People Make a City International

September 29, 2009 at 2:15 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Is Atlanta an international city? What makes a city international?

I have worked in Atlanta for three years and it seems like this question keeps coming up. Is it a first rate international school like AIS or leading research institutions like Emory, Georgia Tech, or the CDC that have thousands of international students and faculty? Or perhaps it’s hosting the Centennial Olympic Games, as the city did in 1996.

Maybe it is Hartsfield-Jackson, the biggest airport in the world, which operates only 20 minutes away from the city and serves hundreds of thousands of flights a year with hundreds of millions of passengers from some 70 countries.

It could be the city’s two red giants, CNN and Coca-Cola, both household names around the world. Even in Africa’s Sahara Desert one can find satellite dishes attached to nomadic tents and cans of Coke in camel saddlebags.

In the relatively short time that I have lived here I have met some of the most well known world leaders.

People like Ban Ki-Moon, the Secretary General of the United Nations, and the Dalai Lama who stood in as a guest professor at Emory University.

Others like the Aga Kan who came here to promote International Baccalaureate programs in public schools and the author Salman Rushdie, call Atlanta home for part of the year.

There is also an internationally renowned music scene in Atlanta. In this city I’ve accidently run into stars like Elton John in the elevator and been in the InterContinental Hotel when Usher stepped into the Lobby and started dancing with my beautiful four year old daughter.

What make a city international are not its celebrities, its universities, its airports, or its companies.

But rather, it’s the attitude of its people. Atlantans are endowed with a desire to connect their city to the rest of the world, a curiosity about other places and ways of life.

Becoming internationalized as Atlantans have is a decision that can be made regardless of a place’s history, size, or, even, financial means.

I know this to be true from my hometown and country.

Isfiya, my town, has this same Atlantan attitude and it has managed to turn my once small village into an international tourist destination. Undoubtedly our breathtaking views of the Mediterranean from the top of Mount Carmel and the fact the Elijah walked our trails helped, but that was not the point.

It was the attitude of the residents that should be credited for the fact that at the beginning of the third millennium our town had three Israeli Ambassadors serving on three different continents.

The story of Atlanta and Isfiya is also the story of my country, Israel, a place only as large as the 28 counties in Atlanta’s metropolitan area.

Yet despite its size, Israel has over 100 embassies and diplomatic missions. It has made itself one of the world’s most globalized nations with free trade agreements with the European Union, North America, and with countries and regions around the world.

Atlanta too is building diplomatic missions and trade offices as the city fast becomes the preferred center for foreign missions seeking to work in the unofficial capital of Southeast.

My colleagues in the Atlanta Consular Corps and I work year round to connect the city and the Southeast to our counties and to build the international community from the bottom up.

We work with the city’s smorgasbord of local grass roots movements, civic associations, investors, and companies. We enjoy watching companies from home create jobs right here in the Atlanta area and seeing local investors help develop the communities we represent.

Atlanta, of course, has another example for someone who came from modest means to become a household name in four corners of the world.

If anyone made this city international, it was that man, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Looking at his story, and the story of this city, leads me to say yes.

Atlanta is an international city and that’s thanks to its residents and leaders who work tirelessly to be global citizens and active in the international community.

Article original appeared in the Atlanta Journal-Consitution on September 27, 2009

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Where is Israel’s Dr. King?

September 29, 2009 at 2:11 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

The Consulate General of Israel in Atlanta and Morehouse College recently unveiled a new project, The Rabin-King Initiative, in an effort to bring the Jewish community and Israel closer to the African-American community. The venture’s launch was preceded by two years of dialogue and study of the history of relations between Jews in America and Israel to the African-American community.

Over the two years preceding the Initiative we began a dialogue and historical study of the relationship between the Jewish community in America, Israel and the African-American community. We met with many black leaders, including Congressman John Lewis who took part in the Dr. King’s famous march from Selma to Montgomery, and former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Andrew Young, who stood next to Dr. King at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis when the assassin shot the civil rights leader down.  We also contacted the acclaimed poet Maya Angelo, NBA and Maccabi Tel Aviv player Levan Mercer, who lives in Atlanta, and of course the children and extended family of the late Dr. King.

During my educational journey, I was surprised to discover the great role played by Jews in the movement for civil equality led by King and his comrades. From the movement’s inception, Jewish volunteers from across America enlisted themselves in the cause. Jewish students traveled to the South to assist with the voter registration of Afro-Americans, unflinching even as some of their own were kidnapped and murdered.  They rode together on integrated buses to break the laws demanding the racial separation of public facilities.  Jewish accounts assisted the civil rights movement by managing its funds and Jewish lawyers were there to promote it in court.

Another surprising lesson I learned had to do with King’s love for America. In almost every speech, he stressed the importance of loving others and the need to co-exist upon the struggle’s end, and for this he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.  In all his speeches King would laud America’s achievements and emphasize that the black struggle was not just for equality, but also for the right to enjoy the benefits of the world’s most democratic, wealthiest, and most advanced society.

These are two important lessons to be applied in the context of Jewish-Arab relations in Israel. The Jews in Israel need to be active partners in the Arab struggle for full equality. At this time we don’t see enough Jewish involvement in Arab struggles for education, employment, and development. And while in the absence of Israeli Jews, American Jews are again filling the vacuum, there this is no substitute for the Jewish-Israeli civil society’s enlistment to this important cause.

Joint action for the sake of social objectives is important in and of itself, but it also serves as an important means to advance co-existence. Once Jews and Arabs join forces, they will get to know each other better and they will learn that there is no difference between a woman’s shelter for Jews and one for Arabs, or to how Arabs and Jews are affected by sickness, tragedy, and loss.

Israeli Arabs must also learn to emphases their desire to integrate into Israeli society.  They must tone done their criticism of Israel during times of struggle.  The almost automatic identification of some Israeli Arabs with any rival confronting Israel, be it Hamas or Hezbollah, is their right, yet it does not serve the equality we aspire for.  As long as this message is not clear, the Jews are right to be concerned that Arab Israelis are fighting for separation rather than integration.

The shared future of all of us in Israel will depend on the extent of mutual consideration given by Arabs and Jews to the sensitivities and difficulties of each side.

For Obama and Netanyahu: 2009, a Year of Regional Hopes & Challenges

May 22, 2009 at 4:12 pm | Posted in Integration, Peace Process, Security | Leave a comment

Any day when the President of the United States and the Prime Minister of Israel work together is a great day, an example of the strong working relationship our two great countries share.  The recent meeting was the second for President Obama and Prime Minister Netanyahu, the two having previously met as candidates for their respective offices.  That meeting was a great success and we in Israel look forward to working with President Obama, as our new government comes together with the new American administration.

While this meeting was important, we know that Israel and the United States have a friendship that’s bigger than any single leader or government interest.  Our two countries are bonded in every home and on every street corner, a relationship built on the shared grassroots values of everyday Americans and Israelis.  The bedrocks of our open societies are our democratic ideals: voting rights, freedom of religion, minority rights, the rule of law, and individual liberty.

Our two countries have a common vision for the future, one that will allow us to create a lasting peace.  To that end, Prime Minister Netanyahu has continued our country’s intensive peace negotiations.  His commitment comes in spite of the Palestinians’ current state of division.  The Palestinian leadership is severed in two, each side unwilling to work with the other. Dialog cannot advance unless we can have a unified partner open to peace and dialog.  Yet in the face of these complications, our government has vowed to respect all of Israel’s obligations with the Palestinian people.

There can be no peace, however, while the Iranian specter looms over the region and attempts to taint every effort our countries make.  Iran’s policies and rhetoric have no place in the modern civilized world.  As the Prime Minister recently remarked, “it is inconceivable that, at the beginning of the 21st century, a country has said it is going to eradicate the Jewish state.”

Israel, the United States, and our Arab neighbors agree: Iran and its nuclear ambitions are a threat that we all must face.  Tehran’s Hamas fighters have taken Gaza hostage, its Hezbollah proxies have undermined Lebanese democracy and independence, and its allies in Iraq have waged a bloody war against the Iraqi people and American forces since Saddam fell in 2003.

The meeting in Washington was likely the first of many and we can all expect the President and the Prime Minister to work closely over the coming years. These discussions serve to remind us of our commonalities.  When you look past the headlines we are both merely freedom loving immigrant societies, countries built by the hard work of those seeking a better and peaceful life for their children and grandchildren.

I had the privilege to work along side Prime Minister Netanyahu while he served as Deputy Foreign Minister and as Prime Minister in his first government.  I have experienced first-hand his many close personal relationships with leaders from all walks of American life and I know his deep commitment to strengthen the great alliance between Israel and the United States.  I am confident will face our threats together and accomplish our common goals for peace.

Article originally appeared in the Atlanta Jewish Times on May 22, 2009

Israel and “the A Word?” You Must Be Joking.

April 3, 2009 at 2:50 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

For many outside of Israel, their perception of the country has been framed by the international media. They have allowed their opinions to be shaped by a constant stream of pictures and articles with one main idea: between Arabs and Jews there can be only hatred and violence. With this mindset, the delegates traveled to Haifa, Israel, one of the most beautiful cities on Earth, a place where beauty is about more than geography.

In Haifa, the Muslim delegations visited a major university with an Arab Muslim vice president and many Arab students. They went to markets and offices and observed Arabs and Jews peacefully going about their simple daily lives. The delegations heard the call to prayer of the muezzin. They visited the mosque of the Ahmadi Islamic sect, Muslims persecuted in many parts of the world who have flourished in Israel, and traveled near the world Baha’i religious center, a faith persecuted in Iran. They met some of the more than one hundred Islamic family court judges and talked with the Imams who provide religious services; both groups are paid by the Israeli government.

In a regular Israeli parliament session, there are an average of 15 Arab members, some of whom are part of self-proclaimed Zionist parties. Israel has Arab members of parliament and in the cabinet; it has Arab ambassadors and high-ranking Arab officers in the military.

Yet, despite examples of diversity like those shown above, some critics persist in trying to apply the terrible adjective of apartheid to the State of Israel. The facts on the ground, however, show nothing even remotely close to a racist system. For while one can claim that Arabs in Israel do not receive enough government attention or investment in their community or one can argue that the Israeli Arab’s situation is sensitive as a minority in a country that has gone to war with its Arab neighbors, all of these issues are political and have nothing to do with race. There is no apartheid in Israel.

Nor is there apartheid in Gaza and the West Bank. The territories came under Israeli control in 1967 following the Six Day War and over the next 20 years Israel controlled them with nearly no security measures: almost no checkpoints, no fences and no controlled roads. However, during the first Palestinian uprising in 1987 and again during the 1990s, Israel was forced to toughen its security measures. The country had to protect its citizens because the terrorists of Hamas made suicide bombing their tactic of choice and shopping malls, night clubs, schools, and hotels their primary targets.

Before their uprising began, more then 120,000 Palestinians worked in Israel. In every Palestinian household there was at least one person who worked in Israel. These workers entered the country freely and their standard of living was among the highest in the Middle East.

Only after 25 years of controlling the territories and having its citizens targeted by terror, did Israel begin to institute the security measures that some are trying to call “apartheid.” That is why it has been so hard to make the charges stick. Israel, like any other country, is not perfect. The country and its diverse population still admittedly face political and security issues. But apartheid? You must be joking. Israel and the international community are ready for Palestinian freedom and independence. The question is, however, are the Palestinians?

The greatest problem facing the Palestinians today is not Israel or illusionary “apartheid,” but a lack of unified and visionary leadership. Palestinians need to understand that violent action will never yield the results they want and that serving as a useful distraction for the regime in Tehran will never bring prosperity. The Palestinians need to produce their own Martin Luther King, Jr., Nelson Mandela, or Mahatma Gandhi.. A leader who will demonstrate to them that nonviolence is a much more successful tool for freedom and co-existence.

Article was picked up by the Jewish Telegraphic Agency on April 3, 2009.

Free Gaza Indeed

January 7, 2009 at 8:50 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Some of the Arab and Muslim demonstrators who recently came to our offices were holding signs that said “Free Gaza.” Many Israelis would raise that same sign, me included, but for different reasons. People tend to forget that as of August 2005, Israel has not been in Gaza, and that the Gazans have been under Hamas control since June 2007.  Indeed, Gaza needs to be freed from many different extremist forces.

Gaza should be freed from Hamas, a terrorist organization that seized the strip by force. Since the take-over, Hamas has run Gaza’s economy into the ground and now nearly half of the work force is unemployed. Hamas has built a Taliban-style state in Gaza and introduced many of the Islamic Shari’a laws, institutionalizing the persecution of women and minorities.

Hamas has transformed Gaza from a free territory to a large bunker, a place where rockets are stored under families, schools, and places of prayer. Unfortunately, Gazans not only live among this militarization but are now a tool in Hamas’ aggression.  The terrorist organization has developed a strategy of using innocent civilians as human shields. When Israel warns that the houses of Hamas operatives and commanders will be targeted, the terrorists bring in innocent citizens, often by force, in an effort to increase the likelihood of civilian casualties. Hamas’ leaders rely on the strict Israeli moral code, hoping to avoid being attacked or that a strike will allow them to score points in the media by sacrificing there own people, creating what looks like acts of Israeli military aggression.

Gaza should be freed from the intervention of Iran, a state that openly admits to financing Hamas. Iran is also helping Palestinian terror organizations with training, intelligence and equipment.  Some of this “aid” is channeled through Hezbollah in Lebanon– yet another Iranian proxy organization.  Hezbollah and Iran use the Gazans to maintain regional political relevance in their empty agenda against Israel.

Gaza should be freed from some of the Arab Satellite channels like Al-Jazeera. These television stations engage in the direct incitement of the Arab and Muslim world. Everything is acceptable in their eyes to raise their ratings: including long shots of bodies and injuries. Some of these channels do not dismiss any editing trick and consider propaganda as a normal part of their news reporting.

As far as Israel is concerned, Gaza is free and it is the decision of its inhabitants to what the area’s destiny will be. They can continue to buy into the self-defeating promises of terrorist organizations and extremist ideologies. Even worse, they can continue to let these organizations use them as human shields and demolish their hopes and futures.

Gazans can only truly be free by declaring Gaza a terror-free zone.  The people of Gaza have many resources in their hands to achieve success.  Gaza could use its beautiful Mediterranean coast to attract Israeli and Egyptian tourists. It can renew the flower and fruit exports to Europe that Israel left behind.  The airport that was built there can be reopened.  The seaport that is planned and even the natural gas fields in its waters could be built.  The people of this region need to make the decision that Gaza will become a model of peace and stability and hopefully, the beginning of the two-state solution: Israel and Palestine living side by side in peace.

Article appeared in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution on January 7, 2009 and in the Nashville’s Tennessean on January 6, 2009

The Mumbai Attacks Wounded Us All

December 29, 2008 at 10:02 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

We in Israel continue to mourn the attacks in Mumbai. The terrorists of “India’s 9/11” obliterated the relative peace in one of the world’s greatest cities, murdering hundreds of mothers and fathers, husbands and wives and sons and daughters. The attacks are tragic examples of the new age of global terror in which we live. The shadow of terrorism looms over the four corners of the Earth, from New York and Washington to Bali and Mumbai, from Madrid and London to Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.

The globalization of terror is visible not only by geography, but by the diverse backgrounds of those who are killed. The terrorists of Mumbai sought out not only Indians, but also Americans and English, Jews and Israelis, and anyone else who could be mistaken for a Westerner. The terrorists targeted Mumbai’s Chabad center, the local branch of the Jewish outreach organization, and killed nine of its occupants. In the end, the citizens of 26 countries could be counted among the dead and wounded.

Terrorists do not care who they kill. During the 1990s, we in Israel were besieged by the homicide bombers of Hamas, Hezbollah and their fellow travelers. The bombers struck shopping malls, schools and buses in an attempt to target Jewish civilians. Many of the attacks took place in mixed Arab-Jewish cities. The terrorists were undeterred by demographics. They blew up restaurants filled with Jews and Muslims alike. Bombs exploded aboard buses filled with veiled Muslim women. In one case a Hezbollah missile landed off target, killing two young Arab brothers in the city of Nazareth. Hassan Nasrallah, the leader of Hezbollah, congratulated the boys’ mother and father for their sacrifice.

The present and brutal reality of globalized terrorism was first apparent 20 years ago when terrorists bombed Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland. The victims were not just American, British or Israeli but were Jamaican, Filipino, Bolivian, Argentine and Trinidadian. The attacks over Lockerbie and in Mumbai, along with all those the world has sustained in between, prove that 21st-century terrorism isn’t localized in some remote hot spot or in countries militarily involved in Iraq. Today’s terrorism threatens everyone, regardless of faith, nationality or political beliefs.

Given the universality of the global terrorist threat and the extended reach of its murderous hand, the old semantic debate about the difference between “terrorists” and “freedom fighters” should be put to rest. Violence and evil should be called out for what they are, and 2008, the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, should be the time for the international community to assert its right to live free from terror and fight back.

Terrorists justify their violence by claiming its necessity in their struggle for political rights. This validation is a lie. Three great leaders of the 20th century prove the hollowness of the terrorists’ claim. The first was Mahatma Gandhi, the Indian who lead the subcontinent to independence and inspired countless true freedom fighters.  Gandhi wrote in his autobiography that “he who would be friends with God must be alone or make all humanity his friend.” In his quest for India’s freedom, Gandhi shunned violence and engaged Hindus and Muslims and Christians and Jews alike.

Gandhi lived a portion of his life in South Africa, where he came to inspire Nelson Mandela. Despite the hardships of abuse and imprisonment, Mandela embraced nonviolence and destroyed the racist system of apartheid. The future president of his country showed that the choices of forgiveness and moderation are far better tools for achieving equality than vengeance and extremism.

A portrait of Gandhi also hung in the office of a young Atlanta preacher working for racial equality, someone who believed that “God is not interested merely in the freedom of black men and brown men and yellow men. God is interested in the freedom of the whole human race.” Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. understood that violence can contaminate a society for generations and that, in opposition, groups must struggle to build one common nation.

Gandhi and his disciples do not show an alternative path to equality and freedom from the one espoused by terrorism. They show the only path. The cold-blooded murder of innocents will never lead to more freedom. Terrorism’s blind rage inevitably turns others against murderers’ cause and only escalates the cycle of violence.

Over the next few decades, the competition between the false and heinous justifications of terrorism and the message of Gandhi, King and Mandela will be in full force. The hearts and minds of the world’s oppressed and marginalized are at stake. The truth must prevail, as countless lives hang in the balance. Terrorism is the challenge of our generation and entire international community must unite against the common threat.

Article appeared in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution on December 29, 2008 and in Charleston’s Post & Courier on December 18, 2008.

Consul General is an Arab Who Represents Israel Well

December 29, 2008 at 9:58 pm | Posted in Integration, Peace Process, Security | Leave a comment

From the Atlanta Journal-Constitution
By John Christensen

Wherever Reda Mansour goes, the rumor spreads quickly. It happened in San Francisco, in Quito, Ecuador, in Lisbon, and in Atlanta when he arrived two years ago as the Israeli consul general.

Within days, virtually everyone in the Jewish community knew that Mansour was not a Jew. Indeed, not only was he not a Jew, he was an Arab and a Muslim. And as anomalies go, that was just for openers.

Consider:

> He is also a Druse, a sect which broke away from mainstream Islam 1,000 years ago and has often been persecuted by other Muslims since.

> Although he champions the interests of a nation notable for its aggressive self-defense, he is also an award-winning poet who mourns violence, hatred and death.

> Although Arabic is his first language — he speaks five in all — he writes poetry in Hebrew.

> Although the proud descendant of a clan of farmer/warriors — and a combat veteran himself — he is first and foremost a peacemaker.

On a recent morning, Mansour relaxed in an easy chair in his bright corner office in Midtown. On his desk, two neatly stacked piles of paper awaited his attention. Balanced atop one stack was an indispensable tool of the career diplomat: a TV remote. The silenced television, nestled into a bookcase in the corner, flicked monotonously through the day’s affairs.

Mansour is of medium height with salt-and-pepper hair, dark soulful eyes and, at least in initial encounters, a detached watchfulness. He wore black slacks, a blue-and-white stripe shirt with a blue-and-yellow rep tie, and spoke in soft, accented English.

A consul general — Israel has nine in the United States and an ambassador in Washington — promotes cooperation between his country and local business, academic and cultural interests.

There are about 40 Israeli companies doing business in the Southeast, according to Jorge Fernandez, vice president for global commerce at the Metro Atlanta Chamber of Commerce, and Mansour is “very much involved in making sure that Atlanta is in the forefront of Israeli investments in the U.S. He is very approachable and very knowledgeable.”

Of particular concern to many, however, is how Mansour is regarded by the Jewish community.

‘We think he’s just terrific’

“Outstanding,” says Steven A. Rakitt, president of the Jewish Federation of Greater Atlanta, “just outstanding. Ambassador Mansour is one of the most thoughtful, passionate and eloquent representatives of the state of Israel that I’ve ever met. He’s respected, appreciated and admired. We’re thrilled to have him in Atlanta.” Mansour, who is referred to as ambassador due to his position in Ecuador, was appointed in 1990 as the first non-Jewish career diplomat. “But a lot of people still don’t know,” he says. “It’s a very exceptional thing.”

He shrugs. “The Jewish community needs to deal with this idea, and the vast majority accept it very well. They have learned very quickly how important it is for them, and how there is added value in having a representative who is not Jewish or maybe Jewish but from other groups in the country.

“I don’t think there’s any other country in the world other than America with as diversified a population as Israel. We have people from maybe 70 different countries.”

Tom Glaser, president of the American-Israel Chamber of Commerce, says Mansour “has been totally accepted by the Jewish community. He is one of the brightest, most thoughtful and intelligent consul generals we’ve had. He’s authentic, he’s loyal, he makes a very good impression, he’s a quick study and he’s very cooperative. He’s a great representative of the state of Israel, and we think he’s just terrific.”

In Israel, Mansour says, acceptance is immediate when people realize he is Druse.

“My name is Arab, so it’s not hard to know this is not a Jewish person,” Mansour says. “But the Druse have recognition within the state of Israel because of their military service. We are the only non-Jewish minority that is drafted into the military, and we have an even higher percentage in the combat units and as officers than the Jewish members themselves. So we are considered a very nationalistic, patriotic community.”

Druse identity is a matter of enormous pride and not, Mansour says proudly, something one converts to: “You must be born a Druse.”

Mansour grew up in Isfiya, a Druse town of 12,000 in the Carmel Mountains near the industrial coastal city of Haifa. Isfiya is dominated by a few clans, including the Mansours.

“There are about 1,500 of us, and we’re all related.” He adds with a wry smile, “Weddings are very big events in our town.”

His father was a banker in Haifa and sent his three children to private schools. As a teenager, Mansour went to summer camps in the United States and Canada and involved himself in groups promoting dialogue between Arabs and Jews.

“It’s important to keep your traditions, but at the same time, it’s very dangerous to live in a world where you don’t have daily interaction within groups,” he says. “Because then each one develops its own images and conceptions, especially in rough times. And these misunderstandings can easily drift into violence.

“So I felt always the need, wherever I was, from primary school to now, to always be involved in ongoing dialogues with various groups.”

He credits his grandfather for this perspective. Akram Mansour’s graphic stories about Arab attacks on Isfiya and other Druse communities in the 1930s “were terrifying, horrible,” says Mansour. “I think that affected me, the need to prevent this from happening again.”

A diplomat’s poetic side

It was also as a teenager — he was 16 — that one of Reda Mansour’s poems was published in a national newspaper. Five years later, he published his first book of poetry, called “The Dreamer.”

The inspiration to write, he says, comes from “the mountains of the Carmel where I grew up. It’s probably one of the most beautiful places in the world. The scenery can’t help but leave you with some feeling that you need to produce some form of art.”

But he never knows when the muse will strike, and over the years has composed on envelopes, scraps of paper, even ammunition boxes.

He has also integrated poetry into his diplomatic life. He read two of his poems at a memorial service for the Holocaust in Atlanta last year, gave a reading this spring at the Spoleto Festival in Charleston, S.C., and is to give another this fall in Chattanooga.

His most recent book, “Tender Leaves of Conscience,” synthesizes observations about New England weather (he has a master’s degree from the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University) with his experience in Lisbon and the discovery of mass graves in Bosnia.

The point, he says, was to affirm “how people can continue after these vicious discoveries.”

Mansour will return to Israel when his assignment here ends in 2010. Although unclear about his next posting, he has no doubt as to his mission: “Bringing Arabs and Jews together, and telling people that in my own story maybe I embody the solution for the future. That political solutions can be found when people want to live together.”

THE DRUSE AND THEIR ROLE IN ISRAEL

There are an estimated 1 million Druse around the world, most of them in Syria, Lebanon and Israel (which has an estimated 120,000).

The Druse began as a reformist movement within Islam and called themselves al-Muwahhidun, which means “the Unitarians.” But when their ideas were rejected, the Druse were regarded as heretics — a crime punishable by death — and they retreated to the mountains.

They built villages that could be easily defended and developed a system of smoke signals that enabled any village to summon help when attacked.

“They could pass fire signals all the way from the Carmel [Mountains] in Israel to the Syrian mountains in a matter of hours,” says Israeli Consul General Reda Mansour.

Their reputation as fierce fighters was enhanced by a bond called brit damim (covenant of blood), which developed between Druse and Israeli soldiers during the Arab-Israeli War of 1948.

There is now a Druse general in the Israeli army, Druse in the intelligence service and ten Druse in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs — including the deputy foreign minister.

Israel a Leader in Humanitarian Relief

November 3, 2008 at 5:49 pm | Posted in Economics, Peace Process | 1 Comment

Democratic governments tend to take on the characteristics of their citizens. Israel is no exception. Israelis wake up every morning and strive to better the world around them. This is probably why Israel is one of today’s global leaders for technological innovation. Israeli scientists, inventors, and researchers have created new medical treatments, developed ecologically sustainable ways to harness the Earth’s scarce resources, and produced new methods of communication to better connect the peoples of world.

The Israeli government takes pride in the accomplishments of its people, and for years has echoed their selfless example by taking a global lead in delivering humanitarian aid and relief. For the last 60 years the freest country in the Middle East has traveled the world to alleviate human suffering. Israel is home to the Center for International Cooperation (MASHAV), a part of the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs founded in 1958. The organization trains local medical teams, provides aid, and builds advanced facilities around the globe.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs has shared its knowledge and trained over 250,000 local health care providers, scientists, engineers, and aid workers. Israel’s support and resources have been sent to over 130 countries. Following the May, 2008 earthquake in China’s Sichuan Province, Israel shipped well over $1.5 million in relief equipment to those affected by the disaster. The shipments included blankets, sleeping bags, medial equipment, and water purification systems. Our country is also working with China to establish a water supply and purification plant in the area.

In Africa, Israel has expanded its medical centers and efforts to combat blindness and aid amputees. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs has worked closely with the United Nations and the World Health Organization to treat refuges from Darfur and other war torn regions on the continent. In the last year alone more than ten African countries have received Israeli aid, including Kenya, the Ivory Cost, Eritrea, and the Central African Republic, among others.

Israel is also working to combat Africa’s high infant mortality rate. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs is currently setting up two advanced neonatology units in Ghana. One of the units has already come online and Israeli doctors and medical experts are working hard to train Ghana’s health professionals to save the lives of countless children.

Israel has also supported its close friend and ally, the United States. In 1996, Israeli relief workers were some of the first on the scene of the U.S. Embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania. Israeli workers helped clear the rubble and treat the wounded. Israel was there when Katrina struck the Gulf Coast, sending over eight tons of medical equipment, food, water, and other supplies to those hit hardest by the storm.

Israel even extends a helping hand to those who attack her. In the face of repeated homicide bombings and rocket attacks from the terrorists of Hamas, this past year saw over 28,000 Israeli trucks carrying almost 655,000 tons of medical supplies, food, and aid cross into Gaza. Israeli fuel stations have remained open, despite repeated attacks on their workers, to deliver well over 4 million liters of fuel per week.

Our country has also opened its borders with Gaza to those in medical need. Since the beginning of 2008, over 10,000 Gazans have received medical treatment in Israel. These Gazans pay no Israeli taxes and are not part of any Israeli treatment plan, and yet the receive care without any hesitation. Hamas terrorists have attempted to use Israel’s humanitarian efforts against her, disguising homicide bombers as patients ordered to blow themselves up at check point, in ambulances, and in hospitals. Despite this, Israel continues to accept those in need and it is not uncommon after an attack to find one of these Hamas terrorists receiving treatment in the same hospital as their victims.

I have seen Israel’s commitment to humanity first hand. As Israel’s Ambassador to Ecuador I saw hundreds of Ecuadorian professionals who used MASHAV programs to improve the lives of their families and communities. They were trained in Israel and came back with cutting edge know how, shared with them by their Israeli colleagues. I have seen one person return from such training and change the life of his entire village in the Amazon rain forest. I also headed humanitarian relief missions after natural disasters, including volcano eruptions. Our missions, staffed by Israeli trained Ecuadorian doctors, went into remote villages bringing help and hope.

In the 21st century every country must understand that poverty and disease know no borders. In our global society, every member is only as strong as the weakest. Israel has a growing first world economy and a strong and open democracy. As such, our country is called to aid all those who suffer around the world. We understand our responsibilities. For the last 60 years our country has met the call and served the global community.

Article appeared in the Atlanta Jewish Times on September 26, 2008

Bringing you news in a new way

September 26, 2008 at 2:04 pm | Posted in Economics, Enviromental Conservation, Peace Process, Security | Leave a comment

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Save Lebanon to Save Democracy in the Middle East

July 18, 2008 at 4:41 pm | Posted in Security | Leave a comment

For the last fifteen years, Hezbollah has been trying to convince the world that they are the shield of their nation, the defenders of the Lebanese people. They forced the Lebanese to call them “the resistance” and to accept that the group deserved ever increasing allegiance and authority. But Hezbollah’s thirst for power left the group’s leadership blind, unable to perceive the moment when their “resistance” narrative would fail. The world now sees the real Hezbollah: a group that wants power and wants it now. Allowing Hezbollah to realize its desires will mean the ends of democracy in Lebanon and the fragile democratic revival taking place in the Middle East.

When Israeli forces were still in southern Lebanon the Hezbollah “resistance” narrative was easy to sell. The Lebanese were forced to agree with Hezbollah leader Nasser Allah that there was a foreign enemy that needed to be fought. However, when Israeli forces left, the group did not disarm and found itself in the advantageous position of being far more powerful than the national military. It was only a matter of time until Hezbollah would turn against the people they claimed to protect.

Last week Hezbollah stopped trying to fool the Lebanese people, the masquerade was over. Hezbollah gunmen dropped their “resistance” narrative and showed themselves for what they truly are: an Iranian-back terrorist group. They went into homes and offices, and attacked non-Hezbollah TV stations. The assault was all the more devastating because it came from the group that claimed for so long to be the guardians of Lebanese democracy.

Lebanon has never been an ideal democracy or a stable government, but it has been freest and most democratic country, other than Israel, in the Middle East. It has been a pocket of liberty in the region with the highest number of dictatorships and military regimes in the world. Lebanon’s freedoms made it the refuge of intellectuals in exile and political dissidents and also the hope of common people throughout the region.

Lebanon is also a fragile country. Its government has to keep a delicate balance between more then twenty deferent ethnic, religious and denominational groups, making it too divided to prevent invaders and rise of radical ideologies. These are the reasons why so much violence has been attracted to this sad country. Its enemies have been threatened by its freedoms and lured by its weaknesses.

Hezbollah’s cynicism had led it to believe that it can take over Lebanon by force. The group has the support of Iran and Syria, two of the region’s most powerful regimes. Backed by such strong allies, Hezbollah believes that the highly divided Lebanon will be able to muster little defense. This is the same feeling Hamas had when it too took over its national government and literally through its opponents out the window, leaving them to crash to their deaths on the harsh reality of the Gaza sands.

But Hezbollah’s attempt at conquest will fail. The pro-Iranian Islamic extremists will learn that Lebanon is not an easy place to conquer. It has been proved time and again that the country is manageable only by consensus. No internal or external parties have managed to change that; no matter how strong they were or how long they tried.

The diversity that is all too often Lebanon’s weakness is also its safeguard against tyranny and occupation. There is nothing that unifies the Lebanese like a common enemy. Hezbollah might gain some land, but it will suffer heavy casualties. It might burn down a TV station, but the views it opposes will simply be broadcast from elsewhere.

Most importantly, Hezbollah has lost its self-proclaimed title of “resistance group” and gained apt title of “militia.” Some Lebanese have gone so as to risk their lives by openly renaming Hezbollah the “party of Satan,” the direct opposite of the translation of the group’s name in Arabic, which means the “party of God”.

It is no longer possible for Hezbollah to invent enemies when Lebanon’s two neighbors are Israel, a country that remains behind its internationally recognized border, and the other is Syria, Hezbollah’s closest ally.

The Lebanese people have made it clear; they are no longer willing to be the victims everyone is willing to sacrifice in their war against Israel. They are sending a plain message to Hezbollah’s leaders that endless wars on their southern border must not continue. The “resistance” narrative that Hezbollah needs fifteen thousand rockets, one hundred thousand lines of communication, and thousands of armed gunmen to liberate one small farm in Shebaa is no longer expectable.

It is imperative that international community helps the brave Lebanese people hold onto their freedom and fragile democracy. The time has come to support them in any way possible, and by doing so send a clear massage to all extreme Muslim groups in the region: the world might protect their right to practice their religion freely in a democratic country, but it will not allow them to murder democracy in the name of their holy wars.

Article appeared in the Atlanta Jewish Times on July 4th, 2008

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