Thursday, May 21, 2009

A Heart Attack? Really?

It is really quite amazing, if that is the right word to describe it, how one’s plans can be so dramatically altered within minutes.

Having enjoyed a long weekend in Jerusalem with our eldest daughter and attended the first part of a ceremony for one of the grandchildren preparing for his Bar Mitzvah, we returned to Haifa with plans to attend a meeting in Herzliya during the week and also a couple of lectures. All this whilst maintaining contact with so many of you around the world who have an interest in Israel and ask questions that need answers.

Come Monday morning 6:00 am, I awoke in a cold sweat and with some tenseness across the chest, yes, sure enough the symptoms of a heart attack. My first thought, of course, was to wake up my wife and get her to call the “intensive care” ambulance from Magen David Adom (MDA)- specially designed for dealing with such problems - but somehow I couldn’t believe it was happening. After all we live quite a healthy life style. We exercise a lot by walking on our local Dado promenade, now with the added attraction of the continuing Hecht promenade.

But the realization eventually sunk in after a few minutes and my wife awoke to arrange for the ambulance. Now I don’t know what reaction times are in the various countries around the world from phoning in for an ambulance and actually have one arrive at the front door but I believe they arrived at our apartment in less than 7-8 minutes. The crew was so efficient in dealing with the first phase of the attack that it seemed that in no time we were already on the way to hospital. Since we have 3 major hospitals here in Haifa, I was able to express my preference, on this occasion, Bnei Zion.

Within 2.1/2 hours of arrival, I had been checked in, taken directly to the cardiac catheterization room, fitted with stents and returned to the ward. There I spent 3 days in recovery and today Thursday, came home.

Now the next recuperation phase means no driving for 6 weeks, taking life very easy for a couple of weeks before starting to exercise a few minutes a day gradually working up to 45 minute stretches.

So rushing down to Tel Aviv or Jerusalem by car, bus or train is out of the reckoning for now. The intense sessions in front of the computer have to be restricted. But, it is no good dwelling on what might have been. I need to look forward, life goes on.

Thankfully I cannot compare from personal experience what goes on in different countries but let me just say that the team work of Israeli doctors, both Arab and Jew, the ever smiling and cooperative nursing staff from all walks of Israeli life, makes me feel good.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Unfavourable Views of Jews in Europe

Ethnocentric attitudes are on the rise in Europe. Growing numbers of people in several major European countries say they have an unfavorable opinion of Jews, and opinions are more negative than they were several years ago. The elitist opinions and the constant media Israel bashing agenda must have had some effect on these figures. So many newspapers find all types of insidious ways to express their feelings, thus passing these views on to their readers.

Recently the European song festival was held in Russia. Israel’s entry was performed by one Israeli (Jewish) and another Israeli (Muslim), surely this shows the multiculturalism of the country. Not so for the Times of the UK, the performance was by “a Jew and an Arab”. No reference whatsoever to the fact that the “Arab” was Muslim and Israeli. But then that doesn’t fit the charge of racism, does it?

A spring 2008 survey by the Pew Research Center’s Pew Global Attitudes Project finds that

- 46% of the Spanish rate Jews unfavorably compared to 21% in 2005.
- 34% of Russians compared to 21% in 2005 and
- 36% of Poles, 27% in 2005

Somewhat fewer, but still significant numbers of the Germans (25% compared to 21% in 2005) and French (20% compared to 18%) interviewed also express negative opinions of Jews. These percentages are all higher than obtained in comparable Pew surveys taken in recent years.

In a number of countries, the increase has been especially notable between 2006 and 2008. However, Great Britain stands out as the only European country included in the survey where there has not been a substantial increase in anti-Semitic attitudes. Just 9% of the British rate Jews unfavorably, compared to 7% in 2005.

Relatively small percentages in both Australia (11%) and the United States (7%) continue to view Jews unfavorably.

Anti-Jewish opinions are most prevalent among Europeans on the political right.

Yes there is a feeling that the 1930"s are being repeated but let's hope some sense will prevail.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

A Kiwi's View of Israel

I received the letter below from a visitor to Israel from New Zealand. Once again it shows that when people do make the effort to visit and see life as it really is through their eyes, suddenly the polemic outbursts of those with anti Israel opinions, usually not based on facts, I have to say, show Israel in a totally different light.

Dorothy Finlay lives in Tauranga writes;

I have spent nearly 35 years of my life in the Middle East. As a Christian with close friends among Arabs and Jews, I am literate in Arabic and can communicate in Hebrew. I have nursed in the Christian Arab sector of the Old city, in St. John Eye Hospital in Jerusalem, and Nasir Eye Hospital in Gaza in 1999. I have also worked in Hadassah Hospital in Jerusalem and taught in the Arab Bethlehem University. I recently returned from Jerusalem, where I was part of an expat team helping Arab children with congenital heart disease who receive life-saving surgery from Israeli paediatric cardiac surgeons.

I know how issues related to Israel are always inflammatory to those who have prejudice — both religious and political. I have even seen charges of Israel's ‘oppression’ of Arabs and ‘apartheid’. I can say, on the basis of my own experience and that of others, that such charges have no basis in fact.

Following is an account of a typical day (January 20, 2009) during my most recent stay. What I saw, on this day — and all other days — was quite the opposite of ‘oppression’ and ‘apartheid’.

Today is another busy day for the team from Shevet Achim, an NGO that coordinates care for children from Iraq, Gaza, and the West Bank who need urgent heart surgery in Israeli hospitals.

As I walk through the corridors of Wolfson Children's Hospital near Tel Aviv, I see nearly as many Arab children with their mothers as Israelis. You could see they are all good friends, sharing concerns for their children. Hebrew, English and Arabic languages are interwoven in the hum everywhere as parents discuss their children with no thought of their origins.

Wahaj was first into the theatre for repair of a critical congenital heart condition. This bouncy two-year-old and his mother had travelled from northern Iraq to Jerusalem and had been waiting for a week for the ‘big day’. Now it is history and soon he will be able to return home with a new heart and future.

Havan, a very small 11-month-old from Iraq, is scheduled today for heart catheterisation. This little boy, who nearly succumbed to pneumonia en route through Jordan, now has a perpetual smile.

Today six children from Gaza with serious heart problems are being transported from the Erez Israel/Gaza crossing to Israeli hospitals for assessments, examinations and surgery. Last week there were ten such children in one day. Palestinian doctors, who depend on Israeli hospitals to treat these children, referred them to Dr Tamir, head of the Israeli NGO ‘Save a Child's Heart’ (SACH). Israeli surgeons with SACH provide the high tech surgery at no charge to the children.

Last night I accompanied a little six year old boy, Hizam, with his father back to the Gaza border, twelve days following radical heart surgery. While at the border, as we were depositing him and his father, the alarm came over the intercom for us to leave quickly. There was a loud noise and in the sky we saw a rocket that had been launched in the direction of S'derot, an Israeli town 10 km from Erez. It fell short and landed in a field. It gave me a small sense of the fear and tension that is felt every time HAMAS fires at Israel, sometimes 10-20 times a day.

I asked Hizam's father about his attitude to coming to Israel from Gaza. He was so happy. ‘Everyone is willing to help a sick child’, he said.

Today there are also several Palestinian children from Hebron to be examined and treated by sensitive and loving Israeli nurses and doctors who provide skilled professional care, served with a generous dollop of kindness and compassion.

Abdullah Siam is a close relative of a senior Hamas leader who was operated on earlier. He is now packed up waiting to return to Gaza following life-saving heart surgery. Yes, even as Hamas is launching rockets at Israel and as the war in Gaza is pounding away, this child received the same loving care as the other children.

Monday, May 11, 2009

More Roadblocks Removed

It was reported that yesterday, May 10, two roadblocks in the Ramallah area were removed, one located near the village of Ras Karkar and the other near the village of Ein Yabrud.

The removal of the Ras Karkar roadblock allows free movement of vehicles between the city of Ramallah and the villages to its west, while the removal of the Ein Yabrud roadblock allows for traffic between Ramallah and villages to its east.

The roadblocks were removed in accordance with security assessments and as part of the relief plan authorized by the Minister of Defense and the IDF Chief of the General Staff.

This relief plan includes the opening of a number of central roads and the removal of checkpoints, especially in the areas of Ramallah, Hebron, Nablus, and Tulkarm.

These steps improve the overall Palestinian quality of life, allowing for increased freedom of movement. As part of this plan, over 140 checkpoints have been removed throughout Judea and Samaria in the last year.

The army is continuing to act according to decisions made by the political echelon, in accordance with security assessments. These actions are meant to further ease the routine life of the Palestinian population in Judea and Samaria, while continuously fighting terror and maintaining the safety of the citizens of the State of Israel.

So we see that as security improves so does the day to day life of the Plaestinians, it is all a matter of action and reaction.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Advanced Agriculture Technologies on Show in Tel Aviv

Overseas visitors abound at the Agritech 2009 Exhibition which opened in Tel Aviv earlier this week, the Jerusalem Post reports. Delegations from every continent except Antarctica came to examine the best of Israeli agricultural technology.

Visitors wandered the halls and the outside exhibition area at the 17th annual fair, looking at irrigation systems, pipes, sprinklers, a vegetable oil-powered tractor, fans, and all of the other myriad technology that forms the basis of modern agriculture.

Perhaps more than other sectors, agriculture has been greatly affected by changing climate conditions. Whereas water scarcity has always been an issue in Israel, it now affects farmers everywhere.

In response to customer demand and their own initiatives, some of the major companies have begun developing ever more advanced irrigation management systems, which significantly reduce water use. "Drip irrigation only accounts for 5% of irrigation worldwide, but we're seeing more of an interest as water resources become scarcer," said one manufacturer.

One company has begun focusing on castor bean hybrids to make them competitive with oil as a bio-fuel. While castor bean oil cannot generally compete with petroleum price-wise, Castor beans are not food crops and can be grown in marginal areas, thus removing the competition with food crops. Previous generations of bio-fuel based on corn or soy drove food prices higher at some points.

Over 4,000 overseas visitors are expected, including several agricultural ministers, and for deals worth $40 million to be negotiated over the course of the event.

For more details see

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

A Walk in the Park

Life in Israeli is full of variety. Yesterday was no exception. It was the completion of several months of planning for the annual sponsored Walk which, for the last 5 years, my wife and I have organized.

What for? you ask. Well here in Haifa there is a special ed school dealing with children who have all sorts of learning problems,

The children at the Center suffer from a wide range of learning disabilities such as: dyslexia, dysgraphia, A.D.D. (Attention Deficit Disorder), hyperactivity, perceptual handicaps, etc. Since learning disabil
ities occur in many forms: visual, auditory, motor control, communication, logic etc. effective correction must include a total approach to the educational, physiological, psychological and medical needs of the individual child

The treatment at the Center is holistic, an approach that looks upon the total child not only his specific learning disability. The multi-disciplinary staff of over 20 therapists and teaching specialists provide a uniquely tailored program for each child.

So where did we walk? You ask. Well, in Zichron Yaacov some 30 mins south of Haifa, there is the most amazing park, Park Ramat Hanadiv covering 1125 acres. We were received with great enthusiasm by the staff , who were extremely cooperative also during the planning stage

The Park offers a four-way study-action plan, ongoing until today:

1) The Research Approach for understanding the basic knowledge about the ecosystem and its processes.
2) Archeological Excavations and unveiling of ancient sites throughout the park.
3) Preparing the park for day hikes: A set of trails was created, leading to the main points of interest. All trails are circular - beginning and ending at the Visitors Pavilion.
4) Active Management: The Nature Park management seeks to conserve and nurture diverse habitats to support rich and attractive biodiversity.
The hiking trails traverse archaeological sites, lookout points, a spring and wishing well, and a rich variety of flora that bloom in spring as well as in winter. Self-guided tours of the Memorial Gardens ,containing Baron and Baroness Rothschild's crypt, intended for the disabled with explanations in Braille.

In spite of hot and sultry weather, we managed to complete one of the two trails planned. We then retired to the “Green” pavilion to learn about
1. Planning a sustainable environmentally friendly site, minimizing damage to the environment during the process of construction.
2. Saving water and ensuring efficient consumption.
3. Enhanced exploitation of energy in the building and use of renewable energy sources.
4. Conserving materials and sources – e.g. recycling construction materials in order to reduce the consumption and quarrying of new materials.
5. The internal environment in the building – such as specifications for producing a more comfortable environment for those living in the building.
A picnic lunch followed (thankfully the weather had cooled down) where participants received their certificates of participation and thanks from a grateful staff of the Haifa Center