Grapevine: Raising hands for peace

By
December 12, 2013 20:52

The One Million Hands in Israel campaign is the joint brainchild of three Israeli-Australians.




AUSTRALIAN AMBASSADOR Dave Sharma with hands for peace.

AUSTRALIAN AMBASSADOR Dave Sharma with hands for peace 370. (photo credit: Courtesy Australian Embassy)

With or without official surveys, it can be safely said that the vast majority of Israelis and Palestinians want peace so they can get on with their lives in safety and security. Where they differ – certainly at the government level – is on the price of peace, namely the concessions that both sides would be willing to make.

The peace process has been on the table for so long that few Israelis or Palestinians are sufficiently optimistic to believe they will see peace in their lifetime.

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Twenty years after the signing of the Oslo Accords and numerous false dawns, Australian Ambassador Dave Sharma said this week that he could well sympathize with the degree of public apathy and indifference which forms the backdrop of the current peace negotiations. While he found such skepticism understandable, it was not healthy, he said.

Sharma was speaking at his residence in Herzliya Pituah, at the official launch of the One Million Hands campaign. The campaign was inspired by a similar one in Australia called Sea of Hands, mobilizing public opinion in support of a new kind of relationship – one of reconciliation – with the indigenous population of Australia.

The One Million Hands in Israel campaign is the joint brainchild of three Israeli-Australians (or Australian-Israelis, depending on one’s perspective): Dror Ben-Ami, a zoologist; Guy Pross, who headed Better Place in Australia; and Ziv Cohen, a landscape architect whose personal politics are Right, Left and Center, respectively. As a trio, however, the men are united in their belief that the public must give its support to the peace process and the creation of some kind of an agreement by both sides.

“When discussions are underway that may determine the future shape and character of Israel, it is vital that the citizens of Israel are engaged,” said Sharma. In acknowledging that Israel’s security challenges are of a nature almost incomprehensible to Australians, he said: “No other country on earth has its very right to exist questioned, its very legitimacy as a state frowned upon in a way that Israel must endure. In such an environment, it is only natural that Israel’s security concerns trump all others.

“What this means is that when political leaders are taking difficult decisions and making concessions in order to help safeguard the security, health and Jewish character of the state of Israel, it is imperative that they have a strong public backing.

That is why the One Million Hands for Peace campaign is so important to help mobilize public support.”

Sharma added that it was just as important on the Palestinian side, and that he would like to see Palestinian civil society mobilize in a similar way –“even to create their own One Million Hands for Peace campaign.”

Ben-Ami, whose political views are more to the Right of the spectrum than those of his colleagues, said he had been among those who kept asking where the partner is on the Palestinian side, until he went to the premiere of The Gatekeepers – where all the former heads of the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) who had been interviewed for the documentary were sitting in the audience, and were all calling for the Palestinians to engage. This filled him with hope and he was drawn to the idea of the campaign, which the three friends discussed around the kitchen table.

The campaign merely asks the public to raise a hand through Facebook or in an installation planted with plastic hands, to demonstrate support for a peace agreement to be reached by Spring 2014. Since its preliminary announcement on Facebook just over a month ago, the campaign has received almost 41,000 hits.

At the event hosted by Sharma and his wife, Rachel, plastic hands were passed around for guests to be photographed with, and magnets with the photos were almost instantly placed on a board. Sharma chose to be photographed with two hands, one green and one gold, which are the Australian national colors – as well as those of South Africa, whose late president Nelson Mandela demonstrated the true meaning of reconciliation to the world.

Among the supporters of the One Million Hands campaign is former Shin Bet chief – and before that former head of the Israel Navy – Ami Ayalon. He was introduced by Pross, who declared how much easier it had become to mobilize the public through social media, a very powerful tool.

Ayalon quipped that when he arrived, Sharma asked what made him come, to which he replied that he had been Pross’s commander in the navy, and Pross had followed him and Sari Nusseibeh to the Geneva Initiative.

“Now I follow Guy,” he said, “because I do not have the luxury to refuse when peace is involved.”

Most of the people in attendance were Australian expatriates, with notable exceptions such as Noam Schalit, who came to public attention when battling for the release of his hijacked soldier son, Gilad; Gershon Baskin, co-chairman of the Israel Palestine Center for Research and Information and a regular columnist for The Jerusalem Post; Mariuma Ben-Yosef, the founder of Shanti House for at-risk youth; and Labor MK Omer Bar-Lev.

Among the Australian expats were: Dr. Nathan Cherny, director of cancer pain and palliative care at Shaare Zedek Medical Center; Benjamin Rutland, director of foreign relations at the Geneva Initiative; family physician Dr. Harvey Belik and his wife, Loretta; Gary Stock, executive chairman of James Richardson Duty Free; Paul Israel, executive director of the Australia-Israel Chamber of Commerce; Danny Hakim, founder and chairman of Budo for Peace; and Arsen Ostrovsky, research director at the Israeli Jewish Congress.

■ AS THE political reporter for the Post, Gil Hoffman is an avid reader of the Facebook pages of government ministers and MKs. Although the he wasn’t invited to the circumcision ceremony of David Sa’ar, the newborn son of Interior Minister Gideon Sa’ar and his wife, Geula Even, a current affairs anchorwoman at Channel 1, Hoffman follows the Sa’ar family’s developments with interest.

David came almost as a birthday present for Sa’ar, who announced his arrival into the world on Facebook. Sa’ar celebrated his 47th birthday on Monday, and David was inducted into the faith and officially given his name on Tuesday.

Sa’ar and Even were married earlier this year; it was the second time around for both. David is Sa’ar’s third child and first son, and Even’s fourth child. The mother of his two daughters is his first wife, Shelly, to whom he was married for 22 years.

Even’s three older children were born during her 20-year marriage to Amit Oberkovitz.

At the Likud Beytenu faction meeting last Monday, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu came close to suggesting that Sa’ar take paternity leave.

He didn’t use that expression, but did tell him to take time off to be with his son, saying other ministers would cover for him.

■ IF GENETICS count for anything, the progeny of David and Frieda Macarov should live to be at least 120.

The Macarovs, who have been married for 67 years, look hale and hearty. Both are straight-backed, walk easily without the aid of a cane, maintain a healthy sense of humor and after four children, 11 grandchildren, several great-grandchildren and stints in different parts of the world, appear to be as much in love as newlyweds.

David Macarov, who hails from Atlanta, Georgia, served in both the US and Israeli armies, is a prolific writer with some 20 books to his credit, plus numerous essays, and was the first full professor at the Hebrew University’s Paul Baerwald School of Social Work.

There, as professor emeritus, he continues to take an active interest.

To celebrate the publication of yet another book, along with Macarov’s 95th birthday, Prof.

John Gal, dean of the Paul Baerwald School, hosted a reception to which former colleagues and students of Macarov were invited, as well as the latest crop of recipients of Macarov family research scholarships.

Macarov is not idle in retirement. When Gal called his home recently, he was told by Frieda Macarov that her husband was out guiding at the Tower of David Museum, where he works in a voluntary capacity.

According to friend and former colleague Prof. Uri Yanai, Macarov is also a keen gardener, who has turned his garden in the capital’s Nayot neighborhood into a piece of paradise. Yanai presented a fascinating review of Macarov’s life, including the illicit purchase of arms for Israel during the War of Independence.

After hearing him and other speakers heap admiring comments not only on her husband, but also on her, Frieda Macarov remarked that she was glad it wasn’t a eulogy – and that they were still around to hear it. David Macarov said that on such occasions, when so much flowery speech and flattering comments are bandied about, at least one person in the room believes all that is said.

One of his daughters, Varda Linett – who is also a social worker and like her father, vertically challenged – said he had taught her to stand alongside the lectern, rather than behind it, so that she could be seen.

He had also taught her to start every lecture with a joke. The problem, she said, was that there is a dearth of jokes about social workers.

“The salary,” said someone in the audience.

“Yes, that’s a joke,” agreed Linett.

She described herself as a third-generation social worker, because her grandmother in Atlanta had run a kosher boarding house for Jewish students whose parents did not want them to stay in the college dorms. She not only fed them and cleaned up after them, but offered a willing ear whenever one was needed.

Linett added that one of her own daughters, who is not a professionally trained social worker, was being interviewed about something to do with at-risk youth, and gave all the correct answers that a trained social worker would give.

When asked how she knew all that, her reply was, “It’s in the blood.”

■ WHEN POLITICALLY Left and Right get together on the entertainment circuit, differences tend to disappear – particularly when both are strongly patriotic. Mutual love of country and national values tends to override natural hostilities.

Thus, when kibbutz-raised and resident high priestess of community singing Sarale Sharon got together with Hebrew-language expert Avshalom Kor, who was raised in a deeply committed Betar environment, there were a few sparks flying.

It was Sharon’s first-ever appearance at the Begin Heritage Center in Jerusalem. She made a point of coming early and touring the museum, and wasn’t sure whether she would have an audience given the dire predictions of weather forecasters.

But the auditorium was half-full, and included people from both sides of the political spectrum. The common denominator was nostalgia for the days when Hebrew songs were patriotic, and the repertoire for the evening certainly catered to that need.

There were quite a few young people, but the majority comprised senior citizens – in some cases, very senior. One whitehaired lady recalled that her grandmother, who had come on the First Aliya with the Biluim, used to sing some of those songs to her.

Sharon and Kor transported the audience back to another era, when ideology took precedence over material possessions and the big dream was to have a Jewish state – a dream that most of the people who sang these songs when they were originally composed never lived to see, and one which when eventually realized, is too often taken for granted – despite the lessons of history and current existential threats.

■ IT HAPPENS only once in a century that the date is made up of the consecutive numbers 11/12/13. Racheli Glass and Eyal Zino of Migdal Ha’emek decided it was a lucky day for them, and in fact delayed their wedding by more than a year in order to get married on that date.

They booked the Everest Banquet Hall in Afula some 18 months ago, and were married as planned in a glittering ceremony on Wednesday night, when they and their approximately 500 guests braved the stormy weather to make the trip to the venue for the happy event.

Everyone present is likely to remember the date of the wedding for years to come.

greerfc@gmail.com


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