News Highlights August 2013

 Contents

     1. The Second 100 years

 2. The Israelis.

 3.  Israeli Cities.

 4.   Israeli Kibbutzim.

 5. Israel/Palestine Agricultural Agreement.

 6.  Gaza Supplies.

 7.   The Internet Battle.

 8.   Economic Freeze.

 9.  The return of Treasures stolen by the Nazis.

10.   Population Density.

11. Cooperation with China.

12. Sport.

 

  The Second 100 years


 
After many years of declining numbers Israel's kibbutz movement is staging a revival, with many potential members wanting to join the unique form of collective living.

The total kibbutz population of about 143,000 is the highest in its 102-year history. More people are now joining kibbutzim than leaving and the addition of working-age adults and young children is helping to redress the balance of an ageing population.

Most kibbutzim have implemented reforms so as to become commercially viable. Privatization with differential incomes and home ownership has increased the attractiveness to newcomers reluctant to commit to pure communal principles.

Increasing numbers of families are attracted to kibbutz living by the quality of education, environment, space and security. The kibbutz enterprises also provide thousands of job opportunities.

The plan to allow private ports is threatening the existing ports and could cause serious strikes thereby harming exports. The Kibbutz Industries Association says that a negotiated solution to the problem is the best way forward.

Kibbutz Industries Association CEO, Udi Ornstein said that representatives of the government, the Histadrut and Manufacturers Association must do everything possible to reach an agreement .90 % of managers of kibbutz enterprises support dialogue as the way forward.

Back in 1952 Ben Gurion asked a dairy worker to get permission from his kibbutz to take up the position of Deputy Director General of the Ministry of Defense. The dairy worker was just 29 years old but Ben Gurion believed that he was important for the country. The worker approached his kibbutz and a vote was held at a general meeting whether or not to allow a kibbutz member to work outside the kibbutz. That was the way the kibbutzim operated in those days. The members of Alumot voted in favor and the dairy worker, Shimon Peres, was granted leave to serve the country as Deputy Director General of Defense. Shimon Peres was instrumental in building Israel's Defense industry including its nuclear capacity. He also served in numerous ministerial posts including that of Prime Minister. He is of course Israel's current President.

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 and account for about 8% of Israel's economy.

 

The Israelis – Haneen Zoabi

Haneen Zoabi was born in Nazareth to a Muslim family. Zoabi studied philosophy and psychology at the University of Haifa, earning a Bachelors of Arts, and received a Masters of Arts in communications from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. She was the first Arab citizen of Israel to graduate in media studies, and established the first media classes in Arab schools. She also worked as a mathematics teacher and worked as a school inspector for the Israeli Ministry of Education.

She is a relative of Seif el-Din el-Zoubi, a former mayor of Nazareth and member of the Knesset between 1949 and 1959, and again from 1965 until 1979, andAbd el-Aziz el-Zoubi, a Deputy Health Minister and the first Arab member of an Israeli government.

Prior to the 2009 elections she won third place on the Balad list, and entered the Knesset after the party won three seats.

Zoabi rejects the idea of Israel as a Jewish state. At the 18th Knesset swearing-in ceremony on February 24, 2009, she left the Knesset plenum before the singing of Hatikva, Israel's national anthem. "'Hatikva' doesn't represent me", she later said. "I preferred to leave the room, because I don't appreciate hypocrisy. Zoabi rejects any form of national service for Israel's Arab citizens. In an interview with Jonathan Cook, Zoabi said: "It is frustrating and exhausting having always to be on the defensive about why I identify as a Palestinian, why I am not a Zionist, why the Jewish state cannot represent me, why I am entitled to citizenship.

On 31 May 2010 Zoabi participated in the Gaza flotilla. She was on board the MV Mavi Marmara where violence broke out when Israeli commandos boarded the ship with intention of redirecting it to the port of Ashdod. Two security guards were assigned for her protection after she received death threats.

When the full Knesset met on 13 July 2010, it decided, in a 34–16 vote, to strip her of three parliamentary privileges as a penalty for her participation in the flotilla: the right to have a diplomatic passport, entitlement to financial assistance should she require legal help, and the right to visit countries with which Israel does not have diplomatic relations. She was also stripped of the right to participate in Knesset discussions and to vote in parliamentary committees.[22]

In 2011, Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein closed the case against Zoabi "as result of significant evidentiary and legal difficulties."

In December 2012, it was announced that the Central Elections Committee and a panel of Supreme Court judges would hold discussions on whether to disqualify Zoabi, as well as the Balad and United Arab List parties, from the 2013 election. The request for her disqualification, submitted by MK Ofir Akunis(Likud) and which obtained the necessary number of signatures, stated that "throughout her years in the Knesset, Zoabi has constantly undermined the State of Israel and has openly incited against the government, its institutions and IDF soldiers." The request further noted that Zoabi negates Israel's existence as a Jewish and democratic state, which makes Knesset candidates eligible for disqualification.

After hearing the case, the Central Elections Committee disqualified Zoabi in a 19-9 vote. The Israeli Supreme Court overturned the disqualification, with the nine-judge panel headed by Supreme Court President Asher Grunis unanimously voting to overturn the ban.

There are many anti Israel members of the Knesset but because of Israel's democratic principles anyone can be a member of the Israeli parliament regardless of their views.

There is even a sect of Rabbi's that are anti Israel and pro Iran and regularly visit Iranian leaders in Teheran. They too are able to express their views openly due to Israel's democratic system. 

Israeli Cities - Ashdod

Ashdod is the fifth-largest city in Israel and is located 32 kilometers south of Tel Aviv  and 53 kilometers west of Jerusalem. Ashdod is an important regional industrial center. The Port of Ashdod is Israel's largest port accounting for 60% of the country's imported goods.

The first documented settlement in Ashdod dates to the Canaanite culture of 17th century BCE, making the city one of the oldest in the world. Ashdod is mentioned 13 times in the Bible.

Modern Ashdod was established in 1956 on the sand hills near the site of the ancient town. Ashdod is one of the most important industrial centers in Israel. All industrial activities in the city are located in northern areas such as the port area, the northern industrial zone, and around the Lachish River. Various shipping companies' offices are also located in the port area which also is home to an Eshkol A power station and coal terminal.

The Northern industrial zone is located on Highway 41 and includes various industries including an oil refinery, which is one of only two in the country. Historically each neighborhood of Ashdod had its own commercial center. In 1990, however, when the mall shopping culture developed in Israel, the main commercial activity in Ashdod moved to malls. The first mall to open in Ashdod was the Forum Center in the industrial zone. Restaurants, bars and night clubs were opened in the area. Lev Ashdod Mall, which opened in 1993, has been enlarged and upgraded since then. Ashdod Mall, billed at the time as the city's largest shopping mall, has also been redesigned since its opening in 1995. City Mall, Ashdod was opened in a combined building with the central bus station in 1996, following the examples of the Tel Aviv Central Bus Station and the Jerusalem Central Bus Station. The Sea Mall, a three-story mall near the government offices, has a climbing wall and movie theater.

In 2013, Ashdod had 500 schools employing 3,500 teachers. The student population was 55,000. The city's education budget was NIS 418 million shekels.

In late 2012, Ashdod won a NIS 220 million grant from the Israeli Transport Ministry to improve public transportation and decrease private car use. According to the municipality's plans, a 20-kilometer ring of road arteries will be given priority in public transportation. These arteries will carry four bus rapid transit lines. In the city's more crowded areas, such as Herzl Boulevard or the western part of Menachem Begin Boulevard, a public transportation lane will be paved in the center of the road. In other areas, the right-hand lane will be reserved for public transportation. Buses will also be given priority at traffic lights; electronic devices will allow a bus to signal its approach, causing the light to turn green. In addition, an electric-powered bicycle rental network will be set up, and 22 kilometers (14 miles) of bicycle paths will be paved in the city.

The passenger railway connection to Ashdod opened in 1992  after the renovation of the historical railway to Egypt.

There is also heavy freight traffic in the area. The Port of Ashdod has its own railway  line as well as a special terminal for potash brought from the Dead Sea and exported abroad.


 Israeli Kibbutzim - Hazorea

Kibbutz Hazorea is located in the Western Jezreal Valley, at the foot of the Manasseh Hills 

Hazorea is the only kibbutz founded by graduates of a German Jewish youth movement "Werkleute", young socialist-oriented liberals.
In early 1934, the first members arrived; most of them had to quit academic or professional studies to take up training for a very different life as pioneers. They chose the name Hazorea to symbolize their connection with the land and renewal of their settlement in the Land of Israel. The permanent location for their settlement - at the foot of Mount Carmel, near the town of Yokneam was eventually decided and approved, and then they began preparations to settle down on the land.

A special fund was set up in Germany to purchase land and so facilitate early settlement. Members and the children born there had to live in conditions of poverty and deprivation, as they lacked adequate land and a stable economic base.

Visitors to Hazorea today will be surprised to find that the Kibbutz is located adjoining a dense green forest, which creates the illusion that you are perhaps somewhere in Europe. This forest together with all the forested area running along the ridges of Carmel Mountain range were planted by members of Hazorea and other kibbutzim working for the Jewish National Fund.

During World War II and the years that followed, youth groups who came from Bulgaria, Syria and Lebanon, and a diverse group of young Holocaust survivors were educated at Hazorea.  Many graduates of these youth groups remained at the Kibbutz where they enriched its social fabric with a wide range of cultural views and languages. With the large waves of immigration from North Africa came a group of children aged 10-11 to Hazorea where they joined their educational peer group at the Kibbutz. Many of them remained members of Hazorea to this day

An Ulpan for teaching Hebrew to new immigrants was established in 1956 and operated at Hazorea for about 50 years and during that time contributed to significant social regeneration as many Ulpan graduates joined the ranks of Kibbutz members.
Later during the 1980s Hazorea absorbed youth groups who stayed here to complete their secondary education and many remained at Hazorea during their military service and several even joined the Kibbutz as individuals.

Initial attempts were made to grow fruit trees, some dry farming without irrigation in the valley and on the hill slopes above the kibbutz. In the early years the vegetable garden was the leading source of income, and they also grew grain while later on growing melons brought in the highest contribution to the Kibbutz's economy for a long time.
Gradually melons were replaced by cotton and additional irrigated crops, alongside fish ponds, which constituted a part of the effort to solve the more serious drainage problems. For many years there were also orchards with deciduous fruit and vineyards until these were uprooted giving way to the more profitable irrigated crops, especially cotton.
One of the most stable agricultural branches in Hazorea's history has been the dairy which has yielded good profits for decades.
The fisheries enterprise has become one of the Kibbutz's leading sources of income largely due to the export of ornamental fish and water lilies where the staff has gained considerable experience.

The field crops industry maintains its position as one of the leading agricultural branches and as the cotton crop has declined in recent years, efforts were constantly made in the search for alternative crops. To take advantage of the sophisticated equipment the members working in the fields have taken on contracting work in tilling fields and harvesting crops outside the Kibbutz thereby increasing revenue.

At some stage during the 1950s the Kibbutz realized that agriculture could no longer ensure sufficient financial support, and so industry began to occupy an increasingly important place in the Kibbutz economy.
The carpentry shop which started out as a workshop in 1936 eventually developed into "Hazorea Furniture Industries" and the furniture it manufactured became a household name not only in Israel but also abroad. However towards the end of the last century profit margins declined, and the plant was closed and the machinery sold to a company in Amman Jordan. The brand name was also sold and still continues to sell furniture under its new owner.

In the early 1960s a small plastic factory was purchased and given the trade name "Plastopil"; it manufactured mostly agricultural plastic sheeting and packaging for milk. The plant grew and developed, and in recent years it began to concentrate its efforts on producing flexible food packaging, which are much more sophisticated products. In 2005 the factory became a limited company and its shares were floated on the stock market. Most of the factory's products are exported all over the globe and Plastopil has become the dominant factor in Hazorea's economy.

In 1985, MABA – Quality Control Center was established with a view to expanding the Kibbutz's economic structure as well as providing the Kibbutz members with a wider range of professional occupations. By 1991 it received accreditation from the National Physics Laboratory, and has gained a fine reputation for providing quality control and calibration services for many enterprises, including leading companies throughout the country.

In Hazorea's early years, while very difficult living conditions still prevailed, and most members lived in tents or huts, it was decided to build a museum, named in honor of Wilfrid Israel. Wilfrid Israel was friend of the founding members, and collector of works of art. During World War II, he was involved in attempts to rescue Jews from Germany and additional lands. They were a trio of friends, Wilfrid Israel, Albert Einstein and Leslie Howard the Hollywood actor. Albert Einstein was not available for the flight. Sadly, Wilfrid and Howard were killed when the plane they were traveling in 1943 on a flight from Lisbon to Bristol was shot down by the Nazis. Goebbels himself ordered the shooting down of the plane due to Wilfrid Israel's rescuing of Jews and Leslie Howard's anti Nazi propaganda. In his will Wilfrid Israel bequeathed a valuable collection of treasures from the Far East to the Kibbutz members. Albert Einstein wrote a very personal letter to the Kibbutz expressing his condolences at the loss of his friend Wilfrid Israel. The museum has been maintained and run for many years by volunteers from among the Kibbutz members. Over the past 20 years, the museum has been receiving support from the Ministry of Culture and arranges a wide range of activities - permanent and temporary exhibitions, artist workshops, children's workshops, meetings with artists who exhibit their work, lectures, classes and more.

Hazorea, like all kibbutzim, is a society that devotes considerable attention to the children. The education system has always been well organized and supported with the children enjoying top priority where investment in buildings is concerned, and when it comes to looking after their needs. Children's homes have been adapted constantly to meet changing needs.
The education system includes infant's day care, pre-kindergarten facilities and kindergartens. A regional elementary school known as "Plagim" is located at Hazorea, and from the seventh grade upwards the children study at the Megiddo regional school. The Kibbutz also has a system offering informal education services for children - primary, secondary division, after the regular school hours and during school vacations.
Until 1991, the children stayed in children's houses where they ate, played and studied for most of the day and slept there at night; afternoons were spent with the parents who were generally free to play to play with them at that time of the day. The kibbutz strictly controlled the time spent with children. Hazorea was the last Israeli kibbutz to eventually decide that children can live with their parents.

Hazorea is now privatized as are more than 80% of Israel's kibbutzim. The old collective system has been disbanded.

Israel/Palestine Agricultural Agreement

The Israeli and Palestinian Agriculture Ministries agreed on to revive some of the joint committees formed in the 1990s under the Oslo Accords.
The ministries also decided to join forces in establishing a regional center for agronomic cooperation.

The increased cooperation comes amid the renewed peace process and was announced as US Secretary of State John Kerry made a brief visit to Israel.

According to the Israeli Agriculture Ministry, the decision to establish the center occurred during a meeting between Rammi Cohen and Adbullah Lahlou, directors-general of the Israeli and Palestinian Authority ministries, respectively.

Aiming to renew the cooperative relationship in the agricultural sector, the discussions focused on the desire to improve food quality for the Palestinian public. Because agricultural disease and pests know no borders, enhancing agriculture on the Palestinian side would likewise lead to improvements on the Israeli side, according to the Israeli ministry.

“The residents of Israel and the Palestinian Authority will benefit from a tightening of economic ties, and there is no doubt that agricultural cooperation will help ease the regional tensions by creating an economic benefit for both sides,” Agriculture Minister Yair Shamir said.

Cohen and Lahlou decided that it would be in the interest of both sides to restart some of the cooperative agricultural committees that were halted during the second intifada, such as a plant protection committee, a marketing committee and a veterinary committee, the Agriculture Ministry said. In addition, Agriculture Ministry officials will resume training Palestinian farmers and help with the transfer of Palestinian agricultural products to Israel and to export.

Although, after the intifada, the committees ceased to operate in an official capacity, “there was always cooperation,” Samir Moaddi, the ministry’s agricultural coordinator for Judea and Samaria stated.
Partnerships on issues such as the spread of disease through animals and plants have continued after the intifada and through today on a per-need basis, he explained.

“There are no borders for diseases,” he said. “If you don’t treat them here, it will go there, and if you don’t treat them there, it will go here.”

Even in 2006, when Hamas was in control of the Palestinian government, agricultural experts continued to work together on a professional level, Moaddi added.

Creating the center for agronomical cooperation and reviving the committees for marketing, veterinary services and plant protection will serve to strengthen a relationship that already exists, bringing it up to the level of direct collaboration between directors general, he explained.

Veterinary services in the PA are still quite weak, and Moaddi said he hopes that the strengthened ties will bring about a much more robust Palestinian system of tending to their animals.

Through the agronomic center, marketing committee and the acquisition of Israeli knowledge, Moaddi hopes to see increases in Palestinian agricultural production.

To achieve such growth, Palestinian farmers will need to learn to make better use of minimal – and often saline – water resources. To this end, the Israeli Agriculture Ministry will conduct a seminar with West Bank farmers to teach them how to make use of some of the new water technologies available, Moaddi explained.

The PA exports roughly 80,000 to 100,000 tons of agricultural products annually to Israel, Moaddi said, noting that these figures include products coming from Palestinian farms in the entire West Bank – Areas A (under full PA control), B (PA civil and Israeli security control) and C (full Israeli control).

The PA imports more than 200,000 tons of crops annually from Israel and exports only about 5,000 tons to other countries, he added.

The intifada had little effect on the rise of Palestinian agricultural exports to Israel, and the numbers have been steadily rising over recent years, Moaddi continued.

For example, during the shmita year of 2008 – when Israeli farms take a fallow year to rejuvenate the land – the PA exported about 100,000 tons to Israel. Moaddi expects this number to climb to more than 130,000 tons in 2015, the next shmita year.

“Cooperation in the field of agriculture is the best that it is among all the ministries,” Moaddi said. “There is a mutual interest.”

Gidon Bromberg, Israeli director of the regional organization Friends of the Earth Middle East, welcomed the collaboration as “an important step,” one that he felt would “help continue building trust and cooperation and would bring environmental and economic benefits for both sides.

“We urge policy-makers to continue to leverage this narrow window of opportunity with a renewal of the political process and to work toward increasing environmental cooperation through the existence of joint projects for treating sewage hazards and water pollution,” Bromberg said. “This, among other things, is a path toward rejuvenating activities in the Joint Water Committee, whose activity has been frozen in practice for over two years.”

Bromberg was referring to the committee created during the formation of the 1993 Oslo Accords, which contains professional representatives from both the Palestinian and the Israeli sides tasked with making decisions on shared water issues.


Gaza Supplies

Israel plans to allow building materials meant for private projects into the Palestinian Gaza Strip for the first time in six years, an Israeli defense official said on Tuesday.

Gaza has been struggling with a shortage of building materials which has worsened since July, when the Egyptian military began a sweeping crackdown on tunnels used to smuggle goods and weapons from Egypt into the neighboring Palestinian enclave.

An Israeli defense official said that 350 trucks of cement, steel and concrete will cross into Gaza weekly and will deliver the materials to private hands for the first time since 2007.

Israel imposed a blockade on Gaza in 2007 after its enemy, Islamist group Hamas, seized control of the territory in a brief civil war with Western-backed Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas's Fatah party.

Under international pressure, Israel began to ease the blockade in 2010 and allowed international aid agencies to import construction material. It further eased restrictions at the end of last year.

Gaza economist Maher Al-Tabba said the Israeli move was not enough to end the shortages. "The quantity of steel and cement to be allowed is a good start but it will not meet the needs. Gaza Strip needs double these quantities," he said.

The Israeli defense source, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said that Israel's decision followed a request by Abbas.

Abbas and Israel restarted peace talks in July after a three-year hiatus. Hamas rejects peace with Israel and has fought wars with Israel several times in the past few years.

The Internet Battle

The Middle East made headlines in Italy again. Not one missile fell in Israeli territory, nor was a terrorist killed in Gaza. Still, for 24 hours, one feature did not escape the headlines on the La Repubblica website, one of the two most popular news sources in the country: "Israeli soldiers," the website reported with a video, "arrested a five-year-old Palestinian boy in the West Bank for throwing rocks." The IDF maintained that the boy was merely detained and then released back to his parents, but many Italian surfers took advantage of the situation.

 

"They should be annihilated," surfer Fabrizio posted on the La Repubblica Facebook page, which attracts over 1.2 million readers. "Hitler should come back and destroy you, dirty fascists,"  Salvino added. Surfer Fabio posted "Israelis are doing to the Palestinians what the Germans did to them," while surfer Terry posted a response reading "these are the Nazis of the third millennium.

 

A few Arab Israelis who were part of hasbara efforts during various wars refused to be interviewed, but young Saudi Hussein, resident of Riyadh in Saudi Arabia, is proud of his work. He started posting comments supporting Israel four years ago.

 

"I admit that I used to hate Israel because of the propaganda in the Arab and Muslim world," he said, "And I even thought any dialogue with Israelis is treason. But as time passed, my opinions changed, and the Israelis I talk to helped me see the facts." Hussein saves Israel's face on Arab websites and on Facebook. More than once, he said, he has received hateful comments from extreme Islamists, as he calls them, who were enraged about his support of Israel's existence and about negative comments he made regarding Hamas and Hezbollah.

 

"I write that I'm a good friend of Israel and Israelis and I'm proud of it," Hussein said. His Saudi friends are aware of his odd hobby, and he said some support him and some do not care. He is not afraid of the Saudi regime, either: "I know the red lines in my country. If you attack religious symbols like Muhammad, you're in trouble, but if you praise Israel – there's nothing to worry about. Many Saudis support peace with Israel, and many famous Saudi individuals, like the manager of Al-Arabiya, said wonderful things about it without anything happening."

 

 

Hussein's work, naturally, is especially difficult: "Lies in the Arab media are many and big, and anything negative relates to Israel. The latest lie is of course by Assad supporters, who accuse Israel of aiding Jihadists in Syria. To those who call Israel a criminal I explain that Arabs in Israel live a much better life than Arabs in Egypt, LebanonSyria or Jordan, and that Israel is a democratic country that doesn't discriminate. I emphasize that Israel must blockade Gaza to protect itself from terror organizations, and that food and medicine are always being sent to the Gaza Strip."

 

But it works the other way, as well. The Israeli army of comment posters is made up of idealists driven by a sense of calling who want to prove the world wrong, but some of them say they themselves sometimes are faced with complex reality, and enemy comments seed doubts in them. Some incidents are hard to justify, some killing is avoidable, and sometimes they too are convinced that Israelis can do more for peace.

 

Israel faces freeze in economic growth

Initial Central Bureau of Statistics estimate reveals economy expected to grow 3.4% in 2013, lower than estimates but still significantly higher than growth in developed countries.

 

Investments in fixed assets fell 2.4% this year, for the first time since the 2009 global crisis. Investments in housing construction will go down by 1%, while investments in the different economic industries will drop 3%.

 

According to the CBS figures, the Israeli economy maintains its position in the global economy, with a significantly higher growth rate than other developed countries. The average growth rate in OECD countries is expected to stand at 1.2% in the coming year, while the euro zone is expecting a negative growth of 0.6%.

 

Nonetheless, the growth figures for this year reflect a substantial change in the sources of growth in the Israeli economy. While in previous years exports and investments in fixed assets were considered the main sources of growth,

this year private consumption appears to be contributing to economic growth.

 

While the export of goods and services recorded an insignificant growth, and the investment in fixed assets saw a 2.4% drop, private consumption was up 4% and public consumption went up 2.3%.

 

CBS also updated the growth rate for the second quarter of the year from 5.1% to 4.9%.


To achieve such growth, Palestinian farmers will need to learn to make better use of minimal – and often saline – water resources. To this end, the Israeli Agriculture Ministry will conduct a seminar with West Bank farmers to teach them how to make use of some of the new water technologies available, Moaddi explained.

The PA exports roughly 80,000 to 100,000 tons of agricultural products annually to Israel, Moaddi said, noting that these figures include products coming from Palestinian farms in the entire West Bank – Areas A (under full PA control), B (PA civil and Israeli security control) and C (full Israeli control).

The PA imports more than 200,000 tons of crops annually from Israel and exports only about 5,000 tons to other countries, he added.

The intifada had little effect on the rise of Palestinian agricultural exports to Israel, and the numbers have been steadily rising over recent years, Moaddi continued.

For example, during the shmita year of 2008 – when Israeli farms take a fallow year to rejuvenate the land – the PA exported about 100,000 tons to Israel. Moaddi expects this number to climb to more than 130,000 tons in 2015, the next shmita year.

“Cooperation in the field of agriculture is the best that it is among all the ministries,” Moaddi said. “There is a mutual interest.”

Gidon Bromberg, Israeli director of the regional organization Friends of the Earth Middle East, welcomed the collaboration as “an important step,” one that he felt would “help continue building trust and cooperation and would bring environmental and economic benefits for both sides.

“We urge policy-makers to continue to leverage this narrow window of opportunity with a renewal of the political process and to work toward increasing environmental cooperation through the existence of joint projects for treating sewage hazards and water pollution,” Bromberg said. “This, among other things, is a path toward rejuvenating activities in the Joint Water Committee, whose activity has been frozen in practice for over two years.”

Bromberg was referring to the committee created during the formation of the 1993 Oslo Accords, which contains professional representatives from both the Palestinian and the Israeli sides tasked with making decisions on shared water issues.


Gaza Supplies

Israel plans to allow building materials meant for private projects into the Palestinian Gaza Strip for the first time in six years, an Israeli defense official said on Tuesday.

Gaza has been struggling with a shortage of building materials which has worsened since July, when the Egyptian military began a sweeping crackdown on tunnels used to smuggle goods and weapons from Egypt into the neighboring Palestinian enclave.

An Israeli defense official said that 350 trucks of cement, steel and concrete will cross into Gaza weekly and will deliver the materials to private hands for the first time since 2007.

Israel imposed a blockade on Gaza in 2007 after its enemy, Islamist group Hamas, seized control of the territory in a brief civil war with Western-backed Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas's Fatah party.

Under international pressure, Israel began to ease the blockade in 2010 and allowed international aid agencies to import construction material. It further eased restrictions at the end of last year.

Gaza economist Maher Al-Tabba said the Israeli move was not enough to end the shortages. "The quantity of steel and cement to be allowed is a good start but it will not meet the needs. Gaza Strip needs double these quantities," he said.

The Israeli defense source, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said that Israel's decision followed a request by Abbas.

Abbas and Israel restarted peace talks in July after a three-year hiatus. Hamas rejects peace with Israel and has fought wars with Israel several times in the past few years.

The Internet Battle

The Middle East made headlines in Italy again. Not one missile fell in Israeli territory, nor was a terrorist killed in Gaza. Still, for 24 hours, one feature did not escape the headlines on the La Repubblica website, one of the two most popular news sources in the country: "Israeli soldiers," the website reported with a video, "arrested a five-year-old Palestinian boy in the West Bank for throwing rocks." The IDF maintained that the boy was merely detained and then released back to his parents, but many Italian surfers took advantage of the situation.

 

"They should be annihilated," surfer Fabrizio posted on the La Repubblica Facebook page, which attracts over 1.2 million readers. "Hitler should come back and destroy you, dirty fascists,"  Salvino added. Surfer Fabio posted "Israelis are doing to the Palestinians what the Germans did to them," while surfer Terry posted a response reading "these are the Nazis of the third millennium.

 

A few Arab Israelis who were part of hasbara efforts during various wars refused to be interviewed, but young Saudi Hussein, resident of Riyadh in Saudi Arabia, is proud of his work. He started posting comments supporting Israel four years ago.

 

"I admit that I used to hate Israel because of the propaganda in the Arab and Muslim world," he said, "And I even thought any dialogue with Israelis is treason. But as time passed, my opinions changed, and the Israelis I talk to helped me see the facts." Hussein saves Israel's face on Arab websites and on Facebook. More than once, he said, he has received hateful comments from extreme Islamists, as he calls them, who were enraged about his support of Israel's existence and about negative comments he made regarding Hamas and Hezbollah.

 

"I write that I'm a good friend of Israel and Israelis and I'm proud of it," Hussein said. His Saudi friends are aware of his odd hobby, and he said some support him and some do not care. He is not afraid of the Saudi regime, either: "I know the red lines in my country. If you attack religious symbols like Muhammad, you're in trouble, but if you praise Israel – there's nothing to worry about. Many Saudis support peace with Israel, and many famous Saudi individuals, like the manager of Al-Arabiya, said wonderful things about it without anything happening."

 

 

Hussein's work, naturally, is especially difficult: "Lies in the Arab media are many and big, and anything negative relates to Israel. The latest lie is of course by Assad supporters, who accuse Israel of aiding Jihadists in Syria. To those who call Israel a criminal I explain that Arabs in Israel live a much better life than Arabs in Egypt, LebanonSyria or Jordan, and that Israel is a democratic country that doesn't discriminate. I emphasize that Israel must blockade Gaza to protect itself from terror organizations, and that food and medicine are always being sent to the Gaza Strip."

 

But it works the other way, as well. The Israeli army of comment posters is made up of idealists driven by a sense of calling who want to prove the world wrong, but some of them say they themselves sometimes are faced with complex reality, and enemy comments seed doubts in them. Some incidents are hard to justify, some killing is avoidable, and sometimes they too are convinced that Israelis can do more for peace.

 

Israel faces freeze in economic growth

Initial Central Bureau of Statistics estimate reveals economy expected to grow 3.4% in 2013, lower than estimates but still significantly higher than growth in developed countries.

 

Investments in fixed assets fell 2.4% this year, for the first time since the 2009 global crisis. Investments in housing construction will go down by 1%, while investments in the different economic industries will drop 3%.

 

According to the CBS figures, the Israeli economy maintains its position in the global economy, with a significantly higher growth rate than other developed countries. The average growth rate in OECD countries is expected to stand at 1.2% in the coming year, while the euro zone is expecting a negative growth of 0.6%.

 

Nonetheless, the growth figures for this year reflect a substantial change in the sources of growth in the Israeli economy. While in previous years exports and investments in fixed assets were considered the main sources of growth,

this year private consumption appears to be contributing to economic growth.

 

While the export of goods and services recorded an insignificant growth, and the investment in fixed assets saw a 2.4% drop, private consumption was up 4% and public consumption went up 2.3%.

 

CBS also updated the growth rate for the second quarter of the year from 5.1% to 4.9%.


Return treasure stolen by Nazis

In an unusual step, the Israeli government asked Germany last week to act towards retrieving an art collection to the heirs of its Jewish owners. The owners were forced to sell the collection to the Nazi regime in 1935 in a process the heirs claim was illegal.

  

A hearing on the fate of the collection was supposed to take place in Berlin  but it was called off at the request of the Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation, which currently holds it.  

 

 

The collection medieval gold artifacts – known as the “Guelph Collection,” or “Welfenschatz” – is worth between $133M and $400 million, according to the heirs.  

 

 

A letter sent by Culture Minister Limor Livnat to her German counterpart Bernd Neumann stressed that Israel considers the return of the treasures as an issue of "great importance to the Jewish people in general and to Holocaust survivors in Israel and the world in particular."

  

Livnat mentioned the Terezin Declaration – a nonbinding set of guiding principles aimed at faster, more open and transparent restitution of art and private and communal property taken by force or under duress during the Holocaust. The declaration was signed by 46 countries, including Germany, in 2009.

  

"The declaration is based on a moral principle according to which art and cultural property that was stolen from Holocaust victims by the Nazis will be returned to the victims and their heirs in a manner that corresponds with national laws and regulations, as well as with international commitments, in order to achieve a fair and just solution," Livnat wrote.

  

The "Treasures of the House of Welf" were originally purchased in the 1920s by German Jewish art dealers Zacharias Max Hackenbroch, Isaac Rosenbaum, Saemy Rosenberg and Julius Falk Goldschmidt.

Hitler deputy Hermann Goering himself orchestrated the “sale” of the artifacts to the Prussian state in 1935 for 4.1 million Reichsmarks — far below the market value, said an attorney for the heirs, Mel Urbach of New York.

Six years ago the heirs of the collection's owners demanded that treasures be returned to their rightful owners. The Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation, which is managed by representatives of the German government, refused.

  

Urbach said not recognizing that the sale of the treasure to the Nazis was illegal is akin to rewriting history.


Population Density

Israel’s population density had reached an average of 353 people per square kilometer in 2012, compared to 288 in the year 2000.

These numbers represent a significant increase, according to the Central Bureau of Statistics’ 2013 Statistical Abstract of Israel, released on Monday.

According to the report, in Slovenia, which has a comparable land area to Israel’s, the population density is only 122 inhabitants per sq. km. Belgium, with a slightly larger area, hosts 366 people per sq. km.

The CBS figures revealed that the most densely populated districts in the country are the Tel Aviv District, with 7,658 people per sq. km.; the Jerusalem District, with 1,512, and the Central District, with 1,492.

In comparison, the districts with the lowest density are the Northern District, with 295 residents per sq. km., and the Southern District, with only 81.

As for towns hosting more than 10,000 residents, the most densely populated is B’nei Brak, with close to 23,000 people per sq. km., followed by Givatayim, Modi’in Illit and El’ad.

In Israeli municipalities with more than 200,000 residents, the highest population density was recorded in Tel Aviv, with 8,009 per sq. km., and Jerusalem, with 6,527.

According to the report, 41 percent of Israel’s population lives in the center of the country, approximately 24% in the Central District and 16.5% in the Tel Aviv District. The Northern District hosts roughly 16%, and the Southern District about 14%. The Haifa and Jerusalem Districts are each home to about 12% of the population, and only 4% live in Judea and Samaria.

According to CBS, about half of the country’s Jewish population lives in the center, while some 60% of the Arab population resides in the north.

In a report released on the eve of Rosh Hashana earlier this month, CBS revealed that Israel’s population is estimated at approximately 8.081 million, a growth of about 142,000 in the past year.

According to the data presented, the Jewish population in the country represents approximately 6.066 million people - 75.1 percent of the total population - and the Arab population includes roughly 20,7%, the equivalent of some 1.670 million of Israel’s inhabitants.

The remaining 4.2%, approximately 345,000 individuals, include non-Arab Christians and others.

Cooperation with China

Tel Aviv University and Tsinghua University in Beijing signed a memorandum of understanding for “strategic cooperation in innovative research and education for the mutual benefit of both nations.”

The universities intend to establish a joint research center to serve as an international hub for scientific and technical innovation, according to the memorandum, which was signed in Beijing in the presence of the universities’ presidents, Ambassador to China, Matan Vilna’i and leaders of the Israeli business community in Beijing.

The XIN center will aim to “advance interdisciplinary research, provide optimal conditions for creativity, and promote activity in fields that can truly impact society in both countries and the entire world,” and will include input from academia and industry representatives. It will be at Tsinghua University, but research will also be conducted at Tel Aviv University.

The universities said they would recruit “the best minds” in Israel, China and the rest of the world to work at the center, which will initially focus on fields that enjoy accelerated development in both Israel and in China, such as nanotechnology, but in time will expand to other fields of science.

To seed ventures initiated by XIN fellows, an investment fund of RMB 100 million – more than $16m. – will be set up by the Israeli-Chinese private equity fund Infinity Group. Investors in the fund will include the Beijing government and alumni of Tsinghua University.

Tel Aviv University President Joseph Klafter said the memorandum was “an exceptionally important agreement, opening new horizons for Israel and Israeli society.

“The establishment of the XIN Center is evidence of the considerable esteem in which the Chinese hold Israeli innovation and the high academic standards of Tel Aviv University,” Klafter said.

Prof. Chen Jining, president of Tsinghua University, stressed the importance of cultivating innovative future scientists and leaders and added that his institution was ready to work with Tel Aviv University to push forward cross-disciplinary research and explore ways to answer global challenges.

Avi Hasson, chief scientist of the Economy and Trade Ministry, said the cooperation agreement was “an excellent model for multifaceted collaboration in our modern technological world between academic institutions and industry on an international level.” He congratulated the parties and wished them a “fruitful and successful collaboration.”

 

Israeli Sport

 

Israeli sport is at a very low ebb, not that it has ever been outstanding except for maybe sailing and judo.

The national basketball teams and tennis teams are playing in the lower international leagues. The soccer team has never managed to get past the qualifying stage in the European arena for the World Cup.

We asked ourselves why is it that in nearly all sports Israel just doesn't  manage to excel at a high level.

One possible reason is that 99% of all budding men and women sportsmen have to do full compulsory three years military training for men and two years for women.

The Defense Force allows only 400 of Israeli sports people to be given time off from military duty to practice their sports and appear in local and national competitions. Even the time off is not often enough to maintain an international level of fitness.

Obviously the Defense Force must be given priority in a country whose existence is constantly challenged and threatened.

Nevertheless many good sports people have their sports careers stopped as they do not make the cut for the privilege of sportsperson/soldier status. Even those who do make it and achieve the status may be confronted by a base commander who does not see sport as his priority but the soldier's contribution to his military unit.

I just recently watched my youngest son try and achieve the sportsperson/soldier status at the Israeli mountain bike championships. He was injured many times this year and I was a nervous wreck hoping that something wouldn't go wrong during the race as if he had not won he would not have been considered for this special status. The meeting is due to take place in a month's time when representatives of the Defense Force and The Ministry of Sport will decide who will be given sportsperson/soldier status.

At an international competition in the Czech the son I was talking about Ronen took eight place where the best rider in the world was present and several other of the world's best riders were there. If he is not awarded sportsmen/soldier status at the upcoming meeting where I am not allowed to attend, it would end his sports career as the ages 18 to 21 are critical to a sportsperson's career in any country.

Many would be or could be great players on the world sports stage have had to hang up their boots, shoes, racket, bat or bike at the age of 18 in Israel.