Looking for Israel’s 60th birthday cake… in Asia

Next year will provide a superb opportunity to present all of Israel’s best to an uninformed world. Knesset member Ruhama Avraham is a close confidant of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. Some months ago, she was appointed to lead a cross-panel of citizens, whose remit is to create a program of festivities, promoting Israel’s 60th birthday party on May 8th, 2008.

And there is much to cheer about. Despite the continuous internal and external military threats, Israel is no longer considered as the emerging desert nation of 1948. The population has grown from 800,000 to over seven million. The Knesset is elected by proportional representation, with over 10% of its members coming from minority segments of the country. Technology from Israel’s high tech companies and labs are to be found in almost every modern tool and facility – from mobile phones to hospitals – all over the world.

Partying there will be; Ms Avraham has indicated that the whole country will be involved over the spring and summer; fireworks, local picnics, parades, special educational kits for schools, and more. And as on Independence Days in the past, the 2008 celebrations will see President Shimon Peres inviting the leaders of all of Israel’s main religions to his residence. Those attending will include Armenians from the Old City of Jerusalem, Druze from the north, and Bedouin of the Negev sands.

Some have cynically added that it all adds up to lots of opportunities for politicians to speak and be photographed. In truth, it is far more.

Israelis deserve this self-awarded festive slap on the back. Last year, Hizbullah in Lebanon forced a hideous war on us, as rockets landed indiscriminately in northern Israel. Since the Hamas takeover of the Gaza Strip in the middle of June 2007, an average of 15 rockets have fallen in Israeli territory every week. And still the democracy of Jerusalem is pluralistic and intact.

What appears to be missing from the arrangements is the international element. The birthday festivities represent a truly auspicious occasion to channel the eyes of the world on all that is great about Israel – a thriving democracy, eight Nobel laureates, successful aid programs for tsunami victims, some of the best high tech in the world, and all in a land of which over 50% is covered in sand. Yet, approaches to the major international media outlets appear limited at this stage.

Professional activities have brought me into contact with representatives of a major American multinational. It is itching to cover the 2008 events in depth, a project requiring resources and planning. The first tentative approaches to several public offices have often (but not always) received dull responses; “We are waiting for confirmation of our budgets. Come back in early 2008.”

Unfortunately, that is just too late. By then, the programming schedules for May 2008 will have already been inked in. Explaining this to the officials, the representatives were met with that well-versed Israeli muscle-toning exercise, the up-down shake of the shoulders. To translate: it is not that people do not want to help, but the internal planning mechanism and snail-like budgetary process renders them near-helpless. Israel may simply forgo this golden opportunity.

What a sad contrast to the approach and capability of other countries.

This past August I had the good fortune to be vacationing in Cyprus. For 10 hot days, the only TV available to me was CNN and the BBC. Both stations ran month-long features on the nations of India and Pakistan and their progress since receiving independence from England. For 10 days, all the satellite system in my rented apartment could pick up was a constant stream of positive images oozing out of Asia?s emerging economies.

My family could not help but soak up the messages. Similarly, it does not take much to imagine the impact on business people and journalists flicking news stations in their hotel rooms, being continuously directed to the same theme. In the space of a few weeks, the two countries had been positively branded on an impressive scale.

For Israel, sitting back and doing nothing is not an option. A different 60th anniversary is coming up in November this year, the UN vote accepting Israel’s right to become a state. Programming details already reveal that some leading media outlets will be presenting some less-than-welcoming retrospectives to commemorate that event.

The Holy Land thrives on and needs positive media images. The Israeli government [with ISRAEL21c's help] recently enjoyed a coup, putting splendidly athletic local females in the pages of an international publication. While some understandably saw this as somewhat lowering the country’s image, the investment definitely generated a lot of new and positive response. Even Sky News took up the story.

May, 2008 offers the Olmert government a perfect opportunity to take the example of other countries and present the wonderful achievements of Israeli society to a global audience. Ms Avraham’s brief can be secured with dramatic success; but that demands both a local as well as an international agenda.

Race To Save Coral And Fish In Red Sea

By Dominic Waghorn
Sky News correspondent

Friday October 26, 2007

A giant artificial coral reef is being built in the Red Sea in a move to protect natural reefs from destruction – without banning scuba divers.
An estimated 50% to 70% of the Red Sea’s reefs have already been destroyed in Israel, Jordan and Egypt.

Divers are the main culprits as they flock to the biodiverse region in large numbers and accidentally knock the coral or create a disturbance with their flippers and diving boats.
Dr Nadav Shashar, a marine biologist at the Ben Gurion University, is supervising the pioneering project.

He admitted: “I have well over 1,000 hours underwater and by mistake every once in a while I also break the coral.”

Israeli and Jordanian scientists are working together to reverse the destruction of the reefs.

The fruit of their efforts lies a few hundred metres off the coast in the Israeli resort town of Eilat.

The artificial reef is designed to give divers something else to look at and provide an alternative home for fish and coral.

As we approached it diving last week it loomed out of the azure haze as big as a small house, with the appearance of a submerged spaceship.
Dr Shashar said: “We actually built it in a way that it will encourage or give shelter to endangered species.

“From the divers point of view what we want is a place that they will enjoy and that will be different to the natural environment.”

Artificial reefs have been used before, normally sunk ships or other submerged structures, but this is the first to be specifically designed for the purpose.

But the really pioneering element of the project lies submerged further north, in Israeli waters near the border with Jordan.

Here the scientists have created hanging coral gardens, or nurseries, where ranks of baby coral are growing suspended on nets and crates in perfect conditions.

When they are big enough they are transplanted into the artificial reef.

“For me as a scientist and an ecologist it’s almost like playing God,” said Dr Shashar.
“You take a piece of water and a piece of sand then do whatever you want and create the environment you are planning. And that’s exciting.”

So far the experimental artificial reef, funded by the Whitley Foundation, has attracted both fish and divers and another four are planned in Israel and Jordan.

And with threats growing from divers, pollution and global warming, scientist hope it could help save reefs elsewhere in the world.

Israel – daring in quality

Even if Israel is small in body, its scientific head is large.Excerpts from the address of President Shimon Peres at the opening of the winter session of the Knesset on October 8.

The global economy, which is based on science and technology, has made it possible for Israel to free itself from the limits of its camp and to take off to global spaces, both near and far, to participate in a world journey to a new era in which political boundaries have become lower; distances have surrendered to electronic speed; and demographic migration has begun from countries in which there is a surfeit of workers to countries which have a surfeit of work.

In this era, the economic locomotive is a greater mover than the military tank. And parallel to national governments, which are based on laws, on the army and on the police, an enormous economic capability has developed of large companies whose strength is derived from scientific and technological inventions and from good will.

This economic global ability has no precedence and, therefore, no past. And, thus, it does not rely on what has been accumulated, collected and or committed. It faces an open future. It is concentrated on discovering the secrets of nature, establishing new productive systems and developing revolutionary means of organization.

Its power is in vision and not in memory.

And the future obliges it to focus on producing alternative energy, clean water and a synthesis between high technology and clean technology.

Modern economy is global and individual at the same time. Individual talent makes it possible today to establish an economic empire, without the need for an army or a police and without conquering nations or territories.

This era makes it possible for Israel to discover hidden talents, which were not expressed previously and which had to be proven by measuring the size of the country, not only in kilometers but also by the number of scientists per square kilometer.

We have succeeded in an economic take-off and have not yet reached the peak.

[But] the fight against global warming and terror require not only national but also regional and global organization. Pollution is not checked by national customs and poisoned water does not need a visa to cross a border. Unruly weather does not need a permit and the harm to the globe’s ability to cool as opposed to the undisturbed warming by the sun present dangers.

Israel, too, is not immune to this danger and, yet, it can be a pioneering model in the attempt to halt it. Israel owes it also to itself. The Dead Sea is losing its water, and is losing its patience. Polluted water is endangering the cleanliness of the drinking water and is endangering part of the fertile soil of our region, turning it into a desert. Not only are plants becoming polluted but people’s bodies are also being harmed by the accumulated waste. It is our duty to ensure both the cleanliness of nature and the health of man and to initiate activities in all domains in the country, in the region and in the world to harness them on time.

And if we do so, we will make a unique contribution of our own to reduce these dangers.

The uniqueness of Israel is that it is small in size and rich in talents. It prevents her from becoming an industrial country and it enables her to be a research and development incubator of the first order.

Already now large international companies are investing in Israel’s research and development because they assess that even if Israel is small in body, its scientific head is large.

Israel is, for example, a transport island. It does not have an ‘abroad’ to reach by car and, therefore, it is able to be the first country to change its fleet of cars, run on petrol, to those run on electricity. Israel is already involved in this.

Israel is able to be a pioneer in alternative energy, especially solar energy and to be ahead of others in producing water (it has proved this in the past) and manage the cleanliness of the air with new methods. Israel can recruit for this purpose its outstanding potential in the field of nano-technology, to miniaturize the equipment and to make it more economical.

If Israel is able to become a daring world laboratory with a definite pilot plan it will draw back those scientists who have left as well as others to come and work here.

The pull of challenging work is no less attractive than the salary level.

Therefore, parallel to the political negotiations being conducted now, a track must be developed which will promote the standard of living of all people and produce economic peace alongside political peace, because the one will not progress without the other and both will jointly help to attain a lasting peace.

The global era and the regional reality are loaded with dangers and are not without opportunities. Israel with a moral, cultural, political, security, economic and social effort can be a focus of light in foggy days and prevent the concealment of the horizon of hope. It is difficult for Israel to be great in numbers but it is possible to be daring in quality, and to aim for security for all and peace with everyone.

Our position is a result, not of what others will do, but it represents the essence of ourselves from both strength and destiny.

Amplifying the voice of the Middle East’s moderate majority

We’ll send a clear message on October 18th about a two-state solution.The months leading up to the planned US-hosted Middle East peace conference in November have seen a great deal of apathy and skepticism from all sides regarding the conference and the deeper issue – the prospects for a resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The general apathy is not surprising, and the skepticism is perhaps not unwarranted. For forty years, the Israeli and Palestinian peoples have waited for their leaders to negotiate a resolution, and for forty years, a top-down peace process failed to yield results. Over decades we have all witnessed the domestic political stalemates, the international diplomatic shortcomings and the prolific violence. We have seen the leaders again and again sit down at the table, and walk away without an agreement.

In the meantime, militant absolutists and foreign fundamentalists have successfully used this lack of progress to drive a wedge between the two sides and prey on the situation, wreaking havoc on the region. Moderate citizens who want nothing more than to live their lives, to raise their children in safety and security, have remained silent, disengaged and disempowered, as their lives and destinies are hijacked by the perpetual cycle of violence.

It is a bleak image. But it is precisely this image that inspired the creation of the OneVoice Movement.

A mainstream nationalist grassroots movement with over 3,000 highly-trained youth leaders, OneVoice aims to amplify the voice of the overwhelming but heretofore silent majority of moderates who wish for peace and prosperity, empowering them to demand accountability from elected representatives and work toward a two-state solution. OneVoice counts on its Board over 60 foremost dignitaries and business leaders across a wide spectrum of politics and beliefs, joining as OneVoice against violent extremism and for conflict resolution.

To date, over half a million Israelis and Palestinians have signed the OneVoice Mandate calling on their heads of state to begin immediate, continuous negotiations until a resolution – a two-state solution – is achieved.

It is clear that political leaders, without the backing of their peoples, cannot make peace. Both Palestinian President Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Olmert need public support. That is why on October 18th, the Israeli and Palestinian people in unison will send a message to the world and to their leaders: ‘We demand immediate, uninterrupted negotiations till the completion of an agreement among our heads of State, to be presented to their people by October 18, 2008 – in one short year.’

It will be a clear message to those scheduled to sit down at the table in November, a loud voice resonating in both Israel and Palestine, and echoed by the international community, pledging support for the process and demanding results.

Yes, we have seen peace conferences fail to deliver before. But we – moderate citizens – have also allowed ourselves the luxury of silence and inaction. We must face the reality that we are standing before a quickly closing window of opportunity to change the course of this conflict, to lend our voices to a resolution before extremists succeed in rendering any progress intractable.

The road is not easy. As the Founder of OneVoice, there have been those times when thing seem very dark indeed – when I have questioned the very core of what I have chosen to do with my life, and really wondered whether OneVoice can make a difference. There have been enormous obstacles and setbacks, both on an organizational and on a political level.

But at these times it is necessary to remember there is no alternative but to prevail. Too much is at stake. We will act because there is no other option, and we will succeed because we must.

On October 18, OneVoice and the hundreds of thousands who stand in support of it will do just that – people will take a stand for an end to the conflict, will remind their leaders what is at stake and pledge to support them when they sit down. They will look toward the future – toward the coming year and the coming peace conference – and demand something more of themselves and of their leaders than the usual skepticism. They will demand resolution – NOW, together with one voice.

We need you there with us. The Israeli and Palestinian peoples need your support. Join us.