Archive for January 2009

The Palestinian conflict; Human rights exposed

January 30, 2009

I am usually reluctant to write about the Israel-Palestinian issue head on. In the past 2 weeks, several stories have come my way, which were never covered by the Western media and I feel deserve a wider readership. What links them is how they show that human rights in Palestinian territories are exposed and still protected under extreme situations.

Last week, an Israeli from the town of Emannuel in the West Bank was arrested. He was arrested, suspected of shooting dead a Palestinian youth, who had thrown stones at him as he was driving. When examined, there were no bullet marks on the body. A forensic report revealed that the teenager had died from his own stone, which had hit a tyre of the car and had rebounded at high speed.

A few days later, Jordanian news agencies reported that aid sent by the Hashemite Kingdom to Gaza had been hijacked by gunmen, never to reach the average man on the street. This act merely confirmed what Israeli sources have been shouting for years. Significantly, UNRWA had to suspend temporarily its aid conveys in to Gaza.

And finally, there is the story of Yishai, an Israeli soldier, who spent several days in Gaza during January. His unit slept in a temporarily abandoned house. What follows is Yishai’s thoughts, wrapped as an open letter to the family.

Yishai’s humanity is profound. It demonstrates a sincerity which cannot be described as spin. In his 3-page brief, he has managed to summarise the reports and feelings that I have heard from many soldiers who served during the recent hostilities.

Yishai not only describes in detail how they looked after the premises. His words form a plea to stop the hatred – to realise that all Israelis want to do is live in peace with Palestinians, fostering a mutual understanding for generations to come.

 Yishai wrote:

An Open Letter to A Citizen Of Gaza:

I Am the Soldier Who Slept In Your Home:

By: Yishai G (reserve soldier)

 

Hello,

While the world watches the ruins in Gaza, you return to your home which remains standing. However, I am sure that it is clear to you that someone was in your home while you were away.

I am that someone.

 

I spent long hours imagining how you would react when you walked into your home. How you would feel when you understood that IDF soldiers had slept on your mattresses and used your blankets to keep warm.

 

I knew that it would make you angry and sad and that you would feel this violation of the most intimate areas of your life by those defined as your enemies, with stinging humiliation. I am convinced that you hate me with unbridled hatred, and you do not have even the tiniest desire to hear what

 

I have to say. At the same time, it is important for me to say the following in the hope that there is even the minutest chance that you will hear me.

I spent many days in your home. You and your family’s presence was felt in every corner. I saw your family portraits on the wall, and I thought of my family. I saw your wife’s perfume bottles on the bureau, and I thought of my wife. I saw your children’s toys and their English language schoolbooks. I saw your personal computer and how you set up the modem and wireless phone next to the screen, just as I do.

 

I wanted you to know that despite the immense disorder you found in your house that was created during a search for explosives and tunnels (which were indeed found in other homes), we did our best to treat your possessions with respect. When I moved the computer table, I disconnected the cables and lay them down neatly on the floor, as I would do with my own computer. I even covered the computer from dust with a piece of cloth. I tried to put back the clothes that fell when we moved the closet although not the same as you would have done, but at least in such a way that nothing would get lost.

I know that the devastation, the bullet holes in your walls and the destruction of those homes near you place my descriptions in a ridiculous light. Still, I need you to understand me, us, and hope that you will channel your anger and criticism to the right places.

I decided to write you this letter specifically because I stayed in your home.

 

I can surmise that you are intelligent and educated and there are those in your household that are university students. Your children learn English, and you are connected to the Internet. You are not ignorant; you know what is going on around you.

 

Therefore, I am sure you know that Qassam rockets were launched from your neighborhood into Israeli towns and cities.

 

How could you see these weekly launches and not think that one day we would say “enough”?! Did you ever consider that it is perhaps wrong to launch rockets at innocent civilians trying to lead a normal life, much like you? How long did you think we would sit back without reacting?

I can hear you saying “it’s not me, it’s Hamas”. My intuition tells me you are not their most avid supporter. If you look closely at the sad reality in which your people live, and you do not try to deceive yourself or make excuses about “occupation”, you must certainly reach the conclusion that the Hamas is your real enemy.

 

The reality is so simple, even a seven year old can understand: Israel withdrew from the Gaza strip, removing military bases and its citizens from Gush Katif. Nonetheless, we continued to provide you with electricity, water, and goods (and this I know very well as during my reserve duty I guarded the border crossings more than once, and witnessed hundreds of trucks full of goods entering a blockade-free Gaza every day).

 

Despite all this, for reasons that cannot be understood and with a lack of any rational logic, Hamas launched missiles on Israeli towns. For three years we clenched our teeth and restrained ourselves. In the end, we could not take it anymore and entered the Gaza strip, into your neighborhood, in order to remove those who want to kill us. A reality that is painful but very easy to explain.

 

As soon as you agree with me that Hamasis your enemy and because of them, your people are miserable, you will also understand that the change must come from within. I am acutely aware of the fact that what I say is easier to write than to do, but I do not see any other way. You, who are connected to the world and concerned about your children’s education, must lead, together with your friends, a civil uprising against Hamas.

 

I swear to you, that if the citizens of Gaza were busy paving roads, building schools, opening factories and cultural institutions instead of dwelling in self pity, arms smuggling and nurturing a hatred to your Israeli neighbors, your homes would not be in ruins right now. If your leaders were not corrupt and motivated by hatred, your home would not have been harmed. If someone would have stood up and shouted that there is no point in launching missiles on innocent civilians, I would not have to stand in your kitchen as a soldier.

 

You don’t have money, you tell me? You have more than you can imagine.

Even before Hamas took control of Gaza, during the time of Yasser Arafat, millions if not billions of dollars donated by the world community to the Palestinians was used for purchasing arms or taken directly to your leaders bank accounts. Gulf States, the emirates – your brothers, your flesh and blood, are some of the richest nations in the world. If there was even a small feeling of solidarity between Arab nations, if these nations had but the smallest interest in reconstructing the Palestinian people – your situation would be very different.

 

You must be familiar with Singapore. The land mass there is not much larger than the Gaza strip and it is considered to be the second most populated country in the world. Yet, Singapore is a successful, prospering, and well managed country. Why not the same for you?

My friend, I would like to call you by name, but I will not do so publicly. I want you to know that I am 100% at peace with what my country did, what my army did, and what I did. However, I feel your pain. I am sorry for the destruction you are finding in your neighborhood at this moment. On a personal level, I did what I could to minimize the damage to your home as much as possible.

 

In my opinion, we have a lot more in common than you might imagine. I am a civilian, not a soldier, and in my private life I have nothing to do with the military. However, I have an obligation to leave my home, put on a uniform, and protect my family every time we are attacked. I have no desire to be in your home wearing a uniform again and I would be more than happy to sit with you as a guest on your beautiful balcony, drinking sweet tea seasoned with the sage growing in your garden.

 

The only person who could make that dream a reality is you. Take responsibility for yourself, your family, your people, and start to take control of your destiny. How? I do not know. Maybe there is something to be learned from the Jewish people who rose up from the most destructive human tragedy of the 20th century, and instead of sinking into self-pity, built a flourishing and prospering country. It is possible, and it is in your hands. I am ready to be there to provide a shoulder of support and help to you.

 

But only you can move the wheels of history.”

Regards,

Yishai, (Reserve Soldier)

Israel in recession…and so?

January 26, 2009

Last Friday, Britain fell into recession. Today, it was the turn of Israel to accept reality. In 2009, the economy is expected to retreat by 0.2% – not much compared to the UK et al. There again, Israel had been charging along at 5.0% on average for several years.

Most of us already know it. The employment service has reported that over 17,000 new people were looking for work in December 08, compared to 10,000 12 months previously. Microsoft and IBM’s r&d centres in Israel will lay off workers next month.

Why? Global recession is now hitting Israel’s exports. VCs are choosing their next high tech conquests carefully. And a 22-day war has to be paid for, putting a strain on the budget.

Significantly, the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange took a different view. It rose over half a percent today. One reason is the next expected drop in interest rates, already down to 1.75%. But the investors are more savvy than that.

I suggest that there is another for optimism. And it also points to route out of the recession, which a bold new Israeli government must consider.

In the past week alone, I have visited 3 Israeli companies in the cleantech sector. Each possesses a simple but disruptive, patented technology, which will add significantly to Israel’s future wealth.

Now, I have written previously about Israel’s strength in this sector. Jerusalem alone contains many of the world’s new techs. in solar heating.  Globes has reported about investment opportunities in water technology.

The companies I met – water purification, biofuels and alternative heating – are linked by a key feature.  They require investment capital. Within a year this will be converted into hundreds of jobs and valuable export revenue.

Currently, Israel’s government is paralysed by the forthcoming general election. And the “Sir Humpreys” are still caught up in redundant concepts for promoting high tech. It will be months before a plan of action is approved and then implemented! As the Neros pluck their fiddles in Jerusalem, the country is calling out for action.

Take a risk. Hand out some short term loans. Give these companies a chance, and then sell out quickly as the venture capitalists return to play in 18-36 months.

Who benefits? The people; the environment, the treasury. Sometimes, the simplest solutions are the most effective ones.

Creating wealth in a recession – suggestions for Israel

January 23, 2009

Creating wealth in a spiralling global recession ain’t just a mathematical conundrum. In the UK, retail chains are folding. In Israel, the high tech sector is feeling the heat – actually the cold. The implosion at Nortel HQ will impact on Israel, employees, clients and suppliers. Microsoft’s retrenchment will not bypass its r&d centre in Israel. Money is tight.

“Building Wealth – Lessons From The British Aristocracy” is tongue-in-cheek, yet fascinating attempt to enable us to learn some lessons from history. The author, Nadav Manham, asks how could so many astute and wealthy people of influence in Nineteenth Century Britan lose so much money and so quickly.

His answer rests with “poverty of imagination”. You need to realise that the fundamentals have changed and act accordingly.

In Israel, we could rest on our laurels. This week, Moody’s did not downgrade Israel’s credit rating. Intel’s Israel plants will not be part of the company’s workforce cutbacks. Teva, the world’s largest manufacturer of generic drugs is recruiting 100 more employees. Etc.

All very encouraging, but not enough. The banks are not lending. The credit crunch has arrved, and thus even the most successful companies will be choked away from customary sources of liquidity.

I myself came across 2 examples of the squeeze this week. On Wednesday, I sat down with a serial entrepreneur, embarking on his next cleantech enterprise. A sold track record – his previous ventures is selling in the tens of millions annually – he now requires new venture capital. The uplift will be absolute to the economy in terms of employment and saved resources. Mega and in a short period of time.  However, currently, the money tap is closed tight.

And I have been approached by an established hightech outfit. With pre-orders on their books, they need a credit line in order to launch a sales campaign of a new product. Their regular bank is not an option at this stage. No lending means less sales, which means less money to pay employees, which……

 “In order to meet the minimum capital adequacy mandated by the Bank of Israel’s Supervisor of Banks Rony Hizkiyahu, the banks need to find an extra NIS 4 billion.”And the finance ministry is worringly quiet on the issue. Why?

Israel has a general election in less than 3 weeks. When a new governement is eventually sworn in, let us hope and pray that it brings with it a monetary policy that reaches out beyond Economic 101, as laid out in 1945.

Israel and Gaza – gas economies

January 19, 2009

The Gaza war may have cost Israel around US$3b, but the economy has not collapsed. And yesterday, it was announced that commercial quantities of gas have been found off the coast of Haifa. It could be enough to meet Israel’s needs for decades, as well as help to further a greener energy policy.

So what’s the connection to the Gaza economy?

Step back. Since 1993 and the Oslo Accords, the Palestinian economy has been bolstered by overseas support, particularly from Europe. On average, 25% of the revenue of the Palestinian Authority has come from taxpayers from overseas governments. Although the World Bank has called this the largest support per capita of a population since World War II, there has been little effective accountability and transparency.

The Gaza economy in particular is heavily dependent on agriculture and the public sctor. Unfortunately, the quality greenhouses left behind after the Israeli evacuation in 2005 were soon ruined and became training grounds for military recruits.

Interestingly, despite opposition from the World Bank and Hamas’s animosity with Fatah, it is the civil service payroll that has risen significantly in the past two years. How?  Dr Rachel Ehrenfeld, an expert on the funding in international terror, provides some answers. She notes that:

Despite Fatah-Hamas disagreements, the Palestinian Authority’s Fatah-led government announced on Jan. 15, 2008, its intentions to give Hamas 40% ($3.1 billion) of the $7.4 billion pledged in December 2007 by international donors. In October 2008, despite the crackdown on Fatah members in Gaza, the Palestinian Authority was paying the salaries of 77,000 “employees.” In December 2008, under U.S. and international pressure, Israel delivered between $64 million and $77 million in cash to Gaza.

In the past 2 weeks, Gulf States and UNRWA have promised around US$200m to repair Gaza. Yes, it is needed, desperately so. But will all the money go the the proper destinations? Given past experiences, that must be doubted.

There is an alternative to this economic waste. Step forward and recall what is now known about new gas fields near Haifa. In the summer of 2007, British Gas tried to reach an agreement with the Palestinian Authority to develop proven gas reserves in Gaza. The value to the local economy could be at least US$1 billion.

Since then, Hamas has invested in drilling and digging ……..tunnels, tunnels that smuggle weapons and contraband in order to satisfy their hatred against their enemies. 

Cleantech in Israel – Jerusalem model

January 17, 2009

Last Thursday, I was co-moderator of a fantastic networking event. It linked the Jerusalem Business Networking Forum with the CleanIsrael Network, the Association of Renewable Energy Industries, and the Movement for a Stronger Israel.

11 new cleantech companies presented themselves in front of a strong audience, led by Naomi Zur. She is deputy mayor of Jerusalem and has a direct mandate to push this sector in the new administration.

What makes this so impressive? Well, in the midst of a global recession, a war and a new drought in this part of the Middle East, these 11 companies are seeking to make a difference. And not just wishful thinking. Glen Schwaber, with 15 years of experience in VCs and General Partner at Israel Cleantech Ventures noted that 3 years ago, nobody put their money in cleantech. Last year, around US$200m was committed to 20 projects in Israel.

The details. Jerusalem is already known as the world leader in developing solar energy tech. Papers delivered by enertglobal, G3Solar and others rammed home that message. Wind energy, biofuel, watertech etc are all fully represented in the Holy City. Cequesta Ltd is already delivering wastewater devices to Europe.

Essentially, these companies have struggles to find their way through “the system”. The activity is finally being acknowledged by central government. Sigal Admoni of the Industry Ministry, who presented for the first time in public a US$100 million national Renewable Energy Programme. Unlike many of the other politicians, she sat through all the company discussions.

On a cold winter’s night, there were a 100 + people in the room. They represented the interested and curious, biz dev types, and investors. The truth is that the IP content on show was worthy of a global audience.

It showed the way forward to a new wealth of commercial potential. I have generated 3 very key and exciting meetings as a result of the event. 

Why Israel has to fight (2) – Hamas

January 15, 2009

Israel is fighting this sad war for two reasons; to protect its society and to recreate a platform for peace destroyed by Hamas.

Internally, Hamas has violated the basic human rights of large parts of the Gazan community. There is overwhelming video evidence, showing its continuous cruelty to Palestinian opponents. The small Christian community in Gaza suffers from consistent harassment. Hilary Clinton and David Miliband, the latter no close friend of Israel, have censured Hamas for its use of children and women as human shields. Even the UN has long failed to confirm that the supplies delivered near daily via Israel are not hoarded by local power brokers.

The cartoonist Steve Breen recently asked, what does Hamas stand for? “Hiding in Mosques and Schools” is the satiric but sad and accurate answer.

Re Israel, the Hamas position is simple. Its charter from 1988 rejects Israel with violent and anti-semitic rhetoric. When Israel withdrew from Gaza in 2005, she left behind a thriving greenhouse industry, now the end point of many Hamas-controlled smuggling tunnels. After 930 days, Hamas continues to hold POW, Gilad Shalit, without one visit from the Red Cross. In 8 years, Hamas and its lackeys have sent nearly 9,000 rockets and mortars into Israeli population centres.

Most of these rockets have been launched since Hamas captured political control of the territory. In the 3 weeks of fighting, over 700 have landed in Israel, a ratio of 1 for 1.5 Palestinians killed in the fighting. (No small proportional revenge there from Hamas). None of the rockets have been targeted at the Israeli troops encamped in the area, but only at civilians.

Israel has 3 options to deal with this vile threat.

a) Do nothing and hope or wait for a ceasefire. That has been done for 8 years. Hamas itself ripped up the summer 2008 truce.

b) Wait for international intervention. The EU border observers left their positions over 2 years ago. Egypt has failed miserably to prevent massive weapon smuggling. Only now do we hear of France, the UK and others trying to work out how to stop the smuggling.

c) Take significant action to stop the violence and thus help get the moderate Palestinians back to the peace talks. That will not be easy nor pretty, but it offers a longer term message of hope for all communities.

If ever the phrase “fighting for peace” had a place, it is in Gaza, January 2009.

Why Israel has to fight (1) – pluralism

January 13, 2009

If Israel has to fight a war,it must be doing so for two reasons – to protect its citizens and to ensure that the real military threat of Hamas does not resurface in the future.

Israel was established as a pluralistic society. For all the social and military constraints of its past and present, Israel is a vibrant centre for at least 4 global religions (and their internal frictions). It has 3 offical national languages. Non-Jews enter politics through their own party or with others. And thus Israel has built a firm basis for internal fusion.

That is a unique set of circumstances in the Middle East, a democracy worthy of protection. In fact, even as Israel fights its war with Hamas, on the ground, there are numerous coexistence projects moving forward – genuinely working towards a stronger society for all. Here are some brief examples: –

Just recently, under the auspices of the US-Israel Binational Science, 20 researchers, Israeli-Jew, Israeli non-Jew, and Palestinians met in Haifa to discuss potential routes of academic cooperation.

 I-Rox is a software company, operated by ultra-orthodox Jewish women. It is currently developing a medical administration programme for the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah. One off? No – look at g.ho.st, co-owned by an Israeli and Palestinian partnership. As my good friend Lisa Damast has recorded, this shows how two politically diverse groups can successfully cooperate and coexist.

Personnel of the national ambulance brigade, Magen David Adom, come from  all sectors of society. My daughter volunteers once a week, works with Muslims and enters their villages. And this last month was typical of that scenario.

These anecdotes, commercial or otherwise,  are just a few of the large pile of detail that I come across every month. One of the main reasons for their existence is the basic wish of Israel to live with all.

It is that desire and opportunity that Hamas opposes. Through its charter, its hatred and its weapons, Hamas seeks to crush this progress and success.