Arab Christian is Israeli diplomat

Israel’s Best Diplomat Offers Hope to the Entire Middle East

George Deek is an Arab in a Jewish state and Christian in a predominantly Muslim Arab world—and he recognizes that his multilayered identity is an asset

By Adi Schwartz|July 28, 2015 

Reprinted from Tablet Magazine

When George Deek uses the word “we” in a conversation, it is not entirely clear whether he means “we Palestinians,” or rather “we Israelis,” or perhaps “we Westerners,” or even “we Arabs.” At the age of 30, with a constant five-o’clock shadow compensating for his baby-face and thin silhouette, he is both an Israeli diplomat, representing the Jewish state, and a descendant of a Palestinian family who fled its home during the Arab-Israeli War of 1948. His cousins live today in Canada, Dubai, Damascus, and Ramallah, and some of them are considered by the United Nations to be refugees of that same war.

This personal tension came fully into being last summer, during the war between Israel and Hamas, when Deek was Israel’s chargé d’affaires in Oslo. He presented Israel’s positions and defended its actions, while Norwegian TV networks were screening endless footage of destruction coming out of the Gaza Strip. He explained how the Israeli army works, without ever serving in it. He spoke on behalf of Israel, when none of his viewers and listeners knew that he was actually (also) a Palestinian.

A few weeks later, at the end of September, he decided to unveil his personal story for the first time. In a lecture in the House of Literature in Oslo, during the launching of the Norwegian translation of Benny Morris’ history book dedicated to the 1948 war, Deek recounted how his grandfather fled Jaffa and reached Lebanon, how he insisted on getting back into Israel when the war ended, and how he raised his family in the nascent Jewish state. He talked about the personal suffering of his own family, now scattered all around the world, but also about the fact that “the Palestinians have become slaves to the past, held captive by the chains of resentment, prisoners in the world of frustration and hate.”

But he talked mainly about the way forward, and mainly about hope. He spoke about his neighbor Avraham, a Holocaust survivor, who taught him always to look to the future and not to the past. He gave his listeners a sense of why a young Arab-Palestinian has decided to dedicate his career to the Israeli Foreign Service. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the speech quickly went viral under the somewhat ironic title “the best speech an Israeli diplomat ever held.”

***

As a native son of Jaffa, the mixed Arab-Jewish suburb of Tel Aviv (population 60,000), Deek knows its decaying streets and alleys inside out. Our meeting occurred when he was in Israel for the winter holidays, just after he returned from Sunday prayer in the local Christian Orthodox church. He was dressed in a dark blue suit and a pair of shiny black shoes. His late father, Joseph, was head of the Orthodox community in town, so everybody knew him and greeted him with a nod. A group of elderly women sitting outside a simple one-story home, all in black dresses, called to him and urged him to find himself a woman already. He chuckled.

Deek took me to where his grandfather’s house stood in the Ajami neighborhood before 1948; it was now a complete ruin. His grandfather George worked as an electrician and had some Jewish friends who even taught him Yiddish, making him one of the first Arabs to ever speak the language. He got engaged to his wife Vera in 1947. A few months later, when the United Nations approved the Partition Plan, Arab leaders warned that the Jews would kill them if they stayed home. “They told everyone to leave their houses, and run away,” said Deek. “They said they will need just a few days, in which together with five armies they promised to destroy the newly born Israel.”

His family, horrified by what might happen, decided to flee to the north, toward Lebanon. They stayed there for many months, and when the war was over, they realized that they had been lied to—the Arabs did not win as they promised, and the Jews did not kill all the Arabs, as they were told would happen. “My grandfather looked around him and saw nothing but a dead-end life as refugees,” said Deek. “He knew that in a place stuck in the past with no ability to look forward, there is no future for his family. Because he worked with Jews and was a friend to them, he was not brainwashed with hatred.”

His grandfather did what few others would have dared—he got hold of one of his old friends at the electricity company, and asked for his help to get back into Israel. That friend not only was able and willing to help him come back, but even made sure that he got his job back.

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Hamas and PA are both to blame

Palestinians: A Rare Voice of Sanity

by Khaled Abu Toameh
July 30, 2015 at 5:00 am

http://www.gatestoneinstitute.org/6236/palestinians-sanity

  • While many in the international community and media hold Israel fully responsible for the plight of the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, Dr. Abrash offers a completely different perspective.

  • Referring to widespread corruption under the Palestinian Authority (PA) in the West Bank, the former Palestinian minister reveals that Palestinian academic institutions, including universities and colleges, have become "commercial projects for granting certificates that have no scientific value or content."

  • This is a voice that is rarely given a platform in mainstream media outlets in the West, whose journalists continue to focus almost entirely on stories that reflect negatively on Israel. Western journalists based in the Middle East tend to ignore Palestinians who are critical of the PA or Hamas, because such criticism does not fit the narrative according to which Israel is solely responsible for all the bad things that happen to the Palestinians.

  • Abrash’s criticism of Hamas and the PA — whom he openly holds responsible for the suffering of their people — actually reflects the widespread sentiment among Palestinians. Over the past few years, a growing number of Palestinians have come to realize that their leaders have failed them again and again and are now aware that both Hamas and the PA, as corrupt as ever, are hindering efforts to rebuild the Gaza Strip.

It is almost unheard of for a prominent Palestinian figure to hold the Palestinian Authority (PA) and Hamas equally responsible for corruption and abuse of power.

Dr. Ibrahim Abrash, a former Palestinian Minister of Culture from the Gaza Strip, recently surprised many Palestinians by publishing an article that included a scathing attack on both the PA and Hamas, holding them responsible for the continued suffering of their people.

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Energy from the desert

Israel’s largest solar field begins flowing to the national grid

By SHARON UDASIN
07/29/2015, Jerusalem Post

Arava Power Company CEO: In six days, a million-and-a-half kilowatt hours have been uploaded to the national grid

Officials in the Arava on Wednesday inaugurated Israel’s largest photovoltaic field, completing a journey six years in the making.
The system already began providing the country with electricity several days ago.
“In six days, a million-and-a-half kilowatt hours have been uploaded to the national grid,” Arava Power Company CEO Jon Cohen told The Jerusalem Post on Wednesday.
The 40-megawatt Ketura Solar field, which is the second but biggest “large” field to go online in Israel, contains 140,343 panels spread over 54.2 hectares (133.4 acres) in the southern Arava Valley. An oasis of blue straddling a date orchard, the field is the shared product of Arava Power Company and Électricité de France Energies Nouvelles Israel.
The new field is located just across Route 90 from Kibbutz Ketura and the 4.95-megawatt Ketura Sun – the first medium- sized solar field in Israel and also a product of Arava Power.
“It’s been – since January 2009 – a six-and-a-half-year process from kickoff through launch,” Cohen said. “Here we are in July 2015, generating about 250,000 kilowatt hours a day.”
From start to finish, construction – which was carried out by the EGE consortium – took seven months, he explained. Simultaneously, Israel Electric built a substation for the field, and during a slightly longer period, erected the power line to carry electricity from the facility to the national grid, Cohen said.
The field is “at present, the largest solar installation in Israel,” he added.

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Ruins of Jewish community

Ruins of Great Synagogue of Vilnius discovered

Seven decades after its destruction by the Nazis, researchers locate remains of what was once the beating heart of Lithuania’s Jewish community, which was virtually wiped out in the Holocaust.

Ynetnews, July 29, 2015

A ground-penetrating radar survey carried out in June in Vilnius, the capital of Lithuania, discovered the remains of the Great Synagogue, which was destroyed by the Nazis 70 years ago.

The elaborate structure was built in the 17th century; at its center was a large space used to study Torah and celebrate community events. It was known as the beating heart of Lithuanian Judaism.

The complex housed another 12 synagogues, religious schools – including that of the Vilna Gaon – ritual baths, the Jewish community council building, kosher meat vendors, and the famed Strashun Library.

Photo: Franciszek Smuglewicz
Photo: Franciszek Smuglewicz

In June 1941, the city of Vilnius was overrun by the German military, which ransacked the complex and burned it. Over three years of Nazi occupation, the vast majority of the city’s Jewish population was murdered. Upon the Red Army’s return in 1944, a modern school was built on top of the synagogue’s ruins.

The team of researchers that made the discovery was headed by Dr. Jon Seligman of the Israel Antiquities Authority and Professor Richard Freund of the University of Hartford. It returned with conclusive results that the ruins had been found.

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Jews mourn their tragedies

What Is Tisha B’av 2015? Jewish Day Of Mourning Is Saddest Holiday Of The Year

By Michael Kaplan @michaeld_kaplan m.kaplan@ibtimes.com on July 24 2015

Reprinted from International Business Times

tisha b'av

An Ultra-Orthodox Jewish boy took part in prayers marking Tisha B’Av in Jerusalem’s Mea Shearim neighborhood Aug. 8, 2011. Tisha B’Av, a day of fasting and lament, is traditionally the date in the Jewish calendar on which the First and Second Temples were destroyed, respectively in the sixth century B.C. by the Babylonians and the first century A.D. by the Romans. REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun

 

If you’re into the celebratory holiday vibe, Tisha B’Av might not be your day. It’s basically the saddest day on the Jewish calendar. The ninth day of the Hebrew month of Av is when many Jews choose to fast in commemoration of the horrific events that befell the Jewish people that day in history. So cursed is that day, Chabad.org said, it was likely set aside by God specifically as a day of mourning and suffering.

The Talmud made mention of five separate tragedies inflicted on the Jewish people that day, but since the Talmud was written more than 1,500 years ago, the date has racked up a few more. Tisha B’av was set to run from sunset Saturday to sunset Sunday.

Seven Tragedies That Fell on the Ninth of Av:

1) The generation of Israelites who wandered the desert following their exodus from Egypt were forbade from entering the Holy Land.

2) The First Temple was destroyed in 423 BCE.

3) The Second Temple was destroyed the same day some five centuries later.

4) Roman rulers harshly suppressed a Jewish revolt led by Simon bar Kochba, who Jews believed was a fulfillment of messianic prophesy, brutally slaughtering the Jewish rebels.

5) Jews were expelled from England in 1290 CE.

6) The Golden Era of Spain ended in 1492 as Queen Isabella and her husband Ferdinand ordered Jews be banished from the land.

7) Germany declared war on Russia, prompting World War I, on the 9th of Av. Some have drawn a connection between the launch of World War I and the slaughter of Jews during the Holocaust, during World War II.

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Iran deal is flawed

President Obama Is Wrong — The Iran Deal Is Transformational

The big question is, what is actually being transformed?

 

President Obama Is Wrong — The Iran Deal Is Transformational

The president of the United States has argued that the Iran nuclear deal, which will almost certainly become the centerpiece of his foreign-policy legacy, is not transformational. In a confident and telling interview with the New York Times’ Thomas Friedman, President Barack Obama asserted that, “We are not measuring this deal by whether it is changing the regime inside of Iran.”

That statement — which came amid a list of assertions by the president of what the deal is not — is unsettling for several reasons, even for those of us who support the flawed but useful deal.

First, it is unsettling because it runs directly contrary to the argument that senior administration officials and supporters of the deal have been giving for some time now defining why the deal was important — that it would ultimately change Iran. While it is understandable that the administration would seek to cut back possible avenues of criticism of the deal, the pivot from building up to pruning perceptions of the impact of the deal, is not only intellectually dishonest and an obvious defensive gambit, it also poses other, greater problems.

One of those problems was highlighted by the very next effort at expectation management offered by Obama to Friedman in that interview: “We’re not measuring this deal by whether we are solving every problem that can be traced back to Iran, whether we are eliminating all their nefarious activities around the globe.”

The president’s point, taken in conjunction with his previous one, is troubling because the greatest threat Iran has long posed to the region has not been its nuclear program, but rather its “nefarious activities” like sponsoring terrorism, seeking to impose its will, and aggressively expanding its influence throughout the Middle East — including via one of history’s most notoriously bloodthirsty regimes, the one in Syria. Focusing on a deal that addresses, at least for the near term, only the second- or third-greatest threat posed by Iran to the region, while ignoring a greater and more current threat, would have to be considered an error of priorities if little else was being done to offset the greater problem. But the problem then grows even worse if the deal actually amplifies the biggest threat by channeling more resources to an “untransformed” Tehran.

And this deal does exactly that with the massive sanctions relief it affords Iran, estimated as in excess of $150 billion. Secretary of State John Kerry has argued correctly that the United States and the rest of the P5+1 countries must be vigilant of the potential consequences of this aspect of the deal. But the administration has, on other occasions (like the Camp David Summit with leaders from the Persian Gulf), repeatedly made the case that they believe the Iranians intend primarily to use the funds for domestic purposes — in part because the Iranians have told them so.

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West gave too much to Iran

Is There a Viable Alternative to the Iran Deal?

Three Atlantic writers debate the merits of the nuclear agreement.

  • PETER BEINART, DAVID FRUM, AND JEFFREY GOLDBERG
  • JUL 17, 2015
  • How to make sense of the nuclear deal with Iran? Is it a necessary compromise that’s preferable to the alternatives and potentially beneficial for the Middle East? A feeble and indefensible sop to Iranian leaders bent on further destabilizing the region? A practically satisfying but morally troubling gamble, born of bad options? The Atlantic’s Peter Beinart, David Frum, and Jeffrey Goldberg debate the new agreement—and the swift and fierce reaction to it.
  • * * *

    Peter Beinart: David and Jeff, the thing that strikes me most about the reaction to the Iran deal is that proponents and opponents are judging it by radically different standards.

    Opponents keep saying that this deal isn’t as good as the Obama administration promised it would be and that it violates previous U.S. red lines. That’s true. It allows Iran to keep some enriched uranium. It also doesn’t include anytime, anywhere, right-away inspections, which I think the Obama administration was foolish to promise (a kind of parallel to when they said no one would lose coverage as a result of Obamacare).

    RELATED STORY

    Was the Iran Deal Worth It?

    Proponents, like myself, compare it to the alternatives: which are doing nothing, war, or trying to increase sanctions in hopes of getting a better deal down the line. What frustrates me is how rarely I see opponents explaining in any detail how any of these alternatives would be preferable. A few years ago, one saw more hawks arguing for a military strike. (I detailed some of the folks who did last year.) But one rarely hears anyone these days arguing that a military strike makes sense. Some say that a “credible threat of force” would make Iran concede more. But Israel and America have been threatening force for a decade now. Why would more saber-rattling work now? Besides, to have your threat of force be credible, don’t you have to be willing to follow through—which requires explaining why military action would be effective in retarding the nuclear program and wouldn’t make the current regional conflict far worse? More often, deal opponents talk about increasing sanctions, which would supposedly force Iran into concessions. But I rarely hear them explain how that will work given the internal politics of Iran. Seems more likely to me that scuttling this deal, and passing more sanctions, would devastate [Iranian President] Rouhani and [Iranian Foreign Minister] Zarif politically. Rouhani was elected to improve the economy; torpedoing the deal would make him a failure. That would empower those hardline opponents who never wanted any deal. Beyond that, what basis is there to believe European and Asian countries, which have strong economic interests in Iran, will maintain sanctions indefinitely? The lesson of Iraq in the 1990s is that sanctions erode over time. British and German diplomats have warned that if the U.S. destroys the deal, sanctions could unravel. So why should we believe economic pressure will go up and lead to more Iranian concessions? Seems at least as likely to me that economic pressure will go down.

    If the most important thing is the potential for political change in Iran, and the people who would make that change want this deal, doesn’t that carry weight?

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    Israel gets ninth World Heritage site

    Beit She’arim declared World Heritage Site

    UNESCO announces the Mishnaic period village with its 30 burial caves is to be the ninth Israeli World Heritage Site; Rabbi Yehuda Hanasi, the Mishnah’s chief redactor resided and is buried there.

    Itamar Eichner, Ahiya Raved, Roi Kais, YNet Ndws, July 5, 2015

    UNESCO’s World Heritage Conference on Sunday declared the national park at Beit She’arim in the lower Galilee a World Heritage Site.

    Beit She’arim was a prosperous settlement during the period of the Mishnah’s redaction (1st to 3rd centuries ACE) and the site includes 30 burial caves where rich people and scholars of the period, including the chief redactor of the Mishnah, Rabbi Yehuda Hanasi, were buried.

    Beit She’arim is the ninth site in Israel to be recognized by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site. Of the 21 members, 17 countries voted in favor – India, Turkey and Senegal – and four countries actively opposed – Lebanon, Qatar, Algeria and Malaysia. 

    Entrance of the Cave of Coffins, Beit She'arim National Park (Photo: Israel Nature and Parks Authority)
    Entrance of the Cave of Coffins, Beit She’arim National Park (Photo: Israel Nature and Parks Authority)

    Beit She’arim was considered to be the regional grain storehouse during the Mishnaic period. According to the historian Josephus Flavius, these were the barns of Queen Berenice, the sister of Agrippa II, who ruled the country under the Romans in the first century AD.

    Rabbi Yehuda Hanasi lived most of his life in Beit She’arim, only spending the last 17 years of his life in the not-far village of Tzipori. In his last will and testament, he asked to be buried in Beit She’arim, which turned the village during the 3rd century ACE into the Jewish necropolis (city of the dead) of its time.

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