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Update – 1 April 2011

Posted by Emily Gian on 1 April 2011 at 2:28pm:

Dear All,

Earlier this week I returned to Australia after two months of leave in Israel. Thinking back over all that happened in the region while I was away from my desk here at the Zionist Council of Victoria, I am simply amazed at everything that has occurred. 

The Egyptian revolution got under way just hours before my flight and many other oppressed people in the area are now looking to follow the lead of Tunisia and Egypt where long standing dictatorships were overthrown. Not long after some relative calm came to Egypt, the unrest began in Libya, and it still continues until today. 

The Israeli public was absolutely captivated by the unrest, particularly in Egypt, and there was some concern about the repercussions of the upheavals and what it meant for upholding the fragile peace with Egypt and Jordan and the nation’s standing in the Middle East. The extent of the fascination was underlined by the fact that, during the festival of Purim, a massive number of Gadaffi lookalikes could be seen roaming the streets of Southern Tel Aviv and other towns in the country.

There was also some interesting local news about the nation’s minerals prosperity. In addition to the natural gas discovered offshore in enormous quantities, it appears that Israel also has the world’s third largest reserves of shale oil and that Israeli technological advances mean that a clean, cheap and efficient method of mining this oil will be available by the end of the decade. This development has been seen by some observers as heralding new relationships between Israel and the rest of the world as the Arab dominance of oil markets begins to decline. Another item that aroused my interest was the country’s commitment to developing the Negev and the proposals to build two cities in the Arava region.

A visit to Israel always teaches you that politics and conflict does not always dominate the news and internally, I was enjoying the vibrant society of Israel, its great melting pot of diverse cultures and the miracle of the Hebrew language that brings so many of its people together. However, on Friday 11 March 2011, as I spent quiet Shabbat with my family in Tel Aviv preparing for my forthcoming wedding, a number of lives were shattered not too far away in the West Bank settlement of Itamar when five members of the Fogel family were brutally murdered while they slept, including three children, the youngest of whom was just 3 months old (see more). We spent the weekend asking how anyone could have so much hatred in their hearts to kill defenceless children or to leave other children parentless.

We watched CNN and BBC and hunted in the other international media for scraps of news about the murders but the world was otherwise preoccupied with the tragedy of the Japanese earthquake and stories of Gadaffi’s murderous behaviour but there was precious little other than some condemnation of Israel’s settlement building. The murder was taken out of context without any consideration of incitement from the Palestinian media including the naming of a sports arena after a suicide bomber from the past (who it must be noted, never differentiated between Israel and any territory that might be occupied or disputed).  

On the 15th of March, the IDF intercepted cargo vessel “Victoria” en route to Egypt (see more). As many as 50 tons of Iranian weaponry was found on the ship including six ready-to-be-launched C-740 anti-ship missiles, two launchers, two exterior launchers, two launchpads, 230 mortar shells with a range of 10 kilometers, 2,260 mortar shells with a range of 2.5 kilometers and 74,889 bullets for AK-47 rifles. According to the MFA website, the weaponry was concealed behind sacs of lentils and cotton, spread through 26 containers overall (see more). I searched for news about that in the international media expecting it to arouse a certain amount of attention internationally given the saturated coverage last year’s flotilla received and the fact that this interception would provide some context to Israel’s actions, but again – nothing. 

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu put it well when he declared, “To all those who have asked, attacked and criticised Israel for stopping and searching ships destined for Gaza, well here is the clearest possible answer, here, today in Ashdod, why it is our duty, not just our right, to stop and disarm such ship. They passed through Syria and were en route to terrorists in the Gaza Strip”.  

And for anyone that might still be sceptical about weapons coming into the Gaza Strip, just a few days later Israel’s southern towns were again the target of Palestinian rocket and mortar shell fire, culminating in the firing of a Grad rocket which fell into open space near the Israeli city of Ashdod on 23 March (see more). Israel responded with airstrikes on weapons tunnels and other targets.

Then, on the very same day as Grads were falling in the South, Jerusalemites were given a flashback to the post-Olso – early 2000s era when a bomb exploded next to a bus near the Jerusalem Convention Centre killing 59-year-old British national Mary Jean Gardner and wounding 50 others (see more).  Again, I looked in the international news and found precious little.

Is it any wonder that politicians around the world, including NSW Greens councillors and candidates for political election make pronouncements on the situation while confessing that they know very little of the events taking place in the region? (see more)

Two months in Israel, and very few moments of quiet in the news. But those of you that have been to Israel know how different it feels to actually be in the country when all the action is taking place. You often only hear news as some sort of an aside to your daily life; like the day of the Jerusalem bombing, when I noticed that the guards were more vigorously checking our bags as we entered a shopping centre. 

One issue that Israelis across the country continue to be united by is the yearning to bring abducted Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit home. From Tel Aviv cafes to the Big Brother House sits empty chairs waiting for Gilad Shalit to return. 

On a personal level, on the 14th of March I married Tomer and we made the decision to say a prayer for Gilad’s safe return under the Chuppah just before Tomer broke the glass. Our rabbi informed our family and friends that the breaking of the glass serves as a reminder that even at times of great joy we must reflect on times of sadness and the sadness continues for Gilad and his family. 

Two months after Tomer and I first met, Gilad Shalit was abducted. As we have passed each milestone, such as getting engaged or taking trips abroad, we have asked ourselves: “When will Gilad Shalit have the chance to fall in love and when will Gilad get his chance to see the world?” 

The day following our wedding coincided with a country-wide initiative called “Five Minutes for Gilad” where Israelis stopped for five minutes to think about Gilad and his plight. 

We will continue to pray for his swift return to his loving family and for there to be peace for all those who live in this troubled region.

On an administrative note, I now have a new email address: – Could you please update your address books accordingly. Emails from me will now come from Emily Gian. I would also like to give a big thank you to Jack Chrapot, Rabbi John Levi and Rebecca Searle, who did a fantastic job sending out Israel Advocacy Updates while I was away. 

Best wishes,