World needs new rules for new warfare
Israeli President Reuven Rivlin tells foreign diplomats ahead of Rosh Hashanah that wars used to take place between countries, but today a new form of warfare, waged between countries & terrorists. As country governed by Rule of Law & recognising International Law, Israel believes the international legal system now needs to provide a comprehensive and relevant judicial response to these new wars. “The international Laws of War can no longer ignore this new situation that is so very different from traditional warfare,” he said.
“The State of Israel is not at war with Islam. By the same token, the State of Israel is not at war with the Palestinian people,” President Reuven Rivlin told foreign diplomats at his residence in Jerusalem today.
Addressing the foreign diplomatic corps at the traditional reception held on the eve of Rosh Hashanah at the presidential residence in Jerusalem for the first time, Israel’s 10th president, Rivlin said that he had recently celebrated his 75th birthday. He was born in Jerusalem, he said, and his grandchildren “are the ninth generation of my family in this country. I myself, like my father, my grandfather and my great-great-grandfather before me, grew up in Jerusalem.”
Living together: not doom but destiny
Reuven Rivlin, who just months ago replaced Shimon Perez as Israel’s president, was meeting many of the diplomats for the first time.
CHANGING THE GUARD: Rivlin took over the presidency from Perez (left in picture) in August
During the nine generations his family had lived in Jerusalem, said Rivlin, “we shared our lives with the other residents of this land, with all the many communities and beliefs.” Of course, he said, there had been ups and downs in relations between Jews and Arabs, “and there will continue to be,” he said frankly.
“There will be a real change for the better in relations between Arabs and Jews only when both parties accept that we are not been doomed to live here together, rather, it is our destiny to live here together.
“We do not celebrate Rosh Hashanah with street parties or with dancing late into the night,” Rivlin said. “The Jewish people celebrate the New Year as a ‘family holiday’ and a time for ‘soul searching’.”
He added that this year, following the events of recent months in Israel, this period leading up to Rosh Hashanah takes on a special meaning.
Israel had to make difficult decisions
“In consideration of the fighting in the south, the people and leaders of Israel had to make difficult decisions: On one hand we had to protect our citizens, our homes and our land, while on the other hand, we faced the responsibility to avoid harming the innocent, as far as possible,” he told the diplomatic corps.
Inside Israel, he said, Israeli society also faced a big challenge. “We had to maintain our responsibility to enable free speech while supporting the people who were fighting to bring security to the people of Israel.
“In the past, wars took place between countries, but in recent decades, we have had to confront a new form of warfare: warfare waged between countries and terrorist organisations,” he said. We all know that in war, there are no winners, he said, but there is always harm and death.
However, he said, in war between a terror organisation and a sovereign state, the terror organisation is always in a “win-win situation”. When the terrorist organisation succeeds, in causing harm to the country that is fighting against it, then according to its own point of view, it has gained a victory.
Terror wins where innocents are killed
If in response to its actions, the terrorist organisation succeeds in drawing the sovereign country into aggressive military action where innocent women and children are killed, said the president, “then, here again, according to its own point of view it has gained a victory that will also bring with it the sympathy of public opinion.”
Israel is a country governed by the Rule of Law, said Rivlin. “Furthermore, Israel recognises the enormous importance of International Law and the importance of strictly obeying the Laws of War.”
Today, however, he says the international legal system is facing a new type of challenge, a new type of war that is taking place throughout the world.
It now, needs to provide a comprehensive and relevant judicial response to these new wars. The international Laws of War can no longer ignore this new situation,
that is so very different from traditional forms of warfare. The “Laws of War must be adapted so as to become more appropriate for the new reality that now exists”, was Rivlin’s message to the diplomats.
“The State of Israel is not at war with Islam. By the same token, the State of Israel
is not at war with the Palestinian people. I believe that the great majority of Palestinians who live in Gaza are innocent.
“If the choice was theirs, they would choose to live in a flourishing country with a booming economy and peaceful relations. The citizens of Gaza are no different from the citizens of Berlin, Paris, Mexico City, New Delhi, Bucharest or Brussels,
they too want to live in peace and security.
“The fact that one and a half million Palestinians are being held hostage by thirty thousand Hamas terrorists is a human tragedy.
“Today’s Israel is a social and economic miracle,” he said. “The State of Israel is not found only in the heart of the Middle East; Israel holds out its hand, everywhere, to friendly nations who need assistance during times of disaster.
“The State of Israel is found in the heart of the dry lands of African deserts, in Latin America, in Europe and in Asia. Israel can be found in the heart of computer processors and in the hi-tech industry throughout the world,” he said.
“You can find Israeli inventions and developments in hospitals in your countries,
in the computers you use, in aid programmes to fight drought, to desalinate sea water and to advance agriculture.
“You, the ambassadors who are living here in our country, who are familiar with what is going on here, know this very well,” Rivlin told the diplomats. As ambassadors serving in Israel, they also needed to be Israel’s ambassadors. “It is important that you bring the message of Israel to your own. When you talk about the State of Israel, please bring the diverse character of Israeli society. Present Israel in all its true complexity.”
Israel was not just a place of conflict, President Rivlin reminded them. “It is a place of life, of a strong economy. It is a place not trapped in the past, but looking forward towards a promising future.”
As president, he said, one of his most important tasks would be to make the members of Israeli society truly listen to each other, to be more open, more tolerant and more liberal.
“This, mainly in relations with the Arabs who live among us – the Arab population of Israel. The State of Israel, the Jewish and Democratic State of Israel, is the home, of all whot were born here – all those for whom this country is their homeland.
“The Arab citizens of Israel must also find in the State of Israel a home, as their right, not as a favour; they must share full and equal rights and recognition and must also play a true role in advancing and developing this country.
“I pray that during this coming year the gateways of all our hearts will be open
to listening to co-operation and to mutual commitment, I pray that during this coming year we shall listen to a symphony of the many voices that shape us, as a state, as a society and as human beings,” said the president.
“I wish you all a very happy and blessed year.”
Closer ties between Zim and Israel rattles ANC
Zimbabwe and Israel have had full diplomatic relations since 1993, but further overtures by our northern neighbour to the Jewish state could cause conflict with South Africa, particularly certain factions in the African National Congress (ANC).
According to an article by Carien du Plessis published on News24 on Wednesday, 3 February, “Zimbabwe has been seeking closer ties with Israel in the hope of securing more investment and doing away with sanctions. This move has caused unease within the ANC, which has a pro-Palestinian stance, although it’s unlikely the party will act on it.
“The ruling party [in Zimbabwe], ZANU-PF, has historically positioned itself as pro-Palestinian, but Zimbabwean President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s latest move closer to Israel represents a change in policy direction,” Du Plessis writes.
She reports that although the head of the ANC committee on international relations, Lindiwe Zulu, said that, “We cannot interfere with the sovereign decisions of the governing party of any other government”, there have been divisions within ZANU-PF and within the ANC about the Israel matter.
“A pro-Palestine lobby within the ANC wants South Africa’s governing party to take a more hardline approach to its Zimbabwean counterpart, while the pragmatists prefer not to push this issue for diplomatic reasons,” Du Plessis says.
Darren Bergman, the shadow minister for international relations and cooperation and a member of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) Parliamentary Forum Human Rights Committee, didn’t mince his words about South Africa’s response.
“The people of Zimbabwe are suffering. The internal affairs of Zimbabwe couldn’t get South Africa to act, the situation in Zimbabwe couldn’t get South Africa to act, but the relationship with Israel gets South Africa to act,” he said.
“This is a sinister situation that must make the SADC and African Union [AU] question what exactly South Africa’s situation is with regard to the Middle East,” Bergman said.
“It’s one thing to have an opinion and a position, but it’s another to keep a hard-pressed, almost spiteful stance at all times that can actually harm and injure the people and the continent. To this I would say that South Africa should show diplomatic constraint, and hold back.”
One of Mnangagwa’s recent moves to improve relations with Israel is the appointment last year of Israeli national Ronny Levi Musan as honorary consul of Zimbabwe to Israel.
The Afro-Middle East Centre reported in October 2020 that, “Musan has set plans into motion for Mnangagwa’s official visit to Israel. His activities in Zimbabwe include collaboration with Pentecostal churches to push for Christian support for Israel. Zimbabwe’s honorary consul is also pushing for Israeli businesses to invest in Zimbabwe’s agricultural sector, and he recently announced the intention to open an Israeli academy of agriculture in Zimbabwe. On the diplomatic front, Israel hopes that Mnangagwa will follow the example of his Malawian counterpart, Lazarus Chakwera, who announced plans to open an embassy in Jerusalem.”
Musan told the SA Jewish Report he had worked in Africa for the past 20 years to strengthen links between churches and the Holy Land. “About five years ago, I was invited to visit Zimbabwe which lasted about two weeks. I tried to do everything possible to connect Zimbabwe to Israel on a practical level. After the first visit, I visited Zimbabwe several more times, and met a number of ministers and church leaders, and just fell in love with the place.
“From there, it continued through my activities with the Israeli foreign ministry and the foreign ministry in Zimbabwe to promote diplomatic relations between the countries.” He was eventually appointed to this role.
“My main responsibility is to do everything possible in every field to bring knowledge and support from Israel to Zimbabwe, and vice versa. The main issue is technology in the field of agriculture, education, and innovation. These are the cornerstones that will return the crown to Zimbabwe as the ‘grain basket of Africa’.”
Local political analyst Daniel Silke says that Zimbabwe’s overtures to Israel “could well be an attempt by Zimbabwe to follow the Sudan example, in which currying favour with the United States via the channel of restoring relations with Israel allows the country to receive assistance and perhaps even escape some of the worst sanctions. But, of course, [former US] President Donald Trump is no longer in the White House. Whether this will have any traction with Joe Biden, who I think will be a lot more critical of the Zimbabwean regime, remains to be seen.”
In terms of the impact it could have on South African-Israel relations, Silke says, “Many other African countries are forging their own path in terms of relations with Israel. For President [Cyril] Ramaphosa, it’s a difficult balancing act given the demands from within his own party. But I don’t think South Africa has any leg to stand on in terms of interference with any country which wishes to forge some sort of close relationship with the Jewish state. As head of the AU, Ramaphosa is again in a tough position because of the changing dynamics across Africa, but I don’t think it’s an issue that will really get much attention.”
Rowan Polovin, the chairperson of the South African Zionist Federation, says, “We see this as a positive development, particularly for Southern Africa, which is part of the momentum that is being created by the Abraham Accords.
“Northern Africa has been very much part of the momentum. In the southern region, Malawi, which is diplomatically and geographically close to South Africa, has signalled its intention to open an embassy in Israel. If all this has an impact on South Africa’s neighbours, then South Africa will see the benefits. It’s very hard to ignore the importance of building ties with Israel, which has so many solutions for African issues, particularly water, electricity, agriculture, and security. Notwithstanding the noise that the ANC might make, ultimately it’s positive.”
Just how successful is Israel’s vaccine push?
Israel is reporting promising initial results from its COVID-19 vaccine rollout, the fastest in the world.
The first official findings released by the health ministry show that only 0.04% of people caught the virus a week after their second dose, and a mere 0.002% needed hospital treatment.
Clalit, the country’s largest health service organisation, has also released its preliminary data. It compared 200 000 people aged 60 and over who’ve been vaccinated with 200 000 similar unvaccinated older adults. It found that the rate of those who tested positive dropped 33% among the vaccinated 14 days after they received it. No decline was seen in the unvaccinated.
Maccabi, another healthcare organisation, saw an even larger drop. Infections decreased 60% among 430 000 people 13 to 21 days after they received the vaccine. The data also suggested the vaccine was 92% effective, close to the 95% efficacy claimed by Pfizer.
Israeli researchers are conducting more in-depth analysis, and point out that real-world effectiveness of vaccines is often lower than the efficacy seen in clinical trials due to a number of factors.
But experts warn that this data has yet to be published in a peer-reviewed journal so it should be viewed with some caution.
There are also various factors that could be influencing the results. The current lockdown and behaviour such as travelling and gathering less, wearing masks, and greater physical distancing might be decreasing infections.
The first people to receive the vaccine were mostly from vulnerable populations, so they are more likely to take precautions which could also skew the data.
In spite of the encouraging news, the death toll from COVID-19 continues to climb. Of the 4 816 fatalities at the time of writing, 30% occurred in January when the vaccination rollout was already in full swing. The government blames this on the more transmissible British variant of the virus, especially among children. According to Clalit, when the vaccination campaign started in late December, the new variant caused 30% to 40% of infections, whereas now that figure has doubled.
As for the South African strain, there are currently 80 detected cases in Israel, and there is concern that the vaccine isn’t as effective against this variant. A number of Israelis who previously had COVID-19 have been re-infected with the South African strain, with the most recent case identified two days ago.
Compounding the situation is the flagrant disregard by the ultra-Orthodox community, that comprises just less than 13% of the population, for lockdown rules. Since the start of the pandemic, one in five ultra-Orthodox has tested positive.
Many in the community doubt the safety of the vaccine or believe the country’s citizens are being used as guinea pigs to test its efficacy. Prominent rabbis have also said that communal prayer and study needs to overwrite lockdown concerns.
Last Sunday, 31 January, thousands of ultra-Orthodox mourners, many without masks, crowded together to attend two funerals of famous rabbis who died from coronavirus. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been criticised for not cracking down harshly enough on the community for political reasons – he needs their votes in the upcoming 23 March election.
Residents of Tel Aviv spoke to the SA Jewish Report, complaining that the actions of the ultra-Orthodox were forcing the whole country to go repeatedly into lockdown, and it wasn’t fair. It’s no surprise thus that the latest word from the government is that the current – third – nationwide lockdown may not be Israel’s last.
Many Israelis want cities and towns to once again be divided into red, orange, yellow, and green zones and scales of restrictions to be put in place accordingly. This would mean those who obey the restrictions wouldn’t have to pay the price of those who don’t.
In recent days, there’s also growing concern in some quarters in Israel that because the mass vaccination campaign is running in parallel with an active coronavirus outbreak, it could lead to an “evolutionary pressure” on the virus in which it would ultimately become immune to vaccination. Doctors are suggesting that in future, people will need to take an annual anti-COVID-19 jab, much in the same way the annual flu injection is taken.
But for now, the race to innoculate everyone is on. Among the first to be injected were people aged 60 or older. More than two-thirds of this age group have already received the required two doses. Up to 200 000 people are being injected each day, and the vaccine is now available to anyone over the age of 35. High-school students aged 16 to 18 are also included in the hope that they will be able to sit for exams. It seems Netanyahu is on track to fulfil his promise of innoculating five million of the country’s nine million citizens by the end of March.
To date, just more than one in three Israelis has been inoculated – about 1.7 million of them twice. Because this is a far higher fraction than anywhere else in the world, it makes the country a test case for the international vaccine push.
The right to demonstrate, even during lockdown
Israelis are being allowed out of their homes in full lockdown to call for the resignation of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (Bibi), who is viewed by many on both sides of the political spectrum as corrupt.
This freedom in a lockdown which ordinarily limits you to being no more than one kilometre from your house is based on the country’s constitutional right to protest. On bridges, at junctions, and outside Bibi’s house in Jerusalem, daily protests occur, resuming after Shabbat goes out on Saturday night.
“Lech! Lech!” (Go!) is shouted loudly – which is also the name for the movement against Netanyahu.
There are some staunch Likud followers who scream, “Arafat and Rabin sold out the country,” prompting laughter amongst some demonstrators, who point out that their arguments are old and outdated. Demonstrators including doctors, lawyers, pilots, accountants, and students point out that this isn’t about the Israel-Palestine issue, it’s not about being leftist or rightist, but about ethics and bringing to justice an allegedly corrupt prime minister.
The protestors are passionate, some defying orders not to camp outside Bibi’s residence. At 21:30, police order the drums, trumpets, and whistles to cease. The protestors obey, but continue to demonstrate quietly, so as not to disturb the Jerusalem neighbourhood.
Then, at about 23:00, carrying Israeli flags in blue and white and others in red and white, the protestors pack up and go home to lockdown.
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