Hello! And welcome to a special edition of Inside The Newsroom. Occasionally I’ll write about the places I travel to, and today is one of those occasions. Last week I got back from Israel, where I was on a Birthright trip — a perk of being jewish — and travelled around the entire country. Let me just say this… aside from all of the religious and political stuff that we’ll get onto shortly, Israel has so many beautiful landmarks to see. I promise I’m not a new Israeli shill, but you could go there for a week and only see half of the sights. Anyway, here’s a rundown of the most important issues facing Israel right now, with a few of the sights I visited sprinkled in. Enjoy.
Israel: A Brief Timeline
The state of Israel was established in 1948 and to say its history is complicated would be a gross understatement. Surrounded by several Arab nations, Israel has at some point in its short tenure been at war with all of its immediate neighbors. In 2019, it’s one of the most controversial nations in the world, but to understand why its reputation among the international community is so poor, we must begin at the start.
Photo credit: The Jerusalem Post
We Must Save Israel From It’s Government
Israel is in a capricious position. It borders Egypt, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon who have all at some point wanted to completely destroy the country, so you can understand if Israel is a bit defensive about its security. That said, Israel has become increasingly right-wing in the past couple of decades, and since 2009, has been led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of the Likud party.
The game of geopolitical chess Israel is forced to play does not excuse it of some of its actions, such as building jewish settlements in the West Bank, which has left its image in tatters outside of the country. The sense I gained from the people I spoke to was one of recognition of the government’s nationalist stance. For many, though, the most important thing has and always will be security. This is something that everyone living in Israel understands, and in my opinion, is the most misunderstood aspect by people living outside of the country.
Another General Election?
With all the chaos surrounding Israel, you’d think its people would need strong and stable leaders at the top. Well, that’s not the case and unfortunately Israel is no different to the rest of the world in that its government is in disarray. The country is due to head to the polls in September for the second time six months. That’s because Netanyahu’s Likud party won just 35 of the 120 seats available and could not scramble together the 61 seats needed to form a coalition government. Back to the polls we go.
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Netanyahu’s Corruption Charges
As Netanyahu campaigns for the upcoming election in September, he remains under serious fire from one of the country’s most powerful people. Israel’s Attorney General, Avichai Mandelblit, has informed Netanyahu that he intends to indict him on charges of bribery, fraud and breach of trust, stemming from agreements with and several expensive gifts received from various businessmen.
One area that has suffered greatly from this whole ordeal is Petah Tikva, the Tel Aviv suburb where Mandelbilt lives. Once a quiet town with not a whole lot going on has turned into the epicentre of noisy protests over what should happen to Netanyahu. According to one local resident, the protestors used to appear only on Saturday evenings. Now they arrive every day at 7 p.m. and stay until 11 p.m. Poor bloke.
BDS. What Is It?
So I didn’t even know what the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement was until I got back from the trip to find out that Israel had banned U.S. congresswomen Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib from entering the country in order to visit Gaza and Palestinian-controlled zones of the West Bank. BDS was started more than a decade ago by more than 100 Palestinian activist groups, with the intention of boycotting Israel and its goods and services, until Israel leaves the West Bank, East Jerusalem, Gaza and the Golan Heights. Easier said than done, which we’ll get into...
The Golan Heights
Making the trek to the Golan Heights was a chilling experience. No more than 200 yards into the distance, I could see a bombed out Syrian city, soulless, lifeless. Civil war being played out yards from the Israeli border really brings it home to the state of the Middle East. Israel gained the Golan Heights after it defeated Syria in the Six Day War in 1967. Whether Israel wants to eventually hand back the land will depend on who you ask, but what’s undeniable is the strategic importance of the Golan Heights, and in the wrong hands could spell suicide for the Israelis.
Below is a little snippet from Conan O’Brien’s travel show, where you can hear the civil war literally take place in the background.
The Dead Sea Is Dying
The Dead Sea, the earth’s lowest accessible point, is receding by up to four feet per year. Half a century ago it was double the 30 miles in length it is today, which confirms my first thought when I arrived: where’s the rest of it? From the maps I’d seen, the Dead Sea was a gigantic basin too big to see the other side. Instead, I was afraid I’d float to Jordan by mistake. According to Galit Cohen, a senior director with Israel’s Environmental Protection Ministry, the shrinking of the Dead Sea is “not just an economic problem or an ecological problem. It’s a geopolitical problem.”
And another clip of Conan…
Friday Night Shabbat at the Western Wall
People ask me what my highlight of the trip was and I have to say it was one of the holiest traditions of Judaism: Friday night at the Western Wall. For the sports fans among us, imagine an evening kick off at Wembley for the FA Cup Final, or a night game in Tuscaloosa watching the Alabama Crimson Tide. The 30-minute walk from the hotel to the wall had the feel of a climactic football game, with the men dressed in their finest black silk coats, and the woman in their best sequin dresses. And that was just walking to the Old City. Once we actually got into the Kotel, I immediately became lost in a sea of men praying, 10 to 15 rows deep from the wall. I felt like an alien while also completely at home at the same time.
… is (hopefully) Eylon Levy, an English-born journalist who now works for i24NEWS in Israel. During my recent trip to the holy land, Eylon was gracious enough to give it to us (my tour group) straight, explaining the difficulties Israel faces right now. It wasn’t all one sided, and I hope to have part of the conversation again for you guys.
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