The Days the Cameras Forgot

This article appears on Lay of the Land: https://layoftheland.online/2021/07/14/the-days-the-cameras-forgot/

Palestinians have been protesting against the Abbas-led Palestinian Authority in Ramallah but the global media has been silent. Why?

By Rolene Marks

There is something that happening in the streets of Ramallah that is of huge significance – but has largely been ignored. The mainstream media have virtually turned a blind eye to it and it is not receiving the attention on social media from the armchair generals, social justice warriors and human rights aficionados that is should. What is this significant event I am talking about?

 For several weeks, hundreds of Palestinians have taken to the streets of Ramallah in protest against President Mahmoud Abbas and the Palestinian Authority over frustration and anger following years of corruption and intransigence.  Calls for Abbas to “get out” have resonated throughout the city and surrounding areas on a daily basis and have been met with brutal and often violent crackdowns by PA security forces. Images of protestors, including 5 female journalists, have been shared by brave activists, many of whom have received warnings for daring to expose this.

Not Budging. Despite pressure to resign since the death of Nizar Banat in custody that followed the President’s cancellation of the election that was to have been held in May, 2021, Mahmoud Abbas is standing firm.

Abbas, who is currently in his 17th year of his 4 year term, shows no signs of stepping down anytime soon and cancelled elections that were due to have taken place in May. This led to internationally recognised terror group, Hamas, using the opportunity to push for unrest and shore up their supporters in the West Bank and also conveniently, launching another conflagration with Israel. What ensued was 11 days of intense fighting between Israel and Hamas. Hamas fired over 4 300 rockets and projectiles into the Jewish state and Israel responded with a military offensive known as “Operation Guardians of the Wall”. We cannot dismiss that one of the objectives from Hamas was to grow its support base in the West Bank and also, to push for unrest inside of Israel. They succeeded. For several successive days, extremists from both the Jewish and Arab communities rioted and committed acts of violence against each other. Such unrest hadn’t been seen since the 1940’s. While this thankfully, has stopped, there is still a sense of deep mistrust.

Naturally, this captured the attention of a permanently salivating global media.

Sending Strong Message. Following Palestinian demonstrations over the death of Nizar Banat in Palestinian police custody, protestors in Ramallah are seen chanting for the departure of President Abbas and demanded an end to his rule. (Flash90)

What has precipitated these latest protests in Ramallah? Several weeks ago, Palestinian activist, Nizar Banat, died under mysterious circumstances while being taken into custody by Palestinians Authority security forces. Banat was a well-known critic of Abbas. His family have alleged that he was badly beaten during the raid. Hebron Governor Jamil al-Bakri said the public prosecution had issued a summons for Mr. Banat and that “during the arrest his health deteriorated“.

He was immediately transferred to the Hebron Government Hospital. After he was examined by doctors, he was pronounced dead,” he added, without commenting on the family’s allegations.

Voice Silenced. West Bank Palestinian and resident of Hebron Nizar Banat,  a prominent Abbas critic dies in PA custody after ‘vicious beating’ by officers. (Screenshot: Facebook)

But Nizar Banat’s cousin Ammar told the Middle East Eye that about 25 PA security personnel raided his house at about 03:30am. He alleged that officers stormed into the room where he was sleeping, sprayed him with pepper spray and then began beating him with iron bars and wooden batons. They later dragged him from the room, stripped him of his clothes and took him away in a vehicle, he added. Another cousin, Hussein, told Reuters news agency:

They kept beating him continuously for eight minutes. If you came to arrest him, take him. Why the brutality? And why the violence?”

Seeking Justice. Demonstrators on July 2, 2021, hold up images of the late Palestinian activist Nizar Banat, who died in late June during a violent arrest by Palestinian Authority security forces. (MOSAB SHAWER/AFP VIA GETTY IMAGES)

Ammar said that about an hour and a half after the raid, the family learned through WhatsApp groups that Nizar Banat had died. He added that they had not been able to see his body at the hospital. “The announcement of his death at the hospital was a ruse,” he alleged.

Grieving Family. Nizar Banat’s family have alleged that he was badly beaten by Palestinian security forces. (Reuters)

That afternoon, hundreds took to the streets in protests that are still ongoing. The PA security brutality did not end with Banat – nor did crackdowns on anti-Abbas voices.

Israeli journalist, Khaled Abu Toameh, tweeted last week that the Palestinian Broadcasting Corporation has suspended 10 employees over their social media comments regarding the circumstances around the death of Nizar Banat. Another 36 employees received warnings from the PA security forces for the same reason.

Why would they do that if there was nothing to hide?

The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michele Bachelet and the United States  have appealed to the PA to allow the protestors to carry on in peace, a request that seems to have fallen on deaf ears.

Ramallah Resistance. The appeal of UN’s High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michele Bachelet to the PA to allow the protestors to carry on in peace has fallen on deaf ears.

The Union of Palestinian Women’s Committees condemned what they called the ‘organized assaults’ by the security forces on Palestinian women. Three women were beaten by Palestinian security officers in Ramallah during a protest against the Palestinian crackdown on activists.

Riotous in Ramallah. In full protective gear, Palestinian security forces prevent protesters from reaching the PA’s headquarters in Ramallah.

Very soon, the U.N. Human Rights Council will hold its perennial meeting on Palestinian rights but it is unlikely that this will be discussed:

Is it because Israel cannot be blamed?

What does the future hold? It is unlikely that Abbas will step down – or call another election. Hamas is gaining more and more popularity and this not only threatens Abbas rule but also Israel’s security. But the people have spoken. The corruption and brutality is untenable. What is really sad is that not only are they being ignored by their leadership but the mainstream media, usually quick on the draw when it comes to Israel’s conflict  with the Palestinians, have been silent. It would appear that they have their lenses pointed elsewhere and when it comes to the plight of the people, the cameras have been switched off.

Punching Above Our Weight

This article appears in Lay of the Land: https://layoftheland.online/2021/07/01/punching-above-our-weight/

Israel on the frontline of support and rescue in a time of disaster.

If we measured countries in weight according to their size, Israel could be determined to be a flyweight, at the very most a bantam weight. Boxing metaphors aside, Israel is so tiny, that it is almost impossible to find the country on a map of the world.

But when a disaster of any kind be it natural or otherwise occurs anywhere in the world, it is tiny Israel that packs a mighty punch by responding immediately where needed.

When the call goes out – and even sometimes when it doesn’t – Israel is the first to respond. This even extends to countries that Israel has no formal diplomatic ties with because humanity and helping your fellow man in a time of crisis trumps politics every time.

Israel has a long history of sending humanitarian aid and it is woven into the fabric of our society. Just ten years after the founding of the modern State of Israel in 1948, the country adopted an official humanitarian aid agenda, providing vital relief to more than 140 countries.

This effort does not just come from the IDF or government resources, but also NGO’s (non-governmental organisations) such as ZAKA, IsraAid, F.I.R.S.T, United Hatzalah Latetand others and is truly remarkable – even the United Nations has recognized Israel for its contributions. Rare praise from this embittered institution!

Israel has a unique ability to dispatch search and rescue teams and field hospitals fast and effectively. Unfortunately, we have had to learn this through difficult and sometimes tragic circumstances but it has become a skill that can be used to help others in times of distress.

“We Come to Help”.  Israeli government Minister Nachman Shai (6th from the left) and the IDF search-and-rescue delegation arriving on Sunday, June 27, 2021, in Surfside, Florida, to aid in recovery efforts at the building collapse. (Diaspora Affairs Ministry)

Called in Times of Crisis:

Since 1953, the IDF (Israel Defense Forces) has sent help for those in need, regardless of their location. Just this past week, a team of Home Front Command elite search and rescue soldiers departed for Miami, USA following the devastating collapse of a 12-floor apartment building, “Champlain Towers”. A short while after the news broke, Israel’s United Hatzalah’s psychotrauma team was deployed to help families and survivors cope with the profound trauma and stress of a catastrophe of this kind. Israel’s national carrier, EL AL said that they would cover the travel costs. Several days later, the Governor of Florida accepted Israel’s offer of IDF assistance and a team of ten elite search and rescue professionals including engineers, departed for Miami.

Sizing up the Situation. IDF Home Front Command delegation on site in Surfside, Miami

The scene on the ground is devastating. While the official cause has yet to be determined, the main priority now is rescue and recovery. Hope may be slim but it is still there.

Crushing Catastrophe. Workers search in the rubble at the Champlain Towers South Condo, Saturday, June 26, 2021, in Surfside, Fla. One hundred fifty-nine people were still unaccounted for two days after Thursday’s collapse, which killed at least four. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

I have had the immense pleasure and privilege of visiting Miami and spending a little bit of time with the Jewish community, many of whom come from South America. This is a strong, close and cohesive community, proudly Zionist and is as dedicated to Israel as they are to each other. This past week the women of WIZO USA Florida have rallied around the community of Surfside, doing as much as possible to try and help ease the burden of suffering. These exceptional women, who anxiously await news of their friends, associates and family members are working around the clock to feed and comfort the bereaved and provide nourishing kosher meals to rescue workers, sensitive to their religious dietary requirements as well as collecting necessities for those who have lost everything.

Helping Hand. Diaspora Affairs Minister Nachman Shai (right) speaks to Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis at the site of a building collapse near Miami on June 27, 2021. (Diaspora Affairs Ministry)

Israeli teams are joining their American counterparts working day and night, trying to recover the lost loved ones for anxious families. The United States may be a juggernaut in comparison to tiny Israel and may have many resources equipped for these kinds of disasters but for Israel this is a chance to help out our greatest ally, show our love for our brothers and sisters affected and also share our tremendous, world leading skills. Our prayers and love remains with all who have been affected by this tragedy.

Wonderful WIZO. Coordinating help and aid coming in from the community for those affected by the collapse of Champlain Towers are WIZO USA Florida’s Ruthy Benoliel (left) and Judit Groisman.

Other countries where Israel has helped include Mexico, Armenia, Cambodia , Pakistan, Haiti, Nepal, Romania, Argentina, Croatia, Kenya, Turkey, Democratic Republic of Congo and more.

Humanitarian aid in time of war

Every couple of years (and as recent as May this year), Israel seems to be embroiled in another flare up with Hamas in the neighbouring Gaza strip. As rockets and mortars fall on Israel and we defend our civilian population with retaliatory strikes on military targets, so we also ensure that much needed humanitarian aid continues to enter the beleaguered strip. During this recent flare up, humanitarian convoys were fired on with mortar shells but this did not stop them coming through. Israel continues to maintain a humanitarian corridor and works closely with the United Nations and necessary authorities and NGO’s on the ground, despite an ongoing precarious security situation.

Israel has sent much needed Covid-19 assistance as well as medicines, food, perishable good, fuel and other necessities.

Friends in Deed. Grateful Kenyan expresses thanks for  the help Israel sent that country in a time of crisis.

Tikkun Olam

Theodore Herzl, the founding father of modern Zionism had a vision for his future Jewish state. He wanted the Jewish tenet of “Tikkun Olam” (repairing the world) to be something that was synonymous with the country. In keeping with this philosophy, Israel’s Foreign Ministry has a special department called “MASHAV”, which is the Hebrew acronym for “Israel’s Agency for International Development Cooperation” and today there are projects all over the world, most notably on the African continent.

The work of MASHAV is to contribute to developing countries and this is done in fields where Israel has relevant expertise accumulated during its own history as a young country facing similar challenges.

Agents for Change. MASHAV trains women from around the world so they can be agents for change in their communities. (photo credit: MASHAV)

The belief is that ‘training the trainers’ and human capacity building activities are the best way to achieve maximum impact for development. Education and the transfer of skills is empowering and guarantees sustainable growth.​

​​​The seeds planted by MASHAV are bearing real fruit that will grow from generation to generation.

Saving the Children

Operation Good Neighbour

For years Syria has been embroiled in a bitter civil war that has had a devastating impact on civilians. Witnessing the shattering impact of conflict on civilians, especially children, the IDF launched “Operation Good Neighbour” with the intention of bringing civilians into Israel, at great risk to them and our soldiers, to give them access to life-saving medical attention.

Saving Syrians. Seen here in 2017, an IDF soldier feeds a Syrian baby in Israel as part of the army’s humanitarian aid program to assist Syrians impacted by the civil war in their country. (Israel Defense Forces)

In the cloak of night as battle raged around them and with no help from the UN stationed close by, Israel’s soldiers brought thousands of civilians into the country and gave them the help they needed. The IDF also helped transport members of the NGO, White Helmets and their families out of Syria and into safety in nearby Jordan.

The impact of Operation Good Neighbour will last generations as Syrians who were raised on the education of incitement that Israel is the enemy have now seen first-hand that when the world pretty much turned its back on them, it was Israel who opened her arms.

Save a Child’s Heart

Their mission is simple. Perform as many life-saving procedures on children with life-threatening heart problems. Israeli humanitarian organisation, Save a Child’s Heart, treats children suffering from congenital and rheumatic heart disease who have little access to care in their own countries.

Israel in Africa. The prestigious UN Population Award was awarded to Israel’s non-profit medical charity ‘Save a Child’s Heart’ for saving the lives of thousands of children around the world. Seen here in March 2018, an Echo Technician from Wolfson Medical Center in Israel, examining the heart of a child at the Save a Child’s Heart clinic in Zanzibar. (Nati Shohat/FLASH9)

To date, over 5000 children have been brought to Israel from nearly 60 countries where they have little or no access to the medical care that they need and given them the paediatric care they need as well as providing an in-depth outreach post-graduate training program for medical personnel from these developing countries, some who Israel has no or even hostile relations with. Countries have included Ethiopia, Iraq, at least 50% from Gaza and the West Bank, Syria, Ghana, Haiti, Rwanda, Somalia, Moldovia, Romania, Vietnam and many more.

In 2018, Save a Child’s Heart was honored with the UN Population Award, in recognition of its outstanding contributions to population and health.

Israel may be a real bantam weight in size but the tiny Jewish State knows how to deliver a knockout punch when it comes to contributing and helping the world. Size does not matter when it comes to punching above your weight – skill and the right intentions are what is needed – and appreciated.

In Every Generation

This article appears on Lay of the Land: https://layoftheland.online/2021/06/16/in-every-generation/

Jews know too well the dangers of antisemitism as it changes from generation to generation.

We have been raising the alarm for years. Antisemitism has a way of mutating into a different form every couple of decades or so but its roots and bones are always the same – a seething, venomous, irrational hatred of Jews and anything that is seen to be representative of us. Today that alarm is ringing out louder than we have heard for decades.

Over the centuries, this has manifested in accusations of deicide, blood libels and refusal to conform to idolatry or other religious doctrines. Jews have endured exile, auto-da-fé , Inquisition, pogroms, the Holocaust and the latest iteration – any and all attempts to demonise our nation state, Israel, while applying gross double standards and attempts to call into question its legal, internationally recognized sovereignty.

Every Passover, we Jews gather at our Seder tables and read the ancient passages that have sustained us through generations. One of those passages we read, speaks of how in every generation there are those who rise up to try and destroy us.

We have survived them all.

We are no strangers to manifestations of antisemitism, be they the genteel murmurings of the champagne socialist elite or the outright and sometimes violent actions of the anti-Israel activists. Following the recent flare up between Israel and Hamas that has come to be known as “Operation Guardians of the Wall”, antisemitism seems to have taken on a more insidious iteration.

Unveiling Her Insights! Among the pop stars who waded into the conflict between Israel and Hamas was Singer Halsey who wrote on Twitter: “It is not ‘too complicated to understand’ that brown children are being murdered.”

For many of us, the world seems to have tilted on its axis. The rise of “woke” culture that is centred on identity politics is creating more division than tolerance. While we are having very important and long overdue conversations about race, it seems that this dialogue excludes antisemitism and the results of this exclusion has never been more evident than in the wake of Operation Guardians of the Wall.

Israel’s conflict with the Palestinians is seen through the prism of identity politics. Jews and in this case Israelis are seen as white, Ashkenazi of European descent, engaged in a war against the Palestinians who are people of colour. Singer Halsey, evidenced this in the following Tweet.

This seems to be this generation’s manifestation and not only does it display great ignorance of the facts and history but negates the narrative and experience of the many Jews who were expelled from Arab countries, including North Africa and not forgetting the story of Ethiopian Jewry. It excluded the Jews of India and the African continent and the fact that the majority of Israelis are in fact, to use the parlance of the trendy, “people of colour”. Today’s generation is very attracted to social justice issues and this is admirable but the problem lies in their lack of understanding of history and facts. When it comes to understanding the conflict, context is king and facts and nuance matter. One does not become an expert on the Middle East by looking at memes on Instagram or Tweets from celebrities, models, pornstars (I am not joking!) late night talk show hosts and social media influencers desperate to prove their blue-tick social justice credentials.

Israel’s detractors know this too well and realise that placing the conflict against a background of identity politics, while relying on the ignorance of many, is a formula that unfortunately seems to be working well. They use words like “Apartheid” or “colonialists” which are highly emotive as their central accusation against Israel and as a result of this, Hamas with their genocidal intentions are now seen as resistance fighters and the Israeli Defense Forces as the aggressors. A moral equivalence has been drawn and Israel is the only country that has to defend its right to defend itself against attacks on its sovereign territory. History be damned!

I told you the world was topsy turvy and off its axis!

This is also compounded by politics. While Israel enjoys strong bi-partisan support in the United States, the increasingly vocal and acrimonious “Squad” whose trio of vociferous Israel-bashers, Ilhan Omar, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (AOC) and Rashida Tlaib, have displayed an incredible ability to read the room. In other words they understand the power of the language that they use and platforms that their constituents flock to which is social media. These Queens of Identity Politics have a clear agenda and are not afraid to push it and dismiss them as a small but loud minority at your peril. Today’s leaders may not pay as much heed as they should but they are extremely influential amongst the movers, shakers and opinion makers of tomorrow.

Young Israelis Today.  If those anti-Israel celebrities and pop stars visited Israel they would know its Jewish population is a kaleidoscope of complexions, a far cry from the lies and distortions about Israelis they tweet to their millions of adoring followers.
 

Global institutions and mainstream media have also joined the milieu. Hardly a day goes by without the United Nations and its agencies condemning Israel for something and the once venerated global institute is more synonymous these days for institutionalized antisemitism. Where are the resolutions condemning antisemitism that is rife in the streets of cities around the world? Where was the emergency session when convoys of hate rolled through London screaming “Fuck the Jews, rape their women” or when diners were beaten up in Los Angeles and other cities? Silence. Raping Jewish women is not going to “Free Palestine”.

Deafening Silence. Where were those celebrities and pop stars on social media following a convoy of cars on May 16, 2021 adorned with Palestinian flags driving through North London whose occupants were
shouting: ‘F**k the Jews,’ ‘Rape their daughters’ and ‘Free Palestine’. (Photo: Screenshot)

The mainstream media are just as if not more guilty. Fueled by competition for ratings, the “David vs Goliath” narrative with its inference that Israel is the giant to the oppressed Palestinian is contributing to the growing hate on the streets. In fact, we can almost draw a direct line between the narrative portrayed on TV and the rise in vicious antisemitism. I have lost count how many times I have been called a “baby killer” as the result of people being fed a steady media diet of very partisan reporting. Most of the media have skipped over the facts that Hamas awarded Al Jazeera for their coverage of the recent flare up, choosing instead to focus on the razing of the media building that housed Associated Press and Al Jazeera and a fair shake of terrorists hell bent on finding ways to destroy Israel’s Iron Dome system. But of course they didn’t know they were sharing office space with Hamas!

It takes a brave news channel to challenge the narrative these days and thank goodness there are those like Sky News Australia or the newly launched GB News in the UK who are not afraid to go head to head with the wokeratti!

And it doesn’t get more “woke” than the Hollywood elites. Desperate to be seen as committed social justice warriors, everyone from Ellen Barkin (is she still relevant?) to John Oliver and supermodels Bella and Gigi Hadid have A LOT to say about Israel. None of it correct. From their sanctimonious perch amongst the mansions and estates of Malibu to Beverly Hills, these faux experts have used their social media platforms to spread dangerously inflammatory rhetoric. Now before we roll our eyes so far back in our heads that we detach our corneas, these schlebs have millions of followers that far outnumber the total amount of Jews on the planet. I do find it vaguely amusing that the Hadid sisters who grew up in the absolute lap of luxury and earn a living wearing next to nothing are suddenly getting in touch with their Palestinian roots. I doubt Hamas take too kindly to Victoria’s Secret models but I could be wrong.

Model Behavior! Male model Anwar Hadid (left), the brother of Palestinian model Bella Hadid, who recently published a host of inciting anti-Israel posts was allegedly caught in a text message exchange, proclaiming he wants Israelis to be “erased from the planet”. Anwar, is seen here with his girlfriend, British pop star Dua Lipa (right), who during the recent Israel Hamas war, posted on Instagram: “The big bad tough guys of the #IDF thoroughly enjoy beating and shooting children”.

So what is the solution? It is quite simple. We have to show up wherever and whenever we can. We have to challenge the hypocrisy and false narrative by sharing the stories of our diverse people and remember our indigenous rights. This is our identity politics. It is sad that we have to politicize our identity but in the narrative war this has become an imperative. In every generation they rise up to try and defeat us. In this generation it is an attack on our very identity and diversity all represented in the existence of our nation state. Israel is a physical manifestation of the ethnic diversity of the Jewish people. We will survive this as we have all the others by being present and proud. One blue tick at a time.

South African Israelis must lead the fight against the apartheid libel

This article currently appears in The Times of Israel: https://blogs.timesofisrael.com/it-is-time-to-engage-the-south-africans-in-israel/

Expats like me who marched for equal rights should be mobilized to stand up to the abhorrent BDS campaign to discredit – and destroy – Israel

Recently, The Times of Israel (and various other publications) published an article with some startling statistics. The article discussed how some 25 percent of American Jewry believes that Israel is an apartheid state. A worrying report indeed. Over the past few years we have seen the chasm between Israel and American Jewry grow wider and the aggressive accusations of apartheid by the BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) movement and others grow louder.

The BDS movement exploded into the global consciousness after the UN Conference against Racism in Durban, South Africa in 2001. The launch of BDS in South Africa was not coincidental as the country was both the birthplace of apartheid and its defeat. At the very center of the BDS delegitimization, is the accusation, in fact the charge that Israel is guilty of practicing apartheid. The rationale is that if Israel is labeled as a pariah, as was South Africa, then the Jewish state can no longer be part of the family of nations until it changes its abhorrent policies. And more than this, BDS is also unwavering about their end goal — the end of Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people. The difference with the South African context, however, is that during the heinous apartheid regime, the global community wanted the racist policies of South Africa changed, but never called for the country to cease to exist.

The Oxford dictionary defines apartheid as “a policy of racial segregation of other groups from the white inhabitants. Adopted by the successful Afrikaner National Party as a slogan in the 1948 election, apartheid extended and institutionalized existing racial segregation. The word is recorded from the 1940s, and comes from Afrikaans, meaning literally “separateness.”

These laws governed every aspect of a black person’s life — from freedom of movement, the right to equal education, who they could marry all the way to separate amenities for color groups.

While other countries have often implemented racist laws at some time in their history, apartheid was unique to South Africa and the narrative to her people, because it was the only country in which these laws were legislated. South Africa is the “ground zero” of the BDS movement.

It is a narrative that is being appropriated by a sophisticated anti-Israel element to push an exclusionary, antisemitic agenda.

Israel is by no means perfect. Like every other country, we have our many challenges, including the scourge of racism, but it is not state policy as it was in South Africa.

I grew up in South Africa at the height of the apartheid state of emergency years. I bore witness to the daily humiliation, discrimination and appalling treatment of my black and coloured (a term used for people who were of mixed race) countrymen. Many of you reading this are probably wondering why a white woman is writing about the apartheid experience.

My answer? As a young, proudly Zionist Jew, I learned through belonging to a youth movement that apartheid was not compatible with my Jewish value. It was in this Zionist youth movement that many of us were taught to question the system and subsequently become young activists, often at great risk to our safety. I remember that when I was14 years old, I marched for equal rights and was filmed and questioned by the police. But we were proud because this to us was tikkun olam.

I am not the only Israeli South African with a story to tell. There are many of my countrymen in Israel and if you want to educate people against the apartheid Israel canard, you need to talk to us. It is our lived experience, it is the narrative of the country in which we grew up.

Many of us here have “struggle credentials.” There are those who were forced to flee, those who were arrested and even tortured, those who witnessed unbelievable cruelty, there are those who challenged the government or the legal system. And there are those who chose to leave because they could not live under a regime that persecuted another because we understood all too clearly what this meant.

And yes, ex-pat South Africans have a duty to stand up to this abhorrent canard. We cannot be apathetic or complacent. We must remember as olim, Israel has given us so much and now it is time for us to take the lead in the fight against the exploitation of the narratives of both South Africa and Israel.

The BDS movement and anti-Israel detractors are engaging misinformed South Africans, with little or no understanding of the complexities of the conflict, to give impetus to their agenda. Why aren’t you speaking to those of us who understand and have lived experience in both countries?

The contributions made by South African Jews to the fight against apartheid were extraordinary and disproportionate to the size of the community. We have a wealth of knowledge and experience to share in the fight against the narrative that claims Israel as an apartheid state. To be reticent about engaging and involving ourselves would be both a missed opportunity — and detrimental to the education of our Diaspora communities.

We owe South Africa so much — we were formed there and given the freedom to speak out and protest against injustice and human abuses. It is therefore our duty never to demean apartheid and the real devastating consequences it created. To call Israel an apartheid state is an abomination.

There is only one answer to this odious comparison: condemning unreservedly the central charge of apartheid through engaging its victims as well as those who fought to destroy it.

As the Jewish world gears up for the 20th anniversary of the UN Conference against Racism you can absolutely place your bets that this charge of apartheid is only going to gain more momentum. Remember the stated endgame.

The time to engage with us is now — before it is too late.

Cadena – Bringing Dignity Back to Young Women

This article is currently published in Lay of the Land: https://layoftheland.online/2021/06/09/cadena-bringing-dignity-back-to-young-women/

Breaking taboos, Jewish non-profit on a mission to repair the world

By Rolene Marks

There is an old and wise African proverb that says:

Educate a woman and you educate a village.”

Access to a good education saves and improves the lives of girls and women the world over, ultimately leading to more equitable development, stronger families, better services and better health for children. Educating young girls has a wide-ranging impact as well as long term benefits. It is often said that the future is women – and who can forget such extraordinary young women like Malala Yousafzai who literally risked her life for the right to be educated and the countless others, who dream of what so many take for granted?

The simple act of going to school every day is one that many of us don’t give a second thought to; but what of the millions of young girls living in poverty around the world who miss out on a week of school every month because of their menstrual cycle? During this time, young girls who live in areas that are either rural or poverty stricken do not go to school because of a lack of access to safe, hygienic sanitary products, and/or who are unable to manage their periods with dignity, sometimes due to community stigmas. Many of these young girls are made to feel ashamed of their bodies and that they are dirty.

There is a connection between the confidence of women who are able to take care of their bodies and their ability to be able to take care of their education and their communities. At a time when we are having important conversations around issues of body positivity and breaking the stigma about menstruation which is a natural function, we need to draw attention to the many suffering from period poverty, that is – the lack of access to sanitary products, menstrual hygiene education, toilets, hand washing facilities, and waste management.

Young women deserve the basic human right to menstruate with dignity. Diminished capacity, even for just a week, creates barriers to opportunities. It does not just affect the ability of young girls to go to school but women to go to work.

Proud to Help. Young volunteers from the Jewish non-profit Cadena helping a  community in South Africa to replace unsafe and unsanitary pit latrines.

It also impacts on physical health. Lack of access to the right feminine hygiene products may lead to greater risk of infection. In some cases, women and girls do not have access to menstrual products at all. They may resort to rags, leaves, newspaper or other makeshift items to absorb or collect menstrual blood. They may also be prone to leaks, contributing to shame or embarrassment.

Humanitarian organization, Cadena has found a solution to these issues.  Cadena was formed in Mexico in 2004 with the intention of assisting with victims of natural disasters. Since then, Cadena which now has a global presence in many countries around the world, has expanded its focus to include education, the launching of rescue missions, community rebuilding programmes and many, many more important projects. Cadena also firmly believes in a philosophy of “hand to hand”, preferring direct contact with the people that they are helping. The organization became more and more concerned hearing about the situation for young women in poverty stricken areas of South Africa where a decision between buying a loaf of bread or sanitary protection for girls is a heartbreaking but common occurrence. At least 50% of young women in South Africa have seen their education disrupted during their menstrual cycle!

Project Preparation. Volunteers planning and preparing to  replace and upgrade latrines in rural community.

What could Cadena do to help alleviate the situation and ensure that the education of these young women and girls is not interrupted?

The first order of the day was to break the taboos. Cadena had to educate these young girls and women that there was nothing “dirty” or horrible about a process that is a very natural part of being a woman. Sadly today, taboos around this subject are not just in struggling communities but worldwide which is why an article like this can help a lot with breaking down stigmas and taboos.

Team Work. Cadena volunteers help communities with solutions to replace deadly pit latrines and help host workshops to help alleviate period poverty.

Cadena is determined that young girls and women get their dignity back and are committed to equipping them with the tools and material necessary!

Cadena is launching workshops in the townships where women will not only be taught about health and hygiene but will also be supplied with fabric and materials to help them make their own ecological, washable and reusable menstrual pads. This not only helps to empower the women attending the workshops but helps them to share the same skills with their families and communities. These workshops have been held with great success in South America.

Helping communities also creates opportunities for other volunteers to be involved. Students from Johannesburg’s Jewish day school have been eager to help. Cadena is primarily a volunteer organization. While they cannot take anyone under the age of 18 into the field, students were really keen to help as much as possible by packing materials, helping with content creation for distribution and helping to raise awareness. After all, who better to help than their peers of the same age! It also proved a great opportunity for them to learn about the situation for many in their own country who don’t enjoy the same comforts and privileges that they do.

Making a Difference. Braving heat and dust for three weeks in a row, CADENA volunteers in South Africa went from house to house in Plot 89 to deliver PitFix by Enzyme Genie that has made such a difference in a short amount of time.

Cadena has also been instrumental in making sure that rural communities have safe, hygienic latrines following a tragic accident where a 5-year-old little boy drowned. CADENA South Africa will be using PitFix, a locally produced product by the company Enzyme-Genie that removes wastes, breaks down organic solids resulting in a dramatic reduction in smell and the presence of flies in both traditional pit latrines and septic tanks.

This Should Not Happen! The mother of a five-year-old South African boy who died after falling into a pit latrine at school breaks down in court as she described finding his body.

Every person deserves to live a life of dignity and for the truly vulnerable, including women and girls, Cadena is playing a vital role in ensuring that that their personal health is protected and that they never have to miss out on receiving their education.

The future is clearly women!

For more information about how you can help by donating or becoming a volunteer, please visit: https://cadena.ngo/en/southafrica/

“A Fiery Debate”

This currently appears in Lay of the Land: https://layoftheland.online/2021/05/30/a-fiery-debate/

From Rockets to Rolene, the war continues in the media as Israel remains under attack

Rolene Marks vs Naeem Jeenah – The showdown on Islam TV.

Lay of the Land co-founder, Rolene Marks was invited on the 27th May 2021 to debate Afro-Middle East Centre head, Naeem Jeenah in a panel discussion ‘AQSA is Calling’ on South Africa’s Islam TV (ITV), a programme featured in South Africa. The decades old adversaries engaged in a discussion that is certain to raise one’s blood pressure.

Following her friendly introduction from Modiin in Israel, where she resides, she was immediately jumped upon by her adversary, Naeem Jeenah, Executive Director Afro-Middle East Centre who said that where Rolene lives is “in violation of international law” and that she: “is talking rubbish”.

That set the tone but what followed soon revealed who really was “talking rubbish”.

Dismissing the over 4000 rockets fired from Gaza towards Israel’s civilian populations – a war crime in International Law – Jeenah opened up with the usual lies making the rounds of anti-Semites the world over of falsely and maliciously accusing Jews of behaving like the Nazis, thus suggesting that Jews are perpetrating a “Holocaust” on the Palestinians:

“What Israel is doing in Gaza is what they are doing in Jerusalem – ethic cleansing of the Palestinian people. They want to make it so uncomfortable so they will leave so they can take over entire Palestine. So please don’t come with this nonsense how great humanitarians Israelis are wanting to see development in Gaza. If that was the case, stop  bombing and killing the children of Gaza.” He then went on to promote the only “way forward” was for a binational state – meaning the dismantling of the State of Israel.

With a world gung-ho for 2000 years of exterminating Jews and now set on exterminating its hard-fought for national homeland, Rolene would have none of this.

Watch Rolene Marks vs Naeem Jeenah The showdown on Islam TV:

I am a Jew

This is featured in Lay of the Land: https://layoftheland.online/2021/05/25/i-am-a-jew/

I am a Jew. I am the daughter of Israel. I am the descendant of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, of Sarah, Rachel, Rebecca and Leah.

I am the descendant of the great Kings David, Solomon and Saul.

I am the descendant of the wise Judges, the esteemed prophets.

I am Yael, the warrior. I hope by my actions to live up to Yael, the namesake of the heroine whose Hebrew name I bear.

My language is Hebrew. I may get my grammar wrong but it is the language of my soul. My soul and spirit belong to the land and now the State of Israel.

I am created from this land. I am its fruits. I am its covenant. I am its promise. I am the daughter of Zion, of Jerusalem.

I am bound by the chain of generations to the great sages, the learned Rabbis, the Nobel prize winners. I am the 12 tribes and the 1 tribe.

I carry the dreams of the scattered and the exiled because I am home.

I carry the hopes and the dreams of those who perished in inquisitions, in pogroms, in the Holocaust. I am the living dream of those who wandered the desert, marched through hostile lands to return to Zion.

I am a modern liberation movement, I determine my future. I have Jerusalem in my bones. Today I am hunted, I am vilified and I am abused. But I am not going anywhere for what was in my ancestors is in me.

I too, will survive. I too will be proud. I too will shout my name loud. The bitter words may wound me but will not defeat me. The violence may cut me but will not break me.

I stand strong. I stand proud. I will wear the symbols of my faith and identity with pride and strength. I will pursue peace with all my might but defend myself with all I am. I am a Jew. 

I Placed a Tile on the Wall of Peace

This article is featured in Lay of the Land: https://layoftheland.online/2021/05/19/i-placed-a-tile-on-the-wall-of-peace/

I once placed a tile on the wall of peace. It was on the wall that divided Gaza from Israel and very close to the Kibbutz of Netiv Ha’asara. I left in there in the hope that it would leave just a little bit of a dream of peace on the barrier between Gaza and Israel.

Writing on the Wall. The wording on the tile the writer affixes to the mosaic, includes – peace, happiness, unity, tolerance, hope, love, freedom, kindness and laughter.

Earlier in the day I had heard from the brave residents of the kibbutz situated just metres away about their experiences of living a life under constant fire and threats of infiltration from terror tunnels being built underneath their homes.  Many people don’t realise that there is a metro, a network of terror tunnels that are designed with the intentions of smuggling weapons but also as a springboard to launch attacks on Israeli civilians by reaching into the sovereign territory and kidnapping or murdering civilians and soldiers.

 I had been inside a terror tunnel that the IDF had secured. It was a shocking reminder of a pervasive threat, its intentions deadly. I have been to the south of Israel many times. I have seen the bomb shelters that dot the landscape, heard the stories of the incredible, courageous citizens and seen the fear in our children’s eyes. I know there is fear in the eyes of the children of Gaza too. I know that Hamas and their ilk keep both of our populations under hostage of terror.

Spreading Hope. The writer adds her tile to the ‘Path to Peace’ mossaic

For the past week, Israel has been engaged in a defensive operation called “Operation Guardians of the Wall” to protect citizens against over 3000 rockets and mortars fired on the country and rout out Hamas’s terror infrastructure and top brass.

Countries have been supporting Israel recognizing the threat that Hamas poses, however many have urged the use of proportionality in our response all the while failing to explain how they see that happening. Israel endures a conflict with its neighbours in Gaza who are hell bent on our destruction, having this intention ingrained in their charter. No other country has endured a perpetual conflict where the enemy entity hides within its civilian population and commits a double war crime by firing from within their own into ours, aiming for maximum casualties. On the one side, the intent is to murder as many Israelis and on the other, it is to inflict harm on their own so that they can rack up those devastating optics in the media. So far several hundred rockets fired have landed in the strip and 40 civilians have been killed as a result, including at least 5 children.

But it is a strategy that is working.

Model Behaviour? Daughters of Palestinian real-estate developer Mohamed Hadid  and Dutch model Yolanda, supermodels Bella and Gigi Hadid are among celebrities who have been posting about the Israel-Palestine conflict.

We cannot underscore the role of media, and how it has been weaponized against Israel. At a time where ratings rather than lives matter, facts have become a casualty. Journalists and networks no longer care about context, nuance and the reality on the ground but rather views, engagement and ratings. Celebrities and social media influences have globbed on to this as well and in their haste to drive up their likes and shares and boast social justice credentials. To this end, they are playing a large part in sharing mistruths and propaganda. It also feeds into the never ending drip feeding of woke perpetual victimhood culture. They have little knowledge but massive reach – and that is dangerous. The supermodel Hadid sisters have a combined reach of over 100 million and other celebrities as well. This is many, many more times the total number of Jews in the world. Now, most would scoff at the idea of learning about the Middle East conflict from swimsuit models and comedians but here we are. It is dangerous and contributing to a climate of hate for Jews around the world.

While they have been astoundingly silent of issues like the Syrian civil war where 4000 Palestinians were slaughtered or have failed to drum up a march for the Uighur Muslims in concentration camps, Israel and global Jewry is fair game. https://www.youtube.com/embed/Occbrw0Xikk?enablejsapi=1&autoplay=0&cc_load_policy=0&cc_lang_pref=&iv_load_policy=1&loop=0&modestbranding=1&rel=1&fs=1&playsinline=0&autohide=2&theme=dark&color=red&controls=1&

What has become disproportionate as the result of poor reporting and ignorant but eager social media posting is the hatred spilling over into the streets of cities around the world. It is entirely possible and probable to draw a line connecting what is reported in the media and a rise in anti-Semitic sentiment that is starting to become inherently violent.  In the past week, Jewish communities around the world have faced a tsunami of hatred from London, where Jewish women were even threatened with rape, to Toronto where a Rabbi was beaten to New York, Brussels, Cape Town, Montreal, Sydney and everywhere in between.  Many are wondering if they will ever be safe again and if it is not time to make Aliyah (immigrate to Israel).

Social media has become a free for all and many like me who have been doing double duty as frontline activists in the war against misinformation have face a blitzkrieg of hate invective. I use the term blitzkrieg intentionally because I have lost count of how many death wishes I have received, including pictures of Hitler telling me that this is the “cure for me” and disappointments that a rocket – one of over 3000  – has not killed me yet!

Pursuing Peace. Visitors standing before the “Path to Peace”, a joint mosaic creation, by thousands of people, towards hope, love, and happiness among all people. The creation is placed upon the border wall that divides Gaza and Israel.
 
 

But I will tell you what I know for sure at the risk of sounding glib. At Pesach time we read the ancient words that in every generation there are those who rise up to act against us. We have survived millennia of persecution and hatred and whatever it was that sustained our ancestors, is what we have inside us now and no matter how dark it seems we will prevail.

Israel’s army and our Iron Dome will continue to defend the country physically. The battle in the media and in the court of public opinion will continue and it is up to each of us to form that shield against misinformation and lies, a human Iron Dome if you will. Israel will continue to pursue and dream of peace while defending ourselves with all our might. And so it will continue.

 I placed that tile with a sense of hope. Because hope allows us to dream big. To believe in better days to come. I once placed a tile on the wall of peace, hoping it would be part of building a solid foundation, no matter how dark and hate filled the climate of the world is right now against Israel. It represented my hopes and dreams, for our people and theirs. Will my dreams be realized? I can only hope. https://www.youtube.com/embed/RjwdLaefniw?enablejsapi=1&autoplay=0&cc_load_policy=0&cc_lang_pref=&iv_load_policy=1&loop=0&modestbranding=1&rel=1&fs=1&playsinline=0&autohide=2&theme=dark&color=red&controls=1&

Media Watchdog

This article appears in Lay of the Land: https://layoftheland.online/2021/05/11/medea-watchdog/

As tensions rise and Israel is currently engaged in conflagration with terror entities in the Gaza strip, the media plays a vital role in ensuring that coverage is factual. But are they presenting the full picture and truth behind some of the headlines or are they engaged in a battle for clicks and views?

Rolene Marks writes this open letter to the Daily Mail and other media outlets.

To the Editor

It is 07h41 here in Israel and I am writing this while sitting in my bomb shelter. I am no different to the hundreds of thousands doing the same thing. In the last 13 hours, over 200 rockets have been fired from Gaza from terror entities in the Gaza strip, placing millions of Israelis, Jewish, Christian and Muslim in immediate danger. This also invites a response from Israel that places civilians in Gaza in danger and so the cycle continues.

Rockets are launched by Palestinian terrorists into Israel in Gaza, May 10, 2021.

I have read your coverage and would like to draw attention to important facts that need to be made public and have not been included in your coverage. You have not mentioned that 3 children were killed when a rocket misfired. Why were those children close to a rocket launcher? Why is it not mentioned that civilians are used as human shield by terror entities like Hamas and Islamic Jihad who are firing these rockets, threatening to turn cities like Ashkelon “into hell”? Are you aware that 1/3 of rockets fired have landed in the Gaza strip, endangering Palestinian civilians as well? Hamas and other terror entities are committed to inviting as much conflict as possible. Are you aware that residents of a Kibbutz close to the Gaza border yesterday were told to lock themselves in their homes for fear of infiltration? https://mfa.gov.il/MFA/PressRoom/2021/Pages/The-rocket-attacks-on-Jerusalem-and-southern-Israel-10-May-2021.aspx

 With regards to the neighbourhood of Sheikh Jarrah – I am attaching this legal explanation on the situation.  https://en.kohelet.org.il/wp-content/uploads/2021/05/sheikh-jarrah-brief.pdf.

Please note that this could also be sorted out if the Palestinian residents agreed to a rental option – like most residents living in homes owned by others do.

A screenshot of drone footage of a home in Jerusalem damaged by Hamas rocket fire. (Photo: Channel N12 screenshot.)

Are you also aware that protestors in the Al Aqsa Mosque stockpiled rocks and cinder blocks? This is a desecration of a holy site. Rocks were thrown at police and civilians to the cries of “bomb bomb Tel Aviv” and “with our blood and our bodies we will redeem Al Aqsa“.  Yesterday, a Jewish Israeli man was almost lynched but your coverage implied that he randomly rammed his car into some Palestinians. Rocks were thrown at his car, gas/mace sprayed in his eyes and he was almost pulled out of his car. Please correct. Please also mention the 7-month-old baby in Hadassah Hospital who sustained wounds to the forehead from a rock thrown at the car she was in. Thank goodness for a teddy bear tucked into the car seat that absorbed the impact. Yesterday rockets were fired towards Jerusalem, to the cheers of Palestinians as captured on Sky News. What if one of those rockets hit Al Aqsa Mosque as rockets have hit apartments buildings and houses in the last  13 hours? In addition, nearly 50 fires have been set off in southern Israel as a result of arson balloons from the Gaza strip, destroying valuable agricultural farmland.

An apartment building in Ashkelon was hit by a rocket fired from the Gaza Strip, May 11, 2021.

When covering the conflict between Israel and her neighbours, it is tempting to look at Israel as the Goliath to the Palestinian David. I implore you to take a closer look. This is a conflict where nuance and context is very important and more often than not, is lost in the coverage.

Thank you.

Kind regards

 Rolene Marks

Modiin

Israel.

Anne Frank and the Dangers of Holocaust Appropriation

This article appears on Lay of the Land: https://layoftheland.online/2021/05/06/anne-frank-and-the-dangers-of-holocaust-appropriation/

A famous celebrity once remarked that social media is “the toilet of the internet”. Okay, so that person was Lady Gaga but whether or not you are a fan of pop culture or spend some time traversing the nonsense posted on various social media platforms, you have to admit there is great truth in her words.

Some weeks are worse than others and this past week really took the cake. For some reason #AnneFrank was trending and this piqued my curiosity. I almost wish it hadn’t because what I found was nothing short of nauseating.

Anne Frank, age twelve, at her school desk. Amsterdam, the Netherlands, 1941. (Anne Frank Stichting)

During this past year as the world has endured a pandemic that has caused immense pain and loss, the disturbing trend of Holocaust appropriation, which is the re-purposing of imagery, narratives experiences from the Shoah to push another agenda or explain other historical crimes and occurrences has found oxygen.

We are familiar with the images of anti-vaxxers or those fed up with lockdowns marching in cities across the world, wearing the yellow stars that Jews were forced to wear during the Holocaust, saying that their “human rights” are being eroded. Spoiler alert: sitting on your couch watching copious amounts of Netflix while shopping on Amazon or having the right to choose whether or not you wanted to have a potentially life-saving vaccine is not nearly the same experience as being rounded up, forced into a ghetto, beaten, tortured, starved, worked to death, marched to death, gassed and burned because you are Jewish. THAT is what the yellow star signified.

One of the enduring symbols of the Holocaust is Anne Frank. The story of the Jewish teenager has been immortalized in her diary and has been used as an educational tool and translated into many languages for millions around the world.  Anne Frank has both captivated and broken hearts the world over, and through her words and experiences, we have come to better understand what life under Nazi occupation was like for her and her family, as they went into hiding with several others, in a tiny space, hidden for years by righteous gentiles who risked their lives knowing what the penalty for those they hid, as well as themselves.

History Abused. Dreams of a young girl surviving through the Holocaust are ‘re-purposed’ for the agendas of political activists today. (Photograph from UPI / Corbis-Bettmann)

It was certain death!

The millions of us who have read her story have shared in her daily frustrations, the precocious personality of a typical teenager experiencing the changes and her heartbreaks as well as the very real fear and hurt of being targeted for death for the crime of being a Jew. Anne Frank put a name and a face to the 1 500 000 children murdered in the Nazi genocide of the Jewish people. For many people, Anne Frank put a human face to a catastrophe many viewed in the abstract.

Anne and her sister Margot were sent to Bergen Belsen after their secret annex was discovered. They died of typhus and their bodies thrown into a mass grave. Their father Otto Frank, survived them.

So why was she trending on Twitter?

I have seen many appalling things posted to Twitter but a post from Black Hammer (see below) takes the cake. To date, me and many others have reported it. I am still waiting for it to be removed from Twitter for violating community standards.

Black Hammer describe themselves on Twitter as follows “We are an anticolonial organization dedicated to getting our land back! Join us in making a city with no rent, kkkops, rona or colonizers at http://blackhammer.”

Their litany of tweets features appalling spelling and grammar that is almost as offensive as their ribald antisemitism and flagrant racism; but we cannot dismiss the fact that they opened up a discussion and debate. In the context of having important discussions about race and intolerance, this would have been important but we CANNOT fight racism by promoting antisemitism. The above stated tweet (where do I even begin with all the things that are offensive!) just trotted out every vile, racist tropes that is guaranteed to inflame the masses. And inflame them they did.  J-Twitter (that’s Jewish Twitter) responded in numbers expressing outrage and trying as much as possible to debunk the accusations and were joined by others saying it was offensive BUT is also gave a tailwind to the haters and the conversation spiraled downwards to the point where Anne herself was accused of being a “colonizer” and proceeds from the sale of her book going towards “the funding of the genocide of the Palestinian people.”  There was so much discussion that it resulted in the topic being one of the top trending hashtags for the week – for the wrong reasons.

The gross exploitation and appropriation of the image of Anne Frank to promote a political agenda.

In the oppression Olympics there are no winners. There is a very real danger in ignoring, debasing or appropriating the narrative of another to push an agenda which in this case, feeds into people’s distaste for colonization. For Black Hammer, the facts don’t seem to matter – the only thing that matters is demonizing the one so that they can promote the agenda of the other, often with dangerous and deadly consequences.

The dangers are not restricted to social media and the opinions of the haters. As time marches on, we lose more and more of the witnesses to the Holocaust and so we have to be their voice. At a time when the global conscience on racism is acutely aware of its effects, so we have to ensure that all conversations about hatred include the oldest – antisemitism. Holocaust appropriation cannot be allowed to get a free pass. It is an imperative that we fight it wherever it appears. Failure to do so means that not only is our narrative taken from us but that victims of hatred are once again silenced.

Anne Frank once said, “In spite of everything, I still believe that people are really good at heart”. If only the hope expressed through this remarkable young woman – whose story resonates through the generations in the hope that it would educate people and remind them that we were not just numbers but had names, lives and experiences – would be realized. We have to do better by Anne.

We have to be the voice of people who are really good at heart.