Understanding Zionism

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Understanding Zionism

Maligned, misunderstood, and derided, provocative, emotive and polarizing. Often condemned, just the mention of the word Zionism is enough to raise the blood pressure of many. This often results in both pro and anti-Israel activists engaging in a battle of words. Frighteningly, this battlefield has expanded way beyond the Social Network to university campuses and other congregating venues where Jews identifying as Zionist are at physical risk.

So, what is Zionism exactly and why is it such a hot-button issue?

Simply put, Zionism is the National Liberation Movement of the Jewish people. It is a guarantee of the rights of the Jewish people to organize themselves politically and assign it a name that hearkens back to ancient roots and love for Zion.

Zion is synonymous with city of God; the place that God loves – Jerusalem. ‘Mount Zion’ – on the southeast side of the Old City – is the high hill on which King David built a citadel. The word Zion occurs over 150 times in the Bible and essentially means “fortification” and has the idea of being “raised” as a “monument”.

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The Written word. The word Zion from which Zionism takes its name appears 150 times in the Bible.

Zion is described both as the City of David and the City of God.

The word Zion is embedded into Jewish religion and culture as it is embedded into the rock and masonry of Israel’s capital – Jerusalem.

Complex Relationships

The great American civil rights leader, Rev Dr Martin Luther King is rumoured to have described Zionism as “nothing more that the yearning of the Jewish people to return to their ancient homeland”.

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After thousands of years of being made aware that we are unwelcome in many countries, Jews have returned en masse to our ancient and ancestral homeland.  The word Zion refers to those biblical ties since time immemorial. It is proof that Jews have “indigenous people’s rights to the land” and in case anybody has doubt, there is antiquity being discovered every day that supports this.

Israel’s detractors are quick to point out that Nelson Mandela, the father of democratic South Africa and the icon of the anti-Apartheid struggle’s support of Palestinians. What they neglect to conveniently mention is Madiba’s support for the Jewish people’s right to self-determination – Zionism.

Mandela has been quoted as saying

“As a movement, we recognize the legitimacy of Palestinian nationalism just as we recognize the legitimacy of Zionism as a Jewish nationalism,” he said in 1993. “We insist on the right of the State of Israel to exist within secure borders, but with equal vigor support the Palestinian right to national self-determination.”

There has been much debate, discussion and social media brouhaha over who is or what defines a Zionist. Zionism is not restricted to Jews, but many Christians, Druze and yes, even Muslims consider themselves Zionists. Supporting Jewish rights to self-determination in no way makes one anti-Palestinian. Sadly, so much misunderstanding about what constitutes Zionism has resulted in alienating people who have an emotional attachment to Israel.  Too many would prefer that Zionism be relegated onto the pile of other unwanted “isms”.

Open-Ended Hatred

Many thought that with the realisation of the modern state of Israel, anti-Semitism would disappear but instead it has reared its head in a new form – anti-Zionism.

The world has emerged a hostile place for Zionists.

Ask the students on campus who are bullied and sometimes physically threatened for their political beliefs. Or the store owners in Europe who find their shops ransacked for carrying Israeli products. Or the travelers turned away from accommodation for being Israeli. The rise of the alt-right in the USA with their Nazi salutes and propensity for spray painting swastikas or the neo Nazis, the UK Labor party with its ongoing accusations of institutionalized antisemitism and BDS supporters in Europe, South America and South Africa has many Jews feeling afraid and isolated.

The argument “I am not an anti-Semite, I just don’t like Zionists” is spurious.

Even the French President, Emmanuel Macron says anti-Zionism is “a new type of antiSemitism.” He told the Israeli Prime Minister when speaking in Paris at an event to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the Vel D’Hiv round-up, in which 13,152 French Jews were deported to Nazi concentration camps that France will “not surrender” to anti-Israel rhetoric.

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French President’s Promise to Crack Down on Anti-Semitism Could Threaten Critics of Israel (https://twitter.com/i/status/1098321796737236993)

There are an estimated 50 Muslim countries in the world, and an estimated 30 countries that define themselves as Christian. There is only one Jewish state and yet, so many have an issue with its very existence?

Saying that the Jews have no right to organize themselves politically and call it Zionism is in fact, racism.

Is it politically correct to criticize Israel?

For sure!

Criticising the government and its policies is the national sport of Israel.

Is Israel perfect? No. And it is perfectly okay and healthy to say so. However, saying that Jews have no right to national self-determination or that Israel has no right to exist is racist and anti-Semitic.

I believe part of being a Zionist is being able to criticize and improve. I believe that Zionism means that you want to see an exemplary Israel – a light unto the nations. An Israel that is tolerant and welcoming and grateful for all who support her. This is dignified, this is keeping with the tenets of our founders who envisioned this. There is room in the Zionist tent for everyone – Jew, Christian, Muslim, as well as from left to right across the political spectrum.

These values are enshrined in Israel’s Declaration of Independence:

“The State of Israel will be open for Jewish immigration and for the Ingathering of the Exiles; it will foster the development of the country for the benefit of all its inhabitants; it will be based on freedom, justice and peace as envisaged by the prophets of Israel; it will ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex; it will guarantee freedom of religion, conscience, language, education and culture; it will safeguard the Holy Places of all religions; and it will be faithful to the principles of the Charter of the United Nations.”

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Return To Zion. Returning after nearly 3000 years, Ethiopian Jews aboard an Israeli air force plane flying from Addis Ababa to Tel Aviv in 1991.

I invite anyone who is somewhat skeptical or perhaps undecided about their views on Zionism to ask themselves how different it is to their national aspirations. Perhaps this will lead to a lot more understanding, a lot less maligning and hopefully an end to the rising violence that so many supporters of Israel are currently enduring.

 

 

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A Woman’s Right

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A Woman’s Right

Israa Ghrayeb was 21 years old.  Like most millennials, Israa was social media “obsessed” (to use the vernacular) but little did she know that the platforms so many of us take for granted every day to share the titbits of our lives that are envy inducing to our online communities, would lead to her death.

Israa’s only crime was that she dared meet a young Arab man in a restaurant and document it by sharing it to social media platform, Instagram.  Millions of people do this every day and while this meeting was innocent enough, it inspired the rage of the male members of her family to severely beat her. Israa did not meet a stranger that she did not know, she met the man she was intending to marry.

When the family found out, Ghrayeb’s brother, Ihab, allegedly beat and tortured her in their family home.

Trying to escape the violent blows inflicted on her, Israa then fell from the second-floor balcony of her parents’ home and was reported to have broken her spine.

Her brother, who is a Canadian resident, was apparently incensed by the video – saying it “dishonoured” the family by presenting herself with her husband-to-be ahead of the actual wedding, according to local media.  Her father had allegedly ordered her brother to beat her after family members witnessed the footage online.

After being admitted to hospital following the initial attack, Ghrayeb said she would not be able to work for the next two months as she waited for a spinal cord operation in a post on her Instagram account.

“I’m strong and I have the will to live – if I didn’t have this willpower, I would have died yesterday,” she said. “Don’t send me messages telling me to be strong, I am strong. May God be the judge of those who oppressed me and hurt me.”

After posting this message, her brother, along with other male relatives, reportedly brutally beat her in the hospital. Footage surfaced on social media of her screaming and begging for her life during the attack.

Israa succumbed to her wounds and passed away. Israa Ghrayeb became the latest horrific statistic in an “honour killing”.

Palestinians took to the street to protest Israa’s death and an end to honour killings.

Israa’s death is not isolated.

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#WeAreIsraa. Outrage follows 21-year-old Palestinian woman Israa Ghrayeb murdered by family members in suspected ‘Honour Killing’.

Honour killings are not a new phenomenon.  In fact, this heinous occurrence has been practiced from as early as Roman times and is prevalent today in North Africa and the Middle East but don’t think that western countries are exempt – incidents of honour killings have been reported in the UK, USA, Canada and others.

The term “honour killing” sounds like a really ridiculous paradox, after all there is absolutely no honour in killing anyone – how could there be? But the issue here isn’t really about honour but more about control over reproductive power. This being said it is not always sexual in nature or about controlling sexual behaviour but rather about fertility.

Say what?

Now I am scratching my head in confusion as much as you are but these horrendous events occur because in some communities that are patrilineal in nature, a woman’s right to govern her own reproductive freedom. In these societies, women are seen as reproductive factories not seductive sirens.

This makes this barbaric act a lot more complex than originally thought, but in most cases, honour killings occur because women in communities that adhere to strict religious doctrine are expected to toe the line and behave in accordance. In Pakistan for example, women’s right to life are conditional on their “obeying certain norms and traditions.”

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No More Violence. More women in Pakistan are demanding an end to gender-related violence.

Nighat Taufeeq of the Women’s Resource Center Shirkatgah in Lahore, Pakistan says: “It is an unholy alliance that works against women: the killers take pride in what they have done, the tribal leaders condone the act and protect the killers and the police connive the cover-up.”

Honour killings are seen as less serious than murder. Sounds like a contradiction but women are being killed for “infractions” ranging from dressing more western to adulterous affairs. This is becoming more and more common, especially in societies that adopt Islamic sharia law even though in centuries past, they have occurred in ancient Rome or medieval times. In some communities, where women are gaining economic power and adopting more customs, there are men that feel that they have to act out in some way, usually violent, to regain some control.

Women who have been raped are also seen as bringing “disgrace” to their families and it is shattering that they become victimized twice over. Should pregnancy result from this, the consequences are catastrophic.

Homosexuality is also seen as legitimate grounds for killing. The United Nations and other NGO’s are alarmed by this phenomenon and the UN High Commissioner for Refugees state that “claims made by LGBT persons often reveal exposure to physical and sexual violence, extended periods of detention, medical abuse, threat of execution and honour killing.”

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Horror Not Honour. The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) estimates that perhaps as many as 5,000 women and girls a year are killed by members of their own families. Many women’s groups in the Middle East and Southwest Asia suspect the victims are at least four times more.

So surely divorce or a court injunction against possible perpetrators would be the solution?

Sadly, this is usually a trigger for violence against women and for many; the feeling is that hope is lost.

What can be done, if anything, to stop honour killings or as they are called in some countries “crime of passion”?

The first step would be to be to really understand the “honour code” and learn from the lessons in history. For some cultures this practice is repugnant but in others it is acceptable “code”. One solution that has been discussed is “naming and shaming”. Another possibility is in communities where honour killings are seen as part of religious doctrine, to prove that this is not the correct interpretation of the Quran.

The battle to end honour killings is a long and arduous one but necessary. Perhaps the starting point is learning to respect life – not end it. That is the true shame and dishonor. The right to live in dignity and safety is a woman’s right.

 

 

 

First do no harm

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First do no harm

A couple of weeks ago, I had the distinct privilege of attending a rehearsal by a fantastic organization called Ukuleles for Peace. The brainchild of Briton, Paul Moore, who realized that something positive had to come out of the chaos of the second Intifada,  this outfit endeavours to bring together Jewish and Muslim youth in Israel to find common ground by creating beautiful music together. The instrument of choice? Ukuleles.

Now one would think that the idea of 12 youth from various backgrounds creating harmony while strumming their ukuleles would melt the most cynical of hearts. It did for some – but not others. The 12 unsuspecting students and their stringed accoutrement unwittingly unleashed chaos on social media.

Screenshot_2019-08-22-07-48-33-546_com.twitter.android.pngThere were a few who took great exception to this story and unleashed a tirade of accusations – accusing those of supporting this project of being “naïve” and of “not taking into account the threats posed by Iran or Hamas” and that we needed “to go back to lalaland with our ukuleles”.

This was quite a strong reaction and it made me wonder what triggered this kind of negative response. Was it the idea of youth from two different communities coming together? Was it that someone not Israeli had identified an opportunity and come up with a solution how to transcend the chaos and conflict and create something positive? Was it the ukuleles?

Whatever it was, it triggered a very aggressive reaction – and an all-out social media war.  Many who support this initiative felt compelled to jump in and defend the other position and it got me thinking, we are all working on the same side so why is there such mutual aggression?

Social media sites like Facebook and Twitter have become the mediums of choice for anyone wishing to share an opinion.

These social media platforms, while being very positive and useful mediums for sharing your message also has a dark side. These platforms have also provided a space for many who think that they are “experts” or at the very least keyboard generals.  In the war against racism, discrimination and antisemitism, social media is fast becoming the biggest battlefield.

As the mega-superstar, Lady Gaga, once said social media is the toilet of the internet.

Nothing is off limits – body shaming, parenting shaming, political viewpoint shaming is all the rage and if anyone can find something about you to insult, you bet your bottom dollar that they will.

And if you are a Zionist –whoo boy, it is open season for attack!!!

It is important to engage and be engaged BUT the how we do it is so important. At a time when antisemitism is rising around the world and many of us feel vulnerable; afraid and attacked (especially by trolls who hide behind the anonymity of a keyboard) is the right response to be as aggressive and abusive?

I am of the opinion that it is not. It is one thing to stand strong and unwavering in your identity – it is another to abuse someone else for a divergent opinion. Make a point emphatically but don’t personally attack people. In other words, play the ball not the player – that way you don’t come across as aggressive – and keep your credibility.

The way that we make our arguments in a public sphere has tremendous impact on our community – and Israel. We forget that the words we say have power. Aggression only serves to harm an empathy and open-mindedness that many have for hearing our point of view.

Have we lost our ability to have intelligent, nuanced conversation?

The whole point of social media is to create community and it is a great medium for connecting Israel to our diverse diaspora communities and is a great opportunity to engage on issues which can be very emotive. This can be done without baying for blood or verbally abusing someone with a different opinion. It only harms us.

Sometimes it is hard to keep a level head – the world seems so polarized, divided between left and right, pro and anti and often nuance and context are the first casualties. Antisemitism is rising; it makes us angry and rightly so.

I believe we need to show up. Show up for the conversation, no matter how difficult it may be. I sincerely believe that very time we engage, like or share on social media, send an email, we stand on the shoulders of the generations that came before us who had no voice and we speak for them.  It is a moral imperative to talk, to engage with others, to take advantage of the uncomfortable questions not just as an opportunity to present Israel’s side of the argument but to truly listen to the concerns of others. Instead of shutting down, let’s learn how to answer effectively, factually and with maturity.

We can go on the offensive and fight fact with fact but it is not about who screams the loudest. It is about fighting the injustice of hatred and also making sure that Israel’s narrative is presented in a way that does not bring harm to the image of the country her civilians and our diaspora communities. It is a hideous side effect that every time there is a conflagration or issue in Israel, those who hate take their tempers out on our diaspora communities.

We also need to celebrate the small victories. In a region where terrorism and incitement are all too often the norm, small occasions that bring together people from different backgrounds are cause for celebration – not condemnation.

Perhaps we should take the oath that doctors take before we react emotionally on social media. Our words have consequences. Perhaps it is time to take the oath first do no harm.

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“Shitty Jew”

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Shitty Jew

This is a personal account of a grossly antisemitic incident and the events that followed. It is important to share these stories, especially at a time when levels of antisemitism are rising to alarming levels around the world. We can no longer be silent in the face of hatred

Yes, you read the title correctly. This is not an easy story to share with you but at a time when hatred and vile invective against Jews is rising alarmingly across the globe, I feel the need to rise above my own personal humiliation and hurt and allow myself the vulnerability of sharing this very personal story with you.

Today, it is more important than ever to expose racism and bigotry wherever it rears its ugly head and send a message that antisemitism will no longer go unchecked. It is no longer okay to gaslight the concerns of Jews and we will no longer suffer in silence.

This story takes place in race sensitive South Africa and exposes a diabolical double standard that exists on issues pertaining to racism. The democratic rainbow nation that enjoys what is arguably the most progressive Constitution in the world, sets the bar when comes to calling out the bigots and haters but when it comes to the oldest hatred in the world, is oddly silent. Has the current political climate with the ruling ANC’s almost rabid disdain for the State of Israel filtered down and is clouding human decency?

South Africans are all too familiar with cases like Penny Sparrow, Adam Catzavelos and others who have made repugnant racist comments and are paying the price but there seems to be no punishment for antisemitism – only avoidance.

I guess when it comes to equal opportunity hatred, the South African media are not as “woke” as they purport to be. Cry the beloved country.

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It all started with a letter.

In my capacity as co-founder of the South Africa-Israel Policy Forum, I responded to both a letter written by Gunvant Govinjee and an article written by Alexander O’Riordan that featured in the Business Day and The Daily Maverick respectively. Regrettably, my opening line that stated unequivocally that my letter was in response to both the letter AND the article, was omitted in both publications.

O’Riordan erroneously interpreted some of my comments as a direct attack on him, and proceeded to call me a liar both in a letter of response in the Business Day as well as on my Facebook page. The latter followed an invitation into my personal space after a well-meaning acquaintance suggested that if we spoke to each other, we might find middle ground.

It was not to be!

O’Riordan unleashed venomous invective, calling me a liar multiple times, alleging that I called him a racist (there is a BIG difference between calling someone a racist and saying comments are such) and demanding an apology. Although acknowledging that ‘perhaps’ he had reacted wrongly, he STILL persisted in calling me a liar. I had all the facts so wasn’t as bothered by those accusations as I was by what followed.

When I replied to him by saying that I was a proud Jew, his only response is to resort to personal attack and things took a profound turn for the worse.

O’Riordan responded by calling me a “shitty Jew” no less than four times and his final punch was comparing me to Harvey Weinstein and Bernie Madoff. Now, while I cannot testify to Madoff or Weinstein’s levels of religious observance, I can ask why is religion a factor on what kind of a person they are? We don’t judge other criminals by their religion n’est-ce pas?

O’Riordan then went on to clarify who he deems “decidedly unshitty”. Those Jews that are “good” i.e. anti-Zionist or anti-Israel like Ronnie Kasrils or Joe Slovo. Good Jews vs Bad Jews – a distinction which antisemites are weaponising in order to sow division and try rationalise their hate-driven behaviour.

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O’Riordan claims that Ronnie Kasrils, a former Minister of Intelligence is a “good Jew” but please allow me to remind readers that this is a man who in an Op-ed for the Daily Maverick on the 20th of April this year, made the following comments referring to the development of business ties with Israel as “crony capitalists within the ANC” who were more than ready to have “their palms greased like Judas with silver coins“.

Today, the word ‘Israel’ or ‘Zionist’ has replaced ‘Jew’, and Kasrils, despite his Jewish roots, is trafficking in nasty antisemitic tropes. While O’Riordan – a self-proclaimed atheist – further states that there are “shitty people” of other religions, it is the focus on Jews and his propensity to make divisions that is decidedly dangerous and must be called out.

Good Jew vs Shitty Jew – this is not criticism of Israeli policy, which is legitimate and which Israelis have elevated to a national sport. This is where the line has been crossed and a further line drawn in the sand.

We, the Jewish people will decide what is offensive to us and making these despicable distinctions offends us to the core. Must we be punished and isolated for having and supporting a state of our own? Those like O’Riordan who make these distinctions believe so.

Following this, I sent an official letter of complaint to both editors, thinking that they do would share my disgust and act. To date I have had no response – not even an acknowledgement  of receipt  – from either of the editors.

Radio silence!

At first, I was angry and then I thought, perhaps there is something more to this. Were the editors afraid of taking a stand or drawing attention to this issue? I really don’t believe it is anything personal or anti-Israel on behalf of the editors; on the contrary, I think the political climate in South Africa is such that it could invite a lot of hate-filled invective.image005 (5).png

Has the climate become such that when it comes to rising antisemitism in South Africa, people are too scared to take a stand? The recent signing of a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between the ruling ANC and terror organization, Hamas as well as the renaming of Sandton Drive after arch terrorist, Leila Khaled, has firmly cemented where South Africa’s alliances fall. The trafficking in antisemitic tropes by ANC and other party leaders such as the EFF who made this statement “We also call on the international community to remember the people of Palestine, the birth and death place of Jesus Christ. They represent the suffering, the permanently crucified, disfigured and humiliated body of Christ hanging on the summit for all shame. The Palestinians suffer racial discrimination, colonization and apartheid in the hands of the apartheid state of Israel” or former Foreign Minister, Lindiwe Sisulu who wished the “Israeli Embassy was in the Dead Sea” only adds fuel to the fire.

O’Riordan’s comments I find racist and offensive and the subsequent editorial silence of the respected Business Day and Daily Maverick, I find worrying, especially in today’s climate. My concern is compounded by these publications offering a platform to a professional propagandist who when unable to establish facts, resorts to racism, when referring to me as a “shitty Jew”!shitty Jew4.JPG

If he had made these comments about another race or religion, it would be equally intolerable and someone like this who trafficks in racism should be publicly shunned and exposed. O’Riordan should be held to the same standards as any racist.

If it is not going to happen in a country like South Africa that purports to be a liberal democracy to take a stand of racism in any of its ugly forms then it is up to us as individuals. Failure to do so allows for hatred to flourish.

I won’t be silent or silenced. Not on my watch.

In a democracy there should not be any place for intolerance and racism in a civilized society.shitty Jew5.JPG

23 741

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23 741

There are 23 741 reasons to bow our heads this Yom Hazikaron. There are 23 741 reasons to express our profound eternal gratitude. There are 23 741 reasons for our hearts to ache. There are 23 741 reasons to be proud. 23 741 reason for the tears to fall from our eyes. There are 23 741 to remember. There are 23 741 names ingrained in our hearts forever. There are 23 741 reasons for the siren to wail its mournful cry.

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War & Remembrance. Young Israeli soldier lays national flags at a military cemetery before a ceremony on Yom Hazikaron. Ceremonies are held throughout the country at the exact same time commencing with a siren sounding at 11.00am throughout the country.

23 741 soldiers, security forces and police have fallen in defense of Israel since its birth as a modern state in 1948.

We will never forget them.

The stories of unparalleled bravery and selfless sacrifice like Roi Klein, who saved the life of his unit by absorbing the blast of grenade. Risking it all to leave the comforts of home in the US, to serve as a paratrooper like Michael Levine. The iconic warrior like Yoni Netanyahu who fell in Israel’s daring Entebbe operation in 1976 that rescued 102 Jewish hostages from a hijacked Air France passenger aircraft in Uganda’s capital.

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Jonathan (“Yoni”) Netanyahu, brother of Israel’s Prime Minister, commanded the elite commando unit Sayeret Matkal during Operation Entebbe to rescue hostages held at Entebbe Airport in Uganda in 1976. The mission was successful, with 102 of the 106 hostages rescued, but Netanyahu was killed in action — the only IDF fatality during the operation.

The names of the wars and operations are etched in memory – the War of Independence, the Six Day War, the Yom Kippur War, the wars with Lebanon, Operation Cast Lead and so on.

Their names are seared in our hearts.

And there are those whose names we will never know but whose valiant acts of bravery are the reasons that we enjoy the freedoms that we do.

At 20h00 a mournful siren will announce the start of Yom Hazikaron, Israel’s Memorial Day for fallen warriors and victims of terror.

Yom Hazikaron inspires in us a sense of awe and creates an incredible sense of solidarity amongst Jews around the world, but it is here in Israel where the emotions are seriously heightened. Our soldiers are not uniformed strangers who serve but our children, spouses, colleagues, parents, friends and lovers.

They are the people we love.

Yom Hazikaron is not only a day of remembrance, but also one of gratitude. Few words can express how grateful we are for all who protect us on land, sea and air. Our brave warriors, these lions of Zion are our guardians and protectors. We are proud of them; we embrace them, and we love them.

Israelis respect life. We revere life and we revel in it. And it is on this solemn and heartbreaking day that we are reminded of its fragility.

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Mesmerising Message. Staff Sgt. Michael Levin soon after he was drafted in 2005. He was killed a year later in the Second Lebanon War. ‘If anything happens to me, I just want to say that I love you and miss you and wish you all the best,’ Levin said in a voicemail, shortly before he was killed. (Tami Gross)

This year is particularly poignant. I write this just days after 700 rockets were fired by terror groups in the Gaza strip into Israel, killing 4 civilians (may their memories be for a blessing) and injuring and traumatizing countless others. We were reminded again that the guardians of Israel neither slumber nor sleep as they worked 24/7 to protect us.  We thankfully lost no soldiers but days like this are bitter reminders of the threats we face as a nation and how achingly close we come to situations where  this is a possibility.

In recent years, Yom Hazikaron has also included honouring victims of terror attacks.

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Druze Hero. Over 3,000 people from all over Israel attended a memorial rally for Druze policeman Zidan Saif in his home town of Yanuh-Jat in the Galilee in 2014, killed while trying to stop a terrorist attack at a synagogue in Jerusalem.

Victims targeted simply for being Israeli. We remember brave men like Ari Fuld who gave chase to his murderer before succumbing to his wounds. Zidan Saif, a Druze policeman who had come off his shift when he heard of an attack on a synagogue and rushed to assist and paid with his life. We remember teenagers Gilad Shaer, Eyal Yifrah and Naphtali Frenkel  – whose names live on in heartbreaking infamy. We remember the mothers and father, brothers and sisters, grandparents and babies – gone soon, far too soon. This year the number of victims of terror is 3 146.

There are 3 146 reason to remember, to wipe the tears from our eyes, to light a candle.

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Israel Stunned. Mourning candles in Tel Aviv’s Rabin Square, following the June 12, 2014 the brutal murder of Naftali Fraenkel, Gilad Shaer and Eyal Yifrach. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

In an emotional paradox, the sun will set on mourning and Israel will don her best blue and white to celebrate Yom Ha’atzmaut.

This year we have 23 741 more reasons to. We celebrate in their names.

They will forever be the watchers on our walls, the guardians of our gates. Their memories will be forever blessed.

“…And so they stand, the light on their faces, and the Lord,

alone passes among them, with tears in His eyes He kisses

their wounds, and He says in a trembling voice to the white

angels: “These are my sons, these are my sons.”

 The Parade of the Fallen / Hayim Hefer

 

The Mensch Who Put The Monster On Trial

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The mensch who put the monster on trial

 

“Not a day goes past that I don’t think about the Eichmann trial”. Judge Gabriel Bach greets us warmly as he welcomes us to his apartment in a leafy suburb of Jerusalem. His living room bears testament to an extraordinary life and career. Dotted with family pictures and impressive volumes of books, the eye is drawn immediately to a collection of books entitled “The Eichmann Trial”.

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Judge Gabriel Bach

It is this moment when you are aware that the gentle, charming man who has welcomed you with a twinkle in his wise eyes is one of the men who sought justice for the millions. He is the mensch who put the monster, Adolf Eichmann, the man responsible for sending millions of Jews to their deaths. I do confess to being more than a little star-struck. It is men like this, the quiet giants and their pursuit of justice and truth that hold a nation on their mighty shoulders.

Monsters are usually the stuff of fairy tale lore but this one was real. The world was riveted when news broke that Eichmann was captured.

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Adolf Eichmann

Hiding out in Argentina as Ricardo Clement, the devil was now in custody, thanks to a stealth and decisive operation by Israel’s Mossad. All that remained was justice.

Born in Germany, the Bach family managed to flee to Holland just two weeks before Kristallnacht (Night of broken Glass) which would result in the destruction of many synagogues and businesses and the rounding up of Jews, many who would be sent to camps like Dachau. The Bach family managed to stay one step ahead of the Nazi machine, leaving Holland just before the German occupation and sailed to British Mandate Palestine on the “Patria” which would sink on its next journey. It was here, before there was a State of Israel and safe haven for Jews, where Bach, young lawyer in the state’s attorney’s office with an exemplary record and a bright future was one of those chosen to join the team of prosecutors.  He would also be tapped to be in charge of the investigation.

It was time to gather the evidence for the trial that would begin on the 11th of April 1961.

The team of prosecutors would have to wade through volumes of documents and evidence. Married with a small daughter, Bach would spend 9 months immersed in investigations and communication with Eichmann without meeting him face to face, that included ensuring that he was aware of his rights to a defense attorney of his choice. The time came to meet the devil face to face.

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Chief prosecuter Tzvi Hauzner (standing). Defense advocate Robert Servatius (left). Deputy prosecuter Gabriel Bach (second from right)

Judge Bach describes his first encounter with evil. “I will never forget it. I was sitting in my office in the prison, reading the autobiography of Rudolf Höss, the commander of Auschwitz who was eventually hanged in Poland, describe how they had many days when they killed a thousand Jewish children per day and he mentions how the children would kneel and beg to be spared and when he and his colleagues were pushing the children into the gas chambers his knees would hurt and he felt ashamed of this “weakness” but remembered how Eichmann had reiterated that it was the children who had to be killed first lest they grow to be a generation that would grow up to take revenge. And then 10 minutes after I read that, there was   a request from Eichmann to see me.  It wasn’t so easy to keep a poker face with him sitting opposite me.”

How does one even imagine what it was like to have to sit opposite such a monster?

Bach describes having to handle this like any other criminal case. Emotional moments would come later – and without warning.

The German government was most cooperative in ensuring that Bach and his team received documents from all the ministries. The evidence was irrefutable.  It was time for the trial to commence.

The Eichmann trial was a game-changer in many respects. The first to be televised, the trial would allow millions around the world to enter the courtroom. The trial would also be the first opportunity that would allow survivors and witnesses to give emotional testimony. For many young Israelis who could not understand why the Jews of Europe seemed not to defend themselves, they now understood the severity, the genocide, the cruelty and the devious tactics of the Nazi killing machine that ended the lives of six million. There are accounts of Eichmann telling deportees on their way to the death camps to write postcards to their remaining loved ones and friends, not only telling them of the wonderful place they were going to, but also encouraging them to follow.

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Packed Courtroom. Leaning forward, members of the public strain to hear every word of horrific testimony in the case against Adolf Eichmann that was televised to the world.

Eichmann sat behind the glass, in the dock, completely impassive. Eichmann showed no remorse and no regret.

His defense? He was just following orders. This would prove untrue when on several occasions evidence would come to light and on more than one occasion when asked to spare the life of a Jew, Eichmann would refuse absolutely.

As the trial progressed, so did day after day of emotional, harrowing testimony from survivors who gave heartbreaking account of the loss of their families and the excruciating cruelty they endured at the hands of the Nazis under the commands of Eichmann.

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“Trial Of The Century”. Gabriel Bach (centre) with Adolf Eichmann in the glass booth (behind).

Most of us who have watched Schindler’s List can remember the searing image of the little girl in the red coat going to the gas chambers and her lifeless body on a pile of corpses.

A red coat would later affect prosecutor Bach’s composure! One day when hearing testimony from a survivor who during the selection process was spared for labour while his wife and daughter were sent to the gas chamber for immediate extermination. The SS were unsure of what to do with his son but eventually told him to join his mother and sister. The witness was concerned his son would not find them but saw the image of his little daughter in her red coat, no more than two-and-a-half, disappearing, never to be seen again.

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Schindler’s List | The Girl In The Red Coat (ft. ‘Oskar Schindler, Liam Neelson)

Bach had just bought his two-and-a-half-year-old daughter a brand new red coat. His impeccable composure was shaken to the core.

The trial would proceed until the eventual verdict. On December 13, 1961 the court found Eichmann guilty on most articles of the indictment, and on the 15th of that same month, sentenced him to death. The defense appealed to the Supreme Court which on May 29, 1962, ratified the verdict of the lower court. Eichmann and his team appealed to the President, Yitzchak ben Zvi for clemency but were denied and during the night between May 31, and June 1, 1962, Eichmann was executed by hanging at Ramla Prison. In his final moments, Eichmann expressed his unwavering love and loyalty to Germany and Argentina. After his body was incinerated, his ashes were scattered at sea outside Israeli territorial waters.

Justice had been served.

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Justice Served. Following Eichmann’s conviction and sentence to death, the man who had once tried to wipe out the Jewish people, pleaded for mercy from the head of a Jewish state. President Ben Zvi responded with a verse from the Bible: “As your sword has made women childless, so will your mother be childless among women.”

At the conclusion of the process, jurists from all over the world, including some who had initially questioned Israel’s right to judge Eichmann, noted the fairness shown by the judges and their strict adherence to the principle of a fair trial.

This was more than Eichmann ever showed his victims.

Prosecutor Gabriel Bach would go on to enjoy an illustrious career that would see him assume many titles. He would go on to be State’s Attorney and then a Judge on Israel’s Supreme Court.  One title would accompany him through all of this – that of mensch. Today, at his advanced age, Judge Bach is still a most sought after and loved speaker and travels the world, engaging new audiences. He is particularly moved by the interest and willingness to learn by young Germans.

Judge Bach waves goodbye to us from the window of his modest apartment. Well into his 90’s his exuberance for life and gentle personality are testament to why this man is a giant amongst the heroes of the Jewish people.  The lessons have been many.

The importance of bearing witness, of seeking justice and the example set by a man who can affectionately be called prosecutor, Judge and mensch.

 

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Judge Gabriel Bach and I

“Global Warming Launched Our Rockets”

 

This article currently appears in Lay of the Land:

Global warming launched our rockets

The art of abdicating responsibility for the firing of rockets onto Israeli civilian infrastructure was elevated to a level that only be described as something out of a Monty Python sketch as arch terror group, Hamas, blamed weather conditions for their recent launching. Really, you cannot make this up!

Hamas, who are charged with governing the Gaza strip, are responsible for the recent spate of rockets that have been fired towards Israeli territory in the last couple of weeks, culminating in a tense escalation.

On the 25th of March, a rocket was fired from the Gaza strip, reaching far into Israeli territory and decimating a house on the moshav, Mishmeret, and injuring a family of seven. Thirty other homes were damaged by shrapnel from the rockets. Israel threatened a strong response and bombed strategic targets in the Gaza strip, including leader of Hamas, Ismail Haniyeh’s secret headquarters. No civilians were killed which is testament to the conduct of the IDF to strike with pinpoint precision while doing the utmost, including warning with pamphlets, text messages and phone calls, to avoid any loss of life.

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Remains of the house destroyed by a rocket in Mishmeret

The response to this was another barrage of rockets into Israel’s southern communities.

While Hamas would rather have you believe that rockets are self-launching, it cannot detract from the important fact that they are responsible for reigning in rogue elements within the Gaza strip and their inability to control terror groups like Islamic Jihad can plunge the volatile area into another war. Islamic Jihad, like Hamas, is a proxy of Iran and the regime, aiming to gain a closer foothold to Israel is looking to Gaza to do this. Iran is using their proxies on both Israel’s Southern and northern borders to provoke a war. Hamas are in talks with Qatar and Egypt with regards to easing the humanitarian crisis in the strip, but other groups are itching for a showdown with Israel.

This places Hamas in a bit of a quandary.  They don’t want to engage in a war with Israel (hence the epic excuses for their rockets launching) BUT still want to be seen at the vanguard of Palestinian resistance.

Hamas would also rather distract from growing protests in the Gaza strip. Across this beleaguered patch, the citizens are taking to the street to protest that enough is enough. Enough with high taxes. Enough of high unemployment. Enough of poverty while the leaders of Hamas live the high life and using much needed international aid to fund their terrorist escapades. Journalists and human rights activists have been rounded up and tortured and Hamas goons have invaded people’s homes in attempts to squash these protests. The leadership of Hamas has to show that they are still in control of the strip – and while rockets are a distraction from their internal issues, they are reluctant to provoke Israel into a full-scale conflict, so they hedge their bets carefully when they strike. However, I don’t think that they were ready for Israel’s no-nonsense response……

As Israel approaches a crucial election that could very well be a game changer, Iran is wont to challenge the mettle of Israel. Could this be a tactic to disrupt the upcoming elections?

These dangerous cat and mouse game coincided with the one-year anniversary of the March of Return protests and annual Land Day commemoration. Over the last year, Hamas have encouraged thousands of Gazans to protest at the border with Gaza. These are NOT peaceful protests.

Hamas leader, Yahya Sinwar, spoke of breaking through the border fence and “ripping the hearts out of the Jews”. Hardly Kumbaya, but rather a sinister call to murder. Sinwar’s words were backed by tires being burnt, creating an ecological disaster, Molotov cocktails and rocks being thrown at IDF troops, animals set alight and the launching of incendiary devices attacked to kites, balloons and kestrels. These incendiary devices burnt thousands of dunnams of valuable agricultural land and fauna and flora and constitute a war crime against Israel.

But it is all about the optics!

 

No Kidding

Hamas and other terror elements provoke in order to get a response, hopefully one that racks up as many civilian casualties as possible. To this end, Hamas ensured that children are on the front line, and for the anniversary, closed all the schools so that they could participate. I ask you, do responsible adults encourage children to be active in conflict zones? Civilian casualties mean pity, opprobrium for Israel and front-page headlines. With global interest in the conflict waning, Hamas are desperate for column inches. This one-year anniversary march could have ignited the region but thanks to the diplomatic efforts of Egypt, Israel and yes, Hamas, disaster was averted. The caveat? Calmer protests for the easing of restrictions on the Gaza strip by both Egypt and Israel. The people of Gaza deserve better than to have violence and conflict inflicted on them by the proxies of a tyrannical regime. In the meantime, IDF troops are maintaining their positions on the border should conflict erupt.

As the situation in Gaza deteriorates into a humanitarian disaster, the time has long since passed for Hamas to accept their role and responsibility for this. Blaming Israel is convenient and easy, blaming global warming and weather phenomenon’s for almost igniting war, is, well, just plain cowardice.