All that you have is your soul (Tracy Chapman).
Thursday, 23 July 2009
OK, that's a little unfair.
As you might have heard, Gidon Sa'ar has decided that Israeli Arab school kids should not be using textbooks that refer to the birth of Israel as a Nakba or "catastrophe". My question is why this term was ever used in the first place, granted that we are talking about the Israeli school system, not the shameful excuse for education as practiced by our lovely cousins in Gaza and its environs.
Sa'ar says that the majority of Israeli Arabs do not consider the events to be "catastrophic" in nature. That might be a moot point, although not as far from reality as one would imagine, granted that they have lived a better life in Israel than they could ever hope to under Arab sovereignty.
Is Israel finally starting to wake up to the fact that we have to push the Jewish angle here? If Arab schoolkids want to learn about the other side, why should we be the ones teaching it?
As you know, I am teacher. I value education above almost anything else and I know that the best way to change mindsets is through engaging kids responsibly. The only way we can counter the poisoning of minds, as practised so skillfully by the Palestinians is by teaching the kids that Israel was founded as pluralistic and democratic state, with the intention of promoting Jewish values to all who chose to live within it's borders. It therefore behoves us to banish the kind of rhetoric that undermines the core values of that very same State.
Calling the miraculous War of Independence a "Naqba" is nothing short of a gross insult to every single person who died in the conflict. If doing so is branded "censorship" by our people (and frankly, I couldn't give a damn what CNN, the BBC et al call it), then I don't think we deserve to have the country in the first place.
Wednesday, 22 July 2009
Israel finally won one last week in an international human rights court.
On Thursday, the Council of Europe's European Court of Human Rights upheld a French ruling that it was illegal and discriminatory to boycott Israeli goods, and that making it illegal to call for a boycott of Israeli goods did not constitute a violation of one's freedom of expression.
The Council of Europe is based in Strasbourg, has some 47 member states and is independent of the European Union. The court is made up of one judge from each member state, and the rulings of the court carry moral weight throughout Europe.
On Thursday the court ruled by a vote of 6-1 that the French court did not violate the freedom of expression of the Communist mayor of the small French town of Seclin, Jean-Claude Fernand Willem, who in October 2002 announced at a town hall meeting that he intended to call on the municipality to boycott Israeli products.
Jews in the region filed a complaint with the public prosecutor, who decided to prosecute Willem for "provoking discrimination on national, racial and religious grounds." Willem was first acquitted by the Lille Criminal Court, but that decision was overturned on appeal in September 2003 and he was fined €1,000.
His appeal to a higher French court was unsuccessful, and as a result he petitioned the European Court of Human rights in March 2005, saying his call for a boycott of Israeli products was part of a legitimate political debate, and that his freedom of expression had been violated.
The court, made up of judges from Denmark, France, Germany, Liechtenstein, Monaco, Macedonia and the Czech Republic ruled that interference with the former mayor's freedom of expression was needed to protect the rights of Israeli producers.
According to a statement issued by the court on Thursday, the court held the view that Willem was not convicted for his political opinions, "but for inciting the commission of a discriminatory, and therefore punishable, act. The Court further noted that, under French law, the applicant was not entitled to take the place of the governmental authorities by declaring an embargo on products from a foreign country, and moreover that the penalty imposed on him had been relatively moderate."
The one dissenting opinion was written by the Czech judge.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor hailed the ruling Sunday, saying it provided important ammunition for those challenging on legal grounds calls frequently heard in Europe for a boycott of Israeli products, as well as calls for a boycott of Israeli academia.
"It is now clear that in every country in Europe there is a precedent for calling boycotts of Israeli goods a violation of the law," Palmor said. "This is an important precedent, one that says very clearly that boycott calls are discriminatory. We hope this will help us push back against all the calls for boycotts of Israeli goods."
(c) The Jerusalem Post 2009
Monday, 20 July 2009
Tuesday, 14 July 2009
It looks like an ordinary bouquet of flowers, but it is anything but.
"M" was a student for whom I had high hopes. She came to the school in the middle of Year 10 and had a lot of work to catch up with. She toiled away solidly and pretty soon, demonstrated an ability to produce work of high quality, the type that stood out from the rest of the pack.
Fast forward a year and she was slacking somewhat. With deadlines approaching, she wasn't making the mark and I was concerned, as were others in the school that she wouldn't make it (it should however be noted that she told me she had spent the last week battling the flu, so I can't be too harsh in my judgement of her). With the final external moderation imminent (it took place yesterday), I spent the better part of the last week bombarding her with emails, voice messages and suchlike, cajoling her into her getting herself into school to finish off the work ASAP.
To my immense relief, she manged to fight off the bug and soon after, complete her work.
Today, she turned up with the bouquet you see above coupled with a lovely card, thanking me for my efforts. I won't reveal the contents of the card, but I can say that I am extremely touched (and not a little relieved that she has finished!).
We work damn hard with the kids to get them their results and sometimes, any positive outcomes seem so remote, they might as well be hallucinatory . If it takes one student to come in and say thank you, with or without flowers, the whole effort we expended serves to remind us why we joined this extraordinary profession in the first place.
The title of this post is "The indescribable bouquet".
I hope you now understand why.
Wednesday, 8 July 2009
You don't need to take only my word for it. Just ask anyone else who witnessed her extraordinary performance. She was simply - and I don't care if I'm biased - magnificent. She had the voice, the moves, the whole caboodle down to a tee.
We laughed and sang along with the familiar music. It was a lovely evening.
Then tonight, we had the Siyum, otherwise known as the Primary School prom. This was her leaving ceremony and the last time she will appear on stage, in front of parents, with the children she has spent her life with since the age of four. It was a very special and prestigious moment for all concerned.
And yes, I was emotional and sad. It was as though, through my daughter, another part of my life was coming to a close. It makes no sense really, because I hardly knew the other kids on the stage, but I felt that, in my role of proxy, I too was moving on, into uncharted waters.
Endings are always sad. The memories that she has built up will stay with her for the rest of her life and these are special occasions because they don't happen more than once. She will Please G-d graduate many more times, but there is something to be said about leaving your primary school friends behind and going on into a new school. Maybe I feel it more because, for the first time, my daughter will be experiencing the same educational key stages that I work with throughout the academic year.
For the first time, she will be learning the kind of things that I teach other children of her age. She will be entering my realm.
It's more than that. It's the feeling that some of her innocence - the type you can only maintain in primary school will evaporate as she enters the harder, sharper edges of the secondary stage in her education. In short, my little girl is growing up - and this evening, as she stood on that stage in the hall, I realised that my life, like hers, will never be the same again.
Monday, 6 July 2009
Oral Testimony of Noam Shalit, Father of Kidnapped Israeli Soldier Gilad Shalit
Delivered to UN Fact Finding Mission on the Gaza Conflict, Geneva, 6 July 2009
My name is Noam Schalit and I am the father of the kidnapped Israeli soldier Gilad Schalit.
Honorable members of the Mission – I thank you for giving me the opportunity to address you today. I thank you, also, for allowing me to make my testimony public. I know that this Mission is determined to give the victims of the recent conflict in Gaza an opportunity to make their voice heard. So - with your kind permission - I would like to use this distinguished forum – the United Nations – first to address you and then to address the people of Gaza and, in particular, the people holding my son Gilad.
Honorable Members of the Mission, a few weeks ago you were in Gaza. You met the Hamas hierarchy. According to the Ma’an news agency – Mr. Ismail Haniyya welcomed your mission deploring what he viewed as Israel’s grave violations of international law. The same news agency reported that the Mission thanked Mr. Haniyya for his cooperation in facilitating its work. Sirs and Madam, if this cooperation is indeed genuine then the same Hamas hierarchy should honor your eventual findings – whatever they may be.
And I have no doubt that after you read my written submissions, you will determine that my son’s violent abduction and his continuing detention subject to extortion is, equally, a violation of international law. After you hear the cassette recording of my son’s voice – released on the first anniversary of his capture - you will be shocked by the callous cynicism of his captors and the grief that his words have caused me and my family. These are words that he was forced to read. You will also find, without a doubt, that the refusal to allow him access to the Red Cross, if not a war crime is, at least, a gross act of inhumanity and an aggravating circumstance.
Members of the Mission - The same Geneva Convention of 1949 which this Mission will use to judge the legality of the Israeli attack on Gaza forbids the holding to ransom of an individual – whether he be soldier or otherwise. The same Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court by which the Palestinian Authority seeks to charge the Israeli hierarchy condemns the Hamas leadership no less for the crime of taking hostages – soldiers or otherwise. The same court in The Hague where the Palestinian Authority pursues Mr. Olmert may equally investigate Mr. Masha’al who - with his Jordanian nationality - falls squarely within the jurisdiction of this institution.
But what is the purpose of this honorable Mission? Is it really to lay the basis for a future criminal prosecution? Or is it, perhaps, to effect reconciliation? Know that the minds and hearts of the Israeli people are with my son on a daily basis. His release – which it is within your power to promote – will bring about such reconciliation.
And now, with you permission, I would like to address the Palestinian victims of Operation Cast Lead.
People of Gaza, I do not come before this Mission as a representative of the Israeli State. I come neither to condemn nor to justify the recent Israeli operations in Gaza. I am not a politician nor do I care for politics. I am a civilian and the father of three.
I last saw my son Gilad on Wednesday 21 June 2006 when he returned to the military service which his country obliged him to perform by law. A few days later, his patrol was sabotaged by armed Palestinians, two of his fellow soldiers were killed before his very eyes and he was abducted. He was nineteen years old at the time. A shy boy with a nervous smile and a studious disposition. Like many his age, all that occupied him were his studies and sport. To all those who know him, he is gentle and sensitive to the suffering of others - a trait he has shown from an early age. At the age of 11, his teacher asked him to write a fable. His drawings and narrative have now been published. I am giving the Mission a copy of this book. You can read it if you wish. The story of a shark and a fish who became friends against all the odds. Need I say more? Suffice to say that the will for peace and security can overcome fear and distrust.
People of Gaza - Do not overlook the circumstances of my son’s service nor of his capture. He was not attacking your territory. He was not even in your territory. He was operating within the sovereign territory of the State of Israel – protecting the integrity of what was supposed to be a border of peace after a complete Israeli withdrawal.
Your leaders say Gilad is a prisoner of war. I say he is an abductee. The difference is in the interpretation of the law. But even if your leaders hold my son as a prisoner of war – why will they not allow him the privileges which attach to such a status? Gilad has no contact with the outside world. Your leaders refuse him access to the International Committee of the Red Cross - the same Red Cross which regularly visits your people held captive in Israeli prisons. The same Red Cross which protests the violations of their rights to the Israeli Government.
People of Gaza, your leaders are fighting to return your sons and daughters from captivity. This is an understandable desire. You may agree with such a policy. Many of you, however, will realize that the fate of an entire prison population cannot depend on the ransom of one young man.
Your leaders have committed a crime with respect to my son. They hold him to ransom and, by the same token, they hold all of you to ransom. For three years now, you have been held hostage to the inflexible demands of your leaders and their unwillingness to compromise. They issue demands which, I fear, the Israeli Government will never meet. My son’s fate is the means through which your leaders distract your attention from the destruction they have brought upon you. Is this humane? Are these the acts of an honorable regime?
People of Gaza - Do not ignore the root cause of our mutual suffering. You know that the injustice done to my son was the trigger for war. You also know that the release of my son is the key to peace and the lifting of the Israeli commercial blockade. A small gesture and a little effort on both sides can relieve the misery of many.
President Sarkozy of France recently told Prime Minister Netanyahu that your leaders would not release Gilad until Israel freed prisoners. I am not a party to talks on prisoner release. I am not consulted on numbers and I have no say in the conduct of negotiations. Like many of you, all that concerns me is that the one I love returns home. Do those of you who are waiting for the return of those close to you care for the politics? Do you care for the posturing of your leaders? Or do you - like me - wish that this war and what caused it would never have happened?
But if a prisoner exchange need be the course we are forced to adopt, let reason and moderation overcome excessive demands. Let not a stalemate in the negotiations prevail over the will of the people. Let not stubborness triumph over compassion.
People of Gaza - like many of you, we are suffering the consequences of the decisions and failures of others. Like many of you, my family and I have been caught up in a web of violence. Like many of you, I pay a heavy price on a daily basis. I know that you are short of food. Some of your loved ones have been killed – women and children, young and innocent. I understand your distress and sympathize with your grief. I have visited your wounded from Beit Hanoun and, have witnessed, at first hand, the unnecessary suffering and the unspeakable atrocity of war. But even so, I do not compare suffering. As a parent speaking to a multitude of parents - I ask you to understand my family’s anguish. As the days go by, we begin to despair. We despair of the day when we will see our son again. I know neither where he is held nor how he fares. Whether he is injured or whether he is even alive.
And finally to the people holding my son: I urge you to release my son. You have the power to act with grace. Do it for the respectability that you wish the international community to accord you. Do it because you see yourselves as statesmen acting with humane intent. Do it for the sake of the respect you say you show this Mission. Do it not for gain but do it, I beg you, because it is the just and right thing to do. But most important of all, do it for the peace and welfare of your own people.
Sunday, 5 July 2009
As you may or may not be aware, at one point, they came across a rather nasty character called Bilaam (or Balaam as he is strangely referred to) who despite his best efforts to curse the nation, ended up blessing them and in the process, realising that he'd bitten more than he could chew by not exactly making himself a mate of the good Lord above.
One of the utterances he mouthed gave me food for thought.
Looking over the encamped tribes, he stated majestically:
"I see them as mountain peaks, and I behold them as hills; it is a nation that will dwell alone, and is not reckoned (or counted) with the other nations" (Hebrew- Hen Am levadad yishkon uva-goyim lo yitchashav).
Wow. That really knocked me back.
The Jewish people, even way back then were prophesied to be different to the other nations - not only that, but he said that we would be destined to "dwell alone".
Three thousand, two hundred and ninety years ago.
Fast forward to July 2009 and how alone we still are.
The whole world points its fingers at one county, one nation and blames them for everything that is going wrong. Whether it be our struggle defend ourselves in Gaza (read the vicious reports produced by the caring people at Amnesty International or for that matter, the disgraceful pronouncements coming out of the UN since 1948) - or the pernicious ruling by the Court of Appeal which brands our religion racist for daring to admit children to the JFS according the traditional criteria of what constitutes a Jew - or even the attempts to ban Shechitah in many countries (irrespective of how safe we feel right now about this), whilst simultaneously attempting to brand us "barbaric" for refusing to administer anaesthetics to the baby boys before a bris (something which is against the Torah) - we find ourselves standing alone, so isolated after many many years of hardship.
We were alone when the German massacred our people and today, we are alone again in trying to show people like Obama that the enemy is not Israel, but Syria, Iran and Hamas.
A nation that resides alone.
Instead of trying to understand our current predicament, maybe we should accept the unpalatable truth that all those years ago, Bilaam, uttering the words of G-d, told us everything we will ever need to know about our place in this world.
King Solomon the Wise said "there is nothing new under the sun" (ein kol chadash tachat hashemesh) in Kohelet (Ecclesiastes).
How right both men were.