News Highlights January 2012

The Second 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. Since then the number of kibbutzim has grown to more than 250 with a total population of approximately 120,000 which is about 1.5% of Israel's population. In the early days the kibbutzim formed a large part of Israel's economy and even today nearly eight per cent of the country's economy is derived from kibbutz enterprises.

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. Kibbutz enterprises diversified over the years and now cover almost every type of business.

It was reported that the exports of Kibbutz enterprises increased by 31% to 371million US dollars in 2011.The main contributors to this increase were exports to Asia, Africa and Latin America. These export destinations more than offset the difficult times in the U.S.A and western European markets. Exports to U.S.A declined by 30% and to Europe by 12%.

Kibbutz enterprises employ thousands of workers from the cities, towns, villages and moshavim. These business enterprises have still kept some of their social values by leading the way and narrowing the gap between salaries for men and women. A recent survey showed that women working in kibbutz enterprises receive more than 90% of the pay received by their male counterparts for similar work. The percentage for the country was found to be less than 80%.


Life on the kibbutzim is changing. Three quarters of today's kibbutzim have steered away from the original communist and socialist ideals and 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.

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.


Norway Finally Apologizes

Norway apologized for the first time for the country's complicity in the deportation and deaths of Jews during the Nazi occupation in World War II.

"Norwegians carried out the arrests; Norwegians drove the trucks and it happened in Norway," Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg said. "Today I feel it is fitting to express our deepest apologies that this could happen on Norwegian soil." 

"It is time for us to acknowledge that Norwegian policemen, civil servants and other Norwegians took part in the arrest and deportation of Jews," he said in a speech marking International Holocaust Remembrance Day. 

"I regret to say that the ideas that led to the Holocaust are still very much alive today, 70 years later," Stoltenberg said. "All over the world we see that individuals and groups are spreading intolerance and fear."

In 1998 Norway acknowledged the state's role in the Holocaust and paid some $60 million to Norwegian Jews and Jewish organizations in compensation for property seized.

The payout fell short of a full apology but prompted national soul-searching that laid the ground for the latest speech.

"Until now, Norwegians considered that only Germans were responsible," the chief curator at the Oslo Jewish Museum, told Reuters.

"Norway acted similarly to Vichy France in that they implemented their own anti-Jewish laws, used their own manpower, confiscated property and discriminated against Jews before the Germans had demanded it," said Paul Levine, a history professor at Uppsala University in Sweden. "Norway didn't have to do what it did."

Levine said Norway's apology was "inappropriately" late.

French President Jacques Chirac apologized in 1995 for his country's complicity in the Holocaust.

The Trauma Suffered by Ethiopian Immigrants


Ethiopian Jews were transported through history in a matter of hours when they reached Israel. Their mental experience has something in common with Holocaust survivors.

Although many of the former immigrants suffer from psychological trauma reminiscent of concentration camp “veterans,” only one organization is assisting them with help from professionals of the same background.

State agencies have not yet gotten around to it, or perhaps even realized there is a problem.

Prof. Danny Brom, director of the Israel Center for the Treatment of Psychotrauma in Jerusalem ( never realized the extent of emotional trauma suffered by many of these immigrants until he met and hired social worker Asher Mekunnet Rahamim.

“I learned a lot about Zionism from Asher since we began to work together,” said Brom. “Ethiopian Jews didn’t 
run away from their native country. Theirs was a brave, Zionistic struggle, and many who had to contend with great difficulties to get here suffered intense trauma.”

“I was born in 1968 in a village of 250 Jewish families in the Gondar region,” Rahamim said. “I was one of 11 children and grew up on stories of Jerusalem. My father was one of the only people in the village to 
listen to the radio. He used to collect the news he heard and tell us during the Shabbat meals,” Rahamim recalls fondly.

At the age of 13, Asher left home, a year or two before Operation Moses, when the Israeli government evacuated about 8,000 Ethiopian Jews to Israel from Sudan during the winter of 1984/5. It is estimated that some 4,000 Jews died on the long walk from Ethiopia to Sudan.

Rahamim set off on foot with a group of 63 Jews that included one of his brothers. It was a very long journey of several hundred kilometers.

“I had been through traumatic events and experiences, but I didn’t have time to get nightmares. I was so busy. I sat in my high school classes but since I copied from the board so slowly, I was always staying behind after class to get it done. I didn’t understand most of the material.

But I had a wonderful, incredible teacher,” he remembered. “She sat with me and saw that my grades were poor. She said: ‘I won’t look at your grades’ and turned the paper over. She was sure that I had potential. Just what she told me raised my morale.”
By the end of the school year, his grades had changed, thanks to that teacher.

Rahamim studied in a Hebrew ulpan and was inducted into the army. After serving in the army, he studied industrial management in Ashdod.

Rahamim married in 1999 to an Ethiopian Jewish woman who made aliya at the age of 12, in 1984, with her parents.

Together, they have four children. “They are lovely Israeli kids,” he said, in tones of awe and disbelief.

But there is still trauma. Although almost all of his family members have settled here, one of his brothers disappeared on the border of Sudan. At the end of 1992, Rahamim completed his active service in the IDF and traveled to Ethiopia and Sudan to look for him.

“He would be 56 today. He left a wife and four children, and a daughter is already married.”

“I have worked on the psychotrauma center team since 2006. At first I was asked to cope with suicide in the community, which was extremely rare among Jews in Ethiopia, as was murder of wives. This was the antithesis of life there. There was such protection of women that when the wife was working in the kitchen, the husband stays outside to guard her. There were fixed boundaries.”

The circumstances of waiting to be approved for aliya and what happened to them afterwards caused problems, said Rahamim.

“...There is no Jewish community in the world that underwent such a long process before coming to Israel. Their marriages were exposed to many stresses during this waiting period,” said Rahamim

A study of 600 Ethiopian Jewish adults found that 28 percent of them suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The average level of PTSD in the general Israeli public – which as a collective has gone through war, terrorism, road accents and other traumatic events – is 9%.

Germany Assists Israel

Ironically Israel turned to Germany again for arming the Israel Navy, as no other country has agreed to sell Israel advanced submarines.

Israel and Germany signed a contract a few weeks ago finalizing the sale of a sixth Dolphin class submarine to the tiny Israel Navy, which is one of the smallest navies in the world.

The Defense Ministry started talks with Germany last year about buying a sixth submarine but Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government initially stalled when Israel asked that it underwrite part of the cost. In late November, though, Germany announced that it had approved the deal and that it would pay for part of the vessel.

Christian Schmidt, German Secretary of State for Defense called Israel a “preferred customer,” Schmidt said the sale of the submarine was a demonstration of his country’s commitment to Israel’s security. “The security of the State of Israel is a German concern and this will not change,” he said.

Israel already has three Dolphin class submarines and two are currently under construction in Germany with delivery expected later this year. According to foreign reports, Israel’s submarines have a nuclear capability.

Germany donated the first two submarines after the First Gulf War and split the cost of the third with Israel. The three submarines currently in the navy's possession are considered as outdated naval technology. The submarines under construction will be fitted with the latest technology.

Schmidt said that Germany was interested in increasing its defense cooperation with Israel and was also considering buying the Heron TP long-range unmanned aerial vehicle to replace the Heron 1 it is operating. Both UAVs are manufactured by Israel Aerospace Industries.

In another cooperation between the two countries, German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle signed an agreement granting 10 million Euros to the Yad Vashem Holocaust museum.

According to the agreement, the German government will transfer one million Euros to Yad Vashem every year for the next 10 years. The Education Ministry stated that the agreement reflects the will of the German government to support Yad Vashem's activities, which include collecting archival documentation and research.

He praised the agreement, saying it "strengthens the commitment of the German government and the German nation, to the commemoration of the Holocaust."

Holocaust survivors

A new award aimed at honoring those who have worked to help improve the lives of thousands of Holocaust survivors in Israel and highlight the contributions survivors have made to the state will be inaugurated in a ceremony in Tel Aviv.

The first “Medal of Light” award, an initiative of The Foundation for the Benefit of Holocaust Survivors in Israel, will pay tribute to some 16 individuals – either survivors who have contributed greatly to society, volunteers working with the survivor community or officials who have gone above and beyond their positions to improve the lives of survivors in Israel.

“This is the first ceremony of its kind that will honor the outstanding work of Israeli society,” commented the foundation’s CEO Col. (res.) Rony Kalinsky.

“Despite the fact that such recognition did not take place since the creation of the state, we hope this will bring recognition to those who have made outstanding contributions to society.”

The director- general of the ministry, Itzkovitz headed an inter-ministerial committee to find ways to improve the plight of thousands of survivors in Israel and implemented several drastic new measures allowing them to live out their final years in dignity.

The new measures implemented by Itzkovitz include finding funds to increase pensions and other financial benefits for some survivors, increasing support for essential medical supplies and creating an information center to advise survivors about their rights and additional financial benefits.

“I am very touched by this award. It is a very good feeling, especially because I am a son of Holocaust survivors and I am happy that I had the chance to help soften some of the suffering that other survivors have gone through in their lives,” said Itzkovitz.

He said that he was honored to have had the chance, through his work, to address the issue of helping survivors and to have increased recognition of other groups of Jews who suffered during the Nazi atrocities.

The foundation’s spokesperson said that one of the aims of the new award was also to raise awareness to the plight of an estimated 207,000 elderly survivors living in Israel, whose living conditions are very bad and whose needs increase as they grow older. According to the organization, an estimated 50,000 survivors live below the poverty line.
Recently, the foundation, which receives 40% of its budget from the Israeli government and the rest from the Conference for Material Claims against Germany, announced that its budget no longer covers the growing needs of the aging group. For the first time in its history, it declared that it would start to seek financial support from Jewish and non-Jewish communities around the world.


Israel's Dilemma


The Iranian President has repeatedly stated his country's declared policy of wiping Israel off the map of the world. Also Iran is very close to developing nuclear weapons.

When Hitler wrote and repeated again and again that his declared policy was to wipe out the Jewish population of Europe, the warnings were not taken seriously enough. Even when it was known what was going on, no country or group of countries came to the aid of Europe's Jewish population and more than six million Jews were slaughtered at the hands of the Nazis and their collaborators.

Less than 70 years after the Jewish tragedy in Europe, the Iranians have declared their intention to wipe the country of Israel off the world map. There has been no world outcry against this and it has been largely ignored by the world press. The world press does not regard the Iranian declaration concerning Israel as worthy of widespread press coverage notwithstanding that the threats are uttered everywhere, including at the United Nations by Iran's President.

Iran also operates several terrorist organizations throughout the world such as Hezbollah and Hamas.

The world seems powerless to stop Iran's declared intentions and Iran is only a few months away from acquiring devastating nuclear weapons.

The world community is generally powerless to stop dangerous and horrific events and the current Syrian crisis is an example of the world community's inability to stop the killing of Syrian civilians by the Syrian army.

From a Jewish standpoint there is a difference this time round in that the Jewish nation has a country which is capable of fighting back.

The Israeli government will have to take a decision in 2012 how to save the Jewish nation from yet another Hitler that has appeared just a relatively short distance from Israel.

Iran is one of the biggest countries in the world, nearly a hundred times larger than Israel, which is one of the smallest countries in the world, but Israel is superior technologically.

If the world does not wake up and confront Iran, Israel will be left alone to defend itself against Iran. And Iran does not only have its sights on Israel but also on Sunni Arab states, other Moslem countries, Europe and the U.S.A.

Sunni Moslem Saudi Arabia is gearing up to take on Shiite Moslem Iran by spending huge amounts on defense. Saudi Arabia outspends every country in the world and spends nearly 20% of its GNP on defense and is equipped with the most modern aircraft, tanks and artillery as supplied by U.S.A.

Due to the huge size of Iran, its many nuclear facilities and its massive Defense Force, Israel may have to use every available means at its disposal to defend itself in the face of the Iranian threat to wipe Israel off the map. Israel has to assume that no country will come and help.

The foreign press has reported sighting Israeli planes practicing in the Mediterranean Sea near Spain. Other foreign press sources have stated that Israeli nuclear submarines have been sighted not far from the Persian Gulf. One foreign press report stated that Israeli Jericho missiles have a nuclear capability. There have been no Israeli press reports or disclosure of any such information. As a matter of policy Israel never reports on its military capability so no one really knows what Israel has or is capable of militarily.

The most sensible thing would be for the world to face Iran with substantially increased diplomatic and economic pressure.


A Look at Palestine

"Accompanying an Israeli couple on a short tour of Ramallah, I opt to take them to a nice Palestinian American-style coffee shop – one of my favorite places to go", said a Palestinian tour guide. Interestingly, one of their first comments on the visit is that the coffee prices are just as high as those in Tel Aviv. NIS 15 for a cup of coffee is quite expensive considering the average Palestinian income, but still affordable to some.

Some Israelis hear a lot about Ramallah, Bethlehem and Nablus and are enthusiastic to visit, whereas others are afraid to venture into the “territories.”, I believe it is vital for visitors to see Palestinian cities firsthand, to talk to people and walk in the main streets. I try to show how we live in Ramallah, what kinds of restaurants we have, the farmers’ market and even our health gyms.

The Israeli tourists are often surprised to see so many Israeli products openly sold in our grocery shops.

As we enjoy our morning coffee, we begin to discuss the desire of some Israelis to see what the nightlife in Ramallah is like. I explain to them that there are varied and interesting venues that I frequently visit with some of my friends but that, compared to Israel, nightlife here is more conservative and family-oriented – although this may change in the near future.

A few days ago, at a karaoke party in Ramallah, it occurred to me that while this might not be the life of most Palestinians, as some of them are too conservative and some might not be able to afford it, everyone wants to enjoy themselves and shake off the stress of a hard week. Most weeks in Palestine these days are hard weeks.

The Palestinian government, facing a financial crisis, decided to raise income taxes. The decision was halted suddenly, awaiting the outcome of a national dialogue on the topic. The temporary freeze of the new tax law came after numerous complaints from the private sector, NGOs and unions. Regular citizens took to the streets and filled the prime minister’s Facebook page with negative remarks. The tax law, though only applicable to higher salaries, triggered people to actually protest against inflation and unemployment.

There is a need to present Palestinians in their daily lives; as fun-loving and seeking relief from the daily, weekly and yearly grind; as not much different than Israelis on the personal level.

In the words of a Palestinian journalist: "Not all of our life is settlements. We like to party, sing karaoke and treat ourselves with luxurious dinners every once in a while because it is not always about the settlements or even the peace process. Because life is too short, but also because those who know how to live life can appreciate the beauty of freedom".

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