2017 – A united Jerusalem?

By Rachel Rose (Incoming Movement Worker, Tour Madricha 5777)

2017 was an important year for many reasons. It was personally special as I was lucky enough to be a Madricha for Israel tour! Arguably, just as important, was the controversial announcement of the Trump administration that the US intended to move their embassy to Jerusalem, recognising it officially as the undivided capital of the Jewish state. The decision was seen as controversial by many due to the difficult history of Jerusalem. Since 1948, the city has been a contentious area of land, with Israelis, Palestinians and external forces claiming rights to control. By 1967, with the Israeli capture of East Jerusalem, hope for a Palestinian capital alongside an Israeli one seemed to be fading as the occupation began. The announcement was therefore seen as an official rejection of any possibility of a Palestinian state and capital in Jerusalem, and as such, faced harsh criticism from across the world. An embassy move was not only a political statement against Palestinian self- determination, but a huge symbolic action within Israel - US relations. Some suggest that the decisions was at most exceptionally provocative and symbolic with little intention to actually move. However, others claim contrary to a dramatic shift in US politics, the move is a warranted follow up of unfulfilled promises by former presidents. In any case, it caused tension and moved the conflict further away from a 2 state solution, as the mood in Jerusalem felt more undivided than it had in years.

2016 – Wildfires in Haifa

By Ben Oppedijk

Israelis in Haifa wake up to flashes of light, the screech of sirens and the rush of action. Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu vows roars on the television, vowing to avenge a new form of terror. 80,000 are evacuated from their homes as accusations fly at Palestinian suspects.
The wildfires in near Haifa in November 2016 were explosive and dramatic – and yet they symbolised so much of the story of the state of Israel. This is a country that is regularly described as a tinderbox and, this time, it was no metaphor after two months of drought. Hundreds of homes were destroyed but, thankfully there were no deaths. Meanwhile, media around the world fanned the flames of outrage as accusations flew. A most Israeli of disasters, where everyone had something to say and it was almost as if the heat and the violence was coming from the land itself.

2015 – Violence at Al-Aqsa

By Gabriel Gendler (Tour Madrich 5777, Boger)

I was in Israel three times in 2015, for a total of two months. I spent a month in the Conservative Yeshiva and three weeks at the Hebrew University over the summer, and a week on a political trip organised by UJS in December. The atmosphere was noticeably different on my third visit. Violent clashes between Israeli police and young Palestinians had erupted on the Temple Mount / Haram al-Sharif complex, the enormous raised area where the Temple once stood and which is now home to the Dome of the Rock and the Al-Aqsa Mosque. Tension around the site had been building for some time due to Palestinian fears that Jewish Temple Mount activists would succeed in changing Israeli policy which currently gives control of the site to the Jordanian-funded Waqf, who ban Jews and Christians from any form of prayer or religious activity.

From afar, the Temple Mount / Haram al-Sharif issue might appear to be a scrap between religious fundamentalists on both sides, incidental to the conflict and a typical example of the need for embittered rivals to compromise and share. In fact, almost nothing could be further from the truth. In Jewish thought, the Temple Mount is the centre of the universe; for a rapidly growing proportion of Jewish Israelis (surpassing fifty percent right around now) the Third Temple will eventually exist there. Muslims believe it to be the place from which Mohammed ascended to heaven and spoke directly with God, and Al-Aqsa is the beating heart of Muslim Jerusalem and arguably of Palestinian identity. Almost no religious authority from either side has even suggested the notion of any sort of shared custody. No amount of diplomacy can rewrite the laws of physics to allow for two buildings on top of one rock (hat tip to Shaiya Rothberg at the CY who is, as usual, streets ahead of anyone else with the ridiculous but beautiful idea of an integrated Dome of the Rock / Third Temple).

If you want evidence of how much the site means, consider the fact that the violence on the site almost immediately turned into the Knife Intifada, three months of stabbing attacks by Palestinian "lone wolf" terrorists and fierce retaliations by Israeli security forces. There will be no peace without an answer to the Temple Mount question, and I haven't heard a feasible answer yet.

2014 – Operation Protective Edge

By Zach Levin

From the 8th of July until the 25th of August Israel engaged in a violent conflict against Hamas ruled Gaza called "Operation Protective Edge". It was launched by Israel in response to the brutal kidnapping and murder of three Israeli teenagers hitchhiking home by Hamas members. In response to the air and ground attacks on it, Palestine fired rockets aimed at Israel. The majority of the people killed by these rockets were Gazans. After the conflict both sides claimed victory.

2013 – There is a future

By Daniel Marx (Boger and Madrich)

In January 2013, Israel saw one of its more interesting Knesset elections. Whilst the overall outcome resulted in Netanyahu’s re-election as Prime Minister, something far less precedented had happened simultaneously; a brand-new party, Yesh Atid (‘There is a Future’), led by former broadcast news host, Yair Lapid, became the second largest party represented in the Knesset.
Yesh Atid, formed only a year previously, claimed to stand for the secular middle-class. They campaigned for, among other things, draft equality – removing exemptions for the ultra-orthodox – a two-state solution, and greater religious pluralism. This platform proved to be popular among voters on an unprecedented level, winning them 19 seats in the election on January 22nd.
This popularity was negatively affected through the party’s coalition with Netanyahu’s Likud party, with many voters feeling let down by Yesh Atid’s inability to enact many of the social and economic policies on which they ran.
By March, Israel had other problems to address, and one in particular was of an oddly biblical nature. On the 5th of March, swarms of locusts entered the country from Egypt. Whilst the Ministry of Agriculture was equipped to deal with this issue, the swarms did cause minor disruption to Israeli farmers, as well as additional swarms of broadcast news jokes about the ten plagues.
All in all, 2013 was for Israel, a year of minor disruptions. Neither Yesh Atid or the locusts rocked the very foundations of Israeli society, but the former, at the very least, got people talking about change; something that should never be undervalued.

2012 – Occupy Rothschild

By Mia Grabski (Bogeret and Madricha)

Thousands marched through Tel Aviv in an attempt to reignite the social justice movement that had swept through Israel the previous summer. Amongst the 7000 strong group, chants included “The people demand Social Justice” and “Democracy! Democracy!”.
Although a smaller scale protest than those that took place during the previous year, the police responded with brutality to the demonstrations: 89 were arrested and videos had already emerged of Daphni Leef (a symbol of the movement) and 10 other protesters being beaten and arrested whilst trying to pitch tents on Rothschild Boulevard.
The movement came about largely due to the ever-rising cost of living in Israel and the growing inequality within Israeli society. The price of living in Tel Aviv had grown by 40% between 2005-2011 and food companies continued to increase the price of the essentials without salaries seeing any comparable rise.

2012 – Occupy Rothschild

By Mia Grabski (Bogeret and Madricha)

Thousands marched through Tel Aviv in an attempt to reignite the social justice movement that had swept through Israel the previous summer. Amongst the 7000 strong group, chants included “The people demand Social Justice” and “Democracy! Democracy!”.
Although a smaller scale protest than those that took place during the previous year, the police responded with brutality to the demonstrations: 89 were arrested and videos had already emerged of Daphni Leef (a symbol of the movement) and 10 other protesters being beaten and arrested whilst trying to pitch tents on Rothschild Boulevard.
The movement came about largely due to the ever-rising cost of living in Israel and the growing inequality within Israeli society. The price of living in Tel Aviv had grown by 40% between 2005-2011 and food companies continued to increase the price of the essentials without salaries seeing any comparable rise.

2009 – Ada Yonath

By Amy Morris (Bogeret and Madricha)

In 2009, Ada Yonath won the Nobel Prize for Chemistry. This made her the first Israeli woman to receive a Nobel Prize, the first woman from the Middle East to a Nobel Prize in the sciences and the first woman in 45 years to win a Nobel Prize for Chemistry. However, she commented that there was nothing special about a woman receiving the award. She won the award for her structure and functions of the ribosome along with Venkatraman Ramakrishnan and Thomas A. Steitz. Their work has, among other things, been instrumental in the development and production of antibiotics. Ada Yonath said that "People called me a dreamer" when she first started researching ribosomes back in the late 1970s. Yonath's parents were Polish refugees who moved to Jerusalem in 1933. Her father was a rabbi but ran a grocery shop after failing to find work. The family found it hard to make ends meet. Growing up she slept on the floor and waited once a week for a truck to come so they could collect buckets of water. Yonath remembered books being the only thing that kept her occupied. One that particularly caught her attention was a biography of Marie Curie.