News Highlights February 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.

The kibbutzim have undergone major changes over the years and 204 of the total of 264 kibbutzim have opted for privatization. That means that the previous communist/socialist structure has been replaced with a capitalist system similar to that in Israeli villages. Nine kibbutzim have opted for partial privatization and operate a mixed capitalist/socialist structure.

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.


Israel in 2030


A new environmental project that examined the country’s consumption trends for the past two decades and outlines potential outcomes and solutions for the next two is asking that the public actively participate in its work.

The project, called Sustainability Outlook for Israel 2030 (In Hebrew - Kayamut 2030) and aims to ask critical questions about Israel’s future and devise methods for the country’s path toward sustainability.

The project, which has involved individual studies and workshop participation by environmental experts all over the country, is expected to be completed this year.

During the earliest stage of the project, participants identified 12 indicators from the past two decades that they felt were behind many of the environmental trends that have taken place. Among these indicators were sulfur oxide, nitrous oxide and greenhouse gas emissions, groundwater salinity, open space, transportation, urban waste and water and energy consumption.

Researchers created scenarios for the future and then created nine strategies for action, which would be suitable for the scenarios.

The nine strategies promote innovation, calculate risk, determine social status, strengthen communities, social and environmental security, the dispersal of the population to peripheral areas.

It is hoped that individual government ministries and Knesset members will be able to reflect on the data presented and employ the strategies in their decisions.


Leadership Seminar for Druze Youth

Members and leaders of Druze youth movements from communities in northern Israel attended a leadership seminar on the care and conservation of Israel’s forests.

During the seminar, prominent figures spoke to the young people about the importance of conserving Israel’s forests.

On the first day of the seminar the young people toured the areas damaged by the Mount Carmel fire, and helped out by collecting branches pruned from the trees in the green parts of the forest. On the second day, they engaged in educational activities at Nes Harim – experiencing for the first time independent navigation in the forest and increasing their knowledge with the help of KKL-JNF’s mobile educational van.  On the final day, the participants presented their own individual plans for the care and conservation of the forests, using the knowledge they had acquired during the three days of the seminar. They also took part in simulated fire fighting, assisted by a professional KKL-JNF team, and toured Ben Shemen Forest.

KKL-JNF World Chairman said that the seminar “will increase the youth's sense of personal responsibility towards the forest and enable them to serve later as its ambassadors and protectors within their own communities. In this important enterprise, they will be KKL-JNF’s partners. This seminar is a pilot that we intend to expand and extend to other communities of young people throughout the country.”

Israel and Iran at the Oscars

Israelis have been curious about the Iranian movie "A Separation" and thousands of viewers have watched it so far.

The Ayatollas in Iran were overwhelmed with joy at the Oscar success. Iranian state TV termed the results a victory over Israel, which they call the “Zionist regime” as they don't recognize the existence of Israel. The head of Iran’s Cinema Agency said that the Academy’s decision was the beginning of the collapse of Israeli influence in the US.

The producer attempted to step away from the huffy rhetoric during his acceptance speech at the Kodak Theater in Hollywood, saying that Iran is spoken about here through her glorious culture, a rich and ancient culture that has been hidden under the heavy dust of politics.”

“I proudly offer this award to the people of my country, the people who respect all cultures and civilizations and despise hostility and resentment,” he added, apparently unaware of the statements being made back in Tehran.

The Oscar awards marked the fourth time in five years that an Israeli film has been nominated in the Best Foreign Language Film category without winning.

A representative of the Israel Leadership Council, expressed the hope that Iran, having been recognized by the West for its cultural achievement, might moderate its political rhetoric.

 ‘A Separation’ looks at a troubled family in Iran.

It’s very difficult to watch Asghar Farhadi’s internationally acclaimed film A Separation without thinking about the country in which it takes place, Iran. A Separation is a complex story that deals with universal problems such as marital conflict, caring for the elderly and class struggles. It has received a huge number of other awards, including this year’s Golden Globe award and five awards at the Berlin Film Festival.

The film is set in Tehran, starts with a woman applying to divorce her husband.

Simin wants the divorce from her husband Nader because she wants to leave the country with their daughter. When she tells the judge she has no other problems with her husband other than his refusal to go abroad, the judge says that they should remain separated and try to work things out.
Nader refuses to consider moving because he is responsible for the care of his senile father, who lives with them.
That’s the basic story.

Valentines Day in Iran

Iranians defied a Valentine's Day government ban.

Tehran restaurants were fully booked and young Iranians visited gift shops in the capital to buy presents for loved ones in defiance of a ban on Valentine's Day items aimed at preventing the spread of "Western culture."

Iranian authorities banned the sale of Valentine cards and other heart-shaped products and police arrested some of those who ignored the ban.

"This year they told us not to sell any red roses otherwise we can face the closure of our flower shop," said a 40-year-old female florist in north Tehran.

Despite the hardship from sanctions and the state ban, many gift shops in Tehran were decorated with red ribbons, lights and candles to attract young customers, who mainly buy three red roses.

With Valentine's Day becoming increasingly popular over the past years, many Iranian youths are less afraid of being arrested for ignoring the ban.

Valentine's Day has become a money-maker for businesses hard-hit by sanctions. Iran's economy is around 60 percent reliant on oil and the country is heavily dependent on food imports, buying 45% of its rice and most of its animal feed abroad.

Hardliners in Iran see Valentine's Day as part of a deliberate "soft war" waged by the West to corrupt Iran's youth.

But young Iranians with access to the internet are familiar with Western culture.

 Rain and more Rain

After several years of below average rainfall the heavens opened and in just two months many areas in Israel exceeded the annual average rainfall. In fact January was the wettest month ever recorded with twenty nine days of rain.


Many rivers and streams are flowing for the first time in years and this has brought much needed relief to many areas that have suffered several years of drought.


It has also generally been a colder than usual winter with low temperatures and heavy snow, which will also assist the Sea of Galilee and several rivers when Spring comes and the snow melts.


That is the plus side but on the down side the government is likely to delay the much needed program for alleviating Israel's major water shortage.


Several water projects have been planned including desalination and some of these are already in operation but the government may hedge its bets and hold out to see if this is not a one off rainy season and perhaps a new trend.


Israel is ready to help Syrian civilians

As the death toll nears 10,000, thousands of Israeli Arabs demonstrated against Syrian President Bashar Assad, calling for him to step down and end his violent suppression and large scale attacks on civilians..

The Israeli government is considering ways of assisting the civilian population in Syria with basic needs but this is likely to anger the Syrian government who do not even allow the Red Cross to assist those wounded in the massive Syrian army onslaught on its own civilians.

There are snipers everywhere and any civilian that ventures outside his home is automatically shot dead. Also anyone who dares to go to a funeral for such victims is shot dead as are any people who try and flee Syria.

The Syrian government knows no boundaries in its systematic slaughter of its own people.

The main problem is that Syria is divided on tribal lines and a small tribe that consists of only ten percent of the population rules the country by using brutal force.

Turkey too is considering ways to open Humanitarian corridors for aid to civilians in order to relieve what has become a major civilian catastrophe.

The world seems paralyzed to assist ordinary people who are being massacred. Russian, Chinese and Iranian cargo planes arrive daily with more weapons and other supplies for The Syrian government. Russia, China and Iran have also declared that the world must not interfere with what they consider an internal Syrian matter.

Labor strikes in Israel

 When compared to other countries, Israel spends a disproportionate amount of its time on strike. According to the International Labor Organization, which collects such data, Israel spends more time on strike than any European nation, with the exception of Lithuania.  In terms of days spent striking per 1,000 workers, Israel’s average from 1999-2007 was 390.  In the United States, the number is so low that it is often rounded down to 0.


Recent strikes saw airport delays and garbage piling up in the streets and the trains stopped operating. In the most recent strike, the Histadrut shut down medical clinics, university administration, trains, banks, cultural institutions including several museums and theaters, the post office and, for several hours, Ben Gurion international airport (which would have been closed longer had the National Labor Court not commanded otherwise). Israelis were overwhelmed by the stench of garbage piling up in the streets, short of cash due to empty ATMs and frustrated with the struggle to get to work.



 The general strike aimed to assist hired contract workers, who often do the same level of work as their full-time peers for lower pay, with fewer benefits and with less job security.  The government certainly needs flexibility to hire contract workers for temporary projects, but teachers, cleaners and other employees that go to work at the same job for years on end do not fall into that category; many industrialized countries severely restrict or outlaw altogether such unfair employment practices.


Water Conservation Projects in the Negev

Five water facilities in the Negev, developed through donations from friends of KKL JNF in Australia, are bringing life to the desert, contributing to the environment and providing the residents of the region with income from agriculture.

The facilities will supply about twenty agricultural communities thus relieving the pressure on fresh water sources for human and animal consumption. The water will provide for the livelihood of hundreds of families in many locations and allow the communities of the Negev to grow and absorb new residents.

Because of the 40% cutback in water allocations in recent years, many farmers in the Negev had to discontinue farming their lands, and the reclaimed water will allow them to resume cultivation of those fields that had to be abandoned. These reservoirs are a vital contribution to the quality of life and the environment in the region reducing pollution and freeing up scarce fresh water resources.

The transition to using treated effluents saves freshwater, which is meant first and foremost for human and animal use. It is also very advantageous for the farmers, since reclaimed water is less expensive than freshwater by about 50%, so their crops become more profitable.

Another important point is that if, in the past, there were effluents flowing in the streambeds, seeping into the ground and polluting the groundwater. The environment will now be kept cleaner, because all that sewage will be treated and reclaimed for irrigation.

The Deputy Director of the Moshavei Hanegev Development Company, which includes thirty-four local communities, explained that fields used in the past for growing cattle fodder or cotton may now be used, thanks to this reclaimed water, for growing all kinds of fruits and vegetables- potatoes, carrots, celery, cauliflower, radishes, maize, citrus, almonds and more. This is, of course, very helpful for the farmers, as they may now select crops with the greatest demand and profitability.

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