mickey Haslavsky, 18, presenting at TEDx Youth@Holon.

Tal Hoffman of Haifa says Israel’s designation as the “Startup Nation” has encouraged young business developers. “Israel’s entrepreneur community is really big among my age,” said the 15-year-old founder of Itimdi, a not-yet-launched site where teens can meet and interact based on their interests.

Another 15-year-old, Gal Harth of Herzliya, was interviewed at TechCrunch Disrupt last year in San Francisco about his Doweet Web site (motto: “So, what do you want to do?”), described as “a fun and easy way to create activities with your friends.”

Harth said he founded Doweet with his pal Nir Ohayon in reaction to all their friends playing Xbox and PlayStation instead of engaging in social and physical activities. “This is a way to get together easily to go to the gym, go swimming, play soccer. It’s an app that links everyone in one spot.”

Harth and Ohayon got initial funding from Israel’s Rhodium, the first venture capital firm they approached.

“My passion is startups,” Harth said. “My passion is to change the world.”

Nurturing whiz kids

Enterprising Israeli teenagers have plenty of role models. Gil Schwed, founder of Israel’s Check Point Software Technologies and one of the world’s youngest billionaires, is a prime example. Schwed was taking computer courses at the Hebrew University before graduating high school. Drawing on experience gained in the Israel Defense Forces’ Unit 8200 intelligence corps, he invented the modern firewall at just 26.

Many up-and-coming entrepreneurs are eager to follow the same path, knowing that their military service can pave the way to successful careers. It’s no coincidence that many Israeli startups are co-founded by former army buddies.

However, programs to recruit high school students for high-tech military units focus on top achievers and tend to miss a considerable number of kids whose tech abilities far surpass their grades. Finding and cultivating these diamonds-in-the-rough has become a priority for StartupSeeds, a 1,300-member community for entrepreneurial Israeli teens founded in 2007 as a private philanthropy-supported project of the MadaTech-Israel National Museum of Science in Haifa.

One of its original members, Ido Tal, created a wildly popular Flash video game at the age of 14, but — perhaps because of his addiction to video games, he said — wasn’t exactly a model student. Likewise, Haslavsky, whose math teacher once told Haslavsky’s mother that the boy wasn’t going to amount to anything.

“From our research, nobody is dealing with this population of kids,” StartupSeeds Director Saar Cohen said. The organization is hoping to fill that gap by reaching out to parents of teens who show a talent for coding, Web design, video editing, animation, social media, security and other needed skills.

Through contacts in the military and academia, StartupSeeds brings these teens out from under the radar for the benefit of themselves and their country. “Everybody wants their kid in a special unit because if you get in, you’re set for life.”

This is just one of the organization’s programs devised to nurture and encourage Israeli whiz kids, with support from Israel’s high-tech industry and academia. In 2008, StartupSeeds was invited to lead a panel on entrepreneurial youth at the prestigious Israeli Presidential Conference.

“StartupSeeds promotes excellence, entrepreneurship and innovation among technological youth,” Cohen said. “We believe in strengthening their existing strengths by giving them tools and a platform for them to reach their potential. We help them make connections through an online community as well as physical forums.”

Every two weeks, StartupSeeds hosts meetings and lectures along with social activities. There are periodic regional conventions and field trips to army units and high-tech industries. Members get access to events such as TEDx, groups such as MIT Forum and competitions such as BigGeek, a live broadcast from the Microsoft R&D Center in Herzliya where four teams of techies scramble to develop a working application within 24 hours.

What is special about Israel that seems to encourage what Cohen calls a technological youth phenomenon?

“Everything here happens fast,” Cohen said. “Kids are encouraged from an early age to think on their feet, ask questions, be curious and not be afraid to try anything. The high-tech industry and the startup industry in Israel are very strong, and they take great pride in that, so it’s contagious. The army helps, too, because a large percentage of those in high-tech startups went to these special tech units.”

Boys and girls together

StartupSeeds, as well as Israel’s military, academic and industrial leaders, are eager to get more girls into the high-tech mix.

“Research shows there’s an early age at which kids decide what to go into, and everyone wants to get girls to choose technological fields,” Cohen said. “We recently decided to target this audience by starting an all-girls forum, offering meetings with female leaders in industry, to see if we can create a community. Our goal is to get to 30 percent girls [in our membership]. We think they are out there, and we are approaching them at the perfect age.”

For now, most teen entrepreneurs are boys, including recent immigrants such as Ben Lang, 18, who co-founded the Innovation Israel community for startups, entrepreneurs and investors; and, most recently, Mapped in Israel, a Web site pinpointing Israel’s many startups.

In March, Lang and three young colleagues ran a successful Hackathon Israel event, sponsored by Carmel Ventures and ROI Community; their stated vision was “to share the incredible high-tech scene in Israel with the entire world.”

“Because Israel is so small, it’s easy to create a startup and give life to an idea,” Haslavsky said. “In the media you see every day how startups sell their companies for millions of dollars, and that also encourages us. Every young entrepreneur wants to be a CEO. I think Israel is amazing in this field.”

Note to boycotters: Israel is not a thief


There is an obvious way to respond to author Alice Walker’s refusal to allow her novel “The Color Purple” to be translated into Hebrew. In case you missed it, Walker accused Israel of being “guilty of apartheid and persecution of the Palestinian people, both inside Israel and also in the Occupied Territories.”

The obvious response is to refute her charges, as many writers have done.

As Daniel Gordis wrote in JPost: “Walker writes as though the Palestinians are identical to the blacks of South Africa; they suffer only because of the color of their skin (or their ethnicity, in this case), not because of anything they have done. She writes as though Israel is the only obstacle to their ‘freedom,’ as though Israel is, as a matter of policy, committed to perpetuating their second-class status without end. But no reasonable reading of the Middle East justifies any such claim.”

Gordis adds: “[Walker] even makes a point of saying that Israel is guilty of apartheid inside the Green Line as well. But name a single country in which some minorities do not get the short end of the stick. Is every country on the planet therefore guilty of apartheid? And if so, why boycott only Israel? It can’t be because of Israel’s social policies, which are far better than those of many other countries that Walker is not boycotting.”

I agree with everything Gordis said, but I also think he didn’t go far enough.

Here’s my theory: As long as the world believes that Israel is an “illegal occupier,” nothing we do or say will make much difference. The haters and boycotters of Israel will keep exploiting that perception. The stench of the illegal occupation will continue to undermine the good that Israel does, inside or outside Israel.

In other words, the strongest case Israel can make against boycotters is to show, once and for all, that it is not a thief.

Israel’s historic mistake has been to unwittingly reinforce, in its search for peace, the dubious and dangerous narrative that it is returning stolen land.

When Israel made its peace offers, it never said: “We believe that, according to international law, Israel has a legitimate claim to Judea and Samaria. But for the sake of peace, we’re willing to give up most of that land.”

By focusing on security and failing to make this legal claim, Israel allowed the illegal narrative to take hold — and the haters and boycotters went on to have a field day.

As if that weren’t bad enough, Israel’s land concessions were perceived as worthless. Since the Palestinians believed that all the land already belonged to them, and no one ever disabused them of that notion, what was there to negotiate?

The sad part is that Israel could have made a strong case that the territories are not, in fact, stolen land. At the very least, they had enough evidence to argue that the land is “disputed” rather than “occupied.” For example:

Jeffrey S. Helmreich, author and writer for the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs: “The settlements are not located in ‘occupied territory.’ The last binding international legal instrument which divided the territory in the region of Israel, the West Bank and Gaza was the League of Nations Mandate, which explicitly recognized the right of Jewish settlement in all territory allocated to the Jewish national home in the context of the British Mandate. These rights under the British mandate were preserved by the successor organization to the League of Nations, the United Nations, under Article 80 of the U.N. Charter.”

Stephen M. Schwebel, professor of International Law at Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies (Washington), and President of the International Court of Justice from 1997 to 2000: “Where the prior holder of territory [Jordan] had seized that territory unlawfully, the state which subsequently takes that territory in the lawful exercise of self-defense [Israel] has, against that prior holder, better title.”

Eugene W. Rostow, former U.S. Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs and Distinguished Fellow at the U.S. Institute for Peace: “The Jewish right of settlement in the West Bank is conferred by the same provisions of the Mandate under which Jews settled in Haifa, Tel Aviv and Jerusalem before the state of Israel was created. … The Jewish right of settlement in Palestine west of the Jordan River, that is, in Israel, the West Bank, Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip, was made unassailable. That right has never been terminated. …”

There are plenty of books and essays that elaborate on the above. But the point here is not to defend the wisdom of the occupation; you can believe that the occupation is the dumbest move Israel ever made and still believe there is value in making a legal claim to the land. In fact, maybe the occupation will end only after Israel regains its moral standing by showing it is not occupying stolen land.

A thief is never credible. Israel needs to face the monster head-on and begin an all-out campaign defending its legitimate claims to Judea and Samaria. It’s the most powerful way to counter the boycotters.

There will always be haters of Israel, but we don’t have to make it easier for them. Before Israel can make peace, it needs to reclaim a piece of the truth.


David Suissa is president of TRIBE Media Corp./Jewish Journal and can be reached at davids@jewishjournal.com.