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Thursday, 30 October 2014

Rise of Anti-Immigrant Party in Parliament Alarms British Jewry


The anti-immigration and Eurosceptic United Kingdom Independence Party appears to have transformed from a party dismissed by the mainstream as extremist and fanatic in its views to one that is poised to receive the third highest-number of votes in England’s general elections in May- and it may quite conceivably hold the balance of power in a hung parliament. Earlier in October, UKIP won its first election and now has an elected member of parliament. The party plans to field candidates in each of the 650 constituencies.

On Sunday, a survey revealed that a surprisingly high 31 percent of Britain’s voters would vote for UKIP if they thought the party could win in their constituency. While this may just be a momentary phenomenon, it is clear that the tough-talking party is riding high, and its populist agenda of unilaterally seceding from the European Union and closing Britain to immigration is pulling many voters away from the mainstream political parties.

As Haaretz analyzes, this means that British society as a whole – and the country’s Jewish community in particular – will have to deal with the rise of UKIP. While privately expressing real concern over the far-right and racist elements within UKIP, and the hostility of many party members towards minority and immigrant groups, the vast majority of British Jewish leaders had preferred to remain publicly silent o the topic.

“Everyone is afraid to speak out against UKIP despite serious problems with some of the party’s members,” says a local Jewish organizational official. “They are concerned that it could cause a backlash.”

Last week however, for the first time, UKIP was publicly censured by the Jewish establishment, when it was disclosed that the party’s members in the European Parliament have joined forces with a member of a Polish far-right party in its parliamentary group, Europe of Freedom and Direct Democracy. That Polish party is led by a known racist and Holocaust denier, who once declared that Jews are “our worst enemies, because they are talented communists.”

While UKIP leader Nigel Farage tried to rationalize the move as a “difficult” compromise for political purposes, the Jewish leadership was not mollified. Jonathan Arkush, the vice president of British Jewry’s representative body, the Board of Deputies stated that the board is “gravely concerned by reports that UKIP may sit in the same parliamentary grouping as a far-right Polish MEP in a bid to save its funding.” He added that “Nigel Farage has placed in issue the credibility of UKIP.”

Mark Gardner, communications director of the Community Security Trust, the Jewish organization which monitors racism and anti-Semitism in the United Kingdom, warned that “UKIP benefits from populist emotions and anti-establishment trends that can carry dangers for Jews. So, it is important that UKIP’s leadership ensure any issues of anti-Semitism and racism are strongly dealt with.”

IDF: ‘Hezbollah Probably Dug Tunnels to Enter Israel, But No Conclusive Evidence’



The Israeli government believes that the terrorist group Hezbollah has quite likely dug a number of tunnels across the border from Lebanon in preparation for any future war, although the Jewish state has no conclusive evidence of such a development, an Israeli army general stated on Wednesday.

Israel’s vulnerability to tunnels that could be used for infiltration into its homeland came to glaring light during its war against Hamas in Gaza this past summer. Exchanges of shellings with Hamas escalated into a ground offensive by the IDF after it was discovered that Palestinian terrorists had constructed dozens of complex secret underground passages from Gaza into Israel for the purpose of launching surprise attacks on Israeli citizens.

Residents of northern Israel, who were forced to contend with an onslaught of Hezbollah rockets during the Second Lebanon War in 2006, have at times reported hearing underground noises suggesting that guerrillas were burrowing their way across the frontier in a new threatening tactic.

But the Israel Defense Forces concede that the searches it has conducted have turned up nothing. “We have no positive information meaning that there are tunnels. The situation is not similar to what there was around the Gaza Strip,” Major-General Yair Golan, commander of Israeli forces on the Lebanese and Syrian fronts, proclaimed, according to Reuters. “That said, this idea of going below ground is not foreign to Lebanon and is not foreign to Hezbollah, and so we have to suppose as a working assumption that there are tunnels. These have to be looked for and prepared for.”

The Israelis have disclosed that they hope to develop effective tunnel-hunting technologies within the next two years.

Major-General Golan said that Hezbollah, which is fighting in support of President Bashar Assad in the lengthy civil war in Syria, appeared unlikely to instigate a renewed conflict with Israel. But if the group would make such an attempt, he said, Israel would hit Lebanese targets hard, while likely having to withstand the influx of a Hezbollah rocket arsenal believed to be 10 times more potent than the one possessed by Hamas.

There have been occasional attacks from the terrorist organization along the border over the course of recent weeks, however, including a roadside bomb planted by Hezbollah that wounded an Israeli soldier. Israel’s response was to fire artillery shells into southern Lebanon.

“We will not be able to provide the umbrella that was provided in the south by Iron Dome,” Golan stated. “We and Hezbollah are conducting a kind of mutual-deterrence balance,” he explained, conceding “There is no absolute deterrence. Each side has its pain threshold, its restraint threshold, which when passed prompt it to take action.”

Tuesday, 28 October 2014

Five reasons why European "Palestine recognition" initiatives are misguided

The Palestinian state doesn’t exist yet and the only structures in place that may resemble a functioning state are controlled by the internationally designated terrorist group Hamas. 

Nonetheless many countries have “recognised” a Palestinian state through formal declarations, and groups such as the Palestine Liberation Organization have been granted observer status at the UN general assembly. Europe had been resisting until now the urge to recognise an entity that doesn’t exist in real terms. Unfortunately some Europeans are today indulging in a “recognition now” policy.

On October 3 the new Swedish government announced that it would recognise Palestine as a state to promote a negotiated two-state solution. Also the British parliament voted on October 13 to approve a motion recognising Palestine as a state “alongside Israel”. And though more than half of the MPs did not cast their vote, the result was overwhelmingly conclusive: 274 to 12.

We should expect more similar moves like these across Europe. No matter how well intentioned these initiatives may be, recognising Palestine as a state now is inappropriate, counterproductive and unwarranted. It will not promote peace, it will not boost a negotiated solution, it will not change the reality on the ground and it will reward Palestinian Authority’s unilateral moves. 

Furthermore it represents a tacit approval of the unity agreement between Fatah and Hamas, a thoughtless move at a time when jihadist groups such as Islamic State (Isis) are in full expansion. Actually, moving the political and strategic focus away from the threat of jihadism to deal with a fantasy is a grave irresponsibility.

Here is why:

First, recognising Palestine as a state today is detrimental for peace negotiations and premature. It will not promote peace for it will induce the Palestinians to stray from a negotiated solution, given the fact that a hard line and unilateral policies got them this far. It is also premature: Palestine still lacks the fundamental ingredients that a state requires to carry out its international and domestic functions. 

Second, feel-good statements, popular as they may be, will not change reality on the ground; they will rather encourage the Authority to continue a static strategy in the negotiations — thereby promoting a continued stalemate of the talks. The Oslo Accords, signed by the two parties, commit s them to negotiation as the way to reach an agreement enabling the existence of two states living side by side in peace with secure borders. Well intentioned but insufficiently thought-out declarations such as these will only turn the path defined by Oslo, which is supported by responsible members of the international community, into a chimera — pre-empting the peace it is supposed to produce. 

Third, these initiatives unfairly put pressure only on Israel. The Jewish state, harassed and subjected to constant hostility by neighbours and terrorist groups, is persistently offering painful concessions to achieve a lasting and fair agreement, only to see the Authority refuse any compromise for the advancement of peace. It was Mahmoud Abbas who failed to accept the recent US framework document already accepted by Israel. It was Mr Abbas who demanded unacceptable concessions from Jerusalem in a clear obstructionist policy; and it was Mr Abbas who reached a unity agreement with Hamas, just three months before the Islamist group started a massive barrage of rockets fired into Israeli cities.

Fourth, Israel is today a bulwark against the expansion of jihadism and other threats in the Middle East. Promoting initiatives to recognise an imagined Palestinian state now ignores the need for compromises from the Authority and represents a huge mistake, considering how much western countries need the support of Israel against jihadism and nuclear proliferation, among other worrying threats to global security. In the current circumstances, recognising Palestine as a state is also an implicit approval of the unity agreement reached by Fatah and Hamas. As Hamas and Isis are parts of the same Islamist front, the western democracies should not legitimise an entity that is going to be formed by one of them.

Finally, we cannot ignore the fact that on October 12 at a conference in Cairo Palestinians were pledged $5.4 billion by international donors for the reconstruction of Gaza. Only half of that money will be dedicated to the reconstruction of the Gaza Strip, according to the Norwegian foreign minister Borge Brende who co-chaired the conference. No one knows what the other half will be spent on. If the funds are received by a Hamas-ruled government in Gaza, it is more than likely, as Hamas has repeatedly done in the past, that the funds will be used to consolidate its power, amass more rockets and mortars and build more tunnels to attack Israeli civilians, while promoting radical and undemocratic policies in the street. Failing to track the proper use of funds is irresponsible and will contribute to the deterioration of Israel’s security. 

The Friends of Israel Initiative has always claimed that peace can only be reached through negotiations. Recognising Palestine as a state in the face of Mr Abbas’s obstructionist behaviour, Hamas’s attacks on Israel and the present situation in the Middle East, is detrimental for peace since it will reward Palestinian unwillingness to negotiate a true peace with Israel and will encourage unilateral moves and a break with the Oslo Accords. Thus, we call on all responsible leaders of free nations to reject unilateral moves that only reward one side. We call our leaders to urge both parties to resume without pre-conditions direct bilateral talks as the only way to really promote a lasting peace. Actions that only undermine one of the parties will not produce peace, they will obstruct it. If we want to have a democratic, free, peaceful and prosperous Palestinian state alongside Israel, recognising now an entity that is far from democratic, free, peaceful and prosperous will only thwart any possibility that any such state will exist in the future. 

José María Aznar is a former prime minister of Spain and founder of the Friends of Israel Initiative.

This article is also signed by:

John R Bolton, former US representative to the UN 

Giulio Terzi, former foreign minister of Italy 

Bill Richardson, former governor of New Mexico

Alejandro Toledo, former president of Peru

Richard Kemp, former commander of British forces in Afghanistan 

George Weigel, senior fellow of the US Ethics and Public Policy Center 

Andrew Roberts, British historian 

Roberto F Agostinelli, founder of the Rhône Group 

Lieutenant-Colonel Allen B West, former US congressman

Carlos Alberto Montaner, exiled Cuban author and journalist 

Carlos Bustelo, former industry minister of Spain

Media reports that UK and Israel expand the F-35 orders

U.K., Israel Expand F-35 Orders Despite Costs, Delays

Lockheed Martin's (NYSE:LMT) F-35 might be over overbudget and behind schedule, but militaries around the world are still eagerly ordering the stealth jet.

On Tuesday the U.K. announced an agreement in principle to order four additional F-35s. A formal deal will be announced in a few weeks, according to Britain's Ministry of Defense, bringing the total order up to 14 jets. Delivery is expected starting in the middle of 2016.

Lockheed shares rose 0.2% to 183.44 soon after the opening bell in the stock market today.

Defense spending in the U.S. and Europe has been falling, but the rise of the Islamic State terrorist group and trouble in Ukraine could reverse the trend.

Israel also has plans to buy more F-35s. According to Israeli defense sources cited by Reuters, Israel wants a second batch of 25 planes, bringing their total order to 44.

The sources said the deal still needs approval by a government panel.

Israel is given $3 billion in military aid from Washington each year and spends most of it on U.S. defense products.

In September, Lockheed said the F-35 will be ready for combat missions next year despite some technical issues, including an engine fire, and militaries are eager to get their hands on the top-of-the-line plane.

South Korea agreed last month to pay $7 billion for 40 F-35s after rejecting a cheaper bid for Boeing(NYSE:BA) B-15 fighter jets.

Israel leads the way in technological development.

Israel’s modern hi-tech economy 

      The first Zionist pioneers encountered an underdeveloped society, and developed a centralised economy. 

·         The 1984 economic stabilisation plan set the economy on a new course. 

·         Today science and technology is among Israel’s most highly developed sectors. 



The first Zionist pioneers encountered an underdeveloped society. 


In a late nineteenth-century world where the majority in most societies were peasants or industrial workers, the ambition of many of Israel’s Zionist pioneers was to shift the labour structure of the Jewish people towards this paradigm and away from the often marginal occupations in which they found themselves in the Diaspora. 


However, the Palestine to which they came was more backward economically than many of the regions from which they had emigrated. Agricultural settlements (often on land previously regarded as unsuitable) and industries had to be built, painfully and slowly, over the decades. 


Israel faced enormous challenges post-independence 


After Israel’s establishment in 1948, the relatively primitive economy had to cope not only with the demands of defence, but also with the absorption of large numbers of refugees, both from Europe and from the Arab and Muslim Middle East. These burdens resulted in a decade of austerity following independence. Foreign currency was scarce and opportunities for travel limited. 


The pressures were to some extent mitigated by a number of factors. These included about 3 billion marks paid by West Germany in reparations to Holocaust survivors, and a campaign of bond sales among Diaspora Jews. 


There was a strong commitment to establishing industries, especially in areas prioritised for development. 


One consequence was the development of a textile industry. Kibbutzim too, which had been overwhelmingly agricultural, gradually diversified and developed industrial capabilities. 


Living standards rose over the years, with growth rates of more than 10% per annum in Israel’s first two decades. It has been estimated by one source that the average Israeli wage-earner’s expenditure rose 97% in real terms between 1950 and 1963. 


As elsewhere in the world, the 1970s were a ‘lost decade’ for growth. 


The economic dislocation caused by the 1973 Arab oil embargo administered a shock to the whole global economy. The 1973 Yom Kippur War took an especially heavy financial toll on Israel, from which it found it difficult to recover. A spiralling government deficit led to near catastrophic inflation, reaching a peak in the early 1980s. 


The 1985 economic stabilisation plan set the economy on a new course. 


Steps to stabilise the currency were accompanied by moves to liberalise the economy. State industries were sold off, government spending was cut, and agreement was reached with the Histadrut (trade union federation) to enact wage controls. Structural reform was undertaken to reinvigorate the economy. 


Israel always had advantages such as strong higher educational institutions. 


One of the earliest pre-state institutions developed by the Yishuv was a high-quality education system. The Haifa Technion (now the Israel Institute of Technology), founded in 1912, was the only institution of higher learning to be established in Ottoman Palestine. The Hebrew University, established on Mount Scopus, opened in 1924, and the Weizmann Institute (so named from 1949) was established in 1934. 


Since statehood, the numbers of institutions of higher learning has increased, including Tel Aviv University, Bar-Ilan University, the Ben Gurion University of the Negev and the Open University. Today it is common for at least four Israeli universities to appear in international rankings of the world’s top 200. 


Israeli universities are ranked among the top 50 academic institutions in the world in the following scientific disciplines: in chemistry (the Technion); in computer science (Weizmann Institute of Science; the Technion, Hebrew University and Tel Aviv University in mathematics; in natural sciences (Hebrew University, the Technion); and in engineering (the Technion). 


This emphasis on education has given Israel a comparative advantage against many other recent industrialising economies. It has ensured that as older industries were replaced by the ‘knowledge industries’ of the technological age, Israel was in a prime position to take advantage of them. 


Another comparative advantage, paradoxically, turned out to be Israel’s precarious security situation. Forced to rely on its own resources for defence against much more numerous opponents, the Israeli military and its domestic suppliers became a hotbed of innovation in engineering, software and other disciplines. Many of these skills proved transferable as those working on these projects re-entered civilian life following their military service. 


Yet another advantage was the influx of immigrants from the former Soviet Union from the 1990s onward. They were typically highly educated, often with experience in precisely those areas that were to become critical in Israel’s recent development. 


Today science and technology is among Israel’s most highly developed sectors. 


In 2009, a book by Dan Senor and Saul Singer, two respected American economic commentators, caused a stir. The book was called Start-Up Nation: The Story of Israel’s Economic Miracle,. It asked: 

“How is it that Israel – a country of 7.1 million, only 60 years old, surrounded by enemies, in a constant state of war since its founding, with no natural resources—produces more start-up companies than large, peaceful, and stable nations like Japan, China, India, Korea, Canada, and the UK? How is it that Israel has, per person, attracted over twice as much venture capital investment as the US and thirty times more than Europe?” 


Israel is one of the major world destinations for high-tech multinationals seeking to establish leading-edge R&D operations. Companies with a major presence in Israel include Intel, Microsoft, Hewlett Packard (HP), Google and Facebook. 


It is also one of the world’s leading seed-beds of indigenous start-ups, many of which have grown to become world-class players in their own right. As many as 100 Israeli companies are listed on Wall Street. 


The strength of Israeli exports has made a nonsense of attempts to boycott Israeli goods. While campaigners grandstand in supermarkets, attempting to prevent shoppers buying Israeli dates, Israeli exports to the UK have grown massively in recent years, amounting to over £1 billion in just the first half of 2013. 


Trade with Israel has also benefited the UK. 


UK Trade and Industry (UKTI), a UK government agency, recently stated that: 

“Israel, a Middle Eastern country with a Western European outlook, is a remarkable success story for British exporters. Although the country is about the size of Wales, with a population of 7.8million people, UK exports to this lively market have grown steadily. Bilateral trade is a real success story, reaching a   record high of £3.83 billion in 2012 and should reach well over £4 billion by 2015.” 

Would you like to know more about Israel and to get more involved in supporting Israel? This email is one of a series of educational emails from We Believe in Israel, the grassroots initiative of BICOM. We Believe in Israel is a UK grassroots network of people united in believing in the right of the State of Israel to live in peace and security. We aim to support and facilitate activists who seek through local engagement and campaigning to create a more complete understanding of Israel and its situation in the UK. You can join We Believe in Israel’s mailing list here. Our website is BICOM’s website, with all the latest news and analysis about Israel is 

Anger at Jews for Jesus move to Hendon HQ to target the Jewish community

Article Via Board of Deputies of British Jews

Jews for Jesus provoked fresh controversy this week after unveiling their new UK base in the heart of London’s Jewish community in Hendon.

The group confirmed it would be opening before the end of the year after a large sign appeared on premises opposite Hendon Central Station.

JforjThe move comes just six months after the international missionary group released a video showing Christ being sent to the gas chambers in Auschwitz by a Nazi who describes him as “just another Jew” – a move branded “a cynical abuse of the Holocaust for purposes of proselytising” by the Anti-Defamation League. 

Jonathan Arkush, vice-president of the Board of Deputies, said: “Any group that targets Jews for missionary activity is totally rejected by the Jewish community. Jews for Jesus is unwelcome in Hendon or anywhere else. They should pack up shop and leave.”

Adam Langleben, councillor for West Hendon ward which covers the new shop, added: “Considering the offensive video that Jews for Jesus recently produced I think many people living in and around Hendon Central will find it very insensitive and inappropriate. We live in a free country and they can do as they wish but to me it’s an inappropriate spot for their shop and very likely to cause offense.”

A statement of faith that appears on the UK branch’s website says the organisation believes that the scriptures of the “Old and New Testament are divinely inspired” and “believe that Jesus the Messiah was eternally pre-existent and is co-equal with God the Father”.

Asked if they were moving to Hendon to be provocative, Jews for Jesus UK Director Julia Pascoe said it had a base in Finchley Road for seven years until 2001, adding: “We are excited to be back in the area we felt most comfortable in for years. Do we expect opposition? We hope not – we are good neighbours and we trust those who pass by our shop will come to know that.” 

She added: “Welcome or unwelcome – we are here and we are hoping to serve the local community by providing high quality Judaica items, books of a spiritual nature and a place to have a good conversation if desired. Our signage clearly states who we are and what we believe which provides an ethical framework for engaging further.”

Monday, 27 October 2014

Jewish Kurds Fear ISIS Advances; Call on Israel for Rescue (Video)

An Israeli Orthodox Jew protesting in front of the U.S. Embassy, in Tel Aviv, for Kurdish independence and more support for the embattled Yazidi. Photo: Twitter / Screenshot.

An Israeli Orthodox Jew protesting in front of the U.S. Embassy, in Tel Aviv, for Kurdish independence and more support for the embattled Yazidi people. Photo: Twitter / Screenshot.

The few hundred remaining Jews of the ancient Kurdistani community in northern Iraq are deeply concerned by advances by ISIS throughout their region, and many want out – to Israel, and elsewhere, Israel television reported Sunday.

They join some eight million other Kurds who are battling the Islamic State’s militants, and Sami, a Jewish resident of Erbil shared his uncertainty of the future, as many of his countrymen have fled.

“ISIS is about 20 kilometers from Erbil, and all the Israelis – the Jews who were here – they fled their homes and headed for the mountains,” he told the network.

“Those who had ever visited Israel, they were afraid for their safety, and they got out,” according to Sami.

He represents a young generation of Kurdish Jews that want to emigrate to Israel, since they see no future in the ancient area, believed to have hosted Jews since the Prophet Nahum.

Before the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948, an estimated 20,000 to 30,000 Jews lived in the area, according to the Jewish Virtual Library.

“I really want to ask the Interior Ministry to provide permits for the youth, because – really now – the situation here isn’t good for us, we’re unsafe,” he contended.

“You can’t get work, because, you know, if you go anywhere, they know [you're Jewish],” he said. “They know you’ve been in Israel, and they don’t need all the aggravation, whether for work, or for schooling, and such…”

Sami’s parents reached Israel in the 1990s, when he was 12 years old. After the fall of Saddam Hussein, they returned. Sami said that, had he the choice at the time, he’d have stayed in Israel.

“We get extorted and threatened because we lived in Israel,” he said. “And because of that, we get cellphone calls: ‘we know you were in Israel; if we don’t get such and such a sum of money, we’ll abduct and kill you,’” he explained.

Last month, he and several friends arrived at the Israeli consulate in neighboring Istanbul, Turkey, where they asked to be allowed to move to Israel. However, Sami said that their requests to emigrate were turned down.

“The Interior Ministry told me, ‘your parent were Muslims, and, because of that, you can’t return to Israel,’” he said.

“If I manage to get out of here, I don’t want Europe, and don’t want America – I want to return to Israel, because I see it as my country, and that’s that,” he said.

Watch the video of the Skype call with Sami:

“With respect to the Kurds, they are a warrior nation that is politically moderate, has proven they can be politically committed, and is worthy of statehood,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in late June.

Since then, the Islamic State terrorist group has continued to wreak havoc in Iraq. The Kurds, a historically maligned and stateless minority, have borne a large share of the responsibility for fighting the jihadists as they threaten the Kurdish semiautonomous region and the ethnic minorities living there.

According to the Jewish Virtual Library, “Jews of Kurdistan – until their great exodus in 1950–51 – lived mainly in the Iraqi region (146 communities), some in the Iranian region (19 communities), and only a few in Turkey (11 communities). There were also a few Jews in the Syrian region and other places (11 communities).

“An ancient tradition relates that the Jews of Kurdistan are the descendants of the Ten Tribes from the time of the Assyrian exile. The first to mention this was R. Benjamin of Tudela, the 12th-century traveler who visited Kurdistan in about 1170 and found more than 100 Jewish communities. In the town of Amadiya alone, there were 25,000 Jews who spoke the language of the Targum (Aramaic) and whose numbers included scholars. The traveler Benjamin the Second, who visited Kurdistan in 1848, also mentioned this tradition and added that the Nestorian (Assyrian) tribes were also descendants of the Ten Tribes and that they practiced Jewish customs,” according to the reference source.

Hamas’ Sinai Torture Camps

“They hang us upside down on a ramp and hit our feet with a baton …[t]hey electrocute and torture us day and night. We are not fed. They don’t give us food or water. There are many diseases; many of us have already succumbed…They tie us and melt plastic and drip it on our backs…They burn us and electrocute us every single day.”
— Sinai Refugee

Hamas’ Industry of Death and Torture in the Sinai

In a crisis the United Nations has deemed to be “one of the most underreported in the world,” the Sinai Peninsula, in a span of just a few years, has turned into a global hub of torture, human trafficking, and nearly indescribable crimes.

This sparsely populated and traditionally lawless desert region, dividing Asia from Africa, is providing local tribesmen a chance to build a thriving business in illegally trafficking African migrants. While more and more individuals are displaced from their homelands, unscrupulous “entrepreneurs” have taken advantage of this new window of opportunity to profit off the helpless. Commonly, the refugees are kidnapped and then brutally abused until their family members agree to pay a hefty ransom. It is a highly profitable trade with criminal enterprises encompassing a far-stretched network of regional operatives from Sudan to the West Bank, and has so far taken in revenue of an estimated 600 million dollars, earning around 20,000 dollars for each kidnapped refugee.

Most of the Sinai refugees are collateral damage from Africa’s many tribal conflicts, many from Sudan, Eritrea, or Ethiopia. Some, but not all, are brought to Sinai against their will. Some wish to reach Israel. According to a sample of 297 refugees taken by Dr. Mirjam van Reisen of Tilburg University in the Netherlands, 87% of the hostages are Christian by faith. The rest are Muslim and are often given preferential treatment from the abductors in the form of lower ransoms, less severe torture, and small special favors.

Since Israel’s newly built barrier along its border with Sinai, refugees have been deterred from migrating to Israel, thus drying up the traffickers’ supply of migrants to capture. Because these potential migrants now know about the fence and therefore don’t take the trip, traffickers have taken to abducting Africans directly from their home countries and bringing them to Sinai.

Extortion is key to the Sinai-based smuggling industry. The smugglers wish to procure the largest sum possible for each abductee and are willing to go to extreme lengths secure ransoms. In the event a victim’s family doesn’t pay up, the kidnappers are not averse to brutal alternatives, such as harvesting and selling the victim’s organs for a profit.

Furthermore, a number of Israeli court indictments have implicated the Gaza based terror group Hamas in providing middleman and money laundering services to the Bedouin traffickers. According to some estimates, Hamas has profited by up to 64 million dollars by smuggling this ransom cash through its tunnels from the Gaza Strip into Sinai.

First Steps

The trafficking business usually takes place somewhere in Eastern Africa, where the migrants are kidnapped and sold to Bedouin traffickers. Often, the traffickers pose as guides and lure them with promises to take them to Israel or another developed country. Sometimes, these guides or a wayward border official will hand them to the traffickers for a payoff. Once the migrants are in the traffickers’ hands, they are powerless.

Those “picked up” in Africa report being transferred into Sinai by car, under constant guard, and being placed in close quarters in Bedouin abodes near the Israeli border. Some are abducted after reaching Sinai on their own. From this point stems the most harrowing stories of torture, degrading treatment, and abuse.

A Cycle of Death

In December 2011, Sinai-based Bedouin tribesmen kidnapped two female African refugees known as P.H. and K.T. The two, who are from Eritrea, were held in chains for over a month with about 40 other kidnapping victims while being starved and denied basic amenities. During this time the kidnappers beat the victims repeatedly with sticks and electrical prods. After being raped by one of the kidnappers, P.H. found herself threatened with death if she and K.T. did not each independently procure a ransom of $40,000.

As shocking as their stories may be, they are unfortunately not unique. According to one former hostage: “The kidnappers’ objective is to keep us barely alive so we will not try to escape or give them trouble, while at the same time torturing us so we are forced to pay…[t]he kidnappers have this policy of torturing the healthy and taking care of the afflicted, because, from what we understand, they don’t care if we are alive or dead…[t]hey don’t want us dying before they can get the money.”

Psychological manipulation is a premier tactic. In a method designed to terrify families into paying the ransom faster, telephone calls are arranged between captives and their families during loud torture sessions when the extent of their pain is highly audible. One man reports listening over the phone as his sister’s hand was amputated. Family members are given a deadline to procure the funds, which leads to desperate door-to-door vigils and other desperate attempts to scour for funds.

All the while the migrants don’t know if they will be saved or left to die, and in many cases expect never to see freedom. As one refugee recounts to Dr. Van Reisen:   “It is impossible to expect people to pay up for us, even if they are very close relatives. Unless you have left some money with someone and instructed them to pay if something happens, it is hard to ask people for everything they have. I have seen lots of people abuse trust and ask for money from their relatives, saying that they are kidnapped…so it is acceptable that some people might not take this at face value.”

Ultimately, the mortality rate of those trafficked hovers around fifty percent. If the ransom cannot be secured by the deadline, they are killed shortly after.

Across the Border

Even once the full extortion payment has been made to the traffickers’ Israeli associates, the question remains as to how to transfer the funds into Sinai. The Israel-Sinai barrier and Israeli Border Control prevent direct movement out of Israel. Thus, in order to move the cash, the smugglers often cooperate with another regional power – Hamas – the Gazan-based terror group.

Israeli court records describe a complicated network built to smuggle the funds out of Israel and into the hands of the traffickers. Once the family members pay up, the ransom funds move to the hands of Hamas operatives in the West Bank towns of Jenin and Nablus. From there, the funds flow into the Gaza Strip to Abu Jamil, a Hamas operative who pockets a tax and smuggles the funds. Jamil helps move the funds through Hamas’ network of underground tunnels running under the border between Gaza and Sinai, with the tunnels reaching within a few kilometers of the very buildings in which the abductees are held.

Perils of Freedom

If and when a victim is finally released, even ransoms, however hefty, cannot assure safety. Upon their release, these victims all too often die in the desert, or are tragically kidnapped by the next gang. As one refugee who made it to Israel says:   “I did not think I would make it out alive. My captors simply took me to the fenced side of the border and told me to run. You have a fifty-fifty chance of being shot or making it.”

Upon reaching safety, refugees are tasked with coping with the horrifying reality they lived through. Many of the refugees in Israel live without access to social and welfare services in the impoverished neighborhoods of Tel Aviv. As one refugee describes the migrant experience:   “In the Sinai everyone wants to die. We were happy when people died. We were happy for them. Only now, In Israel, have I started mourning and begun to understand death, as only now we can live.”

In March 2014, 24, a Germany-led twenty-four delegation committee of the United Nations submitted a petition to the UN Security Council calling to end abuse and human trafficking in Sinai and for the implementation of mechanisms to help the abused refugees deal with their traumatic experiences and has called for mechanisms to help the abused refugees deal with their experiences. Within Israel alone reside some 5,000- 7,000 Sinai refugees, many of whose lives may be improving slowly. But until something gives in the Sinai, things are still, strictly speaking, business as usual.

Sources: UNODC. Global Report on Trafficking in Persons. Rep. New York: United Nations, 2013. Print.

Estephanos, Meron, and Conny Reijken. Refugees Between Life and Death. Rep. Comp. Miriam Van Reisen. Brussels: n.p., 2012. Print.

State of Israel vs. Yusuf bin Khalid al-Qrinawi, 2012

State of Israel vs. Victor Siboni, 2012

State of Israel vs. Yakov Grad, 2012

With thanks to JIJ Interns Batel Tegegn and Ethan Kempner for their research and editing contributions.

Dream Come True for the Blind in Israel

Dream Come True for the Blind

What more could a blind person want than to be able to see? An amazing invention is aimed at doing just that. Bar-Ilan

Sight for the Blind,

Hope for the Blind,
Wikimedia Commons

University’s Professor Zeev Zalevsky created a contact lens that, when attached to electrodes, creates sensations in the retina of the eye that can be translated into images. The contact lens receives signals from a regular “off the shelf” camera or smartphone, which the wearer either holds or wears. When a blind person wearing the fitted contact lens looks at an object or points the camera towards it, the camera converts the image into electronic Braille by sending tactile sensations to the retina. The communication system between the camera and the lens operates by Radio Frequency Identification, or RFID.

Kind of Like Braille, But Different

According to Zalevsky, the bionic contact lens is similar to reading Braille, only with eyes instead of fingers. The Braille system

works by positioning six dots in such a way as to convey messages to the reader, who reads using the fingertips. The eye’s cornea, with six hundred times more sensors than the finger, is much more sensitive when it receives tactile stimulation. Moreover, the cornea is the most sensitive area of the body to receiving these types of messages. This innovative solution will give blind people the chance to read letters on paper, recognize shops, and landmarks and identify friends and family. The lens can also help them orient themselves in 3D, which will make it safer to cross a street.

Seeing in the Dark

Although still in the prototype stage, the system has been successfully tried out on animals. One of the results of those studies shows that the animals could actually see their way through an obstacle course in the dark. Nighttime vision is one of the challenges that Zalevsky hopes to overcome next. He speculates that by connecting an infrared camera to a transponder delivering sensations to the contact lens, wearers would be able to see in the dark.

While healthy human eyes visualize at one megapixel, there is great promise that the bionic lenses will reach a resolution of ten thousand pixels. While not perfect vision, it’s getting closer.


'Confronting Violence in the Name of God'

"Religious violence requires a religious violence"

At a time when there are many conflicts around the world which claim to be in the name of God, particularly (although not only), the Middle East, Rabbi Sacks reflects on how we might challenge this situation and confront this violence, and do so in the name of God.

In this keynote address, Rabbi Sacks argued that conflict was not caused by religion, but was indivisible from humanity. He looked at the nature of Darwinian biology and culture that led people to form groups, and larger religious groups, and how the emergence of dualism within monotheistic religions led to these groups to define themselves against others, as 'us and them' or 'good and evil', and allowed people to kill their enemy in the belief they were doing good, something he called 'altruistic evil'.

Rabbi Sacks explained why this universalistic approach was deeply flawed. The last time that humankind had faced similar a challenge was the 17th century, when a technological revolution challenged the established structures of power, and led to religious wars. What won those wars may have been weapons, he said, but what won the peace was ideas: the concept of human rights, the principle of toleration and liberty of conscious.

After four centuries which saw the secularisation of knowledge, power, culture and morality, Rabbi Sacks argued that the 21st century is moving in the opposite direction towards a period of desecularisation, amid disillusionment in the Middle East with secular nationalism, and discontent with the entire system that divided the world into nation states.

He suggested that while it was our humanity that causes violence, violence in the name of religion nevertheless demands a religious response that is strong and unequivocal - and send a message of love from all three Abrahamic faiths - Judaism, Christianity and Islam - to answer the voices of hate.
Click here to watch Rabbi Sacks' lecture
Click here to download an audio file of Rabbi Sacks' lecture