A collection of the week's news from Israel
A service of the Bet El Twinning Committee of Beth Avraham Yoseph of Toronto
A collection of the week's news from Israel
May 3, 2001
Issue number 377
State of Israel Bonds Canada mission to Israel. Visits to various sites, including Efrat. Price Cdn$1,350 PLUS US$1,000 bond. For info call (416)789-3351
Terrorism Hits Hershkovitz Family Again
On Tuesday Assaf Hershkovitz, 31, was murdered by terrorists who waited in ambush and fired dozens of bullets into his van, hitting him several times in the chest and neck and killing him almost instantly. The attack occurred on the Ofrah-Jerusalem highway, about 300 meters north of the T-junction leading to Beit El; a Beit El resident was shot at in the same spot two days ago, but was not hurt. The terrorists escaped via a nearby side road, traveled only by Arabs, into the village of Bitin. The village was placed under curfew as the security forces searched for the murderers. Assaf is survived by his wife and two children: a son, 4, and a daughter, 2. Assaf's father Aryeh, also from Ofrah, was similarly murdered by Palestinian terrorists three months ago, outside Atarot in northern Jerusalem - about eight aerial kilometers from where his son was killed Tuesday. Ofrah suffered another terrorist loss two months before that, when Miriam Amitai, who grew up in Ofrah and whose family still resides there, was killed in the Kfar Darom bus bombing last November. Assaf’s little brother Dor said at his funeral, "Assaf, you were not only my older brother, but also acted as my father... We stood together to say the Kaddish [prayer for mourners] - and now I wonder how I will be able to meet the challenge of continuing to say Kaddish alone, while having you in mind as well..." Assaf's wife Hila spoke simply of her husband's pure Zionism: "You lived your life for Eretz Yisrael, and now you have been murdered for it. That's it... But we will continue to live here and build here, just as you did." Rabbi Zalman Melamed of Bet El said, "Even with all the difficulties and the tremendous pain and tears, we will gather our strength, and we will step up the pace of our march to our Redemption. Neither terrorism nor inner weakness will be able to block our return to our land, to our Torah, to ourselves, and to our G-d……" Minister Uzi Landau said that much of the nation is beginning to understand the terrible mistake that was Oslo, but that we must continue the efforts to convince the rest of the nation. Earlier, he told a radio interviewer that Israel "might always have to live by the sword, but our enemies must understand that they can never defeat us." He further stated that Yasser Arafat was not "Israel's peace partner but rather Saddam Hussein's partner." Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and the 13 ministers of his security mini-cabinet held an official meeting in Ofrah Wednesday, as a salute to both the grieving Hershkovitz families and the entire community. Ofrah marked its 26th birthday Wednesday. (arutzsheva.org May 1,2)
MK Elon Waiting for Gov't to Give Order
Bet El resident MK Rabbi Benny Elon (National Union) was asked by Arutz-7's Haggai Segal how he feels traveling almost every day along the route on which Assaf Hershkovitz was murdered today. Elon's response:"For myself it's one thing, but what's harder is to send my 12-year-old daughter every day to school in Ofrah. But it's no longer a personal matter; as the verse in Isaiah (25, 8) says, 'He will destroy death forever... and remove the disgrace to His nation from the earth.' The fact that death is plaguing us is not a personal matter, but rather a national humiliation - there are no words to describe this national disgrace. We are a sovereign nation, yet on our Independence Day, the Gilo neighborhood in our national capital is attacked, and they yet announce that there were no casualties - as if our State was not harmed, as if our sovereignty and independence were not damaged. The pain of the Hershkovitz family is so hard to talk about, and the national pain is even worse..." MK Elon decried the fact that the government had not yet given the order to destroy the PLO and win the war. Segal asked, "But it's in your power to influence Ariel Sharon, by threatening to leave the government." Elon: "We are doing what we can, politically. I believe that our protest from within is having results. For instance, on Sunday we did not allow the Cabinet to discuss the reserve soldiers issue until it talked about the current violence. If I thought that something would change if we would leave, I would support doing so... I asked Sharon if he's simply ignoring us, and he said, 'Please believe me, I have a plan, and I am acting according to it.'" Segal asked: "Well, do you believe him? Elon: "I'll tell you, I believe only in G-d... All I see and feel is national humiliation - the enemy is fighting, and we have not yet given the order to go out and win..." (arutzsheva.org May 1)
Peres Willing to Compromise in Yesha
Foreign Minister Shimon Peres, visiting in Washington said Tuesday that Israel would be prepared to make "painful compromises" regarding the Yesha settlements when the negotiations are resumed. "We cannot solve everything with force," he told reporters upon his arrival in Washington. He further said that Arafat remains Israel's peace partner. Prime Minister Sharon was asked today whether he would agree to stop building in Yesha in exchange for the cessation of violence. His response was strong: "We will not pay for a cessation of violence, we will not pay for them to stop killing us. We will solve it [in other ways], and it will require some patience, but there will be no payment!" (arutzsheva.org May 2)
Pollard Doubts He Will Leave Prison Alive
MKs Michael Eitan (Likud) and Ophir Paz (Labor) met with Jonathan Pollard in his prison cell in the U.S. Tuesday, and were reportedly "stunned" by what they saw. Pollard's wife Esther told Arutz-7 Wednesday that they had not seen him in a while, and "his appearance and the deterioration of his health was downright scary to them. He is bloated, pale, in pain, his beard is white, and they are afraid for his health. He told them that he is sometimes jealous of Ron Arad [the Israeli navigator missing in Lebanon since 1986]. They were again stunned, and he explained that Ron can at least know why the government doesn't free him - because he is being held by the enemy; but he, Jonathan, is being held by a friendly country, and cannot fathom how it is that Israel cannot obtain his release..." Mrs. Pollard blamed Prime Minister Sharon for not doing anything to achieve her husband's release: "It would not even require great pressure on his part. The U.S. already agreed, during the Wye Plantation talks, to release him... Someone who knows President Bush well told us that if we arrange for a leading Israeli rabbi to make an official request, this would be very effective. So we arranged a meeting with Sharon and Rabbi Mordechai Eliyahu, but nothing happened. Sharon did not follow through." Paz and Eitan reported that a very dejected Pollard said he doubted he would leave prison alive, and that he has stopped taking some of his medicines. (arutzsheva.org May 2)
More P.A. Smuggling of Combat Means from Egypt
Sources in Israel's security establishment confirmed to journalist Yoav Yitzchak today that the PA continues to smuggle in weapons and ammunition. A series of underground tunnels is the channel for massive Palestinian smuggling from Egypt into the Rafiach area. It is not clear whether the Egyptian authorities are actively or only passively involved in the operations. The intense battles initiated by the Palestinians over the past few days in the Rafiach area are assumed to be their way of safeguarding the smuggling routes. (A7 May 2)
Yesha Arabs Not So Innocent
A poll by the Jerusalem Media and Communication Center, entitled "Palestinian Attitudes Towards Politics including the Current Intifada," included questions to a random sample of 1,200 Arabs over the age of 18 throughout Judea, Samaria and Gaza. A central finding of the poll is the overwhelming Palestinian support for suicide bombs against Israeli civilians. When asked about suicide bombing operations against Israeli civilians in Israel, a whopping 73.7% came out in support of such actions - with 54.4% "strongly supporting" such attacks and 19.3% "somewhat supportive." Less than 16% opposed suicide bombings of Israeli civilian targets. Similarly, some 80% of Yesha Arabs support the continuation of the mini-war against Israel, while only 13.3% oppose it. (arutzsheva.org May 2)
Ha'aretz Turns Right
Wednesday's Ha'aretz editorial rose some eyebrows, in light of some of the paper's previously-expressed positions. Excerpts from Wednesday's Ha'aretz editorial: "The government of Israel cannot and must not agree to any concessions that it already rejected before the Palestinians turned to violence...The Palestinian attitude toward cease-fires does not give rise to a great deal of confidence. Inherent in this attitude is the Palestinian threat to resume shooting if they believe their position is not being advanced in the negotiations. The support given to the Oslo process by the Israeli public stemmed, in great part, from the assumption that in return for gradual Israeli withdrawal from the territories conquered in 1967 and the establishment of a Palestinian state there, the Palestinians would relinquish the use of violence. Clearly, in the wake of the current confrontation, there can be no process that is partly diplomatic and partly military, a mixture of dialogue and terrorist attacks. The cease-fire must be safeguarded by a definite Palestinian commitment to end the incitement, to return to prison those it released during the Intifada, and to destroy the arms it holds in violation of the agreements, such as the mortars and the anti-tank weapons....The key to a cease-fire, which in itself is the key to the resumption of the diplomatic negotiations, is still in the hands of the Palestinians, primarily Chairman Yasser Arafat. Their violence and terrorism are leading nowhere." (arutzsheva.org May 2)
European Countries Stop Financing Palestinian Textbooks
The Palestinians complain that funds that once used to flow from Europe, particularly from Italy, to fund the publication of new Palestinian Authority school books have been suspended in the wake of Israeli protests. Journalist David Bedein exposed the fact that Palestinian textbooks are financed by European Union money and he sent the books to Mr. Itamar Marcus at Center for Monitoring the Impact of Peace institute. The Center found the books to be replete with anti-Semitic and anti- Zionist content. Bedein informed the world media of his findings and asked the foreign consulates in Jerusalem for their response. A Vatican representative said that he was not pleased by the fact that Palestinian curriculum teaches that there is only one religion, which is Islam. He urged the Italian government to stop funding the books. (Hatzofeh/IMRA May 1)
Sarid to Arafat: You May Continue Violence Until Israel Stops Settlements
While Israel is objecting to the settlement-freeze clause in the Egyptian-Jordanian peace initiative, and refusing to conduct negotiations with the PA until the violence stops, opposition head MK Yossi Sarid (Meretz) is suggesting that Arafat combine both of them into one big "no." Sarid met with Arafat Sunday, and suggested that he condition the cessation of violence on a settlement freeze. MK Michael Kleiner (Herut) sharply attacked Sarid for this proposal, and asked, "Does Sarid mean that as long as we are building settlements the Palestinians are justified when they murder Jews?" Kleiner suggests that Sarid focus on his role as chairman of the opposition and leave the role of Arafat-advisor to Ahmed Tibi. (arutzsheva.org Apr 30)
Shells in Netzer Hazani Wound Five Youths
Five shells were launched at the Gush Katif (Gaza) Jewish community Netzer Hazani last Shabbat afternoon. Four fell harmlessly at the gate, while another one hit the lawn of a clubhouse, wounding five teenagers attending the Bnei Akiva youth group. Aviah Tennenbaum, 16, recently completed a First Aid course, as many Israeli teenagers do, and was in the building at the time. She later told Ma'ariv: "We heard a blast, but we didn't know what it was at first, and everyone was in shock. Then our friends started coming in, bleeding badly. We immediately started treating them. We used clothes as tourniquets to stop the bleeding... The entire room was full of blood, it was a shocking sight." Emergency and army personnel arrived quickly at the scene, and one soldier said, "I couldn't believe what I saw. Boys and girls lying on the floor in their blood, and their friends coolly saving their lives by stopping the bleeding with their bare hands ..." Two of the wounded were released from the hospital by Sunday, and two are listed in light condition. Amichai (ben Aliza) Yifrach, 17, is in moderate condition. PA Chairman Yasser Arafat's Fatah faction of the PLO took responsibility for launching the attack. (arutzsheva.org Apr 29)
School Children Saved from Car Bomb
Sunday morning, school children were spared injury when a suicide terrorist exploded a car bomb as their school bus passed by in the Shomron; no one was hurt. The children, from the towns of Einav and Avnei Hefetz, were on their way to school - via armored school bus - in Shavei Shomron. Army officers on the scene said that it is likely that the terrorist was headed for Netanya, but did not want to pass through the nearby army checkpoint; when he saw the bus, he decided to make it his target. (A7 Apr 29)
Arafat Was Involved
Israel has proof that Yasser Arafat took personal part in a meeting at which the continued attacks against Israel were planned. Ma'ariv reported Sunday that a report submitted to the most senior political echelons states that Arafat sat at a meeting with representatives of his preventive security organizations, including Dahlan's deputy, and heard them planning future attacks. Arafat did not react. This is apparently the first concrete proof of direct Arafat involvement in such a meeting. (arutzsheva.org Apr 29)
Quote for the Week...
"You will soon hear much talk of diplomatic moves, reduced violence and peace. You’ll hear say that I support this or that. I ask you, brothers in arms and struggle, pay no attention don’t be confused. Only one sacred duty is laid on you: to carry on the battle against the Zionist enemy and escalate it. Hear this, I’m saying it loud and clear: I shall never accept, I repeat, never accept the plan hatched by the American-Zionist conspiracy that goes under the name of the Egyptian-Jordanian plan. Like all previous plans, it aims at subduing our brave people. Even if you see me enter the White House with a word on that plan, you - and no one else - know the truth that I have never departed by a millimeter from what I hold true. May God go with you and your deeds." - PA Chairman (and Chief Terrorist) Yasser Arafat to the Tanzim, on his true intentions despite his apparent interest in a ceasefire. (www.debka.com Apr 28)
Palestinians Control News Coverage of the PA By Ehud Ya'ari
Yasser Arafat and company have managed to cripple free coverage of the Palestinian Authority and to gain leverage over the kind of reporting the journalists do
It is not only Israel's chronically bumbling efforts at hasbarah - "explanation" in Hebrew and the term used for the way the government puts its policies across to the world - that is losing us dear points in the wrestling ring of international public opinion. Beyond the ongoing failure of the Foreign Ministry to put up sophisticated spokespeople against Hanan Ashrawi, and the useless attempt to place the onus for hasbarah on the shoulders of the army, along with everything else it has to deal with, there is also an important structural change under way in the media's methods. This is currently Israel's main problem when it comes to shaping its image abroad.
The essence of the change: Palestinians have effectively taken control of the reporting on the intifada and events in the territories. For several months now, the vast majority of information of every type coming out of the area has been filtered through Palestinian eyes, or often, has actually been composed in the first place by Palestinians.
By my own estimate, over 95 percent of the TV pictures going out on satellite every evening to the various foreign and Israeli channels are supplied by Palestinian film crews. The two principal agencies in the video news market, APTN and Reuters TV, run a whole network of Palestinian stringers, freelancers and fixers all over the territories to provide instant foot-age of the events. These crews obviously identify emotionally and politically with the intifada and, in the "best" case, they simply don't dare film anything that could embarrass the Palestinian Authority. So the cameras are angled to show a tainted view of the Israeli army's actions, never focus on the Palestinian gunmen and diligently produce a very specific kind of close-up of the situation on the ground.
These pictures are purchased by various customers and are edited for reports broadcast by local correspondents. It is extremely rare to see a TV channel screen any pictures other than the daily diet served up by AP and Reuters.
The same is true of the wire service reports. Most of the wire services are working increasingly with Palestinian journalists. Anyone glancing at the bylines of the intifada reports will see that much of the material has been written by Arabs. And with all the supervision and standards adhered to by the news agencies, the tendency in the leads and the emphasis in the text are definitely critical of Israel.
Foreign media bureaus in Israel are taking on more and more Palestinian assistants to escort correspondents in the territories, to help with setting up appointments and to provide timely updates. Again, their agenda needs no guessing, and even the most professional among them are careful not to raise the ire of the Palestinian Authority.
At the same time, the PA has made it clear that the Israeli media is non grata in Zone A of the territories, the Palestinian cities that fall under its full control. Israeli journalists can now only venture in if they are invited, and accompanied by a suitable minder who looks after not only their safety, but what they see as well.
Several leaflets issued in recent weeks by the Tanzim, Fatah's militia, have warned Israeli journalists against daring to set foot in PA territory. Certain journalists have received personal telephone threats after stories they published in the Israeli media didn't find favor with some senior members of the PA. Entry into the Palestinian side of Hebron, Nablus or Bethlehem has turned into a complicated operation for Israeli journalists necessitating detailed coordination and laden with risks, and they tend not to go there much. So even the Israeli media finds itself relying to a large degree on Palestinian sources for information, or at least on Israeli Arab staffers. Our state radio, for example, broadcasts items from the Palestinian dailies all morning on the hour as if they were hot news - every newscast, a different item.
That's how Yasser Arafat and company have managed to cripple free coverage of the PA and to gain leverage over the kind of reporting the journalists do. They have instituted an informal stick-and-carrot system to persuade journalists and photographic crews to avoid "causing damage," and it's not working badly.
The reports of Palestinian correspondents to Arab TV channels have sharpened significantly of late in tone and content. Some of them verge on crossing the boundary between reporting and incitement, under pressure from the PA to stir up public opinion across the borders. They always give a platform to PA propagandists, and no longer give appropriate air time to Israeli spokespeople to respond.
Even before Ms. Ashrawi goes on the air, others have already gone a long way toward completing her task. The very least Israel could or should do is make sure these facts are clearly understood by the clients of the information that this system provides. (Jerusalem Report May 2)
The writer is Channel Two Television's senior correspondent on Arab affairs
Been There, Done That Jerusalem Post Editorial
Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak may have jumped the gun a bit with his announcement that a Palestinian-Israeli cease-fire had been agreed upon, but there are signs the diplomatic landscape has shifted in a positive direction.
According to Mubarak, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon stated in a letter to him that talks could resume four weeks after a cease-fire had taken place. A government spokesman denied that Israel has discussed a time period, while Army Radio reports that Israel has stipulated that two or three months would be necessary to test the stability of a cease-fire before talks resume.
Finally, opposition leader Yossi Sarid (Meretz), following his meeting with Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat, insists there will be no cease-fire unless Israel agrees to a freeze, not just on new settlements, but on natural growth of existing towns in Judea, Samaria, and the Gaza Strip.
After sifting through these conflicting reports following Foreign Minister Shimon Peres's mission yesterday to Egypt and Jordan, Israel's insistence that there must be a cease-fire first and negotiations later seems to be gaining ground. Once this principle is established, negotiating over the length of the testing period is understandable, but the Palestinian attempt to tack on conditions to the cease-fire should be soundly rejected.
It should be obvious that Israel cannot agree to any conditions to a cease-fire, because to do so would be rewarding the Palestinian resort to violence even before the resumption of negotiations. The whole point of the last election was the complete rejection of negotiating under fire, which is one way of rewarding violence. If there is something worse than negotiating under fire, it is making concessions under fire. Nor should the principle of not rewarding violence evaporate once a cease-fire is in place; it must guide the negotiations that follow.
It is not clear why there should be any disagreement on this from those claiming to be a "peace camp" outside the government. It is not particularly helpful that Yossi Sarid, Yossi Beilin, and others have met with Arafat while the government has been correctly urging the White House to boycott him. But even if such meetings are by some stretch of the imagination acceptable, does Sarid really have to support Arafat's conditions for a cease-fire? Instead of backing Arafat's calls for a settlement freeze, why can't Sarid differentiate between his own support for a settlement freeze and the need not to reward Arafat's offensive? The peace camp's inability to learn from its own mistakes is stunning.
The previous government, following the advice and using the services of Sarid and Beilin, decided to ignore the principle of not rewarding violence. The result was more violence, a hardening of Palestinian positions, and the landslide rejection of this path by the people of Israel. Given his camp's resounding defeat and the fact that Israelis are still being gunned down in their cars and bombarded with mortars, it should not be too much to expect a modicum of humility and responsibility from opposition leader Sarid.
The strategy of rewarding violence falls into the category of "been there, done that." Sarid cannot claim that his way was not tried - it was. The alternative approach is to recognize that an unlimited Israeli willingness to compromise its principles does not lead to peace, but to unending conflict.
Now that the Palestinians have already been offered the moon, it is obviously much more difficult to enter negotiations based on offering them less. But receiving less is exactly the price the Palestinians must pay for insisting through force, not just on a state of their own, but on denying a Jewish state through the "right of return." The tragedy of the peace camp is that years of believing that Israeli intransigence was the obstacle to peace has made its leaders blind to the need to confront Palestinian intransigence. The only way to cut the vicious cycle of increasing Israeli flexibility leading to greater Palestinian intransigence is to be less flexible. There are no guarantees that being more resolute will work quickly, but the sooner the rest of the peace camp joins this new path to peace, the sooner it will bear fruit. (Jerusalem Post Apr 30)
What Are We Dying For? By Esther Wachsman
We, the parents of the fallen soldiers, certainly don't need a day of remembrance such as last week's - we remember every moment of every day our precious child, husband, brother or parent who fell "and by their death commanded us to live."
That is an old cliche, which is almost embarrassing to quote during these days of post-Zionism. But is it even true? Did they fall so that we might live? Or did they fall in vain, and "by their death command us to retreat?" We now speak of sacrificing land rather than lives. Their sacrifice seems to be not heroic, but rather a dreadful waste.
Yes, we mourn them, and one day a year everyone is united in sadness, all places of entertainment are closed, our media broadcast programs of pathos, our leaders speak and speak about the cream of our youth who are gone, mournful songs are heard on the radio, schools hold special ceremonies, and thousands pay their respects at military cemeteries.
But are we, the parents, comforted? Do we feel that our sons gave their lives to their people and their country? Or, for the last eight years, were they victims of the "Oslo War"?
We are now falling over ourselves to make as many concessions as possible to those who killed our sons.
Meanwhile, we are in the midst of a war: terrorist attacks claim innocent victims daily, from the age of 10 months to 60 years. Parents weep, and others declare from every platform that not one inch of land is worth dying for. Not Gush Katif, not Bethlehem, not Hebron, not Har Dov, not Netanya or Kfar Saba or Or Yehuda or Jerusalem.
What then are we doing here? Is there anywhere safe in this country, where millions of Arabs are committed to our destruction? Will they ever stop killing us until all of Palestine is theirs, and the foreign Jewish body in their midst is eradicated?
We gave peace a chance - and we are dying.
It is time for us, who dwell in Zion, to ask ourselves some very serious questions. What has happened to us? What has happened to our soldiers, who once, full of motivation, ran to serve their country, to protect its people, its land, its heritage? What has happened to our army of citizens, who are now motivated by money?
What has happened to our leaders, whose sole concern is staying in power, and placating the nations?
What has happened to our generals, our army who have put unenforceable limitations on its soldiers?
What has happened to our soldiers, who are afraid to shoot, to fight the enemy, because they might later stand trial for having done so?
I awaken each morning, my whole body aching, my heart breaking, for I no longer know what we are dying for, I no longer trust my leaders; I fear for my children, and worst of all, I am no longer certain that we are worthy of the great miracle of returning to our land, which God bestowed on us. May I only be proven wrong. (Jerusalem Post Apr 30)
The writer is the mother of Nachshon Wachsman, who was kidnapped and murdered by Hamas in 1994.
The Israel Prize: That's Fireworks! By Yosef Goell
I never have been particularly moved by Independence Day fireworks, pop-song contests that get more and more atrocious with the years, the many tribes of Israel barbecuing entire herds of cattle under every verdant vine and fig tree (although it's a pleasure seeing so many Israelis having a truly relaxed and wonderful time, especially in these days of security tensions and daily killings), and certainly not by the ludicrous military idiocy we inherited from the British Mandatory army of "Hut-hut, the platoon will present arms!" etc.
On the other hand, I am tremendously impressed - year after year - by the ceremony at which Israel Prizes are awarded to our "best and brightest," in so many fields of scientific, medical, humanistic, and artistic endeavor.
That to me is Israel at its best, as close as we have gotten to Ben-Gurion's grandiloquent hope of Israel's becoming a beacon unto the world.
I am always bowled over, while watching the award ceremonies, by the sheer preponderance, in such a tiny, beleaguered land, of the talent, intelligence, perseverance and dedication to the broader public good, represented by so many of the Israel Prize laureates.
I am usually not in the chest-thumping business of crowing that we Israelis are the "mostest and the bestest" in the whole world in a plethora of fields. We aren't. But I know of no other country of comparable size, or even among those much bigger in territory, population and wealth, who can boast of a similar level of accomplishments in so many fields. And all of that in a half century in which the country was subjected to a series of deadly wars and continuous terrorist attacks.
It is the men and women who are singled out for these prizes, and the many hundreds and thousands of others who are just, or nearly, as top rate in their respective fields, who have made life for the rest of us so much better than in the vast majority of other countries.
One of the predominant common characteristics of the prizewinners is that the majority are immigrants (and an impressive few are even Holocaust survivors). And this is in Israel's 53rd year, when the large majority of the population has for some time been native born, and the extraordinarily beneficial impact of the million Soviet immigrants has not yet made its impact on the committees who select the prize recipients.
It is important that, while being bowled over by the silver cloud of these impressive personal accomplishments, we do not permit ourselves to be blinded to its possible ominous black lining. Our prizewinners, and the impressive accomplishments they embody, are largely a reflection of modern Diaspora Jewish culture, with its great emphasis on the central importance of learning and of personal achievement in the service of the public good.
It is a great cause for optimism that the cause of Zionism and Israel in its first half century succeeded in attracting and retaining such a fantastic reservoir of Jewish talent, and especially through so many wars and periods of tension. It need not necessarily have been thus.
Talented Jews have had the alternative of choosing to go to other countries, as the business and intellectual elites of Moroccan Jewry chose to do in going to France over four and five decades ago, and the South African Jewish elites to Australia and Canada.
It is not at all certain that these Jewish cultural emphases are also the predominant characteristics of the present-day Israel. It is far from certain that we will indeed inherit those wonderful Diaspora Jewish traits.
The single most important change that we must make to ensure the perpetuation of the talent and achievement represented by our Israel Prize laureates is in the field of education, and especially in higher education.
One of the greatest scandals of the past few decades is that the Jewish state of the "People of the Book" has permitted university education to become so expensive. I meet more and more families in recent years who admit to me in great shame that they can simply not afford to help their children finance a university education.
University education must be made free for all those who show enough talent to get through a rigorous first year with high marks, not so much to ensure that many more young people get a chance to earn sky-high salaries, but that they get a chance to devote their talents to bettering the lives of all of us, in Israel and throughout the world. (Jerusalem Post Apr 30)
A Psalm for Assaf By Yisrael Harel
Early Tuesday morning, on her way to the bus stop in Ofra, Yasmin Hershkowitz heard shots. Naomi, a neighbor, drove by and offered her a ride. When they arrived near the spot where her brother had been shot and killed just moments earlier, Yasmin, a soldier, got out of the car to see what had happened."The road is closed, go back home," said another neighbor who had spotted Yasmin and hurried to move her away before she saw anything. Naomi brought her home - when her mother Geula saw Naomi returning, Geula immediately became concerned and tried to call her son.
Because of the special family circumstances, Assaf's mobile phone was supposed to be accessible at all times, but did not respond. While she kept trying Assaf's number, Geula's youngest, eleven-year-old Dor, set off for the synagogue morning prayers, where he would recite the Kaddish prayer for his father. On the way, he saw the Rabbi of Ofra, Avi Gisser, accompanied by a number of people. They did not stop him. During the prayers, he recalls, his knees trembled. Before the service ended, Nati Malhi, a neighbor, called him out and asked him to come along with him. Dor, who cried out three months ago on his father's grave "and who will prepare me for my bar mitzvah?" understood.
Hila, Assaf's wife, heard the ambulance sirens from her home on Givat Zvi, Ofra's newest neighborhood. A knock at the door and the expression on the faces of the people standing on her doorstep was enough. "Just don't say anything to the children," was her spontaneous reaction. Re'i, their eldest, had celebrated his fifth birthday in kindergarten just the day before, less than 24 hours before Assaf set out on the journey from which he would never return.
The Hershkowitz family arrived in Ofra 14 years ago. Assaf's classmates, then 16, were a small, tightly knit and assertive bunch quite proud of themselves. Their first grade was the first class in what would become a sizable regional school. On Tuesday, they were all there, along with the many thousands of others arriving for Assaf's funeral.
There was Hanan, who lives in Karmei Tzur, another bereaved settlement; Yonatan, who moved to Kiryat Shmona when it was being shelled and who lost his sister, Miri Boneh-Amitai in the school-bus bombing in Kfar Darom five months ago; Ron, who like his parents has made his home in Ofra; Ariel, who moved to Talmon, a settlement populated by many other second generation Yesha residents. There was Merav, a social worker for whose father, Zvi Klein - killed in a drive-by shooting nine years ago on his way home - Givat Zvi is named; and Yoav, a cineaste and neighbor of Assaf in Givat Zvi. A small class, most children of the first residents of Ofra, now 30 years old.
Hila, who eulogized her husband, said her immigration to Israel was the result of her Zionist education in the Bnei Akiva movement in England. She spent a year on its hachshara program (only Bnei Akiva still persists with this "anachronistic" educational program) on Kibbutz Ma'aleh Gilboa, where she met Assaf. The warmth of the Hershkowitz family drew her to Ofra.
They lived in a prefab for two years, before buying their home on Givat Zvi, where they lived since 1998. On the eve of Memorial Day last week, when flames were lit in honor of slain Ofra residents, soldiers and civilians, Dor Hershkowitz was called upon to light one.
On Tuesday, after Geula recovered consciousness, Dor asked Nati "can I say the same Kaddish for Daddy and for Assaf, or do I have to say it twice?" He is the last man in the family, says his grandmother, Rachel Peri, who came to live in Ofra with her husband, Geula's father, 14 years ago. She teaches yoga and volunteers in the local medical clinic.
"Everyone envied us when we would go out for a walk on Shabbat, all four families," she recalls. She too was recently widowed. Then her son-in-law was shot to death. Now her grandson. Aryeh Hershkowitz was buried in Petah Tikva because his mother, Sarah, a survivor of Auschwitz, wanted her son's grave near her. And Assaf is buried next to his father.
In Ofra the flags are not taken down immediately after Independence Day. They are displayed until the ninth of Iyar, the day 26 years ago when Ofra was founded. But after Assaf's funeral, on the eve of the ninth of Iyar, instead of a modest celebration, the entire community gathered to mourn.
"God - keep not silent," Aviya Sheshar read from Psalms 83 (the Psalm to Assaf). "Do not hold your peace and do not be still." And Yehoshua Herling, whose father, Binyamin, was killed on Mount Eival in October (there are about ten families that have lost loved ones to terrorist attacks in Ofra), said we must not keep silent, we must make our voices heard, both in the heavens and on earth.
Merav Gold said we live in turbulent times, and while branches may crack and break, the trunk remains firm and the roots are deep. Orr, a high school student, told the adults that despite the tragedies, the younger generation remains strong and resolute too. Assaf, like his father Aryeh, was a man who combined faith and work, the kind of man the early religious Zionists dreamed of. People like them are the true, broad backbone of every community. They work hard and never whine, making no demands of man or God (Haaretz May 3)