News Highlights March 2010
The First 100 years
The year 2010 is the hundredth anniversary of the establishment of Kibbutz Degania, which was the first kibbutz to be established in Israel. (Kol Israel in English)
President Shimon Peres opened the official centenary celebrations. President Peres was a founder member of Kibbutz Alumot which is near Kibbutz Degania. Shimon Peres paid tribute to the contribution of the kibbutzim to the development of Israel.
The kibbutzim formed the backbone of the country before Israel gained independence in 1948 and during the first few years after independence. There was an experienced infrastructure in place because of the kibbutzim and many notable persons from kibbutzim took part in the political and defense organizations as the new state came into being. The kibbutzim were also the bread basket of Israel providing a large percentage of the country's food needs.
The kibbutzim formed a large part of Israel's economy and even today nearly ten per cent of the country's economy is derived from kibbutz enterprises.
The Future of Jerusalem
The restoration of a synagogue in Jerusalem does not usually attract world attention but the restoration of the ancient Hurva Synagogue in the Jewish Quarter of The Old City of Jerusalem attracted major world attention. The event coincided with the Israeli government's decision to build new housing units in other mainly Jewish areas of Jerusalem.
The United Nations and all major world powers immediately attacked Israeli's decision stating that Jerusalem is not part of Israel.
The Israeli Government was stunned by the significant world verbal assault in reaction to Israel's building operations in Jerusalem. Even Israel's main ally the United States of America came out very strongly against Israel's right to any part of Jerusalem.
There are no foreign embassies in Jerusalem as no country in the world has ever recognized Israel's right to any part of Jerusalem. This is in sharp contrast to Israel's position which considers Jerusalem as the eternal capital of Israel.
Jerusalem is a major sticking point in the stalled Israeli Palestinian negotiations regarding the boundaries between Israel and Palestine.
Although all negotiations have failed it is becoming more likely that The Palestinian Authority under President Abbas will accept the two state solution with an exchange of territory for certain parts of the West Bank and any part of Jerusalem granted to Israel.
However the current situation on the ground is not clear as witnessed at the recent BBC Doha talks with the other major player in a future Palestinian State. The Hamas accused the Palestinian Authority of agreeing to the two state solution, whereas they see Haifa, Acre and Jaffa as integral parts of any future Palestinian state.
In addition, a new Palestinian television program entitled "Know your Country" teaches Palestinians about "their" country. All areas of Israel including Tel Aviv, the Galilee and the Negev are shown as part of the future Palestinian State. In the program Israel does not exist on the map of the world.
The growing opposition to any deal with Israel by the more extreme Palestinian groups will make it very difficult for the parties to agree on the boundaries of a future Palestinian state. It is hoped that all the moderate parties involved in the dispute will gain the upper hand and lead to a just solution for all.
The Kibbutz Movement through its various institutions maintains a continuous dialogue between the parties in the region.
Shinto Priests Visit Jerusalem
26 Shinto Priests from Japan took part in an inter faith dialogue at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem.
The Shinto priests stated that they wish to cross religious barriers as they believe that many of the world's problems have been caused by the differences in religious doctrines.
The meeting was quite striking as the Shinto religion believes in many gods whereas Judaism is the oldest religion that believes in only one God.
An Israeli representative at the meeting read the following passage from Isaiah in Japanese.
“They shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning-hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore.”
Before returning to Japan the Shinto priests visited Yad vashem.
70 beekeepers from Israel met 200 beekeepers from Turkey. The meeting took place in Antalya in Turkey and was used as a forum for exchanging information on the various methods of maintaining beehives and producing honey.
Although Israel produces only 3,500 tons of honey per year as compared with Turkey's 80,000 tons, the knowledge gained by both sides was considered as very valuable for the future of the industry. Many of Israel's beehives are on kibbutzim.
The honey cooperation is part of an expanding economic cooperation between Israel and Turkey. The next honey forum for the exchange of information will take place in Israel.
There are other spin offs for this cooperation as Turkey is one of the largest Muslim countries in the Middle East and indeed in the world. Turkey can and has played an important role in the dialogues between Arab countries and Israel.
Poverty in Israel
What went wrong? Israel has the largest earnings gap between rich and poor in the western world. The OECD, a body which includes 30 of the richest countries in the world has told Israel that member countries have an average of only 10 percent of their population living in poverty, while Israel's poor represent more than double that percentage. In order to become a member of this elite group of countries Israel has to reduce the gap.
Sixty percent of Israel's religious Jews live below the poverty line as well as 50% of the Arab population.
During the socialist period, which covered the first thirty years of Israel's Independence, the earnings gap between rich and poor was quite small by western standards. However over the past twenty years the gap has grown out of all proportion as Israel embraces western capitalism on a grand scale.
A staggering 1,650,000 people representing nearly a quarter of Israel's population now live below the poverty income line which means that they cannot provide themselves with at least one meal a day.
Successive Israel governments have shown little interest in the growing time bomb of Israel's staggering number of children who go hungry several days a month. In fact government subsidies are continuously cut so as to reduce government expenditure.
Private welfare organizations, often partially financed by Israeli companies, are trying to stem the tide and provide as many meals as possible to the tens of thousands of starving Israeli families. The largest of these organizations is now able to supply 30,000 people a day with one meal, however there is still a long way to go to make sure that the rate of starvation is reduced.
The kibbutz structure, even after privatization, provides for certain minimum living standards for members and it is unlikely that any kibbutz members are included in the statistics of Israelis who don't have at least one meal per day.
There is a growing campaign to bring another 9,000 new immigrants from Addis Abba and Gondar in Ethiopia. These people are part of the Falash Mura who originally followed the Jewish religion but converted to Christianity.
The campaign is being led by a member of the Israeli parliament who is of Ethiopian descent. He said that he would like to give to the Falash Mura what he received from the Israeli community when he arrived in Israel. He recalled that he received a warm reception even though his hosts had to teach him about the advancements made in the twentieth century. He emigrated from an ancient society with ancient facilities. He explained that as a youth of 16 he arrived in Israel and was transported in time on his arrival in Israel as he had to be shown how to blend with all the modern world facilities not previously seen by him. He stated that he even had to be shown how to turn on an electric light switch.
Hundreds of young people of Ethiopian origin are also given a chance of combining living on a kibbutz with work on the kibbutz and preparation for work and living in the city for those that wish to choose that path.
Change through Music
In a predominantly Haredi suburb of Jerusalem one hears Bach and Mozart among others being played by children, youth and young ladies from the Haredi community. Classical musical sounds ring out from the halls of the music academy where more than 500 students perform and provide the wonderful sounds from the variety of instruments.
The Haredi community authorized the study of classical music as well as ballet so that the female population can have outside activities in addition to the daily routine of Torah, cooking and child minding.
The studies greatly broaden the education of the students as they learn about the history of music and the influence of music throughout the ages on society as a whole.
The program also includes a BA in music and the Haredi students meet and discuss music with many secular performers from Israel and abroad.
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