News Highlights August 2011
The First 100 years
The year 2010 was the hundredth anniversary of the establishment of Kibbutz Degania, which was the first kibbutz to be established in Israel.
The official ceremony was attended by The President of Israel, Members of Parliament, senior officers of the Defense Force and leading figures from the business community.
A reunion took place in June for all those who volunteered on Kibbutzim throughout the years. At the reunion volunteers shared the memories from the past and saw the changes in Israel and in the kibbutz movement.
On the political front the Kibbutzim have been dealt a blow as the strength of the left wing parties has been drastically reduced. The kibbutzim have traditionally supported left wing parties. The Labor Party has been trying to reinvent itself and become a force to be reckoned with on the political stage. The Party elections will determine the new leader and the vote of kibbutz members could be a factor in determining who will lead the Labor Party.
Life on the kibbutzim is changing. About three quarters of all kibbutzim have moved away from the original purely collective style of living whereby all income and resources were shared for the benefit of the whole community.
The majority of today's kibbutzim are more in line with any small town in the country, where each family cares for its own needs and where the local council provides the minimal municipal needs required by the community.
The Supreme Court has made it easier for Kibbutz members to own their own home. It is now possible for an apartment to be transferred into the name of a member by paying a tax equivalent of less than 4% of the value of the land. However if a kibbutz member wishes to sell the apartment then a further land tax equivalent to one third of the land value will have to be paid at the time of sale.
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 established 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 president of Turkey has appointed fundamentalist generals to replace the secular generals who had a long standing relationship with Israel. The fundamentalist government that replaced the previously secular government has felt very uncomfortable having inherited very strong ties with Israel.
During the past two years the Turkish government has become more and more hostile towards Israel as it slowly but surely takes on an anti Israel stance.
The Turkish President has expelled the Israeli ambassador and ordered all major contracts between Israel and Turkey to be suspended. He has also stressed that the Israeli navy will be forcibly restricted to the Israeli coast by ships from the Turkish navy.
It will be interesting to see what develops because Turkey is both a long standing member of NATO and lately has strengthened its ties with other Islamic governments like Iran.
Turkey wishes to play a major role in the Middle East and also have strong connections with an emerging Palestinian state. In order to achieve this the Turkish leadership believe that they have to disengage from Israel.
Although many countries are questioning the large numbers of protesters killed by the Syrian Army, the Arab league and Russia have demanded that there be no interference in Syria's internal affairs.
Nearly 3,000 protesters have been killed and tens of thousands injured with many thousands detained.
It seems that the world is looking for some stability in a region which has become very unstable during the last six months.
The opposition in Syria is starting to make contact with countries in the region and in the world and the pressure on President Assad is likely to continue for a long time.
Iran too has sensed that they may have to accept a Syria without Assad and consequently the Iranian leadership have been holding meetings with the Syrian opposition.
Relations with Egypt have been deteriorating and weren't helped by the recent terrorist attacks on Israel that were launched from Egyptian territory. In a counter attack against the terrorists Israel mistakenly killed five Egyptian soldiers. This mistake in the heat of the battle against terrorist attacks launched from Egypt have further soured relations between Israel and Egypt.
As tensions rise large crowds have been threatening the Israeli embassy in Cairo for some time and in the end a huge number of protestors stormed the embassy and tried to kill embassy officials.
The Egyptian army stepped in to save the lives of the embassy staff.
The Israeli government evacuated all embassy staff and their families just a few hours after the attack on the embassy.
Gas supplies from Egypt to Israel have been halted due to massive objection from sectors within the Egyptian population who wish the gas agreement with Israel to be terminated and some sectors have even called for the breaking off of diplomatic relations with Israel.
Demonstrations against the harsh economic conditions that also affect the middle classes in Israel have been continuing. Almost half a million people gathered in various cities in one day for the biggest demonstration yet.
A government committee has been set up to deal with the problem of rising prices and low incomes by western standards. The committee is expected to recommend economic reforms that will benefit Israel's struggling population.
At the same time the government is continuing to expand the country's infrastructure to keep up with demand and future economic expansion. The Port of Ashdod is currently undergoing the largest construction project ever undertaken in the history of Israel.
Many ships wait outside the port every day and it is very congested.
Ashdod port opened in the 1960’s and since then has not had any significant expansion, while the number of ships using the port, and the amount of cargo being handled has increased dramatically.
Stage one of the expansions has provided additional capacity. The main breakwater that protects the harbor was extended by 1150 meters and an entire new construction terminal was built, capable of handling very large vessels.
In addition, a general cargo terminal and dry bulk terminal were built as well. Five new quays were created with a combined area of 1700 meters.
Once the second stage is complete, the port will be capable of handling 9 additional vessels at the same time and will have 600,000 square meters dedicated to the handling and storage of cargo.
The expansion project will see the port more than double in size and cement its role in the Israeli economy.
After the recognition of Palestine as an independent state by the United Nations it is hoped that it will lead to the start of negotiations to determine boundaries and also increase the cooperation between Israel and Palestine.
Nearly a hundred thousand Palestinians have received treatment in Israeli hospitals during 2011.
The Palestinian patients are usually accompanied by a family member. Such a large number of people also requires a large security operation so that no dangerous people accompany any patients.
Israel undertakes many humanitarian operations throughout the world.
An Israeli humanitarian group has sent a delegation to the border of Kenya and Somalia to aid tens of thousands of locals displaced by the worst drought to have hit the Horn of Africa in over 60 years.
“Words cannot describe the situation here. I have never seen anything like it,” said an experienced aid worker who was in Sri Lanka after the 2004 tsunami and in Haiti after the 2010 earthquake. “We visited the camps and the overwhelming refugee influx is putting a stress on the existing infrastructure, people are constantly requesting food, tents, access to schools, and water.”
A professional Israeli relief worker, who just returned from another Israel aid mission in South Sudan, said he was overwhelmed.
“We met a girl that had been raped three months ago. She is extremely traumatized, but she cannot go to school because the other kids beat her for getting raped.
She is socially bound and does not go out of her tent.”
The team is looking into the possibility of building a school for children at the refugee camp, the majority of which receive little to no formal education.
Israeli humanitarian groups always have to be accompanied by security protection as in almost every country in the world there are people looking to attack any official Israeli delegation.
The Israeli ambassador to the United States hosted a dinner celebrating the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, marking the first time an ambassador from the Israel has hosted such a dinner in the United States.
Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren hosted the dinner at his residence, with about 65 guests in attendance, including imams, rabbis and officials from the White House, Congress and the State Department.
Oren said the unusual dinner is fitting at a time when the future of the Middle East is uncertain, as the Arab Spring has unseated regimes in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya.
“We’re in the middle of a huge transition in the Middle East, and we see risks, but we also see opportunities there,” he said. “We want to be able to tell people in the Middle East what those opportunities are.”
“There’s a lot of misinformation about Israel, and we want to show we’re open to dialogue and reconciliation,” he said. “We can begin to build bridges on an interpersonal level.”
In remarks at the dinner, Oren cited the biblical Book of Psalms: "Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity."
The Ramadan dinner, featured a call to prayer, during which the dining room at the ambassador’s residence was turned into a Muslim prayer space, the embassy said.
All food served at the meal was halal, meaning it has been prepared according to certain Muslim customs.
The fast was broken with traditional Islamic foods like dates, apricot juice and soup.
Oren said he hopes the meal at the Israeli ambassador’s residence becomes an annual tradition.
Women and minorities
The Attorney-General announced a plan to amend a government directive on fair representation for women from different population groups to include a specific reference to government committees.
“The attorney-general attaches considerable importance to the matter of fair representation on administrative bodies, including public committees,” a spokesperson said in a statement on Tuesday.
The Attorney-General has already instructed government ministries to allow fair representation for women from a variety of population groups and has reported on the matter to the Authority for the Advancement of the Status of Women.
The updated government directive will also reflect recent legislative changes in this area, it was said.
As a result of the petition, the government promised last week to appoint an Arab woman to the Trajtenberg Committee, which had also come under fire from Arab-Israeli organizations for failing to appoint Arabs to the 14-member permanent team.
“The amended directive must include the government’s duty to work actively to ensure women from all population groups are represented and that important decisions are not made by a small group of people who don’t recognize the needs and aspirations of a diverse group of women,” a spokesperson said.
Visiting officials from the S. African Rugby Union (SARU) ran a training session for Israel's rugby team and pledged support for rugby in Israel. The President of the SARU Oregan Hoskins spoke of his wish to fulfill a dream expressed by Israeli supporters of the sport that rugby become a bridge between Israeli and Palestinians. Springbok coach Peter de Villiers gave the Israeli players several hours of unique tips on how to improve their game with special focus on both technique and motivational talks.
The two S.A. rugby officials were brought to Israel to visit the country and its holy sites and also to engage with the local rugby players and officials. The S.A. Rugby officials were brought to Israel by the Israel South Africa Forum.
SARU President Oregan Hoskins also pledged support for a rugby academy in Israel and said he was not only visiting Israel on behalf of SARU but also with the official blessing of the World Rugby Union of which he is an executive member.
Peter de Villiers held a coaching session for the Israeli team who were due to play Austria. Israeli Rugby Team's captain Nimrod Kaplan received a Springbok rugby jersey from SARU President Oregan Hoskins signed by all the current South African team players. South Africa's Springboks are seeking to defend their world rugby title in New Zealand in October at the World Rugby Cup competition.
In the cycling arena cyclists participated in the Israel Marathon championships. There were some surprises in the senior elite division but the junior and cadet elite divisions didn't produce any surprises.
The senior elite cycling team is trying to produce good performances and qualify for the Olympic Games. However there was a major setback at a competition in Turkey when the Iranian team asked the Turkish authorities to remove the Israeli team.
In the middle of a race the Israeli cyclists were ordered to stop riding and were asked to leave the country immediately.
Overseas readers are invited to provide us with feedback regarding our monthly news bulletins.