Archive for January, 2008


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What makes Israel so special?


Religion and history make Israel special. According to Jewish belief, this is the land promised by the Almighty to the Jewish people for ever. There are many other reasons, religiously, why Israel is so special. Many of the events recounted in the Bible took place in this land. Every hill and valley is connected with the scriptures. The poetic books of Proverbs, Ecclesiastes and Prophetic writings created thousands of years ago allude over and over again to the Land of Israel. The prayers of 70 generations in Exile supplicate for a return to this land. All over the world, Jews turned in the direction of Jerusalem when they prayed. Even in wedding ceremonies, the destruction of Jerusalem was lamented. Countless generations were prepared to risk death in order to remain faithful to the Jewish religion, always with the hope that one day their descendants would be able to live in the Land of Israel.

Historically, there is no doubt that the Jews have had a powerful emotional bond with this Land for over 3,500 years. For much of this time their bond has been physical as well. During the long years of Exile, Jewish yearning to return was actually heightened by oppression. By the turn of the nineteenth century many Jews felt that the only solution to the oppression was the Return to the Land of Israel.

But over the centuries much of the land had become malarial wasteland. Hundreds of years of neglect and abuse had transformed large areas into barren, practically uninhabitable desert or swampland.

Famous travelers such as Mark Twain and Herman Melville comment graphically about the wretched situation in the Promised Land. A mere few hundred thousand people lived in the whole of Palestine, which at that time was still a Turkish province that also included today’s Kingdom of Jordan.

Life was fraught with disease, widespread poverty and a desperate struggle to feed one’s family. Banditry was usually more effective than farming, and was therefore quite prevalent, especially among the Beduins. Also thousands of people were killed in the periodic battles between Arab villages and tribes. The reasons for these battles were either simply to take another tribe’s land or because of an insult or attack perpetrated generations before. Often clans continued to fight each other even though no one remembered the original reason.

It was a truly cursed land. A few tens of thousands of Jews lived in various parts of the country, but mainly in Jerusalem, Safad and Jaffa. Their lives, too, were noted for their abject poverty. A main occupation was the study of Talmud. In the latter part of the nineteenth century the Jewish renaissance took place in the form of a return to the soil. Despite colossal hardships, Jews managed to establish thriving agricultural settlements.

By the beginning of the twentieth century, many local Arabs viewed the increased influx of Jews into Palestine and their building ever more settlements with great alarm. They weren’t interested in the three millennia Jewish connection to the land.

So the stage was set for a terrible, ongoing struggle between two nations. A tiny Jewish population which would become the State of Israel, standing against the local Arabs, joined by the surrounding Arab countries, and bolstered by their enormous oil revenues and international support.

Since then the conflict has continued – in many forms and on different scales. Over 21,000 Israeli soldiers have fallen in Israel’s wars of survival. Many additional thousands of civilians have also lost their lives. In terms of relative population this figure is the equivalent of a million American soldiers losing their lives
This huge sacrifice in lives alone makes Israel special.

The ongoing struggle to build and maintain a Jewish state – the only one in the world – makes Israel special.

Israel is special because no other nation on earth has survived exile and then become resurrected again.
Israel is special because history has shown that in the Diaspora, the Jew can never really feel safe from racial discrimination and persecution, and it is only in Israel that Jews can determine their own fate and fight for their security.

Israel is special because of the huge national effort directed to the Ingathering of the Exiles.
Israel is special because here the Jew can feel a tangible connection to his or her earliest roots.
Israel is special because of the hope for a better world, implicit in its very existence. Israel is more than just a country. Israel is really an ideal, that suggests a striving for all that is fine in the human spirit.

Observing Israel’s society today, this might seem to be a rather strange notion. But that is what the word Israel suggests. And in actual fact that is what Israel should be working towards, because without doing so the dream of redemption, part of which has come true in our time, is turning sour.

But on a personal level people in Israel have devoted their lives to the naturally mundane efforts of livelihood, acquisition of homes and items aimed at enhancing their comfort and entertainment. They have allowed the specialness of Israel to slip their minds. This doesn’t really make sense if one considers the Jews’ special past as a nation – a past that stretches far longer than most other nations, a past that includes colossal suffering as well as amazing achievements, a past that has had a bearing on the ethics and morals of half the world.

One of the most pressing needs of the moment is to strengthen the spirit of Israel so as to give it the moral strength to transcend its present challenges and to truly be deserving of its fabulous name: Israel! To do all this the Israelis must once again realize just how special Israel is!

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January 30, 2008 at 9:33 am Leave a comment

Another ridiculous fabrication

Racism in Israeli hospitals



Israel has been accused of a multitude of crimes in the international media – including the poisoning of water sources, infecting babies with AIDS and  many other similarly absurd fabrications.

It’s a pity that all the lying  bashers of Israel (and they are not all limited to the Arab world or to Islamic countries), haven’t visited Hadassah Hospital in Jerusalem to see just how malicious the Jews really are. Hadassah Hospital is a major medical center set up a few generations ago by Jewish American women.

Immediately on entering, one is struck by the multi-racial nature of the place. Ostensibly a Jewish hospital, it seems that almost half its patients are nevertheless Arabs – not only from within Israel but from Judea, Samaria and other parts of the Arab world.

Many of the doctors are Arabs. Indeed, some department heads and professors in Hadassah’s medical school are Arabs. Among head nurses are Arabs. There is a spirit of mutual tolerance throughout this constantly crowded place. Outpatient clinics and wards are full of patients and people accompanying them. All ages, all kinds, all religions, all races. They mingle patiently.

Sometimes a question is asked in Hebrew: “How long have you been waiting for the doctor?” An Arab father might answer in Hebrew. “The doctor was called away on an emergency. They said he’d be back in half an hour.” This sets the tone for a conversation. “Where do you live?” “How many children do you have?” “May you be in good health!” “Inshallah!” (“God willing” in Arabic.)

Generally, the Middle East conflict is never discussed in the hospital. Occasionally an Arab patient might sigh something like: “If only there was peace.” The Jew will nod his or her head and say; “Inshallah!”. There seems to be an unspoken rule in the hospital to shun any possibility of tension. People realize that the purpose of the place is healing.

My daughter has spent a number of lengthy  stints at Hadassah Hospital, culminating in bladder reconstruction and kidney transplant during 2007. Dr. Landau, the surgeon treating her for a number of years, is the kind of guy who will come into the ward on Saturday – his day off and in his ordinary clothes – just to check up on a patient who’s not doing as well as expected.

He worked in close contact with Prof. Ahmed Eid, the head of the transplant department, who led the team that transplanted my left kidney into Tali’s body. It was a seminal event in my life, not only because I could help my daughter in a significant way, but also being witness and participant in Hadassah’s world of healing, compassion and mutual respect, despite the fury and hatred so inherent in the Middle East.

One could write a book about the spirit in Hadassah or do a great documentary film. Whole families of Jews and Arabs come trooping in to visit their hospitalized kin. A large percentage of the nurses are Arabs. So are the doctors – like Prof. Eid who is one of the most senior figures in Hadassah. The cleaning staff are mainly Arabs, Russian or Ethiopian immigrants with a few regular native-born Israelis.  

One of the women who makes the beds and does all the less asthetic work – a big, rolly-poly Jewish amazon-type nursing aid with a ready smile and a laugh, would often share a joke with our daughter after or before sitting for a moment with her room mate, who would frequently be an Arab woman. There was no difference in the amazon’s attitude, which I am pretty sure was not part of her training as a nursing aid, but in keeping with the spirit of Hadassah.

There seemed to be no trace of tension or dislike – not among or between staff and patients. Jewish patients and Arab patients quickly get onto the same footing, talking to each other, caring. There’s no favoritism either. Maybe I’ve painted too idyllic a picture. There are occasional incidents of grumbling or inconsiderate noise here and there. But I seldom encountered anything with a blatant racial tone.

Ironically one of the most vicious bashers of Israel is Ahmed Tibi, the Knesset Member. He graduated at the Hadassah Medical School and later specialized as a gynecologist there. Actually the first time he was in the news was about fifteen years ago. Newspapers reported that he had slapped the face of a security man at the entrance to the hospital who had asked to see his identification. Since then he continues metaphorically slapping Israel’s face, denouncing Israel as racist and criminal. But he has never, to my knowledge, ever mentioned the spirit of Hadassah.

Incidentally, I have visited other hospitals in Israel and the same spirit of racial harmony and cooperation seems to pervade. It’s seldom if ever mentioned in the media, in Israel and abroad. It should be.


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January 29, 2008 at 4:13 pm 3 comments

Impressive racial harmony

Jews and Arabs at Israeli




HADASSAH HOSPITAL, JERUSALEM – On the seventh floor, a middle-aged Arab woman, wearing a hijab, scampered to catch the descending elevator before the doors closed. She was too late – the doors closed before she could get to them. But a bearded Haredi man, who happened to be standing by the control panel of the elevator, quickly pressed the button to re-open the doors, thus enabling the Arab woman to take the elevator down to the building’s exit. She nodded her thanks. Under normal circumstances in Israel this would have been a rare occurrence. But this was Hadassah Hospital where such incidents happen all the time.

For me it was a fitting scene to end a ten-day period of hospitalization following an operation. Fitting – because my whole stay was full of moving experiences – large and small.

The reason for my operation was an experience in itself. After a year of tests and various preparations, I was admitted together with my daughter in order to donate a kidney which was to take the place of her collapsed renal system. I think there are few things that a parent can do for his or her child which can match this as a moving motive – no matter how old the child.

In a hospital ward many of the differences between people are erased. Patients wear ill-fitting hospital gowns. They share ward space and the attentions of the staff. They hear each other’s groans. In Israel, hospitals have yet another equalizer – Jews and Arabs become fellow-patients. Jewish and Arab doctors and nurses become professional colleagues. Racial differences, usually so loaded in this part of the world, are erased.

As a Jew in a Jewish hospital (Hadassah is largely supported by Jewish women of America) I found myself being treated by many Arab nurses and doctors, in addition to the Jewish staff. The surgeon in charge of the actual transplant was Professor Ahmed Eid. His Jewish colleagues cooperated with him fully under his expert and amiable direction.

Almost half of the other patients in the ward were Arabs, coming from East Jerusalem as well as other Arab areas. In a neighboring bed was an elderly Jew who on entering the ward informed me quietly that he did not like the fact that there were so many Arabs – staff and patients. “Surely they have their own hospitals,” he grumbled.

A few minutes after he settled down in his bed, yet another patient was wheeled in – a groaning middle-aged Arab, followed by a retinue of sons and a wife. The elderly Jew leaned towards me and pulled a face conspirationally. The ward becomes a crowded place when there are visitors. (In many Israeli hospitals family members are not restricted in their visits. (Only after nine or ten o’clock at night and during the doctors’ rounds are they asked to leave the ward.) I found that some of the Arab’s sons were sitting quite close to me. I began to chat to them, enjoying the opportunity to practise my shaky Arabic.

At first they seemed to be surly, answering curtly. Maybe they felt a little out of place in a Jewish hospital. A tense security situation brought on by serious external threats to Israel’s very existence, as well as thousands of acts of terror during the last fifteen years have driven a serious rift between the two peoples. In many spheres of life Israeli Arabs feel they are merely second-class citizens. Arabs from outside Israel feel even more alienated. On the other hand, few people seem to realize how difficult it is for Israelis to be even-handed to a people that teaches its young to hate Jews and to aim to obliterate them from the map.

Personally, I find this fascinating and I have made a serious attempt to learn Arabic and befriend Arabs. However, that doesn’t make me support the idea of giving away Judea and Samaria in return for a fragile peace.

Anyway, after a while, one of the newly hospitalized Arab sons began to talk to me. He told me that they lived in East Jerusalem and that his father had a very serious intestinal problem. Soon the other sons also became more friendly, and it wasn’t long before I had introduced their whole family to my wife. And soon we were all chatting and laughing like old friends.

After a while introduced the Arab patient to the elderly guy in the bed next to mine. The Arab man got out of his bed with difficulty to shake the old guy’s hand, but he simply nodded coldly. Later a young nurse came in to measure the old guy’s blood pressure and take his temperature. From her accent it was clear that she was an Arab. Grumpily, he allowed her to put a thermometer in his mouth. She was an incredibly sweet-looking person. Diminutive, chirpy, with a hint of naughtiness in her smile, she softly hummed an Arab song, while tending to the patients. “I hope you are feeling a little better,” she beamed at the old guy. He just stared at her.

At about nine o’clock in the evening he closed the curtain partitioning him from the rest of the ward and switched off the light over his bed. Clearly he wanted to go to sleep. The Arab family had left the ward.

The Arab patient asked the old guy in very broken Hebrew, if it was alright if he kept his light on for a while because he wanted to read. The old man, who was also hard of hearing couldn’t understand the Arab. The Arab then asked the question in Arabic. “What’s he saying,” the old man asked me. I translated. The old man grunted that the light wouldn’t bother him.

The night passed without incident. In the morning nurses came in with sleepy smiles, measuring blood pressure and temperature, and handing out medicine. Doctors came in with syringes to take blood samples. Patients got up to go to the bathroom. The old man and the Arab happened to get out of their beds at the same time and almost bumped into each other. “Good morning,” the Arab said with a deferential nod in Hebrew. “Boker Tov.”

The old Jew looked at him sternly and then his expression changed into a brief smile. He nodded and moved his hand to the Arab’s shoulder, almost touching it. Slowly, as though he was trying to remember the words, he said: “Sabbah el Hir,” (Good morning in Arabic.) The two men would soon get onto more comradely terms during the next few days.

Later, a portly, middle-aged man entered the ward, came to my bed and asked how I was feeling. It was Professor Ahmed Eid. He examined me, asked a few more questions, gave some instructions to a nurse, quipped an amusing observation and walked out the ward. 

After he left, I asked my Arab friend if he knew who the man was. He shook his head. I said, “That’s the doctor who did my transplant. That’s Professor Eid.” I could see by the expression on his face that he was querying to himself whether the professor was indeed not Jewish. I added: “Professor Ahmed Eid,” emphasizing the “Ahmed.”

The Arab got out of his bed and walked as quick as he could to the exit of the ward to observe Professor Eid’s departing figure. Then he returned and stood by my bed. His face glowed with pride. He put his hands on my shoulders. “May you be healthy,” he repeated in Arabic a few times. “Thank you, Rafi. Thank you.”

I wanted to say, “Why thank you? What are you thanking me for?” Then I realized that the mere presence of Professor Eid in a Jewish hospital had made his world a more just and safer place and he wanted to acknowledge that he realized this. 

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January 29, 2008 at 1:41 pm Leave a comment

Ridiculous lies


Endless calamity for Arabs


Every single thing, whether it’s a simple household object, a bus trip to the shopping center, or an ideology, is made up of different details. We can describe or comment on something, without expressing a single falsehood or inaccuracy, and yet – if we omit a single vital detail – we can convey a totally false, misleading message or impression. When intentionally done, it is called lying through omission.

Here is an example describing suicide bombers often repeated by Arab spokespeople and reporters: “These young people are sacrificing their lives so that they can regain their people’s freedom and their land.” And it’s probably true as far as it reflects the attitude of these people. Most of them are probably blowing themselves up because they honestly believe that they are furthering the cause of freedom and independent statehood for their people. The trouble is that they base their beliefs on what they have been taught in their schools and mosques and through their newspapers, radio and television.

Some of the basic truths that they are taught – and which are corroborated by every honest history book and newspaper – are that the Arabs of Judea and Samaria do not have their own independent state because it was conquered by the Israelis. Many of the people living in these areas are refugees, because of the 1948 and 1967 wars. Israel continues to maintain a strong military presence in these areas, imposing curfews and humiliating roadblocks and throwing thousands of people into jail. All these claims are true. Absolutely true!

But they are only a small part of the whole picture. Any impartial history book or newspaper archive will point out many salient facts that could offer the Arabs a more comprehensive picture of the situation. Indeed, they would discover that the facts tendentiously kept from their notice for over sixty years, have lead to a devastating misconception regarding Jews and Israel, and that has actually been the main cause of the hardship, misery and lack of national independence for Arabs living in Cis-Jordan.

What the Arab media, schools and mosques have studiously omitted in their comments about Israel is that they were offered their own independent state not just once, but three times in recent history: in 1948, 1967 and in 2000, only to have lost their opportunities, either through rejection or usurpation by other Arabs. They could have had their State of Palestine in 1948, when the United Nations voted to partition the country. They wanted it all and went to war against the Jewish State, together with the other Arab countries, with the express purpose of destroying Israel. Immediately following that war, it was the Kingdom of Jordan that annexed the land that should have been Arab Palestine.

Again, in 1967, the Arabs missed an opportunity for independence in Arab Palestine, when the Israeli government offered to return most of the lands they had conquered in a war of defence. And in the year 2000, the Arabs rejected Prime Minister Ehud Barak’s proposals that most of the lands captured by Israel in 1967 (including parts of Israel that were to be exchanged for strategic areas and Jewish urban areas of the West Bank) would fall under complete Arab sovereignty and independence. The Arab reaction to this offer was war.

Had more of these facts been included in Arab history lessons, it is probable that most of the suicide bombing attacks would never have taken place. (An additional contribution to the suicidal readiness is the dubious promise of paradise, tantalizingly enhanced by the delights of 72 virgins – in all likelihood yet another gross falsehood promoted by religious Moslem leaders and swallowed in all sincerity by naive young people.)


The whole of the Middle East conflict could have been avoided, or at least resolved generations ago, if the Arabs had adopted a similar respect for the whole truth as the Jews. I would imagine that few societies are taught only the truth. In every culture (and certainly in most religions) there are many notions and legends that are doubtful or at least questionable. This is also so among the Jews of Israel. However, there is a tendency among most Israelis to question ideas, proposals and even ancient beliefs. The extent of Jewish eagerness to probe, frequently plunges Israel into a bitter internal debate on subjects such as the necessity of the 1982 war in Lebanon, or the possibility of avoiding the 1973 war, as well as Israel’s settlements and its right to pre-empt terrorist actions in Judea and Samaria.

In Arab society, however, there is a great dissemination of half-truths, as well as lies (as there is in Israel) but also an even greater clamping down on the many truths in the Israeli-Arab conflict. If the Arabs could have been allowed to hear all the relevant facts in their confrontation with Israel, it is possible that the level of hate would have been far lower, and peace – either full or grudgingly – would have made the whole of the Middle East a nicer, more prosperous and safer region.

Until falsehood through commission and omission ends there will never be peace with the Arab world. For this to happen – for a greater abrogation of falsehood among the Arabs – every person who hopes for peace in the Middle East – whether living in Israel, the Arab countries or elsewhere – must raise his or her voice and demand that the truth become the guiding light – not mindless cliche, wishful thinking, outright lie or half-truth.

No one who is not absolutely sure about something would ever strap a bomb onto his waist and blow up himself and dozens of men, women, children and babies.

It is time that Arabs start asking questions like: Why is it that with so much oil wealth, so many Arabs live in miserable poverty? Have we been told everything about our conflict with the Zionists? Can the Jews really be so evil? Why did Israel return Sinai to Egypt if they really want to take away Arab lands? What has really happened here in the past? Were we really told the truth about how all the wars against Israel resulted?

These are some of the questions that should nag in the heart of every Arab. Only when these and many other questions are answered honestly and fully by Arab leaders, clerics, teachers and their media can there be any point in Israel discussing peace with anyone.

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January 29, 2008 at 12:12 pm Leave a comment