A response to Harriet Sherwood’s parting shot

Harry’s Place brings us the news that the Israeli Embassy in London has responded by letter to the long feature by Harriet Sherwood published in the Guardian’s weekend edition on February 8th which was previously discussed on these pages here

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Adam Levick and Richard Millett blog the UEFA Under-21 Championship in Israel: BDS Fail Live!

Update 13: Adam: Israel wins! Game over. 

Update 12: 

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Update 11:

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Update 10: 

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Update 9: Adam: Israel scores! Stadium erupts.

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Update 8: Adam: Attendance just announced – over 22,000. 

Update 7: 

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Update 6: Adam: Still nil-nil. Israel’s Verta  shoots just wide in 60th minute.

Update 5:

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Update 4: Adam: the second half has begun with a near miss from Wickham.

England manager Roy Hodgson and FA Chairman David Bernstein visited Yad Vashem earlier in the day. Watch them talk about their impressions here.

FA TweetHalf time

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Update 3: Adam: Five minutes to half time. Richard: England manager Roy Hodgson is in attendance. 

Update 2: Richard reports that England are starting to apply pressure, with Wilfred Zahar playing well. 

Adam 1Update: The match has begun and Adam and Richard report that Tom Lees – from Leeds – started for England. Lots of Israeli supporters. The score is still 0-0 at this point. 

Despite efforts by a few marginal anti-Zionist groups (and their media public relations teams) to have the games cancelled, Israel on Wednesday began hosting an extremely prestigious sports tournament – the UEFA Under-21 Championships, showcasing the rising stars of European football. Tonight, Israel – who kicked off the competition on June 5th at Netanya against the Norwegians, playing to a 2-2 draw, and lost to Italy on June 8th – will be facing England – which suffered disappointing losses to Italy and Norway – at the Teddy Stadium in Jerusalem, at 7 pm Israeli time. 

London-based blogger Richard Millett is in Israel for the tournament, and will be joined by Adam Levick in a live blog of the game.  Additionally, Levick will be tweeting the game using the hashtag #U21EURO.

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Photo by Avi Mayer, Twitter

The action below will be periodically updated, with news on the most recent action placed at the top of this post – so remember to refresh your browser to get the most recent action.

 

Guardian promotes book by ‘one-stater’

Sharp-eyed readers will have noticed that Harriet Sherwood’s romanticised piece entitled “Gaza gastronomy” – which appeared under the ‘Food & Drink’ heading of the Guardian’s ‘Life & Style’ section  on May 14th 2013 – revolves around unveiled promotion of a book co-written by former Guardian contributor Laila el Haddad

El Haddad – known on Twitter as ‘gazamom‘ despite the fact that she was born in Kuwait, grew up in Saudi Arabia and lives in the United States – was also a polemicist for Ali Abunimah’s Electronic Intifadawhere she told tall tales of a “Gaza genocide” and “Gaza facing humanitarian crisis” for years on end. Her Guardian articles were no less over-dramatic as she informed readers that “Calling Gaza a prison camp is an understatement“. El Haddad obviously missed the irony of a person whose Guardian profile describes her as someone “who divides her time between Gaza and the United States” claiming lack of freedom of movement. 

It comes as no surprise to learn that el Haddad’s new book (like its predecessor) is published by the firm established by former Human Rights Watch MENA advisory board member and prominent Quaker Helena Cobban.  Neither is there anything strange about the fact that el Haddad is a policy advisor for the pro-BDS, pro-’one-state’ Al Shabaka

Sherwood of course omits from her article any mention of the political views underlying and seasoning Laila el Haddad’s cookbook or her promotion of it at Israel Apartheid Week events and even during last November’s conflict between Hamas and Israel. 

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But el Haddad’s views are an important part of this particular attempt at ‘soft’ campaigning being promoted and enabled by Sherwood. In a Guardian article from 2009 she stated quite clearly “I am a proponent of a one-state solution”. That ‘solution’, though often garnished with the language of ‘human rights’ and ‘equality’, has one aim: the dissolution of Israel and the denial of the Jewish right to self-determination.

Would the Guardian consider it appropriate to promote a cookbook authored by a proponent of the reversal of rights for women or gays? Of course it would not. But it does choose to deliberately ignore the basic ingredients of Laila el Haddad’s discriminatory recipe.

 

Guardian continues promotion of fringe BDS movement

On May 11th – three days after its initial publication of Stephen Hawking’s decision to pull out of a conference in Israel – we noted that the Guardian had already published eight items on the subject. 

Since then the tally of Hawking-related items on the Guardian’s ‘Israel’ page has risen to twelve, with an article criticising Hawking’s decision by Steve Caplan published in the Guardian’s science section on May 13th and an article of the opposing opinion on same date in the same section by Hilary Rose and Steven Rosewho are of course among the founding members of BRICUP – the organisation which seems to have played an instrumental part in Hawking’s decision. Two additional letters on the subject were published on May 14th and yet another on May 16th

And yet – nine days and twelve features later – the Guardian still has not found the time or the inclination to inform its readers of the real nature and aims of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement of which BRICUP is part.

“The leaders of the BDS movement are ‘one-staters’: their ultimate hope is not to see the Israeli state and a Palestinian state existing peacefully side by side. Their aim – which is entirely transparent to those not dazzled by the faux human rights rhetoric – is one Palestinian state ‘from the river to the sea’, with – at best – a minority Jewish group making up part of its population.”

A key element of the BDS campaign is the rejection of what is called ‘normalisation’: a term which relates to any activity which promotes dialogue, co-existence or joint Israeli –Palestinian projects.  An example of such rejection was recently highlighted when Fatah activists threatened Palestinian teenagers who had taken part in an EU-backed football match together with Israeli youths.

“But as soon as photos of the Palestinian and Israeli players appeared on a number of websites, Fatah activists denounced the event as a form of “normalization” with Israel.

Several Fatah activists posted threatening messages on the Internet against the Palestinian boys and girls who participated in the tournament.”

The accepted mainstream view of the solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict is one of two states – Palestinian and Israeli – existing side by side, hopefully in peace and co-operation. That view has been the aspiration of the international community and majority Israeli opinion for many years now and considerable efforts have been invested in trying to bring it about. It is, however, perfectly clear that peaceful co-existence cannot grow from the rejection of dialogue and co-operation – either on the football field, at academic conferences or elsewhere.

The fringe BDS movement, in common with other elements in the region such as Islamist extremists, rejects the widely held, normative aspiration of a two-state solution. The Guardian’s failure to make that point clear to readers of the barrage of articles promoting Hawking’s adoption of the minority, rejectionist view suggests identification with and empathy for the fringe elements seeking to undermine the accepted route to peace. Is that really the stance a true “Left liberal voice” would be taking? 

 

Guardian’s Sherwood self-conscripts to PR campaign for Israeli law breaker

At first glance, Harriet Sherwood’s sympathetic show-casing of an Israeli law-breaker (“Israel jails conscientious objector Natan Blanc for tenth time“, May 13th, 2013) might look like just another one of her Jerusalem gossip column type articles focusing on domestic Israeli events which have no relevance as far as the vast majority of Guardian readers are concerned. 

But in that article we discover that this is the second time in six weeks that Sherwood has written about the same nineteen year-old from Haifa who, in violation of Israeli law, is refusing to do his military service. 

That is undoubtedly strange.  After all, Israel is far from unique in having a law of universal conscription –  so do Denmark, Greece, Norway, Austria, Finland and Cyprus, to name but a few – but we do not see two Guardian articles in six weeks profiling one Finnish draft dodger. Neither can Sherwood’s observation in her April 1st article that “There is a prison library, but no gym” in the military prison where Blanc has been interred be said to be the most pressing of human rights issues in the Middle East at present. 

So the obvious questions arising in this writer’s mind was why would Harriet Sherwood be taking such a close interest in Natan Blanc in particular and who else is promoting this story, which has barely registered on the radar of domestic Israeli news coverage? And this is where the real story behind Sherwood’s story gets interesting. 

A search, particularly in Hebrew, reveals that Blanc’s case is being very energetically promoted by a plethora of fringe far-Left Israeli organisations and NGOs including Amnesty International Israel, New Profile, ‘Kibush‘ , the student section of the political party ‘Hadash‘ and – first and foremost – the anti-conscription group Yesh Gvul which has organized a publicity campaign and rallies in the vicinity of the military prison in which Blanc has been held – with the participation on at least one occasion of flotilla participant and Warsaw Ghetto vandaliser Yonatan Shapira. 

Securing an English language article on the subject of Natan Blanc in a foreign media outlet such as the Guardian would no doubt be seen as something of an achievement to the organisers of this PR campaign. Securing two such items in less than six weeks must make them believe that Hannukah has come early.

It is time for Harriet Sherwood to come clean about her (ironic) self-conscription to a campaign promoting and aggrandising a law-breaker and about the nature of her contacts with the far-Left – and often anti-Zionist – groups which encourage other Israeli youths to break Israeli conscription law.  

 

Guardian’s Milne diligently promotes Assad propaganda

It is the publication of thinly veiled ideologically inspired polemics such as the one by Seumas Milne on the subject of Syria which appeared in the ‘Comment is Free’ section of the Guardian on May 7th that has done so much to destroy that paper’s reputation as an organ of serious journalism.

Milne’s puerile student rag-style rant against “The West and its allies” predictably devotes a good deal of column space to Israel from its very beginning.

“If anyone had doubts that Syria’s gruesome civil war is already spinning into a wider Middle East conflict, the events of the past few days should have laid them to rest. Most ominous was Israel’s string of aerial attacks on Syrian military installations near Damascus, reportedly killing more than 100.

The bombing raids, unprovoked and illegal, were of course immediately supported by the US and British governments. Since Israel has illegally occupied Syria’s Golan Heights for 46 years, perhaps the legitimacy of a few more air raids hardly merited serious consideration.”

According to whom or what (apart from his own opinion) these alleged air strikes are “illegal” is an issue with which Milne does not trouble his readers, failing to produce any source or factual backing for his mud-slinging accusation. But even more jaw-dropping is Milne’s use of the word “unprovoked”. Obviously, Milne cannot be unaware of the existence of UN SC resolution 1701 which reiterates the previously recognised need to disband and disarm all militias – including and especially Hizballah – in Lebanon and prohibits the sale or supply of arms into Lebanon except with the authorization of its government. 

Milne’s description of an alleged defensive air strike on a banned consignment of advanced missiles destined for a terrorist militia which should – according to the UN – have been disarmed and disbanded nine years ago, as “unprovoked” is therefore ridiculous enough in itself. The fact that those weapons would be likely to be used against civilian targets in at least one Middle Eastern country makes Milne’s use of the words “unprovoked and illegal” nothing less than malevolent.

Next Milne comes up with a fine example of baseless rhetoric designed to paint Israel as a favoured protectorate of the West.

“But it’s only necessary to consider what the western reaction would have been if Syria, let alone Iran, had launched such an attack on Israel – or one of the Arab regimes currently arming the Syrian rebels – to realise how little these positions have to do with international legality, equity or rights of self-defence.”

In fact, we already know the answer to Milne’s ‘hypothetical’ question, and it is not the one he implies. Iran has – via its proxies Hizballah and Hamas, and enabled by its ally Syria – been launching attacks on Israel for well over a decade. The “western reaction” to thousands of Iranian made and/or financed missiles fired at Israeli civilian communities in the south of Israel since the Gaza Strip disengagement in 2005 has been an occasional tame and meaningless finger-wagging punctuated by shrill hypocritical condemnation whenever Israel takes action to defend its civilians. The same is the case on Israel’s northern border where around four thousand missile attacks were launched at Israeli civilians in 34 days by a terrorist militia which the international community had previously vowed – and failed – to dismantle. The “western reaction” to Israeli actions in defence of its civilians was, once again, hypocritical condemnation of those actions. 

In the subsequent paragraphs Milne tries to advance a patently ridiculous theme prevalent in Syrian regime propaganda whereby Israel has thrown in its lot with the rebel forces in that country. He also makes the accusation that Israel is “clearly intervening in the war”, based on deliberately contorted “evidence”.

“…  Israeli officials have been pushing claims that the Syrian regime has used chemical weapons. Since Obama declared that the use of chemical weapons would cross a “red line”, allegations of their use have become a crucial weapon for those demanding increased western intervention, in a bizarre echo of the discredited orchestration of the invasion of Iraq a decade ago.”

One senior IDF officer stated that there is reason to believe that the Assad regime has used chemical weapons. To interpret that as “Israeli officials have been pushing claims” of course requires an exceptionally blinkered imagination, especially as British and French sources had made the exact same observations prior to Itai Brun’s statement. Milne continues:

“That effort came unstuck this week when the UN investigator Carla Del Ponte reported that there were “strong concrete suspicions” that Syrian rebels had themselves used the nerve gas sarin. The claim was hurriedly downplayed by the US, though the rebel camp clearly has an interest in drawing in greater western intervention, in a way the regime does not.”

Perhaps deliberately, Milne fails to inform readers that the UN quickly distanced itself from Del Ponte’s remarks.

” “The Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic wishes to clarify that it has not reached conclusive findings as to the use of chemical weapons in Syria by any parties to the conflict,” the U.N. said in a statement. “As a result, the commission is not in a position to further comment on the allegations at this time.”

Later on, Milne once again rolls out the Syrian regime propaganda:

“The irony of the US and other western governments – let alone Israel – once again making common cause with al-Qaida, after a decade of a “war on terror” aimed at destroying it, is one factor holding Obama back.”

Like his ideological heroes in Damascus, Milne probably does not for one moment really believe that Israel is collaborating with Al Qaeda or – no less absurdly – that Al Qaida would agree to join forces with Israel. Such nonsense is just part of the propaganda strategy of the Assad regime.

When such clearly identifiable absurdities come out of the Presidential Palace in Damascus, those who know the Middle East well are not surprised. Professional journalists take such bizarre claims in context. Political activists ideologically aligned with the Assad dictatorship repeat and even embellish such fatuities. 

With this article, Seumas Milne once again makes it patently clear to which of those categories he belongs. 

Harriet Sherwood’s Jerusalem gossip column

An article by Harriet Sherwood entitled  “Netanyahu flies into turbulence over $127,000 bed on plane“, which appeared in the Guardian on May 12th, once again gives the impression that some of that paper’s correspondents in Israel would perhaps feel more at home scribbling for a gossip column than having to trouble themselves with the heavier geo-political factors at play in the region.

If – like the vast majority of Guardian readers – you are not an Israeli tax-payer, there is no earthly reason why the story of $127,000 spent on in-flight sleeping arrangements for the Israeli Prime Minister should interest you. If you are an Israeli tax-payer, then you would have already heard or read that item of news being dissected from every possible angle by local media organisations for two days prior to the publication of Sherwood’s article.

So what do we learn from Sherwood’s report? Well, we can tell that some kind soul seems to have translated items on the subject from Yediot Aharonot and Channel 10 for Ms. Sherwood, but that she can copy/paste bits from a Jerusalem Post article in English all by herself. We also learn that Sherwood is apparently oblivious to the long-running animosity between Channel 10 – which broke the story – and Israel’s Prime Minister.

In addition, we see that Sherwood’s report on the number of people attending protest rallies against the budget on Saturday night appears to be rather generous. 

“The revelation comes amid growing resentment over an austerity budget proposed by the finance minister Yair Lapid, a former TV personality who won popular support in January’s election by promising to champion Israel’s financially squeezed middle class. Up to 15,000 people demonstrated in Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and other cities on Saturday night in an echo of the massive social justice protests that swept the country two years ago.”

According to Ynet, a total of 12,000 people protested in the country as a whole. Ha’aretz reports 10,000 in Tel Aviv, 400 in Jerusalem, 200 in Haifa and 300 in Ramat Gan, whilst the Times of Israel puts the numbers at 10,000 in Tel Aviv and “hundreds” elsewhere. Yes, 12,000 is technically “up to 15,000″, just as £25 is ‘from £1.99′ but nevertheless, upping the number by 25% of the most generous estimates around is still disingenuous.  

Interestingly for someone apparently so fascinated by Israeli domestic politics, Sherwood did not bother to report on the remarks made by the new Finance Minister relating to the new budget. 

“Addressing allegations that his proposal would hurt his middle-class constituents and deliver yet more hardship to those to whom he’d promised an improvement, he wrote, ”These are fair questions that I would like to answer.” The budget cuts, he continued, were “just the first step,” which would quickly pass, followed by economic reforms that would lower the cost of living and “improve the life of the working man.” […]

 “So yes, the middle class is hurt, I don’t deny that for a minute, but at least this time it’s not the only class whose pockets are targeted,” Lapid said. He urged the public to exercise patience and wait for the reforms that would improve the people’s lives.

“I’ve been finance minister for a month and a half, during which I had to prepare a budget to close a monstrous deficit of NIS 35 billion. But even in the current budget we have created a string of programs that will fundamentally transform the economy. There will be a revolution in housing, in the job market, in the high costs of living. Can all this be accomplished in six weeks? Of course not,” he continued, likening the budget cuts to “an emergency maneuver to stop the bleeding.” “

Were Sherwood based in Luxembourg or Monte Carlo, we might be able to understand the ‘slow news day’ reasons for a six hundred and thirty-eight word article based on a local interest story which will be of little consequence to the majority of its readers. But she isn’t, and there is no such thing as a slow news day in the Middle East. 

Pictorial representations of Israel promoted by the Guardian

Over at the BBC Watch site we have a link to an interesting 2005 report by Trevor Asserson and Michael Paluch on the subject of the BBC’s use of images to depict the Palestinian – Israeli conflict and the way in which editorial decisions regarding which pictures to use can influence audience perception of the conflict. 

“We detected frequently used techniques for evoking sympathy or antipathy. Israelis were almost always depicted as armed, male and as soldiers. They were often disembodied, showing arms, legs, boots or weapons, but not faces. Palestinians by contrast were very frequently depicted as women and children. Palestinian men, when shown, were generally unarmed (even Policemen) and were often praying, kneeling or bowing.”

Of course the BBC is by no means the only media organization to use selectively chosen images in order to communicate subliminal messages regarding Israel and Israeli society. On the Guardian’s “Israel” page on May 11th we find a link to a feature from its sister paper The Observer entitled “The Observer’s 20 photographs of the week” and sub-headed “The best news and culture images from around the world over the past seven days”. 

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Among the twenty photographs from around the world, two come from Israel and both have a military theme. 

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The caption to the first photograph reads:

“From a series of excellent images by Menahem Kahana, an Israeli soldier prays inside a net tent pitched close to Merkava tanks deployed in the Israeli annexed Golan Heights near the border with Syria. UN chief Ban Ki-moon has appealed for restraint after Israeli air strikes on targets near Damascus.”

It is possible to count seven more soldiers in that picture – none of whom are praying – but interestingly the reader’s attention is steered towards the one soldier who is. The suggestion of linkage between the IDF and religion is a popular theme with both photographers and editors – as shown, for example, by the BBC’s use of images to illustrate last November’s conflict between Hamas and Israel. 

The inclusion of the last sentence in the picture’s caption mistakenly suggests direct linkage between the alleged Israeli air strikes on consignments of Iranian weapons bound for the terrorist organization Hizballah and the presence of the tanks depicted in the photographs in the Golan Heights. In fact, tank crews have been training in the Golan Heights for decades, so the pictures can hardly be said to represent “news”. 

Another noticeable phenomenon in pictorial portrayals of Israel is the tendency of photographers and photo editors to over-represent the Orthodox stream of Israeli society, which even the highest estimates put at a mere 10% of the whole population. The Observer is apparently no exception: the previous edition of this photo feature also included two photographs from Israel (out of a total of 20) and both of those images concentrated on members of the Orthodox community during the festival of Lag B’Omer. However, elsewhere in Israel at the time, considerably more Israelis were celebrating the same festival by having bonfires, baking potatoes in the embers and toasting marshmallows. Images depicting those activities would of course have been more likely to prompt a sense of identification in most Observer readers. 

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Images of Israel with a non-military and/or non-religious theme are to be found all too rarely among the growing number of pictorial features produced by media organisations. That fact is undoubtedly influencing public perception of Israel in general and the Arab-Israeli conflict in particular, and it is a factor to which photo editors need to address. 

Guardian’s BDS promotion fails to tell readers what it really is

The Guardian’s coverage of Stephen Hawking’s decision to withdraw from a conference in Israel has so far included no fewer than eight items in three days.

The initial report by Harriet Sherwood and Matthew Kalman – published on May 8th – was followed by a sensationalist Guardian poll on the subject and another article by Sherwood on the same day. The next day – May 9th – Sherwood and Kalman were joined by Sam Jones to produce an additional report which includes quotes from Omar Barghouti and Samia al Botmeh, without making it clear that the latter is a member of PACBI – the Palestinian Campaign for Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel – and a policy advisor for Al Shabaka

Also on May 9th, the Guardian published an article by Jennifer Lipman criticising Hawking’s decision and a piece by Ali Abunimah – also of Al Shabaka – in its support. On May 10th yet another article by Harriet Sherwood, together with Robert Booth, appeared on the Guardian’s pages and that was accompanied by the publication of four letters on the subject – three of which supported Hawking’s decision. 

Throughout all that plethora of coverage, the Guardian has made no effort whatsoever to explain to its readers the aims of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign and the ideology which steers quotees such as Barghouti and al Botmeh or contributor Abunimah.

Ironically, the nearest thing to such an explanation comes in Abunimah’s article where he states: 

“The Palestinian-led Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement (BDS) aims to change this dynamic. It puts the initiative back in the hands of Palestinians. The goal is to build pressure on Israel to respect the rights of all Palestinians by ending its occupation and blockade of the West Bank and Gaza Strip; respecting the rights of Palestinian refugees who are currently excluded from returning to their homes just because they are not Jews; and abolishing all forms of discrimination against Palestinian citizens of Israel.”

Couched in the fashionable, yet much abused, language of “universal human rights”, Abunimah’s flowery yet anodyne description will do little to help readers understand that the ultimate product of the BDS delegitimisation campaign – if allowed to succeed – will be the denial of the basic human right of self-determination to Jews.

“PACBI leads the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign against Israel, but of course its real aim is not merely to persuade musicians to refuse to appear in Tel Aviv or to encourage people not to buy Israeli goods.  The bottom line of all the PACBI rhetoric is that with its uncompromising demand for the ‘right of return’ for Palestinian refugees to places west of the ‘green line’, it aspires to eliminate Israel as the Jewish state in precisely the same manner as Hamas and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad do.  Members of PACBI, including the suited academics at Birzeit, may not be building bombs, firing rockets or strapping on suicide belts, but their ultimate aims are identical to those who do.”

The leaders of the BDS movement are ‘one-staters’: their ultimate hope is not to see the Israeli state and a Palestinian state existing peacefully side by side. Their aim – which is entirely transparent to those not dazzled by the faux human rights rhetoric – is one Palestinian state ‘from the river to the sea’, with – at best – a minority Jewish group making up part of its population. It is therefore not surprising that in 2010 an Al Shabaka policy brief opened with the following question:

“Many commentators expect the direct talks between Israelis and Palestinians to fail. But there is a much worse scenario: What if they “succeed?” “

It is, of course, the Guardian’s prerogative to promote the BDS campaign’s latest high-profile ‘poster boy’ as much as it likes, but in the name of common or garden honesty it should at least have the courage of its ‘feel good’ convictions to explain to its readers the precise nature of the discriminatory, antisemitic, anti-peace ideology (which stands in direct opposition to international efforts to bring the Arab-Israeli conflict to a peaceful conclusion) which the Guardian appears to have etched upon its banner. 

Postcard from Israel – Almond blossom

The wild almond trees are already in bloom in Israel – just in time for the holiday of Tu B’Shvat which begins this evening. Wishing all those readers celebrating a happy and tasty holiday! 

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Wild almond trees overlooking the Hula Valley

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Wild Almond blossom

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Wild almond tree

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Wild almond blossom

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Cultivated almond trees in bloom on the Gilboa

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Cultivated almond groves

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Wild almond trees on the Israeli – Lebanese border, near Malkiya

Postcard from Israel – Gamla

“From a lofty mountain there descends a rugged spur rising in the middle to a hump, the declivity from the summit of which is of the same length before as behind, so that in form the ridge resembles a camel; whence it derives its name. Its sides and face are cleft all round by inaccessible ravines, but at the tail end, where it hangs on to the mountain, it is somewhat easier of approach; but this quarter also the inhabitants, by cutting a trench across it, had rendered difficult of access. The houses were built against the steep mountain flank and astonishingly huddled together, one on top of the other, and this perpendicular site gave the city the appearance of being suspended in air and falling headlong upon itself. It faced south, and its southern eminence, rising to an immense height, formed the citadel; below this an unwalled precipice descended to the deepest of the ravines. There was a spring within the walls at the confines of the town.”

So the Second Temple era town of Gamla in the Golan Heights is described by Josephus Flavius in his book “The Jewish Wars”. For many years, however, the exact location of Gamla was unknown until, in 1976, excavations at the site revealed an ancient Synagogue, ritual baths, houses, and evidence of the fierce battle against the Romans which resulted in the town’s destruction in 67 CE. 

Today, Gamla is a nature reserve and alongside the ancient Jewish town visitors can also see Neolithic dolmens and the ruins of the Byzantine Christian village of Dir Krukh which was abandoned at the time of the Arab conquest in the 7th century, as well as the highest waterfall in Israel and the Griffon Vulture sanctuary and breeding grounds on the cliffs surrounding Gamla. 

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Gamla from the east

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Memorial to residents of the Golan killed in Israel’s wars

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Dolmen at Gamla

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Dir Krukh

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Dir Krukh

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Vulture nesting grounds

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Griffon Vulture

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Synagogue Gamla

Postcard from Israel – Stormy Weather

As readers may have heard, Israel (along with other countries in the Middle East) has been experiencing unusually stormy weather this last week with high winds and heavy rains. The more unpleasant aspects of these comparatively rare events have included disruptions to the transport system and homes affected by flooding, with the IDF’s search and rescue teams being called in to evacuate people trapped by flood waters both in Israel and in the PA-controlled areas .

The weather system culminated with much anticipated snow in Jerusalem, the Golan Heights and many of the higher areas throughout Israel – including the Negev desert – causing great excitement in a country where this is a fairly rare occurrence.  Equally exciting has been the dramatic rise in the water level of the Sea of Galilee, which climbed by almost 70 cms between the storm’s beginning last Friday and its subsidence on Thursday. 

The short film below, made by Oz Segev of Ma’ale Gamla on Monday morning, shows some of the swollen streams of the south and central Golan Heights which all drain into the Kinneret (Sea of Galilee). In order of appearance the film shows the Daliyot stream, the Yehudia stream, the Meshushim stream, the Jordan Park junction at the top of the lake, the upper Meshushim stream, the Aiyt waterfall, the Bnei Israel reservoir and a view from Ma’ale Gamla. 

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Tel Fares

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Tsfat (Safed) with a dusting of snow

Postcard from Israel – Old Gesher

Here’s a story for any train-spotters among our readers. When Pinchas Rotenberg was constructing the Naharaiym power plant on the Jordan River in the years 1927 – 1932, his company purchased ten army surplus trains from the British Army. The engine pictured below was built in Leeds in 1917 by the Hunslet Company and its original number was 353. It was used by the British Army during the First World War on the French front. After it arrived in Israel its number was changed to H7 and the initials of the Israeli Electric Company (ח.ח.אי.) were added. Lost for many years, the engine was eventually found in the 1990s in the no-man’s land between Israel and Jordan and subsequently restored.

Today it is on display at Old Gesher – the site of the original Kibbutz Gesher in the Jordan Valley. Another reminder of the British Mandatory presence in Israel at Old Gesher is the Tegart Fort which served as a British police station. Jews had settled in Old Gesher as early as 1921, with the kibbutz being established in 1939 near the three bridges after which it was named – one Roman, one Ottoman and one British. 

At 5pm on April 27th 1948, the guard on duty at Kibbutz Gesher noticed that the British flag flying over the nearby police station was being hastily taken down and armoured vehicles were evacuating the site. The members of Gesher quickly took over the evacuated building and at 8pm heavy shelling of the police station and the kibbutz itself by the Jordanian Arab Legion began.  

The shelling continued throughout the next day too and on the night of April 28th, after 30 hours under attack, the kibbutz’s 52 children under the age of 6 and the wounded were evacuated to Ashdot Ya’acov. From there the children were taken to Haifa, where they stayed for almost two years. 

The Arab Legion continued to shell Gesher for a further two days. On the night of May 14th, Emil Brigg and two members of Kibbutz Gesher blew up the nearby bridges to prevent the advance of the approaching Iraqi Army into Israel. The next morning the Iraqis began shelling Gesher and the battle continued until late May when the Iraqi forces retreated, with the defenders holding strong but their kibbutz destroyed. 

The old police station is the site of a memorial to the ‘Gahal’ soldiers – Holocaust survivors newly arrived in Israel – who served there in 1948 and left writings in many languages – including Russian, Polish and Yiddish – on the walls of the building. Nearby – in the old Mandatory veterinary quarantine station which was taken over by the Arab Legion during the War of Independence – is the Rotenberg restaurant

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H7

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Bakery, Old Gesher

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“And in the night the children were evacuated from burning Gesher”

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The old railway bridge

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Gesher police station

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Memorial to the ‘Gahal’ soldiers

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Gesher police station

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Gesher police station

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Mandate-era veterinary quarantine station

Postcard from Israel -Tel Lachish

As is the case with many of the other Tels in Israel, Tel Lachish shows evidence of habitation spanning many different historic periods over thousands of years. It is perhaps most well-known, however, due to the archaeological evidence of two events in which it fell to invaders. 

In 701 BCE the Assyrian king Sennacherib conquered Lachish in a campaign to put down the revolt by Hezekiah, king of Judea. The story is of course told in the Torah and also recorded in the Lachish reliefs which decorated Sennacherib’s palace in Nineveh and can now be seen in the British Museum. At Tel Lachish itself, it is possible to see the Assyrian-built siege ramp and the double city wall through which the conquerors must have entered the city.

In 586 BCE the city fell again – this time to Nebuchadnezzar – as mentioned in Jeremiah:

“When the army of the king of Babylon was fighting against Jerusalem and against all the remaining cities of Judah, that is, Lachish and Azekah, for they alone remained as fortified cities among the cities of Judah.”  (Jermiah 34:7)

The Lachish Letters, some of which can also be found in the British Museum, were written to Ya’osh, the military governor of Lachish, by Hosha’yahu – an officer in charge of a nearby outpost – during the invasion by the Babylonian forces under Nebuchadnezzar and the room in which the letters were found can also be seen today at the Tel, together with the Israelite palace, the gateway and the 120 foot deep well which provided the city with water during the First Temple period.  

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