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Democracy Dies in Silence

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The order to silence the messenger, kill him or her if necessary, came directly from the Prime Minister. He commanded his top four ministers—Security, Justice, Culture and Education—to do all in their power to establish and maintain the big hush. The people must realize, he instructed, that there’s law and order in this country. Voices—such as those in the opposition, especially artists, writers, journalists, bloggers and the like—must not, “I repeat must not,” disrupt the ‘peace’ with their loud messages of protest. We can continue to have control over the people, and win future elections, only if we can continue to have control over the media. When you leave this office, go out into the streets of the country and silence them all. Literally.

Of course, my dear readers, you think to yourselves that here he goes again. Fantasizing. Our devoted blogger, you say, is resorting to his old ways. Think himself Kafka again. Or someone like him. Talking probably about Russia, or Turkey, or China. Certainly not about Israel. Not about us Jews. Of course not. That’s impossible. But you’re wrong, my friends, because I am talking about Israel. About the Jews of Israel. I realize, though, that I must convince you in the seriousness of my accusations. So here are three cases (out of many others), occurring lately in our ancient holy land, to illustrate my point.

First, I let you read this sentence, published in Ha’aretz’ article on September 7th. I myself have read it again and again, yet couldn’t get enough of its contradictions. It defies all logic in its absurdities. So here it is: “Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ordered the Government Press Office to remove Al Jazeera’s Jerusalem bureau chief Walid Al-Omari from a state-sponsored seminar on freedom of speech planned for Thursday.” Furthermore, it continued, “The prime minister instructed that legal steps be taken to deny press passes of all Al Jazeera journalists working in Israel (among them Israeli citizens, H.D.), and to close their offices in Israel.”

Now, let’s try to analyze together what we’ve just read. There is a ‘seminar on freedom of speech,’ fine and dandy, but… it’s ‘state-sponsored.’ Got it? That’s absurdity number one: ‘state-sponsored.’ Then we have the head of that state, the Prime Minister, orders that a certified, known, respected global media organization, and its journalists, would be excluded from said seminar. Hear me on this? ‘Freedom of speech’—but you, with the Arab name, though you carry a press-card issued by the state—you are not allowed in. Freedom of speech, freedom of the press, anybody? That ‘freedom’ here is limited, and is ‘sponsored’ by the state, and I’m the head of that state. Orwell is probably rolling in his grave laughing.

I can go on and on about this story, but you probably get the gist of it already, and we have other cases to cover here. So let’s go right to the next example. This one involves the new Israeli film “Foxtrot,” which has won recently the ‘Silver Lion,’ the grand jury prize at the Venice Film Festival. A major film festival—considered the third most prestigious film festival in the world—and therefor a significant award and achievement for the Israeli filmmakers. You’d think that folks in Israel, especially those in political power—who are usually so eager to congratulate, and celebrate any minor achievement for the state in the international arena—would jump on the opportunity to do so in this case as well.

Not so. One of the four ministers receiving the order to ‘kill the messenger,’ as mentioned above, is none other than the Israeli Culture Minister Miri Regev. She attacked the film furiously—mind you, before even seeing it—claiming it tarnishes the Israeli army’s reputation. Apparently, she was told by a senior official at the ‘Culture Ministry’ about a scene where a group of soldiers at a checkpoint turn violent on Palestinians. As if that has never happened. “It the type of film that gives tailwind to the Israel boycott movement,” she was quoted as saying. In other words, as we continue along this path of absurdities, never mind the actions themselves, they are fine. The depiction of them and their messengers are the problem. Go figure.

The film went on to win eight major Ophir Awards—Israel’s version of the Oscars—and most probably (unless a government special decision to the contrary intervenes) would represent Israel next year in that most prestigious American, global competition. All the same, Mrs. Regev threaten to withhold all financial support from now on from any film that doesn’t subscribe to her—i.e. the Prime Minister’s—version of Israeli patriotism. Get the picture? And did I mention already here the country of Russia?

Over a year ago, the Educational Minister Naftali Bennet—another of the four executioners of the apocalypse in the Prime Minister’s office, as described at the outset—had “disqualified a novel that describes a love story between an Israeli woman and a Palestinian man from use by high schools around the country. The move comes even though the official responsible for literature instruction in secular state schools recommended the book for use in advanced literature classes…” Reported Haaretz on 12/31/15 “Among the reasons stated for the disqualification of Dorit Rabinyan’s “Gader Haya” (literally “Hedgerow,” but known in English as “Borderlife”) is the need to maintain what was referred to as “the identity and the heritage of students in every sector.”

Need I say more? Only that one of the corruption investigations currently ongoing in Israel by the police is of PM Netanyahu’s attempt to influence, and strike a deal with the publisher of the widely read newspaper in Israel ahead of the last election, in order to sway media coverage, and have favorable stories and editorials about him in that paper, Yediot Acharunut. As if he doesn’t have already another paper, Israel Hayom – Israel’s Pravda—as his private newspaper.

I can go on, but enough said. So I say to you my friends and colleagues in Israel, and everywhere else for that matter: Keep writing; keep talking; keep showing; keep playing; keep filming; keep producing. Because remember: It’s not only that democracy dies in darkness, as the Washington Post reminds us daily on its pages, but it’s also that democracy dies in silence.

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Can Water Bring Peace?

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Not sure. But it can certainly bring hope. I know this first hand, as someone who was born in a kibbutz and worked, growing up, in the fields, the orchards, and the fishing-ponds. Back then the kibbutz was largely an agricultural endeavor, not as today mostly industrial, electronic high-tech, or a bed and breakfast kind of a place. But what about peace, you ask?

Let’s find out together. First though, a couple of personal stories to illustrate my point. Back in the late seventies and the early eighties, I did my reserve duty in the Israeli Army in the Golan Heights a few times. On one of these occasions, my company oversaw the southern part of the border, near and around Hamat Gader, where the borders of Israel, Syria, and Jordan meet. As an officer, one of my duties was to drive down the slope with a couple of soldiers for protection, and meet a similar Jordanian Army delegation at the break of dawn, at a low, narrow point where there was an easy access to the Yarmouke River, flowing down the mountains and hills toward the Jordan River and valley.

That was the border between our enemy states at the time, before peace—you see, it’s possible—had been established between Israel and Jordan. We would exchange some morning pleasantries first, and then proceed directly to the business at hand. It involved an easily maneuvered wooden shaft, a small handmade dam of sorts that, when switched one way, diverted the flow of the river toward the Jordanian side. We will meet again at dusk, and would simply reverse the process, allowing the water to flow freely into the Israeli side, down to the Jordan River and all the thirsty fields, orchards, and fishing ponds of the kibbutzim. We would bid goodnight to each other, even exchange some fruits and such. Just as in the mornings, we would sometimes drink black coffee together.

Simple as that. And here the kicker, my friends—which, in all honesty, I never thought of before writing this piece—maybe this simple operation, concerning the sharing of water resources between us Israelis and Jordanians (I believe the Jordanians had their own agreement with the Syrians, not sure though), did help in bringing peace between our two nations later in the mid-nineties. One can certainly hope that that indeed was the case. Which, though some years had passed since then, brings me to my second story.

This one happened as recent as last December, when I was visiting Israel. My brother was driving me to the Jezreel Valley to visit friends, family, and old places. And our kibbutz, Heftziba, of course. As we were getting closer, down on the slope of Mount Gilboa there is a favorite spot, a national park of Biblical significance (where the Prophet Gideon selected his warriors), called The Well, or Spring of Harod. A beautiful spot (see above picture), where the fresh, cool water streams from a cave in the mountain, and falls into a small lake. Plenty of memories I have flowing directly at me from this place. Anyhow, I suggested to my brother that we’ll make a stop there, and he surprised me by saying that unfortunately, it’s totally dry now. What happened, I asked in alarm. The Palestinians, he said, blocked the flow of the stream and diverted it elsewhere.

Which comes to show the chasm that still exists between Israelis and Palestinians, and brings us to the here and now. As the above first story about Israel and Jordan demonstrates, one can only hope for a similar outcome with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as well. As it happened, just last week there was major announcement about a joint effort and agreement between Israel, Palestine and Jordan, regarding water issues, and endeavor titled the “Red-Sea Dead-Sea Project.” I’ll let the NY Times brief you on that, as reported there on July 13th: “That project… will take water from the Red Sea, near Israel’s southernmost city of Eilat, and use gravity to carry the water 137 miles via the kingdom of Jordan to the southern part of the Dead Sea, adjacent to Israel’s Arava desert. There it will be desalinated, with the brine deposited in the shrinking Dead Sea and the fresh water transferred into Israel for still-to-be-built desert farms. In exchange, a water pipeline will be built from Israel into Jordan’s capital, Amman, and Israel will augment the already significant amount of water it provides to the Palestinians in the West Bank, particularly in the Hebron area.”

Quite the project, don’t you think? What’s more, the report in the Times continued, “The strategic genius of the plan is that it weaves vital economic interests of these sometimes-antagonists together. Even should Jordan or the West Bank someday fall to radical rejectionists, it would be nearly impossible for those leaders to entirely break the water ties established here without creating substantial hardship for their populations.”

Wow, ain’t that something? It makes one think—especially now, as the fires of war again threaten to erupt in Jerusalem, the West Bank and elsewhere—that there’s hope after all. That water, treated the right way, pouring in the right direction, supplying in the right amount to all parties, can not only extinguish the old fire of hatred and hostility, but can give bloom to a new peace. Make cooler heads prevail. It runs deep, water, you see. After all, this is how King David captured Jerusalem in the first place, through the water shaft, or tunnel. It is hard to believe, considering all the animosity going around, but survival in that ancient, dry land, can only be achieved with the help of water, which necessitates cooperation. Let’s hope it brings peace, too—and sooner, rather than later.

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