Bring Back our Boys!

This post is currently featured in the SA Jewish Report:

http://www.sajr.co.za/news-and-articles/2014/06/15/massive-idf-hunt-for-3-kidnapped-israeli-teens

Gilad Shaar (16) Naftali Frenkel (16) Eyal Yifrach (19), are just like every other Israeli teenager. They are concerned about school, play sports and have the same issues. Except that Gilad, Naftali and Eyal are not like every other Israeli teen. While most students are trading World Cup soccer cards, thinking about what mischief they can get up to during the long summer break, Eyal, Gilad and Naftali have been kidnapped.  They have been taken by terrorists to an unknown destination.

Once again Israelis feel the icy grip of worry and fear on our hearts as we are all too familiar with this scenario. It brings back painful memories of Nachshon Wachsman and the tragic outcome of his attempted rescue. Across solemn Shabbat tables in Israel this weekend, we kept Eyal, Gilad and Naphtali in our prayers and thoughts. Children are being hugged a little tighter, watched a little closer.

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The IDF and security forces are conducting a massive manhunt.

Hamas and the Palestinian Authority formed a unity government in the hopes of ending internecine fighting. Hamas celebrated this deal by calling for continued “armed resistance and the kidnapping of Israeli civilians.” If anyone guessed for half a second that Israel would EVER have any kind of negotiating partner with this Unity Government, think again. After the arrest of several high ranking Hamas member, it is official. Hamas are responsible for the kidnapping of Eyal, Gilad and Naftali.

This is the same Hamas whose members Israel had to release from prison as part of yet another painful concession for peace. This is the same Hamas who have fired rockets, blew up cafes and buses, killed individuals, kidnapped soldiers and civilians and who have a charter that advocates the destruction of Israel.

Hamas

This is the same Hamas who use their civilians as human shields, build tunnels to smuggle in weapons of destruction and who send their children to summer camps to feed them a continuous education of Jew hatred. No doubt their kidnapping will be justified by anti-Zionists who will rationalize that because they lived or studied in disputed territory, they are fair game. It remains to be seen how the international media will cover this event – one major network referred to them as “three men”. Men? Two 16 year old boys, not legal to vote and a 19 year old?

Eyal. Gilad. Naftali. They are our children. Our collective heart aches for them and their families.

Eyal. Gilad. Naftali, please keep them in your thoughts and pray for their safe return.

What you can do:

* Posting these pictures to your/organisations Facebook page with the hashtag #BringBackOurBoys

* Tweet these pictures with the hashtag #BringBackOurBoys

* Share on your instagram accounts.

Please don’t forget to share this with your mailing lists. Stand in solidarity with Israel as we ask #BringBackOurBoys.

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Mandela, De Klerk and the Middle Eastern Omelet.

This post currently appears in the SA Jewish Report:

http://www.sajr.co.za/bloggers/rolene-marks/rolene-marks/2014/06/15/mandela-de-klerk-m-east-omelette

One of the questions I am often asked is where is the Palestinian and Israeli, Mandela and De Klerk. Where is the Middle Eastern equivalent of these two historic peacemakers and Nobel Peace Prize winners who managed to negotiate a positive outcome from South Africa’s dark Apartheid past?

De Klerk, the last President to hold office during the Apartheid years was in Israel two weeks ago to receive an honorary doctorate from the University of Haifa and mentioned in an interview with Israel’s Channel 2 that the country was not an Apartheid State.

De Klerk is quoted as saying ““you don’t have discriminatory laws against them, I mean not letting them swim on certain beaches or anything like that. I think it’s unfair to call Israel an apartheid state. If [Secretary of State John] Kerry did so, I think he made a mistake.”

This statement obviously sticks in the craw of BDS supporters who use the word Apartheid as their weapon of choice to castigate the Jewish state. We know that their intention is to draw comparisons to South Africa thereby painting Israel as a pariah and calling into question her legitimacy as a sovereign state. Under the guise of concern for human rights, BDS supporters make light of the suffering of Apartheid’s victims and pervert the meaning of the word. De Klerk is not the first South African politician to say that Israel is not an Apartheid state. African Christian Democratic Party leader, Rev Kenneth Meshoe has said, “”As a black South African who lived under Apartheid, in my view, Israel cannot be compared to apartheid in South Africa,” Meshoe wrote in the San Francisco Examiner. “Those who make the accusation expose their ignorance of what apartheid really is.”

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There you have it. The perpetrator and the victims have spoken. But what about Mandela, the greatest anti-Apartheid icon of all time? What was his position on Israel? BDS supporters love to exploit the relationship Mandela had with Arafat, failing at the same time to mention his love for Jews and his commitment to the existence of an Israeli state within secure borders. One famous Mandela quote was as follows, “I cannot conceive of Israel withdrawing if Arab states do not recognize Israel within secure borders.”

De Klerk spoke in his speech about the window of opportunity to negotiate two states rapidly closing. Many expect the solution between the Palestinians and Israel to mirror that of South Africa. There are fundamental differences – first of all, South Africans wanted to do away with the odious Apartheid system and live together as a unified nation. Palestinians and Israelis each have their own national aspirations. We seek an amicable divorce from each other. But for Israel, speaking to the new Palestinian Unity government that includes Hamas who have sworn to the destruction of Israel, how is this possible?

De Klerk compared the ending of Apartheid to the creation of an “economic omelet” where you could never separate white and yellow again.  How do you make an omelet when one egg is rotten? A proposed Middle Eastern omelet won’t taste very nice when one of the ingredients is bitter.

The comparisons to the South African experience are nothing unusual or new. Many think that the South African experience is the magical solution that can be applied to the issues here. From Israel’s perspective, Hamas’ presence in a partnership for peace negates any chance for productive negotiations. One cannot possibly compare Hamas’ genocidal charter which advocates the destruction of the State of Israel to the ANC Freedom Charter which espouses freedom and equality for all.

apartheid rail

A genocidal charter coupled with ongoing call for “armed resistance” and a stubborn refusal to recognize the existence of the State of Israel not only closes the window, it slams it shut. Realising a policy of sabotage was not going to change the minds of the Apartheid government, Mandela and the ANC decided on more peaceful methods. Can the Hamas leopard change its spots? Highly unlikely!

Looking back at South Africa’s tragic history and almost miraculous birth into democracy, it often begs the question, can the African state help bring about a solution to the problems in the Middle East. Following the transition to democracy, South Africa seemed to be the perfect middle man to negotiate peace but over the last few years, relations between Jerusalem and Pretoria have soured significantly.  South Africa’s overt bias against Israel and the absurd statements against the Jewish State have completely destroyed any hopes of playing mediator in the region. But South Africa is of extreme strategic importance. South Africa is the benchmark by which many, especially European countries, measure the fight against racism. The country that birthed and defeated Apartheid sends its emissaries of hate against Israel on to campuses around the world to participate in the weekly festival of anti-Israel frenzy known as Israel Apartheid Week. This is so counteractive to negotiating for peace and most definitely does not reflect the actions of Mandela and De Klerk.

So where do we go from here? The South African solution is not one-size-fits-all and the situation between Israel and the Palestinians is filled with simplicities and complexities that cannot be taken at face value. This is a nebulous area that has to be negotiated (pun intended) with extreme care and patience. De Klerk issued a not so subtle zinger at the international community when he mentioned that he entered into negotiations with his partner Mandela without the interference of foreign powers. Can Israelis and Palestinians sort out the situation themselves?

Sadly, the situation between Israel and the Palestinians seems more like scrambled eggs than an omelet.

A Call to Arms

This post currently appears in WIZO Lapid:

http://www.joomag.com/magazine/lapid-volume-111-may-2014/0691239001401369255#.U4iLOFcH8fI.facebook

What does it mean to be Jewish? How do we identify as Zionists in a world where to wear this identity loud and proud often means we are vulnerable to attacks? At a time when levels of anti-Semitism are rising around the world and to be anti-Zionist means you support the current cause du jour, do we dare stand out as supporters of Israel.

The answer is a resounding YES!!! A marketing guru once said that the best time to advertise and promote your business is during a recession. The same rule applies for Israel advocacy. Standing up for Israel is imperative when the noise from her detractors gets louder.

Nearly 80 years ago, the Jews of Europe had no voice. They were powerless against the Nazi propaganda juggernaut. Today, all the tools are in place to give us a platform and a voice.

For me, advocating for Israel is just as much a part of my Jewish, Zionist identity as lighting my Shabbat candles and the Israeli flag. It is a part of who I am and I believe that as Jews not only are we responsible for each other but also for the Jewish state. Not everyone is a speaker or a writer – but we are all senders of email, posters on Facebook and disseminators of information.

On occasions when I have been asked to address audiences, the most common question I am asked is “why is Israel’s public relations so bad”. True, there is definitely room for improvement but I am also of the opinion that at a time when levels of anti-Semitism are alarmingly high and budgets to counter this are low, it has become incumbent on us as de facto representatives to be “Ambassadors of Truth”.

proisrael

This means a call to arms. Arming yourself with the facts to counter the lies and hate filled invective is a great way to not only make the case for Israel but to bring you closer to your identity.  We serve as examples to the next generation, the youth, and they are in the front line of defense.

But we also have to listen to our youth.  In today’s social media driven world where they are bombarded with information and are much more savvy than we are, it is important to engage with them and hear their concerns. University campuses are hotbeds of anti-Israel activity and many, once exposed to the opposing arguments, especially when they are made with such conviction, start questioning their own.

We cannot deny that there is another point of view or shield them from our own transgression but hopefully through knowledge and conviction they can make informed decisions.

This is why it is important to be armed with facts.  We cannot abdicate responsibility anymore by saying it is the work of the government or politicians. We are all responsible for each other.

As WIZO women we have the privilege of leading the charge. Not only are we grooming future leaders but we are educating our global community. Wearing our identity proudly and unapologetically in our name, we wonder women continue to live up to our tenet we care, we share and we dare.

Let us heed the call to arms. Let facts, truth and pride be our weapons of choice.

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What more will it take?

This post currently appears in TLV Faces:

http://www.tlvfaces.com/belgium-museum-attack-will-take/

A recent global study on anti-Semitism has indicated that when all the numbers and percentages are added up, there are over a billion anti-Semites in the world. One billion people filled with hatred and venom towards the Jewish people and their country, Israel. That number is unfathomable, significantly larger than world Jewry who constitute less than 0.2% of the global population. While this is evident around the world with the worst percentages in North Africa and the Middle East, our microscope is fixed on Europe.

Levels of anti-Semitism are as high as they were pre-World War 2. This is not surprising given that Europe is home to extremely large Muslim communities and election results in a variety of European countries are showing an alarming shift towards the right. This shift in European real politik has once again brought Europe’s Jews front and centre as the ubiquitous scapegoat for all the frustration that people may be feeling.

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The incidents are frightening. Thousands of protesters in Paris screaming “Jews, France is not for you”, individual attacks against France’s Jewish citizens that included the beating up of a teacher and the carving of a swastika on his chest and various others, such as the murders at a Jewish day school in Toulouse that left four dead, have spurred the Israeli government to think seriously about encouraging French Aliya.

But France is not the only country seeing flagrant acts of anti-Semitism.  According to the survey, Greece is the most anti-Semitic country in Europe. Hardly surprising given the rise of the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn party in that country. Hungary boasts the far right Jobbik party, voted in by one in five Hungarians.

Newly minted European basketballs champions, Maccabi Electra Tel Aviv, had their victory greeted with anti-Semitic tweets from disappointed Real Madrid fans that included a post that read “they should all be killed in an oven”. While the Euroleague expressed its “shock and disappointment” and have promised to investigate, this kind of invective is nothing new in sports. Just ask all those footballs clubs from Amsterdam to London whose supporters have chanted “Jews to the gas” or salute with the inverted Nazi salute known as the quenelle.

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Cut to yesterday’s brutal slaying of four people, including two Israeli tourists, who were gunned down in cold blood in the Jewish Museum in Brussels, Belgium.  Belgians go to the polls today in a federal election. Dubbed  “the mother of all elections” it will be an extremely tight race.  It is also the final day in elections for the European Parliament elections. Twenty one EU member countries will go to the polls and 751 MEP’s will be elected to serve for five years.

Platitudes and indignant statements just aren’t enough.  What more is it going to take until something substantial is done? How many bodies need to lie in school yards and museums before Europe realizes that it is fast becoming the graveyard it once was yet again?

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The jig is up. Disguised as anti-Zionism, anti-Semitism has a new face. It is evil, it is vengeful and it is violent. One hopes that today’s EU parliamentary elections that take place just a day after the Brussels massacre will be a wake- up call for Europe’s leaders.

 Since the end of the Holocaust which decimated two thirds of European Jewry we have chanted NEVER AGAIN. This is our rallying call to rise, fight against anti-Semitic invective and teach future generations. Sadly, NEVER AGAIN is becoming AGAIN and AGAIN. What more will it take?

 

 

We Remember Them

This post currently appears in the South African Jewish Report:

http://www.sajr.co.za/news-and-articles/2014/04/30/rolene’s-powerful-piece-we-remember-them-

Tonight we begin to commemorate  Yom Hashoa, Holocaust – Martyrs and Heroes Memorial Day. Every year I feel the weight of this day on my soul. I welcome it, I am appreciative of it and it serves as a reminder that I have taken that most solemn vow – NEVER AGAIN.

This year, the weight seems to be heavier. I don’t know if it is because we are running out of precious time to gather as many stories from survivors as we can or if the younger generation just isn’t as connected as we are. I do know that this year it weighs heavier on my heart because I see the tides of anti-Semitism rising. Europe is especially worrisome.  Acts of violence against Jewish individuals and the shift in realpolitik to the right is extremely alarming.  I write this in gratitude that I am safe and protected in our beloved State of Israel.

We set aside one day a year to read the names of the martyred, to participate in ceremonies around the world, to stop for the siren that screams its mournful cry all over our beautiful land.

Let us not wait for one day in the year to remember them. While Yom Hashoa is a sacred day, I urge everyone to take up the mantle of remembrance every day. Today’s social media platforms make it possible for us all to continue educating, disseminating the truth and educating future generations who speak a new language – hashtag.   It is vital that we remember them

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In the hateful quenelle salute – we remember them.

In the calls to boycott, divest and sanction Israel – we remember them.

On the train where “next stop Aushwitz” traumatized travelers on their daily commute – we remember them.

In the rallies where screams of “Jews do not belong here” – we remember them.

In the defacing of graves and holy places – we remember them.

In the unmarked graves that are all over Europe – we remember them.

In the firebombing of the synagogues – we remember them.

In the calls to register our property or risk being expelled – we remember them.

In the biased, vitriolic media broadcasts – we remember them.

In the attacks on individuals – we remember them.

In the shootings in community centres –  we remember them.

In the flagrant denial of our lost 6 million – we remember them.

In the loss of lives to terror attacks – we remember them.

In the lighting of memorial candles – we remember them.

In the lowering of our flag – we remember them.

In the mournful cry of the siren – we remember them.

WE REMEMBER THEM.

In the birth of new generations – we remember them.

In the celebration of our homecoming from exile – we remember them.

In the singing of Hatikvah – we remember them.

In the greening and building of our start up nation – we remember them.

In our defense of our country – we remember them.

In the teaching of the next generation – we remember them.

In our unabashed, joyful, defiant celebration of life – we remember them.

In our cries of Am Yisrael Chai! (The people of Israel live) – we remember them.

In our vow NEVER AGAIN – We remember them.

WE WILL ALWAYS REMEMBER THEM.

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The Rise and Rise of African Zionism

This post currently appears in The Algemeiner:

http://www.algemeiner.com/2014/04/17/the-steady-rise-of-african-zionism/

There is something quite remarkable happening on the African continent. A groundswell of love and support from African Christians for the State of Israel, forged in biblical ties and a mutual love of the land.

 It is a relationship that has endured and survived political hardships and at a time when Israel is feeling increasingly isolated, is very welcome. Voices calling for boycotts, divestment and sanctions against the Jewish State grow louder around the world but the ties binding us to Africa grow stronger.

 It seems almost natural that African countries would seek to build bridges with Israel. Many countries have a historical and political trajectory that mirrors that of the Jewish State.

They share the same tragic pasts, having endured multiple wars and have struggled for independence against foreign powers who ruled their historical homelands.

 Over the years, Israel has quietly gone about the business of tikkun olam – contributing to the economic growth and wellbeing of communities all over the continent. It is no secret that when it comes to groundbreaking technology, Israel is a world leader. From water purification and drip irrigation, to life saving medical devices and hi-tech know-how that is empowering a variety of countries to become economic players in the family of developing nations, Israel is contributing and sharing much needed skill sets. When the father of modern Zionism, Theodore Herzl, envisioned a Jewish state, perhaps this is what he had in mind.

 Agricultural co-operation

 On the southern tip of the continent, in South Africa, where despite a cooling of relations between Pretoria and Jerusalem, relationships are being built. South Africa and Israel share a similar history – both have emerged democratic and victorious after painful pasts. Both share similar agricultural and water challenges. Water shortages and the management of yields and farming output are areas where Israel has implemented many successful projects in Rwanda, Kenya, Ethiopia and South Africa.

 Israel is helping farmers in rural areas realise their potential and you can view the successes in this You Tube clip: (in Sotho and English).

 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aD_MfT0iHPg&feature=youtu.be

 The invaluable help that Israel has given these rural farmers not just in technical know how but also in marketing and business skills, will help sustain these communities for time to come.

 South African Friends of Israel

 These relationships are not only built on agricultural or business cooperation. Founded in 2010, “South African Friends of Israel”, is described as a movement that “promotes inter-faith dialogue between the South African Jewish community and the broader community in the pursuit of ensuring a balanced view and a better appreciation of Israel by all South Africans.” South Africa is of great strategic importance – not only is the country the economic powerhouse of Africa but also holds positions of power and decision making on several international bodies such as the Non-Aligned movement and African Union among others.

 South Africa is also the country where Apartheid was both conceived and defeated. This is of extreme importance as the odious accusation that Israel is an Apartheid state and should be afforded the same treatment as South Africa, is growing across the world. In civil society organisations, on university campuses and with the week long festival of hate known as Apartheid Week which occurs every March around the world, this lie is gaining momentum.

Members and supporters of SAFI play a vital role in disseminating the truth and dispelling the lies. In fact, they are amongst the most vocal and strong supporters of Israel and having experienced Apartheid, are the foremost authorities.

 Members of SAFI and their supporters have come out in droved to march with and support Israel and recently an advocacy day was held in Johannesburg and was supported by many including the African Christian Democratic Party, Africa for Israel and many others.

 Hear South African Christians speak out for Israel and destroy the Apartheid analogy:

 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Gj3tiuapsRw

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Trees for Africa

 South Africa is not the only country where relationships are being built. Situated on the west coast of Africa, the Ivory Coast enjoys strong bilateral relations with the Jewish State. Former President, Felix Houphouet-Boigny, was one of the first leaders of an African country to establish ties with the fledgling state and then to re-establish relations after an Organisation of African Unity (OAU) boycott in solidarity with its Arab members in 1986.

 It is not just government and industry that is investing in Africa. The Jewish National Fund (JNF/KKL), one of Israel’s foremost non-profit organisations has been responsible for the planting of over 240 million trees in the country since its inception, making the JNF a world leader in afforestation. In addition to this, the JNF has built much needed dams and reservoirs and more than 1000 parks. The JNF is perfectly positioned to help communities in

Africa who face some of the environmental and water challenges that Israel does. The JNF is involved in a variety of projects on the continent.

 In November 2013, representatives from JNF-KKL Belgium visited the West African state and were greeted by crowds of supporters, waving Israeli flags and showing their solidarity with the Jewish state. “It was so inspiring to see the amount of people who came to show their love for the State of Israel, to hear them singing so passionately and to feel their appreciation,” says JNF/KKL Belgian Emissary, Olivier Rafowicz. “Supporters understand and support Zionism and this was evident in their commitment to the JNF and Israel.”

 Jacob Benzino, President of JNF/KKL Belgium was also present and gave a blessing in Hebrew during the event.

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The Ivory Coast is proof that in one of the least expected places in the world, support for Israel is strong.

 Africa for Israel

 Africa for Israel endeavours to unite Christians all over the continent “to provide a

continental association through which every pro-Israel church, ministry, association or individual in Africa can unite, speak and act with one voice in support of Israel based on our common Judeo-Christian foundations”. Africa for Israel has been successful in Nigeria and in Muslim-led Tanzania in galvanising support for the Jewish State. “Many African leaders are realising that transcending politics and looking for ways to improve the situation of the people in their countries is far more productive. Israel asks for nothing but is prepared to share technology and empower African citizens so that we do not lose vital skill sets.” says Luba Mayekiso, founder and pro-Israel lobbyist. “Politicians listen to numbers and many Christians feel that their silence on Israel has been misinterpreted. We have established relationships in Nigeria, Congo, Uganda, Burundi, Kenya and Tanzania who are “very eager for us to stand together and have requested our assistance in providing them with the correct modern narrative about Israel.”

 Africa for Israel’s Luba Mayekiso, explains why Africa will stand with Israel:

 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w28unk6Pq68

The rise of pan-African Zionism is extremely heartening. The continent is fertile ground for building and investing in relationships. Shared ideology and the disseminating of skills contributes so much more to this proud continent than traditional politics. Theodore Herzl would be proud.

Woman of Valour

This post appears in the WIZO Lapid Newsletter.

Today is International Women’s Day, a day dedicated to highlighting the status of women around the world. It was my privilege to interview Orit Zuaretz, former Member of Knesset (MK – Kadima) and a graduate of WIZO Aviv and our prestigious political leadership course.

Zuaretz was head of the Knesset committee on the Advancement of the Status of Women and Human Trafficking and took some time to patiently answer my questions.

Orit Zuaretz is a modern day Boudica. A warrior for the improvement of the status of women in Israel and a trailblazer in the fight against human trafficking, her success has been so great that she was recently given the Presidential award for her “Special Contribution in the fight against Human Trafficking”. Every year, three awards are given out to individuals from NGO’s, government or industry for excellence in the fight against human trafficking.

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For Zuaretz, the choice to join the committee on the Status of Woman was natural. “It was a very clear choice because I came from a woman’s organisation and I had a very focused goal. It was a portfolio that nobody really wanted but I did and I took the next step which was to recruit a team that would be as equally committed. MK’s Shlomo Moolla and Nachman Shai, who are champions for women’s rights, joined a sub-committee to fight human trafficking.”

 It is a little known fact that Israel is a top tier country in the fight against human trafficking. It was not always this way. In the past, Israel was an attractive destination for traffickers wanting to move women from either the former Soviet Union or Africa. Criminals targeted Israel because the laws in place at the time were slack. This changed in 2006 when human trafficking became a global issue. So what alerted Zuaretz to the plight of trafficked women?

 “When we formed our committee, I met with a government worker who worked with the trafficked  women. It was a step by step process and we started out by going to speak to the women who had been rescued from the Sinai or Egypt and were in shelters or in a prison facility. Their stories were heartbreaking – many, including children and young boys have been sold into slavery and prostitution.  Rape is common occurrence for these victims. We took the media into these facilities and this really contributed in highlighting and bringing attention to their awful situation. The first law that was legislated was the creation of “no mans land”. Pressure was put on the government, judges and the police and today Israel is a country that leads  the global fight against human trafficking,” says Zuaretz.

 In a few short years and thanks to the efforts of Zuaretz and her team, Israel has succeeded in bringing debate over human trafficking into the global consciousness as well making sure that women who are pimped or trafficked from Africa receive treatment as good as their counterparts from the former Soviet Union. This has led to the opening of several shelters rather than prison as an option for those rescued from the Sinai.

 Perhaps the most notable achievement is that Israel is the only country in the world to sponsor a year of rehabilitation for victims that have been trafficked and this is paid for by the government. A comprehensive training programme that includes personnel from the police services, hospitals and health workers who take care of victims has been successfully implemented. Government and NGO’s (non-governmental organisations) work in partnership and this has helped Israel become a first tier country. Israel has instituted a policy of “safe return” which entails skills training as well as physical and emotional therapy for victims. If a person is unable to return to their country of origin for whatever reason, Israel will grant asylum.

 There is still so much to be done in the global fight against human trafficking and WIZO as an International Women’s movement is proud to play a role in helping to shine a light on this issue. Zuaretz is a prime example of how WIZO women have impact in government. An incredible achievement like this which is not just an example of tikkun olam on the part of Israel but is sadly a growing phenomenon in many parts of the world where women barely have any status deserves attention. Thanks to this true woman of valour, the battle lines have been drawn.