Eric Mandel, director of MEPIN, wrote an op-ed in the JPost on February 28, entitled, “The real strength of Israel” (emphasis added):
He begins by saying that, “Israel’s long-term strength lies with its people.”
In the course of this piece, he describes how he toured significant regions of Israel, and met with both leaders and ordinary people. And in his closing paragraphs he writes:
“After spending a good deal of time with olim [immigrants] from America, France, Holland, Italy and South Africa, as well as young native-born Israelis. I am indeed optimistic about the future of the Jewish state.
“Despite the high cost of housing, the income inequality and the continual security situation, Israelis are happier than most people in the Western world, including Americans. They live lives of meaning and purpose.
“…the real security strength of Israel is its people, their love of their country, and their determination to overcome all obstacles. Am Israel Chai.”
Much of what he is saying you’ve heard from me, time and again. But I am so pleased to cite him now, and to provide this as the focus of our good news for the day. This goes beyond Israel’s incredible technological and medical advancements. What we are looking at is the true nature of Israel, which is the best good news of all.
It is important for us to celebrate Israel, in this broad regard, from time to time. And so here I provide a couple of examples of how Israel functions:
The State of Israel requires of its students in 10th and 11th grade that they do a minimum of 40 hours of what would be called, broadly, community service. I’m told that almost everyone does more than 40 hours per school year. One of my granddaughters led youth group activities for young Ethiopian girls. Another granddaughter currently works at an afternoon activity center for young people with emotional and mental disabilities. Some young people do basic training in life saving techniques and ride with MDA ambulances.
This service – with many possibilities available – is not simply encouraged: it is mandated. Israeli students take bagrut tests, which are roughly equivalent to SAT achievement tests in the US. A certificate is issued attesting to a student’s completion of basic bagrut tests, but only if the requirement for community service has also been met.
Israel, you see, encourages not only academic achievement, but also a giving of one’s self, a caring for others. And the young people take this requirement of service for granted.
One other example here: I know a young man who was studying at a residential yeshiva high school (religious national). He told me about an annual program at the school in which mentally and emotionally disabled young people come to the school for a whole Shabbat. Counselors are present, but it is the high school students themselves who are assigned to be companions to/caretakers of these young people. I heard, for example, about one hyperactive visitor whose assigned student had to chase him all over the building.
At one point, the young man describing this program alluded to the fact that occasionally one of the visitors comes in diapers. “Diapers?” I responded, a bit astonished. “The students change their diapers?” Yes, said the young man, but in these cases there are two students assigned to one disabled visitor. Oh.
Who we are.
On another front:
US News and World Report has just published a new study that ranks 60 nations of the world on a variety of parameters. With regard to the category of “power,” Israel came in 8th, with only the US, Russia, China, Germany, the UK, France and Japan coming out ahead.
“Power” did not just refer to military might, but also to being a leader, economically influential, and politically influential, and having strong international alliances.
Credit: Israel foundation
On Monday night, two soldiers from a special forces unit (Oketz K-9 –the non-combatant canine unit) inadvertently entered the refugee camp of Kalandiya (aka Qalandiya) – a hotbed of violence and terrorism – where they were immediately accosted by a mob of Arabs who pelted them with rocks and threw firebombs at them. One of the firebombs set the soldiers’ car on fire and they fled the mob, while calling for rescue.
Israeli security forces in some numbers – both IDF and Border Police – quickly entered the camp, fearing that the soldiers would be killed or taken hostage, and rioting by the Arab residents – with a gun battle – ensued. The soldiers were safely recovered and the car was brought out. In the course of the rioting, at least on Arab was killed and Israeli forces sustained a number of injuries.
You can see from this picture that Kalandiya resembles a poor urban neighborhood and not a “camp.” This fact raises one of a host of questions that beg to be considered with regard to this UNRWA refugee camp, which, it seems, is within the northernmost region of Jerusalem.
Credit: Miriam Alster
Just a couple of weeks ago, Israeli security forces arrested Jamal Abu El Lail, who is head of the Fatah- affiliated Tanzim in Kalandiya. The Tanzim, founded originally by Arafat, is often classified as “militant.” Associated with violence and terrorist actions, it is currently one of the groups that de facto runs Kalandiya in the absence of true law enforcement by any party.
Roi Harel, an IDF reservist, was on his way out the door of his home on Wednesday, when he was attacked by two young Arabs brandishing axes, knives and guns. They pushed their way into the Harel home, which is in the community of Eli, in the Binyamin Regional Council of the Shomron, and made their way towards the bedrooms of the family’s five children. Roi managed to repulse them, and shove them out of the door, which he then locked. The terrorists were ultimately shot and killed by security forces, who attempted to apprehend them as they fled.
This is a terrifying scenario that, in this instance, had a happy ending
Credit: Yonatan Sindel/Flash90
Most of you have probably never heard of Eli. I came across this short video, which provides the viewer with a sense of what this community is like – so different from the stereotypes about “settlements”:
The situation of several of the enemies at Israel’s periphery is rapidly shifting in ways that require enormous diligence and preparedness. Here I touch on issues that will require follow-up and elaboration over time.
There is, first, the Palestinian Authority, which, certainly, I count as an enemy.
Immigration Minister Ze’ev Elkin (Likud) gave a talk on Monday at Bar Ilan University during which he warned that Israel has not yet internalized the fact that the PA is going to collapse.
It’s not a question of “if,” he declared, but “when,” and Israel had best prepare for the chaos and violence that may ensue, in part because Mahmoud Abbas has not prepared a successor. What he predicts is an internal fight for control of the PA and then anarchy. He is concerned about the vast number of weapons in the hands of the PA, both legally and illegally. (Many of those legal weapons were provided by the US, in a very misguided attempt to strengthen the PA on its way to becoming a state capable of fighting terrorism.)
“I have not yet found anyone from (either) the political or military echelons who claim this is an outlandish scenario,” he said.
In subsequent comments on the topic, Elkins elaborated that Israel must “internalize the failure of the Oslo paradigm.” This is a man who understands.
At the same time, the IDF is preparing for the possibility of war with Hezbollah in Lebanon. This is even while there are no indications at present that Hezbollah, which is deeply immersed in the civil war in Syria, has an interest in attacking Israel now: there has been absolutely no redeployment of troops that would suggest readiness to do battle with Israel.
Nonetheless, Hezbollah has 100,000 rockets which they can launch in batteries, hidden in villages, of 1,200 per day. And there has been talk by Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah of taking over Israeli towns at the border.
And so the IDF is fortifying its ability to respond now, relying on:
 Deep intelligence – with information on thousands of significant targets to be hit. The IDF says Hezbollah is going to be surprised at the depth of intelligence that has been acquired. This means we know where they are keeping their weapons.
 Enhanced defensive capabilities – which include an “aerial defense system [that] has been upgraded with Iron Dome batteries, the David’s Sling system that is soon to become operational, and the Arrow system,” as well as dramatically improved firepower. “It’s firepower that we never had before,” declared an IAF officer, “and in such a conflict where the home front will be attacked, all restrictions will be lifted. We will not call houses before we attack.” (Emphasis added)
 A defensive line along the border to prevent the infiltration of Hezbollah forces – there are ten-foot high barriers being erected, and cliffs have been carved in the face of hillsides next to Israeli communities near the border.
(See more about Hezbollah below.)
And then there is Syria, which in point of fact actually does not exist any longer as a single nation. No serious thinker believes all of its disparate parts can be reunited under one government – there are simply enclaves with variable borders now, controlled by one group or another, including, of course, Assad’s Alawites. At present there is a temporary ceasefire of sorts – brokered by the US and Russian – that went into effect on February 27. It is not expected that it will be maintained, given the number of groups at play.
There are some 38 local ceasefire agreements. What is more, neither ISIS nor the Al Qaeda-affiliated Nusra Front – which maintains significant force in Syria – is included in the truce. Thus battles have continued, particularly in the north.
Russia has charged that there have been 31 violations of the ceasefire between different groups that are participants in the truce, in the course of three days.
Minister of Defense Ya’alon charged earlier this week that Assad has used chlorine gas on civilians several times since the beginning of the ceasefire.
It goes without saying that the way in which things play out here will impact Israel and that it is all being watched very carefully. Prime Minister Netanyahu, at the Cabinet meeting last Sunday, said:
“We welcome the efforts to achieve a stable, long-term and genuine ceasefire in Syria. Anything that stops the terrible killing there is important especially from a humanitarian standpoint.”
At the same time he warned that the quiet should not be used as a cover by Iran to build its military assets on the Golan Heights.
“It must be clear at the same time that any agreement in Syria must include a halt to Iran’s aggression toward Israel from Syrian territory.”
Netanyahu referred as well to recent movement of heavy weapons from Iran to Hezbollah via Syria.
“We will not agree to the supply of advanced weaponry to Hezbollah from Syria and Lebanon. We will not agree to the creation of a second terror front on the Golan Heights. These are the red lines we have set and they remain the red lines of the State of Israel.” (emphasis added)
You can take the prime minister at his word on this. In the middle of February, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported an alleged strike by Israel near Damascus. This was presumably to stop sophisticated weaponry being passed to Hezbollah from Syria, or from Iran to Hezbollah via Syria. This was later obliquely confirmed by someone here in Israel.
This is certainly not the first time that Israel has done such a strike – which may be have been long distance, without entering Syrian air space – nor is it likely to be the last. The presence of Russia in the area as a major player might complicate matters, but at present has not been a problem. The interaction between Putin and Netanyahu appears to continue on a positive note, within a very complex mix of interactions.
© Arlene Kushner. This material is produced by Arlene Kushner, functioning as an independent journalist. Permission is granted for it to be reproduced only with proper attribution.
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