Wednesday, September 11, 2013

The Modern Miracle of Sukkot

The yellow fruit dominates the landscape as far as the eye can see and a lemony aroma wafts across the fields. But what has become the norm for this time of year was nothing but barren desert just a few short years ago.

They are the etrog fields of Halutza and represent modern day pioneering at its best.

Born in the Sinai settlement of Yamit before her family was evacuated in 1982, Moriah Gottlieb grew up in the desert community of Gush Katif. By the time the community was evacuated from the Gaza Strip in 2005, she was living in Jerusalem with her husband. But when the evacuees established the new community of Halutza, she and her husband joined these modern-day pioneers, who have made the desert bloom as farmers of the etrog, a little citrus fruit with important religious significance. “To build Jerusalem,” she said, “you need to build the rest of the land; this is an extension of Jerusalem.

“With my husband’s love for farming, my childhood in Gush Katif, and my family’s evacuation from the Gaza strip, we felt that we had to join and show support,” Moriah said. “We came to this area in solidarity and to establish a plantation of etrogim in the sand.

“It was not clear what would happen after the disengagement,” said Moriah. “But here in Halutza there was a great vision. There were no sad and depressed people. Here people came to continue developing the country and to work in agriculture. That is what attracted us to join the community.”

Her husband’s family, the Gottliebs, had been growing etrogim in the Jordan valley for decades. The couple transported tiny cuttings to their new home hoping that they would grow, which seemed near impossible in such a barren land. But as her and her family nurtured these vulnerable plants something amazing began to happen: shoots began springing up, filling not just one orchard, but many, creating a swirling sea of green on a dirt yellow backdrop.

As the roots took hold, Moriah and her husband were reminded that they themselves were laying the roots for the future generations of Israel, fulfilling the Zionist dream of Torah and working the land. They themselves are the pioneers. Now, the Gottliebs produce roughly 25,000 etrogim a year. Due to the seven levels of etrog perfection, which determine whether an etrog is kosher, roughly 40% of these etrogim are thrown away. Out of the remainder, the majority is exported to the US and the best ones dedicated for community rabbis.

The Halutza community has started attracting families from all over Israel who are recognizing the area’s potential and its unique qualities.

As part of its Blueprint Negev campaign to sustainably develop the Negev Desert and increase its population, Jewish National Fund (JNF) is supporting the expansions of the new communities of the Halutza region. JNF has supported Halutza’s growth from the beginning by clearing land for housing and farming, purchasing temporary prefabricated homes, laying basic infrastructure, and paving roads. As the region expands, JNF is helping residents to re-establish their social and educational institutions, construct public buildings, and create green spaces. A new yeshiva, beit midrash (study hall), synagogue, kindergarten, park, and playground have been established with JNF’s support, and many more facilities are on the drawing board.

The Gottliebs lived in a caravan for five years with their seven children, waiting for a housing lot. They have been in their new house for two years. Perhaps the most poignant part of Moriah’s story is the location of her new home: at the end of the road. Two sides of her house are filled with windows that open onto the desert views and right in the middle of her view are her orchards.

“When I look out the window and see the etrogim,” she said, “I know why I’m here, I know my purpose.”

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Clean Up the World Day

Dear JNF USA Friends,

International Clean Up the World Day took place yesterday. Thanks to the JNF USA support, new immigrants (adults and children) Ethiopia came from 17 different absorption centers in Israel and enjoyed the activities. 

This educational program is a very important and meaningful experience for the participants and their feedback reflects that! 

Below are photos from the activities that took place yesterday at one of the absorption centers in Tzfat.

As you can see, they had a great time! Thank you for helping to raise their awareness about the importance of respecting our environment.  I am sure they will never forget this special day.  It was a wonderful way to start the new year!

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Date and olive pits dispel mystery of King Solomon’s mines

Reposted from Ha'aretz

The copper mines at Timna were long thought to have been operated by Egyptians in the 13th century B.C.E., but organic remains now show that they reached their prime during the reign of King Solomon, three centuries later.

By Nir Hassan 

It took 10 date pits and one olive pit to come to the conclusion that the heyday of the copper mines at Timna, near Eilat, was indeed during the reign of King Solomon, in the 10th century B.C.E. 

The samples, which were dug up by a Tel Aviv University team headed by archaeologist Erez Ben Yosef, were sent to Oxford for a carbon-14 dating test. The results proved that the site wasn’t populated during the 13th century B.C.E., as previously thought, and that its peak of activity was actually some three centuries later. 

But King Solomon had in all likelihood no connection to the mines, although they are called after him. The site at Timna, says Ben Yosef, resembles the copper refinery in Faynan, in Jordan, which probably means that the mines were operated by the Edomites, who lived on the eastern bank of the Jordan River, and not the illustrious king of ancient Israel. 

In recent decades scientific consensus has been that the mines were operated by the Egyptian Empire that ruled the area in the 13th century B.C.E. This notion was the result of excavations carried out at Timna by the pioneering Israeli archaeologist Beno Rothenberg, who discovered in 1969 a small and beautifully preserved Egyptian temple. Until then, it had been universally accepted that King Solomon operated the mines. The current mission turned the tables again and set the operation date of the mines back to the era of King Solomon - but the king’s degree of involvement is yet undetermined. Ben Yosef says that he could not dismiss the possibility that the Edomite kingdom was subjugated, to some extent, to the Judean Kingdom, through a representative sent from Jerusalem, as stated in the second Book of Samuel. 

The excavated area is known as "Slaves' Hill," as the American archaeologist Nelson Glick, the first to preside over excavations at Timna, called it. He believed that a wall built around the hill was meant to prevent the slaves working in the mines from escaping. The recent excavations seem to refute this thesis as well, revealing an unprecedented wealth of organic findings – fabrics, ropes, seeds (including wheat, barley, pistachio, grapes, dates and olives), and animal bones - that were preserved in excellent condition due to the extremely dry climate in the area. The bones and food remnants, explains Lidar Sapir-Hen, an archaeozoologist at Tel Aviv University, suggest that the workers were better fed than most residents of the region at the time. "This also conforms with other findings from other sites that prove that copper diggers were considered important craftsman, almost priests, who knew how to produce new material: metal from stone," Ben Yosef says. 

Ben Yosef is also set to refute an archaeological convention whereby only civilizations that left architecturally impressive structures could be considered as sufficiently developed to establish and maintain an economic and engineering operation of the scope of the Timna mines. "It was a society that mostly lived in tents, but still had impressive military power, since it was necessary to protect the copper mines," he says. 

The findings also allow researchers to determine that the mines were abandoned at around the end of the 10th century B.C.E. Ben Yosef believes that the mining operations were stopped as a result of a military invasion by King Shishak of Egypt, in 925 B.C.E. Still, copper production continued, using different, more advanced technology, for another century or so. In the 9th century B.C.E. all production was halted for a long period, probably due to the import of cheaper and higher-quality copper from Cyprus.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Op-Ed: Why don't Rabbis for Human Rights care about Bedouin women?

Reprinted from HAARETZ

Monday, September 02, 2013 Elul 27, 5773

by Professor Alon Tal

Last month a conference was convened in Be'er Sheva to consider the issue of domestic violence in the Bedouin sector. A recent report prepared by the Bedouin chapter of Women Lawyers for Social Action describes a horrifying situation: 79% of Bedouin women have been attacked by their husbands. 90% describe an ongoing pattern of violence and harassment that they have suffered over their lives by virtue of their being women. Some 80% are afraid to leave their homes without a male escort, for fear of the resulting retaliation. Polygamy has become so widespread that a majority of Bedouin children in the Negev have siblings from a mother different than their own. Most of the speakers were Bedouin women, but the conference was conducted in Hebrew so that Israel's Jewish majority could be informed. Representatives from many public interest groups were there, as were several academics and feminist activists. They were both appalled at the government's failure to provide protection to its citizens and impressed by the courage of the women who are finally standing up and calling for change. One organization that purports to speak for the Bedouin was conspicuously absent: Rabbis for Human Rights.

Instead, this organization continues to focus its energies in the Negev in supporting a campaign of a few Bedouin families to receive ownership of lands they claim belonged to them over sixty years ago The El-Araqib area, located just to the south of Rahat, has been in the news intermittently. Israeli courts hear legal petition after petition by the families in their attempts to annul an order from the 1950s that brought these open spaces into the public domain. Consistently, a range of judges were not convinced by the testimony about historic ownership and called the violent behavior of the petitioning Bedouin families into question.

I have met with the leaders of the El-Araqib campaign and also did not found the evidence they presented compelling. Aerial photographs from the past century tell a very different story. And I trust Israel's legal system to offer the petitioners a fair day in court.

At the same time, I recently taught a university course about environmental justice that focused on Rahat, the largest Bedouin city in Israel – and the Negev's second largest town. So I am very familiar with the crowded conditions and the desperate need for open spaces by residents of the city. Even if I did think the petitioning clans had lived there from time immemorial, even a teaspoon of utilitarian justice requires the preservation of these open spaces to ensure that the citizens of Rahat city today and the future enjoy a green belt around their city.

The regional master plan which is being implemented is designed to prevent an urban sprawl that would connect Be'er Sheva and Rahat. It makes total ecological and sociological sense. If new evidence convinces the courts that there are historic claims, financial compensation can and should be paid to the El-Araqib petitioners. To allow construction there would be a mistake.

Last week I saw a mass email sent out by Rabbis for Human Rights to their extensive list comparing the intrepid El-Araqib campaigners to Martin Luther King's battle for justice. It is time to bring a little sanity into the discourse. The controversy surrounding El-Araqib has absolutely nothing to do with the civil rights campaign of fifty years ago. To invoke the heritage of great Rabbis like Abraham Joshua Heschel's or Jacob Rothschild's involvement with Dr. King is not just historically imprecise; it is downright disingenuous.

To begin with – the level of violence associated with the El-Araqib campaign is enormous. Some 65% of the grazing that survives among Bedouin herders takes place in JNF forests. As Bedouin communities have practically no parks, the Negev forests are increasingly becoming sanctuaries for Bedouin recreation and celebrations. Yet, the foresters of the JNF have been attacked on innumerable occasions, their vehicles torched and their lives threatened by the small minority of Bedouin who oppose the afforestation work there. For Martin Luther King, non-violence was axiomatic.

Martin Luther King sought justice for his entire people and did not focus his energies on a real estate bonanza for his extended family. If Rabbis for Human Rights succeeds in its campaign, it will means that the 50,000 residents of Rahat – (soon to be 100,000) - will be suffocated to the south by the expansive homesteads of the present protesters, who received a substantial real estate prize for their lawlessness. There is a major debate in Israel surrounding the dimensions and conditions of the proposed land arrangement for the many "unrecognized" Bedouin villages. If lands are the concern, this is the macro-issue which should be the focus of discussion, not this very local maneuver for private property.

Martin Luther King spoke on behalf of the discrimination that left the African-American community poor and disadvantaged. There is nothing in the present campaign that goes to the critical issue of creating economic opportunity for Israel's poorest citizens. The people fighting for El-Araqib are not homeless or indigent. The protesters' houses in Rahat, some of them impressive villas, may be crowded because of their large families. But the issue is surely not a question of providing a roof for homeless refugees.

It is most infuriating to have the Rabbis for Human Rights campaign focus so much of its energies on discrediting the Jewish National Fund. Like the other 8% of Israel's woodlands, the trees planted by the JNF in the Negev prevent erosion, enrich the soil and create recreational sanctuaries for all Israeli citizens. Surely, the Bedouin community deserves its fair share of accessible forests. It seems to me that there are real human rights violations in the Negev besides important land reclamation that need to be targeted.

As part of my research, last month I met separately with the mayors of the leading Bedouin cities of the Negev. Not one was willing to express solidarity with the campaign to privatize El-Araqib. In contrast, they all told me that one of the only non-government organizations that actually helps them in their tireless efforts to improve the quality of life for the Bedouin is the JNF. Indeed, two had even gone on fundraising and promotional campaigns for JNF expressing appreciation for its assistance in building parks, restoring river ways and building one of Israel's most ambitious sustainability centers in Wadi Attir. One of the mayors referred to El-Araqib backers as disloyal to the country – and out of touch with the real needs of the Bedouin.

I am proud that there is an organization of rabbis who feel that Jewish tradition has something to say about human rights and I salute it in its overall mission. In the case of Israel's Bedouin community, however, where violation of human rights is so rampant, their agenda seems confused and their energies seem to be misplaced. is time to respect the integrity of Israel's court and existing legal proceedings and move on to the real human rights nightmare facing scores of women in the Negev. The Bedouins of Israel really do need the assistance of Rabbis for Human Rights. Let's hope that they start to receive it.

Professor Alon Tal is on the faculty of Ben Gurion University and on the international board of the Jewish National Fund.