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COVID-risky simchas ‘like Russian Roulette’

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As COVID-19 numbers remain low, many young Jewish couples are taking the opportunity to get married. But at every simcha, one can see social media and livestream images of maskless retinues and guests, hugging, kissing, dancing, group selfies, large family photos, and Horah dancing. Even some rabbis aren’t wearing masks or keeping a social distance.

Wedding musicians, speaking on condition of anonymity, say it has become too much, and feel that COVID-19-safe simcha protocols need to be widely distributed and closely enforced for the safety of the community, wider population, and vendors who put their lives on the line every time they work at a wedding.

They say they have seen reckless behaviour by adults at many simchas. They are speaking out after a respected videographer landed up in hospital in January on oxygen, and a well-known bass player died from COVID-19 last year. They fear they’ll be next.

The performers say that on previous occasions, they have been pressurised by families to forget about COVID-19 rules. Some have been told that “COVID-19 is over” and that guests flying in from overseas (some of whom have been vaccinated) don’t need to wear masks, or that guests don’t need to abide by the curfew.

But when performing at Barmitzvahs and Batmitzvahs, they say that children and teens are stringent about wearing masks and keeping a distance, which shows that it’s possible to have a COVID-19-safe simcha.

“They all dance and eat apart. They really are leading the way. It’s like that campaign that told children to get their parents to ‘buckle up’. They choose to take it seriously. They don’t want to remember it as ‘when granny died because she caught COVID-19 at my Batmitzvah’,” says a performer.

They have witnessed some families thinking carefully about how to make a wedding joyful and safe. “For example, one mother of the bride got a guarantee from the retinue that they would quarantine for 10 days before the wedding and have COVID-19 tests two days before, and only they would dance at the wedding,” says another vendor.

A member of the community who attended a recent Jewish wedding in Cape Town, speaking on condition of anonymity, says, “When we walked in, everyone was sanitised and temperatures were taken. There were also masks at the door and kippot. People were mostly wearing masks, but as expected, they came off later in the night when people ate and drank and for photos. People were generally quite dispersed as there was an outside section, but I suppose I’d be lying if I said it was proper social distancing – a bit hard at a wedding.”

That may be the crux of the matter – having a COVID-19-safe wedding isn’t easy. And yet our community has been advised by top experts in the field to make it possible. Professor Efraim Kramer, who actually chose to cease advising the community because of its flouting of COVID-19 protocols, says the recommendations he wrote “are the standard wedding protocols that have always been in use [during the pandemic], irrespective of the COVID-19 level. The protocols were given to the Beth Din and any rabbi doing a wedding who wanted them. They are a public resource. All rabbonim are aware of the protocols, legislated precautions, and expert medical advice. They have the power and authority to ensure everybody is COVID-19 compliant for the chuppah ceremony, which they control. Whether they choose to exercise their power to ensure safety is the million-dollar question.”

In the document, Kramer sets out COVID-19-safe guidelines for all Jewish weddings during the pandemic. He recommends that each family should appoint a COVID-19 safety supervisor for the event. At the wedding, each person must go directly to a labelled chair with his/her name on it. They must remain in their seat for the entire ceremony, and wear an appropriate face mask at all times.

The protocols show that during a pandemic, a wedding must just be a chuppah – no dancing, eating, drinking, or socialising. But it’s clear that most weddings under COVID-19 don’t abide by these recommendations.

“Don’t socialise away from ones designated chair,” the protocols state. “Don’t bring food, drink, or alcohol into the premises except wine/grape juice for the chuppah. No dancing should be done at any time. No communal singing should be done at any time except the designated performer. Remain in your seat after the traditional glass has been smashed until the bride and bridegroom have left the chuppah area. You may clap at the appropriate time as often and as loud as you wish. Please leave the premises immediately after the wedding ceremony without any socialising.”

Kramer has also laid out protocols for every aspect of the wedding, from the pre-wedding reception to the bride and groom’s table, to the bedeken, chuppah, and civil-marriage registration. He also provides a “wedding kit” list – everything needed for a Jewish wedding in the COVID-19 era, including a medical screening register document.

Says Chief Rabbi Dr Warren Goldstein, “As a chuppah is a religious event, there are Beth Din-mandated health and safety protocols endorsed by our medical panel which have been communicated to the rabbonim and shul committees. Regarding private events, including wedding receptions and other simchas, we have strongly recommended and requested that people follow the Hatzolah health and safety guidelines for private gatherings. I joined in the Hatzolah video plea to our community to maintain caution and all protocols to prevent a third wave.”

If these protocols aren’t followed, the ramifications could be serious. Jeffrey Dorfman, associate professor in medical virology at Stellenbosch University, says, “The rate at which people are being diagnosed in South Africa with COVID-19 is low for the moment. However, that will surely change, although no one really knows when. When it does, we will only know after a delay, and the rise will be helped by super-spreader events – particularly in the early part of the rise. I appeal to people not to provide those super-spreader events.

“My colleagues in India are having an incredibly rough time, and when that variant makes it here, again our knowledge about it will be delayed,” he says. “Even for people who feel comfortable about relaxing their guard, that shouldn’t extend to large in-person events. Please, don’t contribute to a new wave, and don’t allow you and your loved ones to be hurt by it. Stay away from large in-person events.”

Professor Barry Schoub, emeritus professor in virology at the University of the Witwatersrand and the former director of the National Institute for Communicable Diseases, agrees that lower COVID-19 numbers aren’t a signal to relax vigilance.

“Being a respiratory spread infection, the coming cold winter weather may well herald the anticipated third wave. These precautions still apply equally to those who have been vaccinated. Particularly problematic are simchas, when many of us seem to lose our common sense and throw caution to the wind, risking tragic consequences.”

Kramer makes no bones about what these tragic consequences might be. “The COVID-19 pandemic is a classic case of Russian Roulette. Sometimes there are many bullets in the gun chamber, and sometimes there are few, but there are always bullets in the chamber. Remove COVID-19 precautions at mass gatherings, and you pull the trigger and wait to see if someone dies. To ignore standard precautions at these events is against the law, against expert medical advice, and against common sense. We cannot wish COVID-19 away, and sadly, because of our irresponsible behaviour, we will bring on the next COVID-19 tsunami. When it comes, we will only have ourselves to blame.

WEDDING PROTOCOL LIST
DIRECTIONS ISSUED IN TERMS OF REGULATION 37(1)(a) OF THE REGULATIONS ISSUED IN TERMS OF THE DISASTER MANAGEMENT ACT, 2002. (ACT NO. 57 OF 2002)

The Wedding will be undertaken according to the above Regulations and anybody allowed access to the Wedding should abide by these Regulations.
• If you are not feeling well now or in the last 7 days or been in contact with a Covid positive person within the last 7 days, please do not attend.
• Each person should report to the medical screening table, sanitize hands, have an infrared temperature recorded and complete the Wedding Attendance Register using a sanitized pen, as per the Regulations, which have not changed
• Each person shall proceed to a labelled chair with his/her name on it. Please remain in your seat and do not go where the Bride and Bridegroom are located, as to avoid social distancing problems.
• Always remain 2 metres social distancing from any person that you wish to engage socially or communicate with.
• Wear an appropriate face mask always, without exception.
• Do not move any chairs, that have been specifically located 2 metres from each other.
• Do not make any physical contact with anybody.
• Do not swap or exchange cell phones or other items, unless thoroughly sanitised.
• Do not bring food, drink, or alcohol into the premises except wine / grape juice for the Chuppah.
• No person to person contact dancing should be done at any time to avoid physical contact or decreasing social distancing.
• No communal singing, unless outside, should be done at any time except the designated performer to avoid spread of the Covid virus
• Remain in your seat after the traditional glass has been smashed until the Bride and Bridegroom have left the Chuppah area. You may clap at the appropriate time as often and as loud as you wish.
• Please leave the premises immediately after the wedding ceremony without any socialising.

The Kabbalat Panim – Pre-Wedding Reception / Bride Room, which is the traditional reception for the family and friends of the bride to gather in a location to wish the bride and each other a hearty mazeltov, should be avoided so as not to breach the Regulation requirements of 2 metre social distancing. If present, it should be done outside with strict 2 metre social distancing.

Bridegroom’s Room / Table, the traditional reception for the family and friends of the bridegroom to gather in a location to wish the bridegroom and each other a hearty mazeltov and sign the ketubah, should be avoided, so as not to breach the Regulation requirements of 2 metre social distancing. If present, it should be done outside with strict 2 metre social distancing. No alcohol is allowed.

Badeken – Veiling the Bride. Just before the Bridegroom approaches his Bride, all those present should move away from the Bride to allow 3 metre circumferential radius, to allow the Bridegroom to veil his Bride with adequate space and safety. Once this 3-metre social distance has been achieved, the Bridegroom may approach his Bride, the Brides face mask may be removed, and the Bridegroom may traditionally veil his Bride. From this point onwards, if a 3 metre radius of social distancing can be maintained until the Bride is positioned next to her Bridegroom under the Chuppah, including her
walk from the Bride’s Room to the Chuppah, with the exception of her accompanying parents, then she may remain with the veil in place without a face mask. However, if this 3 metre safety radius circumferentially cannot be maintained, for whatever reason (structural design, position of present attending persons, Bride not being accompanied by those with whom she resides etc), then she must wear her mask under her veil for safety.
Although it is medically advisable and government Regulations that everybody wear an appropriate face mask at all times at all mass gathering events, like a wedding, it is understandable and natural that the bride and bridegroom wish to have their faces uncovered, and of their respective parents as well, when each of them walk down the aisle to the Chuppah. If this is the chosen method, albeit it illegal and unhealthy, it is highly recommended that the following be considered in the interests of safety:
• The ceremony should only be undertaken outside to enhance ventilation
• Sanitise hands before beginning the respective walks down the aisle
• Ensure all guests are located at least 3 metres away from the sides of the aisle
• The bride and bridegroom should only be accompanied down the aisle by those who she/he has regular physical contact with, to avoid any potential viral spread
• Social distancing under the Chuppah has to be strictly adhered to by all parties if face masks are not worn

Chuppah
The maximum number of persons under and around the Chuppah must always maintain the safety regulations and considerations in place throughout the Wedding ceremony.
The following physical considerations should be maintained:
o The Bride and Bridegroom must sanitise their hands with 70% alcohol spray before the beginning of the Chuppah process.
o The Bride and Bridegroom may stand next to each other (without the need for any social distancing throughout).
o The officiating Rabbi, who will deliver the service verbally, read the Ketubah, announce the brachot, handle the becher (goblet) of wine and so forth, shall wear an appropriate face mask, throughout the Chuppah ceremony. He shall physically maintain a 2-metre circumferential distance from all other persons nearby except the Bride and Bridegroom where a 1 metre distance is maintained just during the ceremony.
o The accompanying witness to the ceremony shall wear an appropriate face mask throughout the Chuppah ceremony. They shall physically maintain a 2-metre circumferential distance from all other persons nearby, except the officiating Rabbi, where he can maintain a minimum distance of 1 metre circumferentially during the Chuppah ceremony only, for practical considerations that do not breach safety.
o The Bride and Bridegroom’s Fathers and Mothers shall stand to the side of the Bride, always at a 2-metre circumferential distance from all other persons nearby including the officiating Rabbi.
o Both sets of Mothers (or substitutes), who will assist the Bride in drinking from the cup of wine, shall sanitise their hands with 70% alcohol spray before doing so.
o There shall be no pole-holders as this is not a religious requirement and should therefore be discontinued during the Covid outbreak due to safety reasons. There is likewise no need for a best man.
o The relevant “ring” shall be sprayed with 70% alcohol sanitiser beforehand and sealed inside a clean Jiffy type plastic bag until it is required under the Chuppah. Besides tradition, it is recommended that the ring be kept by the Bridegroom’s father to decrease the number of persons under and near
the Chuppah.
o The wine for the Chuppah must be from an unopened bottle of wine. The Wine becher and the bottle of wine shall be sprayed with 70% alcohol sanitiser before the event and sealed inside a clean Jiffy type plastic bag until it is required under the Chuppah.
o The glass used for breaking should be treated in the same manner as the Becher.
o All activities from this point onwards require the need for social distancing of 2 metres, for safety reasons.

Civil Marriage Registration
It is recommended that the civil Marriage Certificate requirements be undertaken before the actual Chuppah ceremony at the office of the officiating Rabbi. Besides the relevant documentation necessary, two new ink pads should be purchased for fingerprint purposes for the Bride and Bridegroom.

Wedding kit
A pack of 6 x new pens for medical screening table / Ketubah signing
Spray bottles of 70% alcohol x 10
Named labels for guest seating
Ketubah inside container
Wine glasses x 3
Grape juice / Wine bottle x 1
Glass for smashing under Chuppah
Large Jiffy type transparent plastic bags for sanitised wine glasses, bottle of grape juice/ wine and glass for smashing.
Spare regulation face masks x 3
New ink pad for civil marriage fingerprints
Wedding attendance register, pre-populated with the full names, contact cell number, current infrared temperature, and any history in last 7 days with a Covid positive person or been ill.

Toilet Use
Be prepared to have limited access to the toilet. (If you absolutely need, you must disinfect the toilet after use. The toilet should be limited to only one person at a time).
Always hand sanitise hands on entering the toilet, before and after touching any doors, seats, handles etc.
Please sanitise or wash hands thoroughly on all hand, palm and between fingers and under nails with soap for 20 seconds minimum after toilet use.
The toilet seat should be closed before flushing to prevent potential spreading of the virus.
Paper towels / wall heater only will be used.
No personal items should be left in the toilet
People may not congregate and socialise in the toilet facility and area
All hand rinsing bowls should be removed for safety reasons.

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SA government and politicians show bias as Israel conflict escalates

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As Israel faced a steady bombardment of deadly rockets fired by terrorist groups in Gaza this week, the South African government, politicians, and activists condemned the Jewish state, ignoring the myriad complexities of the violence.

And as Hamas escalated its barrage of rockets targeting innocent civilians, to which Israel retaliated, there has been no condemnation of Hamas from either the South African government or any of its politicians.

Israel’s right to defend itself and diffuse tensions in a bid to save the lives of all its citizens including Jews, Muslims, and Christians, hasn’t been acknowledged by the government in its condemnation of the Jewish state.

Siding wholly with the Palestinians, the government earlier this week expressed its “deep concern at the continued clashes at Al-Aqsa Mosque wherein Israeli soldiers attacked Palestinian worshippers while praying at the holy site”.

The Economic Freedom Fighters said it noted “the genocide” committed by Israel against the Palestinian people during Ramadan, saying “We condemn with contempt the violence perpetrated by the apartheid Israeli state on unarmed Palestinian people.” It called on the government to close down the South African embassy in Israel and recall all its representatives there.

No mention has been made about Palestinians at the Al-Aqsa Mosque stockpiling rocks, fireworks, and stone slabs around the site in preparation for violence and attacking Israeli police.

Focusing all its attention on the land dispute and potential eviction of Palestinians from Sheikh Jarrah, the government ignored a multitude of issues that have contributed to the rising wave of violence since April.

The department of international relations and cooperation (DIRCO) issued a statement saying, “The South African government strongly condemns the attacks and planned evictions of Palestinians from annexed East Jerusalem to make way for Israeli settlements.

“It’s perplexing that during these unprecedented times, as the international community addresses the global challenge of the COVID-19 pandemic, Israel is exploiting the situation to advance its de facto annexation of Palestinian land. These acts aren’t only illegal but also risk undermining the viability of a negotiated two-state solution and will have negative consequences on the entire peace process.”

In response to this, the South African Jewish Board of Deputies (SAJBD) and the South African Zionist Federation (SAZF) called on the government, all political parties, and the media to show “even-handedness” and acknowledge the complexity of the situation.

In a joint statement, SAJBD National Chairperson Wendy Kahn and SAZF Chairperson Rowan Polovin, said, “In their determination to condemn Israel come what may, the government has reversed cause and effect. The reality – and not for the first time – is that the initial clashes were deliberately orchestrated by the Palestinian leadership and have now culminated in a lethal barrage of missile fire on Jerusalem and other heavily populated cities.

“Rockets are indiscriminate. They imperil the lives of all who live in the Holy City, whether Jew, Christian, or Muslim. In spite of this, the South African government has chosen to single out Israel for exclusive condemnation, disregarding completely the more than 1 200 deadly rockets fired thus far against Israeli civilians.

“The double standards don’t stop there. Whereas countries throughout the world sent condolences to Israel following the tragic loss of 45 lives in Meron, South Africa has yet to follow suit even two weeks later. However, within 24 hours, it was able to issue a statement condemning Israel.

“If the government, and indeed all political parties, wish to be part of ending this latest tragic outburst of violence, they must show genuine even-handedness. Those who unquestioningly endorse the claims and actions of one side while completely ignoring those of the other do nothing to resolve the conflict. In fact, they only make a bad situation worse.”

They went on to say that demonising Israel, as was the case with certain statements, was “irresponsible, inflammatory, and dangerous”.

The Israeli ambassador to South Africa, Lior Keinan, told the SA Jewish Report that no country in the world would tolerate this level of terror.

He has called on the international community and South Africa to condemn the rocket fire and Palestinian terrorism targeting Israeli citizens in the “strongest manner”, as well as to support Israel’s right to self-defence.

Keinan said that these events were part of a “wave of terror” that was being led by Hamas, the Palestinian Authority and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, and were the result of “reckless and irresponsible incitement to violence”.

Concerning earlier violence, he said, “Israel sought to achieve calm in Jerusalem. We took every measure to prevent conflict or violence and to allow freedom of worship. These measures include postponing the Supreme Court hearing regarding Sheikh Jarrah, blocking Jews from visiting the Temple Mount, changing the route of the flag march, and then cancelling the event. Moreover, Israel acted in a measured manner in response to the rockets and incendiary balloons that had been launched from the Gaza Strip to prevent any escalation during this sensitive period.”

He said responsibility for the situation rested completely with Palestinian terrorist organisations and “on the unrestrained incitement by the Palestinian Authority”.

“No country will allow rockets to be fired on its children, women, and men. Israel will take any action necessary to protect its citizens. It’s the right and the duty of every state.”

Meanwhile, small protests were held by pro-Palestinian groups at the Israel Trade Offices in Sandton, Johannesburg, and Cape Town, all of which blamed Israel for being solely responsible for the violence.

Interestingly, in an open letter to DIRCO Minister Naledi Pandor, the South African BDS (Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions) Coalition said it was “extremely disappointed” by DIRCO’s statement about the conflict, calling for more action by the government.

The Democratic Alliance said Israel must “employ maximum restraint in the use of force” adding “violence from both sides must cease in the interest of peace, saving lives, and protecting the human rights of both the Israeli and Palestinian people”.

Dr Corne Mulder of the Freedom Front Plus said, “The ANC government has never tried to hide its hostility towards Israel, and has now once again chosen the terrorist side in the Israel-Palestine conflict. It’s time for the ANC to honour Israel’s sovereignty.

“It’s lamentable that the South African government is always so quick to side with Israel’s opponents and condemn the country,” he said.

In Cape Town, a protest organised by Africa4Palestine (formerly BDS SA), brought a number of anti-Israel groups together. But only about 200 members of the public gathered to condemn Israel, many of them children.

Speaking in front of parliament, the late Nelson Mandela’s grandson, Mandla Mandela called for the closure of the South African embassy in Israel. “We are clearly asking South Africa not to downgrade its embassy in Israel, but to close it down!” he shouted to cheers from the crowd. “We also want to deny [Israeli international carrier] El Al from coming into South Africa!” he said to more cheers of support.

He called for South Africans to “boycott products from apartheid Israel. The only thing we expect from our government is to place sanctions on apartheid Israel!” He then called on the crowd to join him on 18 July in Pretoria (the date marked to celebrate Nelson Mandela’s legacy) outside the Israeli embassy in Pretoria. “We want to see it shut down and for the ambassador to leave. We won’t compromise,” Mandela said.

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Rise in anti-Israel sentiment leads to calls for vigilance

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The Community Security Organisation (CSO) has witnessed a marked increase in anti-Israel rhetoric as well as expressions of hate directed at Jews online following violence in Israel, and has appealed to the community to be extra vigilant and report all incidents.

Jevon Greenblatt, the director of CSO Johannesburg, told the SA Jewish Report on 12 May that tension in Israel had escalated dramatically over the past few days, with levels of open conflict growing exponentially over the past 48 hours.

“It’s not uncommon for anti-Israel anger around a situation like this to spill over into diaspora Jewish communities,” he said.

“Since Monday, we have seen a significant increase in concerning online rhetoric and numerous protest action called for over the coming days across South Africa.

“We are seeing a huge campaign by the anti-Israel lobby to dehumanise Israel with massive distortions about what’s really happening on the ground.”

Political leaders, social-media influencers, and celebrities are lending their voices to the pro-Palestinian lobby.

“This creates the perfect environment for a potential lone-wolf actor to carry out an attack. Whenever something like this takes place, our concern is that the anger created can be misdirected against the local community.”

He said that while CSO staff and volunteers were working hard to ensure the continued safety and security of the community, it was a “collective effort”.

“Vigilance is crucial. We should always make sure our facilities are as secure as possible, and we should always be doing the best we can to strengthen our security.

“It’s at times like this that we are reminded always to implement the best safety protocols because the threat is always out there.

“It requires the active participation of all community members. We ask you to maintain heightened awareness and report any emergency, potential threats, suspicious activity, or antisemitism related to the Jewish community or Jewish facilities to the CSO on 086 18 000 18 (or 086 18 911 18 in Cape Town).”

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Guarding Jerusalem from the “end of the end” of Israel

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The Golan is the true gatekeeper of Jerusalem, particularly in mitigating against the Iranian threat across the border, Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) Major (Res) Yaakov Selevan said during a talk to commemorate Yom Yerushalayim this week.

“People who live in the Golan claim that it’s the most naturally beautiful region in Israel. But they aren’t living here for the views; they are here because there is something for which they’re willing to die – the redemption of the heart of the Jewish people.”

Selevan, a Jerusalem born-and-bred military official who now works as a tour guide and public speaker, was hosted for the webinar by Mizrachi SA and the South African Zionist Federation, in collaboration with other partners.

Although Selevan grew up with “the Western Wall as my backyard”, he now lives with his wife and three daughters in the Golan. Over the years, he has come to realise how deeply intertwined the fates of these two Israeli regions are.

Logistically, the Golan has always been a key strategic point, both in its proximity to neighbouring countries and major water sources, including the Sea of Galilee. Politically, its significance is even greater.

Even in the Roman era, when Roman soldiers were unable to penetrate the Jewish resistance in Jerusalem, they elected to try and attack from the periphery and move down. At the time, the Golan was rich in Jewish life with more than 30 synagogues. In the year 67, in spite of the efforts of Jewish revolutionaries, after a number of attempts, the Romans did overtake the ancient city of Gamla in the Golan. “They killed more than 4 000 Jews. Jewish independence fell, and then the Romans started moving down towards the heart of the land – Jerusalem. Three years later, we know, the second temple was destroyed.”

Fast forward thousands of years, when the Golan was redeemed from Syrian control by the IDF in the 1967 war, a number of fascinating ancient Jewish artefacts were found. The most striking of which was an ancient coin from the era of the Jewish revolt against Roman control. Engraved in Hebrew, its inscription reads “for the redemption of Jerusalem, the holy”.

In the modern political landscape, the Golan remains a contested hotspot particularly in relation to Iran and its ongoing incursions into the borderlands of Lebanon and Syria.

Selevan said that for many years, Iran had also used Israel and Jews symbolically as a strategy to forge allegiances across Muslim and Arab states that otherwise would be divided across Sunni and Shiite ethnic lines. These distinctions are derived from a dispute over the line of succession after Muhammed.

After the Islamic Revolution in 1979, “Iran wanted to ‘export the revolution’, and it realised it had a problem. While they were Shiites, most of the people around them were Sunni.” So, said Selevan, they chose a “common interest – the holy city of Jerusalem. Who controls the old city of Jerusalem? The filthy Zionists.” Moreover, as enemies across the Arab world sought ways to attack Israel, they turned to Hezbollah, which is supported by Iran.

Iran remains a threat to Israel on a number of levels, Selevan said. The first is its nuclear programme; the second its Precision Guided Munitions project, which designs missiles that use GPS to hit specific targets. Third, is its political take over and proxy power in various countries like Lebanon and Yemen. The next key territory which Iran is looking to control in the region is Syria, itself riddled by a civil war that has been appropriated by a myriad of interests.

In Lebanon, Iran controls networks of tunnels and occupied villages where local people are being used as human shields and whose homes are utilised for the storage of missiles and rockets. It hopes to use the chaos in Syria to take over using a similar model.

However, along with military action, Israel has made huge inroads diplomatically to prevent this, Selevan said.

“Iran used us and Jerusalem as a common interest, a common enemy, and a step in the door to the Sunni world. However, in the past few years, with what’s happening just here in Syria, people in the region are seeing what the Iranians are doing and how they’re taking over this region. They realise that they are next in line: Saudi Arabia, even Qatar, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, Sudan, all these countries said, ‘Oh my G-d, all these years, we thought the Jews were the problem. Now we understand the greatest threat is the Shiites. Who can help us against the Shiites? The Jews!’”

Israel has thus turned Iran into the common interest which is “our step in the door of the Muslim world”. The most recent result is the Abraham Accords peace agreements, said Selevan.

Israel has another way in which it continues to forge towards peace – humanitarian aid.

Since the Syrian civil war began in 2011, Israel has helped, offering medical services and distributing food, clothing, and other products for basic needs, proving, “you can stop Iran with baby diapers”.

At its core, the motivation for the action is humanitarian, said Selevan. “We did it because we’re Jewish; we cannot stand by when we see people suffering.”

Nevertheless, it also had an impact on political engagement. Terror groups, such as those under Iranian control, are reliant on local populations for support, access to land, and soldiers. As Israel continues to reach out to her neighbours, “there’s a whole generation growing up in Syria knowing that we’re not the devil”.

Although this doesn’t mean there aren’t still many who are against Israel and are manipulating the aid system, nevertheless there are shifts. For Selevan, this is encompassed by a drawing made by a seven-year-old Syrian Muslim girl. Her portrait of the Israel flag, captioned in Arabic, thanks the Israeli who saved her life.

In spite of the huge upswing of attacks on Israel in recent days, Selevan said he was hopeful. His life in the Golan is a contract between him, his country, and his community.

“I’m here at the end of the end of the end of the country because someone needs to be here, because my community is the greatest answer to the Iranian threat. That’s my purpose. That’s my essence.” Holding out a replica of the Jewish-revolt-era coin, Selevan asserted, “Each and every one of us needs to ask ourselves: what’s my job in the redemption of Jerusalem?”

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