Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Mitt Romney: A Rare Voice of Sanity on Palestinian Issue?

Mitt Romney is being strongly criticized for suggesting that the Palestinians don't want peace. His proof of this position ought to be obvious to anyone: their avoidance of dialogue and multitude of reasons to not even attempt to negotiate with Israel. I have blogged about the underlying causes of this reluctance toward talks, such as the vested interest of corrupt Palestinian officials, and the Palestinian refugee myth which has backed the Palestinian leadership into a corner they cannot escape from.
The issues, arguments and accusations coming from the Palestinians, the so called "friends of Palestinians" and the wider Islamic world clearly demonstrate that they do not seek a genuine dialogue with Israel, (which in turn means they don't seek peace, because that is the only way it will come!). Firstly, if you seek dialogue you push for talks, no conditions, perhaps no plan of what the outcome will be, you just seek to talk. You keep talking for weeks, months even years, maintaining some kind of dialogue no matter how fruitless, and at the same time, you prepare your people for an eventual compromise, which may be painful, but in the end will be for the good of everyone. The Palestinians are not doing these things, Israel to a great extent is, and certainly Israel's friends hope for talks. This is why Israel has a vibrant peace movement and the Palestinians don't. This why Israel has just agreed with The Mid East Quartet's call for talks and the Palestinians have once again made excuses why they will not attend. Instead, for the second year in succession, the Palestinians will go to the UN for some kind of quasi backing for a two state solution and recognition of Palestine as a member state, despite not having borders, or any kind of economic stability or plan (not to mention no great love of democracy either). Indeed this not yet formed Palestinian state is already split in half, and on the verge of  a civil war between Hamas & Fatah, but off to the UN they will go, rather than engage in negotiation- This is what my late grandma would have called "Make Work" - it certainly isn't working for peace!

Worse though, the debate on the international stage and in 'the street' is not even in the ball park of reality: Real issues of land, populations, resources such as water, freedom of religions and of course security agreements are not discussed. Instead 'excuse' arguments are created such as settlements – everyone from the EU, Tony Blair to President Obama has been sold the idea that the evil Israeli settler is the reason there's no peace yet. The demographics of 'settlement' make that an absurd assertion (The Jewish communities settlements are on only 1.3% to 1.7% of the land area in the West Bank, according to B'Tselem, the human rights watchdog group), but even if we accept for argument sake the untenable argument that settlements are a stumbling block to a peace agreement, why should they be a stumbling block to peace talks? If Mitt Romney was wrong, and the Palestinians truly seek peace, then the concept of "we wont talk unless Israel agrees ahead of talks to.. {fill in the current red line pre-condition here!}" is ridiculous. True seekers of peace will always take any opening for a dialogue, no matter how far apart the two sides may seem. It is perfectly acceptable to go into negotiations saying "we wont budge on A,B or C", but not to even try to talk unless you can use the UN to bully your opponent to agree in advance to difficult issues? That's absurd and disingenuous, proving that Mitt Romney is not far from the truth when he says:
"I look at the Palestinians not wanting to seek peace anyway, for political purposes, committed to the destruction and elimination of Israel, and these thorny issues, and I say there's just no way.".
The Palestinians 'friends' worldwide talk about ethnic cleansing of Palestinians on the West Bank and East Jerusalem, about genocide committed by Israel. They accuse Israel of apartheid, building Nazi concentration camps, and other untenable accusations. In fact life expectancy of Palestinians in the West Bank, soared from just 48 years in 1967 to 72 by 2000, while infant mortality plummeted from 60 per thousand live births to 15 per 1000 and childhood diseases disappeared due to systematic Israeli programs to eradicate them. Despite actual facts, debate on university campuses, and often in the media continues to focus on the slurs, and lies while the real issues here in Israel & in the Palestinian sphere are not even being discussed. Friends of Israel get sucked into this agenda created by the so called Friends of Palestinians, and waste time defending the libel of ethnic cleansing or apartheid and so also not debate actual real issues that exist: the future borders, the possibility of settlers becoming dual citizens of Palestine, the thorny question of an agreement to Fatah being nullified by a future Hamas takeover of the West Bank, militarization of a Palestinian state, refugees, water rights and so much more.

Instead, despite the truth of the situation for Palestinians under Israeli control, which is that their lives are much better, longer and healthier than they were prior to Israeli control (or at least they were prior to the Palestinian Authority's creation), or than that of Palestinian refugees in Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, and other places, we are arguing the myths and lies and not reality. That path excludes any hope of a future for the Palestinian people, and any prayer of an end to the intractable situation in this small corner of the Mid East. It means there is no future for the Palestinians, because their leaders are not working toward one, and it seems, despite the storm of criticism aimed at him, that Mitt Romney understands this, and that President Obama, and certainly much of the US media, doesn't get it at all.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Jerusalem - Debunking the Propaganda

Only Israel has to justify its choice of capital city and when you consider that Jerusalem has always been associated with the Jewish people, it is remarkable that this debate is being had in 2012. The BBC's recent unique difficulty on its Olympic info site, with Israel's capital exposed not only the BBC's bias and double standards when it comes to The Jewish State, but it also served to bring the debate of Israel's capital back to the public eye.

At the core of the Palestinians argument is their claim that Jerusalem has always been an Arab city, and that Jews are inventing a new history both modern and ancient to lay claim to their capital. Essentially they are saying the city is simply a big 'settlement' built on their land. Palestinian President Abbas's recent irrational statement that there was never a Jewish temple in Jerusalem should be seen in the light of his holocaust denial and dismissed for the nonsense that it is, showing the Palestinian desperation to eliminate the strong Jewish ties historically, physically and emotionally.

The Palestinians seem to have a stronger argument when they assert that as the Jews only started to return to Palestine in serious numbers in the first half of the 20th century, it sounds logical, that Jerusalem would have been an Arab city & that the Zionists created 'facts on the ground'? Well, that maybe an easy argument to sell if you don't look to deeply into it, because the actual facts do not support the assertion:

Recently, Jerusalem Municipality restored a windmill, built in the mid 1800s overlooking the old city wall, which back then contained all of Jerusalem (today only a tiny percentage of Jerusalem's population live inside the Old City). It got me thinking that if the windmill was one of the first buildings of New Jerusalem, then how many people actually lived there and what were there backgrounds? The statistics are revealing:

In 1844, there were 7,120 Jews in Jerusalem and around 5,000 Muslims and 3,390 Christians, but by 1858, (before the modern Zionist era), the British consul in Jerusalem reported that the Jews were the majority of the population in the city and that Muslims "scarcely exceeded one quarter of the whole population.". Moving to the 20th century, in 1922, there were 33,971 Jews, 13,411 Muslims and 4,699 Christians in Jerusalem and British mandate figures for the year of Israel's independence reveal that in 1948, there were 100,000 Jews, 40,000 Muslims and 25,000 Christians in Jerusalem. In 1967, after Israel reunified Jerusalem, there were 195,700 Jews, 54,963 Muslims and 12,646 Christians, so regardless of Palestinian propaganda; Jews have been the majority population in for at least 150 years!

The Arabs themselves did not place that much importance on Jerusalem when it was in their hands: When Suleiman became ruler in 715 ce, he founded the town of Ramla as his regional capital and not Jerusalem which would remain neglected and squalid under Ottoman rule as well. More recently when King Hussein of Jordan captured the West Bank and East Jerusalem in 1948, he too did not make Jerusalem his capital, or invest in transport links to the city, or any major improvements in Jerusalem. He kept Amman as his capital and even tried to build a mosque there that would compete in importance with the Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem.

Palestinians today accuse Israel of stealing land and ethnic cleansing in order to once again create 'facts on the ground', but do these accusations stack up any better than their Presidents historical myths? They claim, for example, that the Southern Jerusalem neighborhood of Gilo is a 'settlement' built on Palestinian land, but the vacant land in the Gilo area had been legally purchased by a group of Jewish lawyers, including Dov Yosef, before World War II. Jordan expropriated it from them after the 1948 War and after Israel captured the Territories, they asserted their rights, backed up with legal documents processed under the British Mandate, and the land was returned to them. Similar charges are made about the Jewish settlements in the Bethlehem area, also a few minutes south of the capital: Gush Etzion, Kfar Etzion and other villages in the Jerusalem-Bethlehem corridor had fallen to Arab forces in May 1948 and those captured were massacred. Sons and daughters of Jews who lived there until 1948 were the first to return after the 1967 War to reclaim their families' homes.

The media makes much noise about Israel destroying Arab homes in east Jerusalem, which certainly has the ring of ethnic cleansing, but again, these dramatic statements hide a few vital things: context and facts! A Palestinian Legislative Council member who represents Jerusalem boasted in 2001 that Palestinians had built 6,000 homes without permit between 1997 and 2001 and that less than 198 were demolished by the authorities. Without permit means without regard to planning rules, green areas, sewerage, electricity and water. Without permit means that there is no oversight which raises serious health and safety concerns and it also means that as the city does not know the building exists, it will not receive property taxes, with which it pays for the municipal services the residents of the illegal building will receive. One of the more serious issues has been illegal builders putting structures on property they do not own or else forge ownership papers. The real Arab owners of these properties then register complaints with the municipal authorities, but of course, when the properties are destroyed, the propaganda spin is 'ethnic cleansing'. Using simple constructive criticism, what city can have entire populations ignoring planning regulations? The idea is ludicrous. In the UK, if you put up as much as loft extension without planning permission, it will be removed, but rarely do the local residents accuse the UK government of ethnic cleansing!

Israel is a sovereign state, it long ago chose it's capital, and can anyone in truth imagine the Jewish state could place its capital anywhere else? Jerusalem has long been a Jewish city, and under Israeli rule the city is thriving for the first time since the Roman destruction. The Arab residents have patently not been forced from their homes and nobody is suggesting that they should be. The opportunities that this city offers all its residents are huge and it is in the Palestinians hands to take advantage of these or to do what they seem to do throughout the past 100 years, and choose to ignore a chance to partner with Jews to build a future for themselves.

For the rest of the world, its time to accept Israel's choice of capital and stop buying into the propaganda – in the world of google there's no excuse to not look more deeply into their shallow claims and as a rule of thumb, when a holocaust denier tells you something, you ought to take it with a large pinch of salt!

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

The Arab World Stole The Jewish Refugees Past & The Palestinian Refugees Future

Five years ago I came to a life changing decision - I was leaving the country of my birth, Great Britain, and I was moving to Israel. You may question whether this was a difficult choice for a Jew and passionate Zionist to make. You might also want to know why I hated life in England so much I preferred life in a war zone, and both would be fair questions, except that both assumptions would be completely wrong: for all my love and pride in Israel, and despite the anti-Semitism I experienced intermittently my entire life in Britain, I genuinely love it too, and leaving was not an easy choice. Sitting here in my office in Jerusalem, as happy as I am, I can say with my hand on my heart, that I'm still a proud Brit and I miss many aspects of life there, and probably always will. I support the England Cricket team with a near obsessive passion and this morning I stayed up until the early hours willing Andy Murray to win his first grand-slam title, not because I'm a big tennis fan, but because I'm British. Some of my favorite places in the world are in the UK: The New Forest, Lake District, Yorkshire Dales, and I admit that I sat glued to the TV, eating home made scones, as William & Kate got hitched!

This is despite the fact that I am essentially a 2nd/3rd generation immigrant to the UK (although I've never seen myself in those terms): Six of my eight grandparents were refugees from Eastern Europe, and indeed one of my grandfathers was born outside the UK, but I was born & educated in Birmingham, England - , it's customs, accents, culture, food etc are mine and no amount of eating falafel and speaking Hebrew will erase the imprint onto my psyche that growing up British has made

I am a lucky person, because I was totally free to choose to move to Israel, which I did for purely ideological and religious reasons, because as G-d said to Abraham (the first Jew), "go to the land I will show you (sic. Israel) for your own good" - I didn't 'make aliya' (Heb:move to Israel) to escape the UK, or because I hated it there, but because I believe being here is better for me and for my family's future and for the Jewish future. My choice, my decision.
Jews from across the Middle East also loved the countries of their birth: Yemen, Morocco, Iraq, Iran, Egypt, Syria, Lebanon etc - all these had housed Jewish communities for thousands of years, some from even before the Roman's destroyed the second Temple. There was no strong Zionist movement in these communities, largely untouched by Hitler's efforts to eradicate the Jewish people from Europe, but in the 1940s and 50s these Jews were thrown out of the countries that they had considered themselves citizens of since before Islam's birth - they were told that because a little patch of land thousands of miles away had declared itself to be a Jewish state, and they shared that faith, that made them enemies of the arab people. 820,000 Jews were made refugees overnight, with literally just the clothes on their backs as possessions.

It is true that they didn't stay refugees for long, because unlike the ARab world's treatment of "Palestinian refugees", their Jewish brothers and sisters in the new state of Israel welcomed them with open arms and far from hurting Israel, the absorption of these people strengthened it, bringing new cultures, foods, languages and ideas. I cannot imagine Israel without these people's descendants, who today number around 50% of the population. (I'm not sure that was the desired effect the Arab states were hoping for!). Zionism, the political ideology behind the birth of Israel, believes in the in-gathering of the Jewish people and so these Jewish-Arab refugee's children and grandchildren are woven into the fabric of Israeli society. That does not erase the racist crime that was done to them by states across the Arab world.
Nobody can take away my pride in being British and I can't imagine that identity being ripped away from me. I can say I'm a British Israeli with a smile, because that country was and is good to my family. Its still my other home. What does a Yemenite or Libyan Israeli think, of a land his family helped build and cultivate since Caesar ruled in Rome, that turned on him for no reason than his religion? Many of these people had never left the town of their birth, had lived in the home of their parents, grandparents and generations before that, and suddenly they are fleeing for their lives to a place they only know from prayers? Businesses, homes and possessions, all their lifetime of achievements, stolen from them overnight. I doubt Moroccan Israelis feel able to cheer the Moroccan football team as I do the English cricket team.
An entire agency of the UN (UNRWA) exists to handle Palestinian refugees from that period, who today number 5,000,000 stateless people - the same Arab states who'd expelled the Jews, then refused to let the Palestinians become absorbed into their countries, as Israel did for it's Jewish refugees. Three generations later Palestinians across the Middle East remain stateless and in some places still live in shanty town refugee camps, not allowed to work, build homes or create lives. The real crime of 1948 was never the creation of a tiny Jewish state in barren, undeveloped land, or the exile (self imposed or otherwise) of 450,000 local arabs (today known as Palestinians). No, the real crime was the racist exile of Jews across Arabia & the on-going disgrace of the Palestinian refugees, who only still exist because their arab 'brothers' need them to be poor and angry pawns.:
Over 50 years ago, Ralph Galloway, former Director of UNRWA, August 1958 wrote "The Arab states do not want to solve the refugee problem. They want to keep it an open sore, as an affront to the UN and as a weapon against Israel. Arab leaders don't give a damn whether the refugees live or die."
While the UN & Human Rights groups have been busy condemning Israel for the past 60 years, they have been complicit in the crime of the Palestinian refugees. Even King Hussein of Jordan recognized this crime writing in 1960: "Since 1948 Arab leaders…have used the Palestine people for selfish political purposes. This is…criminal."
This situation should shame the world, but it is never discussed in the media, by HR groups or in the UN. The Palestinians are still pawns as they were in 1958, in the Arab worlds xenophobic hatred of Israel and Jews in general. The Palestinian's so called leaders are busy selling their 'narrative', but let's call a spade a spade – their so-called narrative is nothing but propaganda, full of half-truths, omissions and outright lies and it's built on the tears of the racist crimes the Arab world committed against 850,000 Arab Jewish refugees and continues to commit on the 5,000,000 downtrodden Palestinian pawns. Shame on them and shame on anyone out there who becomes an accessory to these crimes by buying into the propaganda.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

The Plight of Palestinian Refugees is Holding Back Palestinians from Negotiation With Israel.

Earlier this year, I wrote a piece on my blog speculating why the Palestinians work so hard to not negotiate. After all, my feeling is that if you are a Palestinian leader and you are sincere about wanting a future for your people, then you talk to Israel, and you keep talking - you do it for days, weeks...hell you do it for years, whatever it takes. You keep the lines open, because one day you'll get there. You don't set preconditions, agree to meet & then cancel, talk about talks, send delegates, but refuse to be in the same room and you don't make inflammatory public statements at the start of a negotiation process, to scupper any hope of success at the outset.

My conclusion then as to why the Palestinian leaders don't negotiate was that they simply don't want an agreement with Israel, because it isn't in their own personal interests. At the moment Palestinian Authority leaders are widely seen as being ridiculously corrupt, to a point where despite more than enough income from foreign aid to pay for their fiscal responsibilities, the PA recently needed Israel to step in and pay Palestinian Authority wages. The money had gone! Of course, in the current climate the PA can blame Israel for any failure, but where they an actual independent government, the Palestinian people would only have their own government to blame, probably leading to a Jihadist / Hamas takeover and a return to war with Israel.

I stand by that opinion, and I strongly believe the corrupt avarice of PA officials is a reason for them to not negotiate with Israel, but I have come to realize that there's another fundamental reason that a peace agreement would be a disaster for the Palestinians - It is The "Refugees":

The Arab world has climbed a tree of "Right of Return" for so called refugees and it is now so ingrained into Palestinian psyche that a future state will have to allow the 'return' of the refugees. Indeed, as they languish for generations without homes and work, it is their only hope. This is a demographic nightmare for Israel, but it would spell total disaster for any fledgling Palestinian state. Here's the issue:

Starting at the beginning, in 1948, the Arabs of Palestine (at the time nobody identified any ethnic race as Palestinian) left their homes. Their claim is the "zionists" forced them out in an act of ethnic cleansing, but there is a mass of historical evidence from Arab leaders , arab media, international observers and the UN itself, that the Arab League & Palestinian leaders urged them to leave for a few days, so as not to get in the way of the planned genocide of the Jews of Palestine by the combined armies of the Arab world.

How many left? The Palestinians claim 1,000,000 refugees fled the fighting. This is a blatant lie. The census of residents of Palestine from 1945 shows there were only ever about 850,000 Arabs in the land, and after the War of Independence, around 160,000 remained (and became full citizens of The State of Israel!). The UN at the time estimated there were no more than 450,000 refugees. In any case, what happened after has been a greater disaster for those people and their descendants, as the Arab world manipulated the UN (and its agency established to deal with this issue, UNRWA) into creating a refugee population that would never find homes, never settle and always be an angry pawn of the Arab League and their own Palestinian leadership.

The Palestinian exiles fled to their Arab brothers in Lebanon, Jordan, Syria, Egypt etc. The normal process in cases of refugee exile would have been settlement, and citizenship over time, which is why despite mass displacement after WW2, there are no "refugees' from that period today- the idea is absurd! Indeed, there are no Jewish refugees from Arab lands after they were kicked out of those countries after 1000s of years merely for sharing the same religion as Israelis. There were 850,000 Jewish refugees in the 40s and 50s, but none exist today. Their descendants are now Israeli and some are European, American, Australian...but none are "refugees" 60+ years later. Again, the idea is absurd. As the Executive Vice President of Justice for Jews from Arab Countries wrote this week in The Jerusalem Post, "Israel, opened her doors to hundreds of thousands of Jewish refugees from Arab countries, granted them citizenship, and tried, under very difficult circumstances, to absorb them into Israeli contrast, the Arab world, with the sole exception of Jordan, turned their backs on displaced Palestinian Arabs."

Today there are now around 5,000,000 Palestinian refugees in 2012. With laws borrowed from Hitler's Germany of the 1930's, where ironically they were enacted against Jews, these people have been denied citizenship, denied building rights or property ownership, and in many Arab countries, it is illegal for Palestinians to work in most professions. They have been trapped in this hopeless situation for 65 years!
Sir Alexander Galloway, the head of UNRWA in 1958 said,"The Arab nations do not want to solve the Arab refugee problem, they want to keep it as an open a weapon against Israel". Nothing has changed in the intervening 50 years.

Certainly Sir George has been proven correct: the Palestinian refugees have indeed been used as a weapon against Israel: they have been a moral argument thrown at the Jewish state, claiming ethnic cleansing, colonialism, fascism etc. Worse, these desperate people, denied basic rights for 3 generations produce very angry youth, indoctrinated with hate and antisemitism, ready to provide terrorists and martyrs for 'the cause'.

However, as the world seriously contemplates some kind of Palestinian state in the near future, the refugees have become a double edged sword, because how can any future Palestine deny them the "right of return" promised for so long? To make matters worse for the hapless Palestinian leaders, this very right is sown into the hated zionist state, allowing Jews instant citizenship of Israel, so it is obvious that 5,000,000 desperate arab refugees will start to pack their bags the moment a Palestinian state becomes reality. They will outnumber the local population 3:1 ! No country can hope to absorb that many people, and certainly not a tiny Palestinian country, which will almost certainly be full of corruption, reliant on world aid, with no industry, no infrastructure and riven by violent splits.

Until this reality is recognized by the world, and the Arab world is made to face the shame of its treatment of Palestinians, there can be no solution in the Middle East. The Palestinian cause constantly moves the goal post of debate, indeed the entire playing field away from the real issues we face here. They talk settlements, they talk apartheid, they talk about water rights, but the real issues such as the refugee problem are barely mentioned. Substantive talks are not even on the horizon. Meanwhile, millions of people languish for another generation, without any hope of a future for their children.

Addendum: July 2013:
Nothing has changed in the 15 months since I first wrote this piece. As I write this, the US has been involved in shuttle diplomacy and seemed to be getting some movement from both the Palestinian & the Israeli sides toward talks,so I have been waiting for the Palestinian's to find ways to ensure no talks will ever happen - they have not failed to disappoint! They want a series of "incentives" to even think about coming to the table - because apparently gaining a state isn't enough - incentives they are already describing as "pre-conditions". Today's little gem is an international airport in Ramallah - please don't tell me Palestinian leaders really want a successful final status's a lie! 

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Cats: They're Killing Us !

They watch you silently in the night; they go though your trash bags; their screaming is the stuff of nightmares, and in Jerusalem the damn things are everywhere...cats ! Ok, it's not Iranian nukes, or Hamas rockets, but feral cats are an issue all over Israel and no more so than in Jerusalem and now it seems, they may be a far bigger problem than we ever imagined!
First, let me explain I am truly someone who loves animals, although cats would not be top of my list. Second, for those readers from parts of the world where cats are occasionally seen poking around a lace curtain or sitting on a garden wall, in Jerusalem its a little different... the damn things are everywhere, literally in their 100,000s (if not more)! It's impossible to walk through my neighbourhood, aptly named Katamon, without seeing them: they're in the gardens, crossing the street, under the car and rummaging in trash cans. Most residents here recognize that, while not the ugliest of animal, these feral critters are essentially vermin. I say 'most people', because on every street, as well as cats, there's the ubiquitous, often anonymous, "cat feeder". These people leave piles of leftovers and even cat food on walls everyday. This leads to healthier cats and healthier cats in Israel breed like rabbits!

So what? Better than rats right? Well perhaps not - a new study being widely reported in the UK media today shows that cats are infecting a thousand people a day in the UK alone with a dangerous parasite,called Toxoplasma. This charming microscopic life-form can cause birth defects, blindness and dementia and has been linked with schizophrenia and other psychotic disturbances (this might go a long way to explain Israeli driving habits!). The animals are the primary carriers of the parasite because they are the only animals within which it can actually reproduce. Humans, however, are most likely to become infected by the Toxoplasma gondii parasite from contaminated meat and vegetables (which the cats are finding in our Jerusalem trash cans) or direct contact with infected cat litter. Dr.Richard Holliman, a consultant medical biologist at St George’s Hospital in London, said: ‘Toxoplasma is more important, or as important, as salmonella and campylobacter, which affect a lot of people. Toxoplasma affects a few people but when it does affect them it can be devastating. A child born with congenital Toxoplasma is damaged for life!’.
Toxoplasma can cause birth defects, blindness and dementia and has been linked with schizophrenia and other psychotic disturbances.

So simply stop our kids from touching the pretty kitties? Sadly as you read this, little children in ganim (kindergartens) all over the country are playing in sand pits, left open and uncovered overnight and a favorite toilet for the feline disease carriers. Studies show they are rich in toxoplasma eggs if left unprotected! In the public park opposite my apartment, used by thousands of Jerusalem's kids weekly, there's a large sandy play area where this morning I saw three cats sitting, perhaps contemplating their morning defecation? My wife runs a gan and she's been concerned about this for years. She's meticulous about covering her sand pit at night with a tight tarpaulin, but even though I'm told this is actually the law (?) in Israel, she appears to be the exception.

At the risk of sounding like a 'grumpy old man' , this is an issue that needs to be being taken very seriously by the government and the Israel environmental ministry led by MK Gilad Erdan and also the town & city authorities across Israel. I'm not in anyway pretending to be an expert on this, but here's some common sense suggestions:
1. Cull (emotive I know, but its a serious health issue!)
2. replace trash cans with broken lids to reduce cats getting in & feeding
3. cull
4. make it an offence to feed feral cats and back it up with a hefty fine
5. cull
6. remove sandpits from public play areas - they're unhealthy for a variety of reasons, this being just one.
7. cull
8. Make it illegal for Ganim to have uncovered sand pits.
9. .... yes...cull!!!
10. Thoroughly wash vegetables if they are to be eaten raw & the official advice in UK to pregnant women and immune-compromised patients is to cook all meat well and not to eat it rare.

I'm expecting the Israel Cat Lovers' Society (yes, its real!) to blacklist me after this blog but thats ok, because I'm a dog lover anyway!

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Israeli Economy booming but All We're feeling is The Pain.

Last summer Israeli's took to the streets in unprecedented numbers to protest a variety of social economic issues that puts great pressure on those of us trying to make ends meet in Israel. What struck me as unique in these popular, peaceful, mass demonstrations was that the people marching were not, on the whole, the poorest members of society: This wasn't about extreme poverty, it wasn't about the geopolitical fringes of Israeli society (Arab sector, Haredim, or the economically deprived Negev & Galil regions). No. last summer was about the middle classes: Issues such as lack of affordable properties and impossibility of getting on the housing ladder, high prices of essentials in stores (where items cost up to 20% higher than similar items in similarly sized economies); prohibitive cost of early child care and other factors that affect then middle classes in Israel such as poor professional wages and high tax rates.

The events of last summer rocked the Netanyahu government and had major food companies like near monopolies Osem & Tnuva scrabbling to lower prices (for a few weeks) & justify their previous contempt for their customers. So here we are at the end of the Summer one year on, and things aren't better, they're worse: Petrol prices have reached record levels; over the weekend VAT rose 1%, hurting every single Israeli, the housing issue seems to have stagnated at the recognition of the problem stage, but without solutions, and the pre school education? Well ok, free ganim for over 3s is a start, but without putting money in to building new pre-schools, or hiring new staff, we are being asked to consign our kids to class sizes of around 40, with inadequate staffing levels. In any case, for the mothers with no choice but to go back to work after 3.5 months paid maternity leave have nearly 3 years years before they see any benefit.

By putting up VAT, and maintaining tax rates on oil imports (when world oil prices are very high), the government is being fiscally responsible, minimizing borrowing, and keeping inflation and exchange rates on an even keel, and I respect the need for them to do that. However, a strong economy that is built on the back of a population being squeezed to exhaustion, benefits nobody. I'm delighted the governor of the Bank of Israel believes the policies of the Finance Ministry are economically sound, and I would hate to see Israel go the way of Greece, Spain and other states in the Eurozone, but surely there needs to be some balance between needs of the economy and needs of the people?

It is impossible for a family to make ends meet in Israel unless both parents work two jobs, but then if you add children to the mix, most of the second wage will be taken up in child care; running a car is now so prohibitive, that many people are giving up cars, and all of us are walking more - good for the waistline, bad for the economy! We work longer weeks than our peers overseas, but get paid less than most countries in the developed world for doing the same job, however cost of living in Israel is not that much lower than in Europe or The US, in fact many basic items cost more in Israel, even though we earn less!

To add insult to injury, as we approach the most expensive time of year, with kids back in school, and the High Holy days around the corner, we get a serious increase in gas prices (which will have a knock on effect on food prices, as transport costs increase) and VAT has risen to 17%. It simply is not acceptable for the Israeli government shrug its shoulders and declare "ain mah laasot" (what can we do?) then to squeeze the public in this way.

By doing it in September, the government is cynically assuming that we are just too busy at this time of year to form mass protests, and they may be right, but something has to change in the root thinking of politicians and economists because people who are passionate about living and building this country, who have professional qualifications and on paper at least, good jobs, who work long hard days, with few public holidays and without normal weekends enjoyed worldwide, should not at the end of the month struggle to make ends meet. If thats the case, then I'm sorry, this is not a strong economy. A strong economy is not self serving, it benefits the people, and all we're feeling is the pain!