CALCALIST
Calcalist ("Economist") is Israel's leading business newspaper, founded in 2008 and published by the Yedioth Ahronoth Group. While it targets professionals in the fields of economy, law and business, it includes articles across a wide variety of topics to appeal to broader audience.
Geopolitics
Anat Barzilai

Open Sesame! Tahini Spreads From Ethiopia To Israel And Beyond

It's a match made in hummus!

TEL AVIV — A sweet, warm smell engulfs visitors the moment they enter the manufacturing hangar in the Al Arz tahini plant. Soft sunlight seeps in through the high windows, lighting millions of sesame seeds carried on conveyor belts in and out of large stainless steel ovens. Suspended above are narrow stainless steel pipes that transport pure raw tahini, and as its vapors fill the air, it all has the look and feel of a futuristic utopia. For a moment the hangar turns into a state-of-the-art spaceship about to take off.

But this isn't utopia. It's Ethiopia — sort of. We're actually in a new industrial zone of the Jezreel Valley region in northern Israel. Joining us, though, is a delegation of 23 sesame growers and exporters from Ethiopia, all members of an exporters association, who came to Israel to study up close the wonders of local tahini and to try to expand their trade.

The Israelis' affection for the magical paste (and for hummus, of course, for which tahini is a key ingredient), has turned the country into a world-class sesame superpower. And Ethiopia is one of the greatest sesame producers in the world. There are deals, in other words, to be made.

Israel is the second largest buyer of Ethiopian sesame after China. In the past three years, the Chinese have purchased about 60% of Ethiopian-grown sesame, mainly for extracting its oil. Israeli producers bought 17% of the crop, followed by Turkey, Jordan and Saudi Arabia, which purchased 4% each.

After coffee, sesame is the second largest export product in Ethiopia.

After coffee, sesame is the second largest export product in Ethiopia. According to the Ethiopian sesame seed exporters association, 335,000 tons of sesame were grown in the country in 2016 — some 15% of the world output! Only Myanmar grows more. But surprisingly, Ethiopians hardly use the golden seeds, and about 90% of their output is exported.

The visit from the Ethiopian sesame growers reflects the transformation of Israel into a leading tahini manufacturer. At the basis of this process was, first, the cultural appropriation of tahini, a dominant ingredient in North African and Arab cuisine centuries before it became established as a basic food for Israelis.


And the transformation happened quickly through a rare combination of geopolitical circumstances. One was the encounter with Palestinian tahini, especially tahini from Nablus, after the Six-Day War in 1967. In addition, Israel developed trade relations with Ethiopia, which grows the suitable strain of sesame seeds.

There was also the need to develop local technology and tahini factories after the first Intifada in 1987, which made it difficult to bring in tahini from the occupied territories. Other factors included the overthrow of the military junta that ruled Ethiopia until the early 1990s and the country's opening to global trade; and Israel's easy access to foreign markets, especially in the United States, where Israeli companies have been active for years, selling "authentic Israeli" food products.

From Haile Selassie to sesame

Under these circumstances, the Ethiopian representatives view Israel as a bridge to the west. A tahini flavored and textured bridge.

The delegation's next stop was the "Ahla" factory in the industrial area of Carmiel, near Haifa. After a tour of the factory, the delegation wanders into a small, homey kitchen in the entrance floor that is used as the factory's headquarters of sorts. A friendly technician welcomes the group with a smile and mixes up a batch of fresh hummus with lots of tahini. This was the only fresh hummus — not out of a box — served during the entire visit.

The next day, during a conference at the Gilgal hotel in Tel Aviv, I meet Tesfaye T. Haimanot, 66, the oldest member of the delegation. "My name is Mr. Hope," he says, smiling. Tesfaye (hope) Haimanot was born in Aksum in the country's north, the center of the ancient Aksum Empire that ruled the region for about 1,500 years until the 10th century. He grew up with his parents and six brothers in a poor village, in a grass and wooden hut, and his life story until he became a sesame trader could fill entire volumes.

"My family was relatively advanced. My eldest brother moved to Addis Ababa to study and when he returned, he urged us all to work hard at school," he says. "I was lucky to be able to study law with a government scholarship. In 1974, when I completed three years of school, Emperor Haile Selassie was deposed by the military junta. We were young then, angry and full of motivation. We refused to live under the new regime, so we left the city and became guerilla warriors. We ran around the jungles with Kalachnikovs."

At this point of our conversation, the new Ethiopian ambassador to Israel, Tsegaye Berhe, came over and hugged Haimanot like an old friend. "We were all there together in the jungles, the ambassador too, we ran around and fought the regime," the sesame trader explains. "After several years I couldn't continue fighting and I returned to Addis Ababa as a lawyer working for foreign embassies, but the ambassador stayed on to fight in the jungle until, in the end, we won. It lasted 17 years, and in 1991 a new government came to power and now he's an ambassador and I meet him here."

Haimanot started working in commerce in 1996. "My friends who came to power suggested that I switch to business. I started importing industrial machines from Germany and France and I became a successful businessman. Later I got into agriculture. Today I have fields where I grow sesame and my three children help me run the business from Addis."

He says he sometimes returns to his village with his old friends. He built a high school there and urges the youth to study.

"We fought to change our country and we succeeded," Haimanot says. "Today we have a progressive government, a government of the people. In the days of Haile Selassie there was one university. Today there are 32. We have many more things to do to change the situation in Ethiopia. There is definitely still poverty, but the middle class is growing and we expect to reach the desired change by 2025."

Nablus to Tel Aviv

Three strains of sesame grow in Ethiopia: Welega, Kalafo and Humera. The latter is preferred by Israeli producers because of its sweet, nutty flavor. A ton of Humera costs about $1,000 to $1,200 a ton, depending on the bargaining abilities of both sides. The variety is grown in the Humera region in northwestern Ethiopia, close to the border with Sudan and Eritrea. The Ethiopian government would be happy to develop an industrial zone there based on joint entrepreneurship between Israelis and Ethiopians. The Israelis, at this stage at least, are not keen on the idea.

Pure-tahini addicts set out to find the real stuff from Nablus in small shops in the alleys of the Old City of Jerusalem.

Today, all the tahini made in Israel is produced with Ethiopian sesame. The country also imports a modest amount of sesame from India that is used mainly as a baking supplement. But until 1967, the local tahini was made with Baladi sesame, grown in Israel.

Hussam Abbas, the chef and owner of the Al-Babor restaurant in the northern Arab city of Umm al-Fahm, still remembers the delicious and crispy flavor of the Baladi sesame, which was brown and larger than the Ethiopian variety. "All the tahini factories were in Nablus — there were none in Israel," Abbas says. "In 1967, after Israel occupied the West Bank, they started bringing in tahini from Nablus to Israel. Until this day the best tahini factories — Ayesh and Karawan — are over there."

Tahini on top of any great falafel sandwich — Photo: Heidi De Vries

The Israeli tahini industry is very young and according to Abbas it only developed "after the first Intifada, in 1987, when it was harder to bring in tahini from Nablus. This is why tahini factories started opening in Israel, and it caught on."

Abbas's family from Kafr Kanna grew sesame themselves till 1976. "We would sow in the beginning of March. The plant doesn't need any watering, only rain water, and when it's a meter high, the sesame-seed pods appear on the sides. In the beginning it's green. By the end of May it starts turning yellow, like wheat, and then you pull it out with the root, gather it in stacks and dry it on the roof of the house for another month."

"When the sesame is completely dry, you turn over the stack, shake it, and the seeds fall out easily," he adds. "Some we'd keep in a jar at home and use them for cakes to for mixing into a ground zaatar herbal mix, but most we'd pack in 50 kg bags and sell to a big merchant, who would take the goods to the factories in Nablus."

To this day, brave, pure-tahini addicts set out to find the real stuff from Nablus in small shops in the alleys of the Old City of Jerusalem.

In recent years, raw tahini has become the Israeli "superfood."

"Tahini has been here for hundreds of years. It's always been used in Arab cuisine. But in recent years, chefs have discovered that local raw materials are the best and the tastiest and have high nutritional value. Tahini has become a hit," Abbas says.

Ibrahim Bashir, the producer of Baraka tahini, clearly illustrates the complex and tangled regional relations, of which tahini can be seen as a culinary manifestation.

In 1984, Bashir, an Israeli Arab, was sent by the Israeli food giant Telma to Nablus, a Palestinian city in the West Bank, to learn the intricacies of tahini production. He returned to the family tahini factory in Umm al-Fahm, an Israeli-Arab town, in order to produce huge quantities of tahini for the Israeli market. Telma was a partner in the business for about 20 years until the Bashir family acquired full ownership. Today Baraka also produces tahini under the brand name Al-hil'al, intended for the Arab and Palestinian markets, and Nablus' leading brand of tahini and halva, a sesame-based sweet.

In 2014 Bashir was awarded a prize for lifetime achievement from the Israeli Food Industries Association.

Nazareth to New York

Julia Zahar, manager and owner of the Al Arz plant, says exports to the United States make up about 12% of their tahini sales. "My son Yusuf is opening a logistics center in New York and later on we are planning to export from there to Europe."

Israel's tahini is the best. Even the worst Israeli tahini is better than any tahini made anywhere else.

The sesame is grown in Ethiopia; the traditional tahini is made all over the Middle East. So why do the Americans need the Israelis as go-betweens?

"It's true that you can get tahini from Turkey, Mexico, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, and in the past also from Syria. But Israel's tahini is the best. Even the worst Israeli tahini is better than any tahini made anywhere else."

Zahar says tahini became more popular in the United States as the Americans started appreciating good food and discovering the nutritional value of tahini. With increasing awareness of obesity, Americans have started eating less junk food. "Today, instead of ketchup and mayonnaise, some Americans eat tahini. All that's left to do is to teach the Americans to better discern what makes a good tahini."

Sesame was one of the first plants cultivated for commerce. Every branch has noble-looking pink and white flowers that bow their heads like a bell. The plant's elongated pods look like cellophane-wrapped candy. When they open they expose neat rows of sesame seeds.

The sesame plant is very resilient in dry weather and is therefore grown in hot regions. Its resilience makes pesticide unnecessary. All sesame cultivation, therefore, is organic. On the other hand, the pods tend to spread their seeds the moment they are dry, so they have to be harvested very gently and dried under controlled conditions.

It takes eight months in a row with no rain to grow sesame. Ethiopian farmers usually gather the sesame branches in stacks and leave them out to dry for one last month, praying it won't rain.

Dr. Dejen G. Meskel, a physician who to turned to sesame farming after marrying a woman from a line of sesame-farmers, was born in Addis. "It is a very multicultural, colorful city. And in the last 20 years it has developed very quickly," he says.

Before that, the explains, most of the areas in Addis Ababa were very poor and the whole country, ruled by a dictatorial regime, suffered a long war. "Agriculture was not developed and only the elite benefited from an education," Meskel says. "The government promoted communist principles, so that the ideas of a free economy and capitalism weren't even known. Since the regime changed, the country has opened up to the free market."

The meaning of the words "Addis Ababa," he explains, is "new flower." With the changes that Meskel describes, the Ethiopian capital, it seems, is truly living up to its name.

Geopolitics
Diana Bachur-Nir

Welcome To The Bedouin Millionaires Club

In southern Israel, a group of well-off Bedouin entrepreneurs is trying to help the community grow economically, reduce discrimination and improve education.

HURA — Crystal and gold chandeliers hang from the high ceiling at the entrance to Yaakub Abu al-Qiyan's home in the Bedouin town of Hura in Israel's southern Negev desert. The furniture in the living room, the curtains and even the teapots are adorned with gold as well.

Abu al-Quiyan was inspired by "a Jordanian palace," but says that most of the furnishings actually came from Egypt. Every step in the staircase is individually lit. There's a pool in the backyard and a Jacuzzi is under construction. From the window is a view of the tin shed that houses the neighbor's family.

He apologizes for the state of his palace. "The house is not yet finished," he says. "It cost me about $3 million."

He pulls out his smartphone to show two other throne-like chairs. "Just these chairs, which are still due to arrive from Egypt, cost $15,000 each." He points to the beautiful big wooden entrance door and says it will soon be replaced by another — gilded, of course. The kitchen will also soon be replaced, he says. And the curtains will be drawn by voice command.

Abu al-Qiyan, 42, is the owner of a contracting company that builds housing projects and public buildings in Bedouin villages. He also owns a human resources company specializing in construction, housekeeping and agriculture. He also boasts business and financial ties with the Palestinian Authority. Colleagues estimate that his yearly turnover is close 100 million shekel, or about $28 million.

The wealthy entrepreneur is married to two women. The first lives in a different house in Hura with their four children. The second lives with him here in the palace, along with their three small children. His sons Mohammad, 23, and Moussa,19, come to visit. They love the new house, but hate the village. They say it's boring, with no good places to hang out.

hura_israel_bedouin_desert_entrepreneur

Hura cityscape Romayan

Before moving to the palace Abu al-Qiyan lived with his second wife and their children in Meitar, an affluent Jewish town that also attracts wealthy Bedouins. Nowadays they divide their time between Hura and Meitar. "I wanted my small children to live a different life than in Hura, I was looking for a different environment," he says.

"Violence has spread in the community like a disease," Abu al-Qiyan adds. "It's because of the rural atmosphere. You can't get a good education here. There are no playgrounds. The kid comes home from school – where will he play? There aren't any sports areas or a swimming pool, nothing. And then they say that the Arab community is no good. It's because the government doesn't provide enough. It's like if you have a dog but you don't feed it, you just wave a piece of meat in front of it. One day it'll pounce on you."

At the same time, Abu al-Qiyan sees Hura as a way for the children to stay in touch with their roots. "To know that they're Arab Bedouins," he says.

I deserve a taste of the good life.

Of course most Bedouins don't live in palaces, as Abu al-Qiyan's critics point out. "When they see me they say, "Yaakub, you've become too Ashkenazi a Jew of European descent." And I tell them, "I'm a Bedouin. I've lived the life of the community. I've lived in a tent. I've lived in a shed. I've lived in a normal house. When I moved to Eilat further south to work, there were days when I didn't have any place to sleep. And now I live in a palace with a pool and a Jacuzzi. I've lived the life of a Bedouin. I'm not forgetting where I came from. But I also deserve to get a taste of the good life."

Abu al-Qiyan is a member of the Afak (horizon) Forum, a group of 32 Bedouin entrepreneurs whose businesses have an annual turnover of at least 10 million shekels (about $2.8 million). For some, the turnover is closer to 100 million shekels ($28 million), and in total they say they have a total turnover of about 500 million shekels ($140 million).

The group, established about six months ago, includes real-estate moguls, building contractors, recycling and infrastructure entrepreneurs, and transport company owners. Most of them are first-generation business owners who built their fortune from scratch.

They are unusual in their own community. But they're also considered extraordinary in Jewish society. These are the "Bedouin millionaires," and they face a unique set of problems, from the wide economic gap to neglect by the Israeli authorities, racism, violence, crime and polygamy. The group is also active on a variety of fronts to advance the community in general, and business in particular.

They are striving to establish commercial and industrial areas within Bedouin villages, a complex task given conflicting land ownership claims and territorial disputes. They're also looking to procure grants and better loan conditions from the state and the banks by creating an acquisition group; formulate a plan for philanthropic donations to the community; and advance their own private businesses, together and separately, by responding to tenders.

There are three committees working within the Forum that focus on bank loans, job creation and advancing tenders suitable for business in the community. They are organized and determined but are still at the beginning of the road and have not yet marked any real achievements. More time is needed, they say — for their own adjustment, but also for other changes.

Fahmi el-Oubra, owner of a company in Rahat (another Bedouin town) that transports agricultural produce, illustrates the complexity of the issues. "Last year we tried, three of us, to create a group that would build a big shopping mall in Rahat. But we failed," the 53-year-old father of eight explains. "When two other companies, Sodastream and Kargal, moved to the area, they received three-quarters of the sum they invested as a government grant. We also want that. The others get advantages, but we, the residents of the region, don't."

bedouin_sodastream_negev_israel

At a SodaStream plant in Israel — Photo: Nir Alon/ZUMA

Fahmi el-Oubra says that in just five years, Sodastream and Kargal have helped cut Rahat's unemployment rate in half, from about 21% in 2010 to 12% in 2016. With their shopping mall project, he and his partners hoped to add even more jobs. But they weren't offered the same financing advantages.

Ali al-Krenawi, also a Rahat resident, mentions another obstacle. He rents agricultural equipment to Kibbutzim, owns real estate and is the brother of Talal al-Krenawi, the mayor of Rahat. "It's hard to develop here when any time you want to buy land land, somebody comes and tells you, "This is my grandfather's land. He used to live here." So the matter goes back to the authorities and gets bogged again. We need to reach a land settlement for Bedouins in the south in order to open the villages to entrepreneurship. I hope this Forum will be able to help."

Community building

The only woman in the Forum is Yarona Ben-Shalom Richardson, a resident of Omer, who guides the forum and delicately balances the internal politics among the group's members. The Forum was established and financed by the Negev Development Authority and by MAOF, the economy ministry's operational branch for the advancement of small and medium-sized businesses.

They're low-tech, and we, here in Beersheva, will make them high-tech.

Jihad el-Oubra, also from Rahat, runs MAOF's activities related to the Bedouin community in the Negev. He lists a few of the internal obstacles they face. "It's not easy to unite a group of entrepreneurs from different sectors, different villages and, worst of all, different clans," the 46-year-old explains. "Sometimes there are disputes or simply lack of trust."

A leading members of the group, Khader Esheikh, is now creating the first Bedouin high-tech company and is dreaming of a large tourism project with famous Bedouin hospitality, camels, horses and olive groves. He comes from an entirely different field of work: He owns commercial buildings that he rents out in Beersheva and the Bedouin town of Tel Sheva, and also a metal and mortar production plant. He's 57, married to two women and has 12 children. He grew up in Tel Sheva, one of the poorest towns in the country, a place where goats eat garbage strewn on the pavements.

"I signed a development agreement with General Electric and we'll develop a system for them that warns when parts of a car need to be replaced," Esheikh explains. "They're low-tech, and we, here in Beersheva, will make them high-tech. Bedouin software engineers will develop sensors and control and information programs. I'm very excited about this, it's never been done."

Nasuah Asna, at 39, is the Forum's youngest member. Like his colleagues, he is enthusiastic and driven by a sense of mission. A resident of the Bedouin town of Lakiya, he is the owner of an engineering and construction contracting company.

He talks about the Forum's contribution to the community, which he says is the reason he does not move to a Jewish town. "If we all move, who will stay? What good is it that my yard is all clean, but outside there's garbage strewn on the sidewalks? I have to fix things in our community so that my son will have an easier life."

He admits, though, that the issue of his children's integration in society is complex. "Being drafted into the army is a red line for me," Asna insists. "My son will not join the army in order to fight against his brethren in Gaza. That won't work. I can contribute to the community in which I live, to hospitals, but not to the army."

Society
Yuval Ben Ami

Banksy In Bethlehem, Lessons For A Skeptical Israeli

-Essay-

BETHLEHEM — Some journeys begin with a sigh. An old acquaintance of mine, an artist, wrote on Facebook this week about a Banksy exhibition that was about to open in a shopping mall in the Sharon area, north of Tel Aviv. She complained that the cost of an entry ticket was 90 shekels (about $25). I went to the exhibition website to verify that the price was correct, but stopped short because I was overcome by nausea.

To get to the price, one had to click on a tiny drawing, the original of which is a huge mural on the wall of a gas station in the West Bank town of Beit Sahour, east of Bethlehem, depicting a Palestinian youth hurling a bouquet of flowers instead of a stone.

Banksy is an anonymous street artist, political and very aware of the significance of location. What connection is there between him and a 90-shekel exhibition in a shopping mall? A quick inquiry showed that there was indeed no such connection: It was a project of his former manager instead.

There is another way to get to see Banksy's work, I wrote my artist friend: the real deal — though it involves breaking a law, the one that bans us from entering Area A of the West Bank. No one has yet been thrown in prison for committing this terrible crime, the crime of an encounter. One could view the act of ignoring the law as civil disobedience.

Two weeks ago, Banksy opened the Walled Off Hotel at the entrance to Bethlehem, coming from Jerusalem. The artist calls it "the hotel with the worst view in the world," with all of its rooms overlooking the separation wall. I suggested to my friend that she go there, but then I felt like a hypocrite, as I had not yet been there myself, despite my affection for Banksy.

wall israel bansky hotel palestine

One of the rooms at the hotel, looking over the wall — Photo: Luay Sababa/Xinhua/ZUMA

It is precisely because I did not want to be a hypocrite that I had not visited the hotel. Who wants to be the Israeli who takes a happy selfie in front of testimony to the oppression to which he is a party?

I suspected that Banksy himself was a hypocrite. The occupation is a profitable business. It is worth billions to the defense industries, to manufacturers of security cameras and security contractors. It is probably also worth a non-negligible sum to the British street artist. Worried that this was simply more "left-geschaeft," (left-wing business) I had not visited.

But the next day, we decided to go after all. The hotel is adjacent to the separation wall's "fjord": two parallel arms that extend into Beit Jala surrounding Rachel's Tomb, conserving it on the convenient side of the wall. Roadworks forced us to make a detour, but in the end we found the wall again, and in front it was the hotel's old-fashioned sign. Underneath the sign sat a model chimpanzee dressed as a doorman, and also a real bellboy, wearing a top hat. I was surprised to see Hebrew letters on a metal board behind him, reading: "Everybody is welcome."

The atmosphere in the lobby is afflicted by the here and now.

This is a real hotel: A group of people with suitcases were checking in at the reception; guests were seated at candle-lit tables reading books or sipping coffee. But everything in it appeared to be part of a dream residing deep inside this tormented country.

A drawing on one of the walls shows a gray Israeli army observation tower turned into a merry-go-round in an amusement park. Another drawing depicts children sneaking around the gates of heaven to get to the cloud on the other side — an allegory for a military checkpoint.

The atmosphere in the lobby is not contemporary, but it is afflicted by the here and now. Heavy red wallpaper covers the walls, one of which is equipped with security cameras sticking out of over-adorned wooden beams, like stuffed deer heads. Beneath them, a player piano played the theme from E.T. Everything was pretty and disturbing and elating and sad and cramped and vertiginous. A sign at the back of the room read "Museum." We walked over, paid 15 shekels a person and entered.

The museum's aesthetic does not cry out "Banksy," though he was involved in its establishment. This is a historical museum of the present. One of the first displays I saw was a glass table with the two license plates used in our country: The yellow one, with which one may drive on both sides of the fence, and the white one, which may only circulate on one side, and even then, with restrictions. Near the license plates were five ID cards issued in Israel for the five different statuses distinguishing people in this land: Jewish Israeli citizen, non-Jewish Israeli citizen, Palestinian West Bank resident, Palestinian Jerusalem resident, Palestinian Gaza Strip resident.

banksy pillow fight art soldiers hotel israel palestine

A Banksy piece featured in one of the rooms — Photo: Luay Sababa/Xinhua/ZUMA

And so it was impossible to evade that word, one I do not often use— but it was clear that we were in a museum of Apartheid, and that it spoke the truth.

It was also clear that there was no hatred in this place, just frustration and sadness about a situation that we Israelis are almost unaware of, even while we sustain it. All the significant signs in the museum are also in Hebrew and there are displays of Israeli voices that express empathy for the Palestinian experience. Banksy's hotel aims, among other things, to attract us here and to confront us, in a friendly manner, with all that is so difficult for us to contain.

It would obviously be much easier to go to the shopping mall, pay 90 shekels and be impressed by Banksy's clever drawings — but that would be betraying the artist and everything he represents. And more importantly, it would be forgoing an important opportunity to gain wisdom. My earlier suspicion that Banksy betrayed himself by opening the hotel was wrong. So yalla, let's go, Bethlehem is waiting for you all. Just make sure when you leave, to exit through the checkpoints intended for settlers, otherwise you'll get an earful.

Translated by Worldcrunch iQ contributor Tamar Vidon. Sign up to create your own iQ profile.

The Endless War
Dani Rubinstein

Hungry Gaza Farmers And The Price Of A New Year’s Tomato In Israel

Last year, the price of vegetables surged 140% during the high holiday season, yet the Israeli government still opposes the import of cheap, high-quality produce from Gaza.

TEL AVIV â€" Israeli Agriculture Minister Uri Ariel recently launched a preemptive strike against the surging prices of vegetables (mainly tomatoes) before the upcoming Jewish New Year holiday season, declaring that the ministry will grant a duty-free status to importers of tomatoes from countries that are members of the International Trade Organization.

Ariel, however, has made it clear that the ministry will not allow the importing of hundreds of tons of vegetables from Gaza, although Palestinian agriculture ministry officials and Palestinian vegetable merchants alike not that their prices are low, the quality of produce is high and passes all of Israel’s health authorities’ inspections.

We've seen this film before: In September 2015 the Gisha organization â€" a nonprofit aimed at increasing the freedom of movement between Israel and Gaza â€" suggested to the Israeli agriculture ministry that promoting the sale of vegetables from Gaza in Israel would address the problem of produce shortages and rising prices. The ministry declined that offer last year, even as it allowed importing from Jordan to address the shortages. That didn’t help. The price of a kilogram of tomatoes surged to 12 NIS ($3.18) during the high holidays, as much as three times the price during the rest of the year.

Orthodox exception

A year ago the retail chains accused farmers of exploiting the holiday season in order to drive prices up, though the farmers blamed the produce shortage on pests and bad weather. Back then, the ministry did make an exception to allow limited amounts of vegetables to be imported from Gaza to the markets of Israel's ultra-orthodox community because of the Jewish sabbatical year in which cultivation of the fields is prohibited.

Palestinian farmer near Hebron â€" Photo: Dion Nissenbaum/TNS/ZUMA

While expanding the access would allow the rest of Israel’s population to enjoy affordable vegetable prices during the holiday season, it would also help Gaza’s economy, which is in desperate need of a boost. Although Gisha has renewed their request, the agriculture ministry will most likely refuse to accept it as it hopes that granting a limited time duty-free status to importers will drive prices back down.

In the past, Israel was the main market for Gaza’s farmers, especially during the holiday season when demand would increase since Israel’s farmers could not supply the local market’s needs. However, since the implementation of the Israeli blockade on Gaza in 2007, there has been almost no exporting from that strip of Palestinian territory. Meanwhile, farmers from the West Bank have been selling an annual amount of almost 100 tons of agricultural produce to Israel.

After the war in the summer of 2014, Israel’s defense apparatus tended to favor access to agricultural produce from Gaza in Israel in order to support the population in Gaza. From a legal standpoint, there is no problem because Gaza and the West Bank are subject to the same customs system. But while the reality in the West Bank has been one of almost full cooperation with the Israeli economy, in Hamas-controlled Gaza the situation is very different. And the Israeli public, especially during the holidays, pays the price.

blog
Doron Peskin

Gulf Countries And The Art Of Fast-Tracking Big Public Works

DUBAI â€" Unlike other places, where building a new subway line can wind up taking a decade or more, the United Arab Emirates offers a very different approach to major public project deadlines: It meets them.

This Gulf metropolis has made itself a regional and global hub for commerce, financial services and investment, and virtually any serious multinational player has a branch in Dubai. Liberal policy has also transformed the city into a cosmopolitan center, where foreigners outnumber local residents. Dubai's population is growing by 6.5% annually, and it is expected to hit the 3 million mark within two years.

But this fast growth requires a rapid expansion of municipal infrastructure, including mass transit lines and the network of roads. Local authorities identified the issue and contracted an international firm to draw up the best possible transportation plan to meet Dubai's future challenges.

After receiving the recommendations in 2005, the Emir of Dubai Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum published a decree for the commencement of the works. The date set for the inauguration of the project's first phase was Sept. 9, 2009, at 09:09 A.M. And indeed, on that day, eight metro stations on the city's red line were opened.

It did turn out, however, that the number of stations was fewer than originally planned, but only because the 2008 global financial downturn has caused some delays and disputes between city officials and the project contractors regarding costs.

In April 2010, four years after the first excavations commenced, the entire red line opened. Stretching across 52 kilometers, it includes 29 stations, four of which are underground. September 2011 saw the inauguration of the 23-kilometer long green line that cost $12 billion, and in the coming years, two more lines, the purple and the blue, are expected to be completed. According to official figures, 1.74 million passengers used the metro in its first month of operation.

On a daily basis, the red line carries about 180,000 passengers and the green line close to 100,000. To further encourage the shift to the metro, Dubai's authorities built park-and-ride parking lots, the largest of which can accommodate 6,000 vehicles.

Dubai metro â€" Photo: Oiva Eskola

By 2020, Dubai's underground network is expected to reach 320 kilometers, serving an average of 1.2 million users. But it already was hailed in 2012 when it was registered in the Guinness Book of World Records for being the world's longest driverless network at 75 kilometers.

World Cup accelerator

Meanwhile in Gulf neighbor Qatar, then top ruler Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani signed a 2007 decree to build a new seaport. The cost on this mega-project was estimated at $7.5 billion, which was green-lighted as part of the ambitious development plan of the gas-rich country Vision 2030.

Achieving their economic growth and development ambitions, the country's leaders understood, would not be possible without developing infrastructure â€" ports, chief among them. In 2010 a new incentive appeared when the small peninsula country was chosen as host of the 2022 FIFA World Cup. A global event of this scale would require an investment of nearly $100 billion over the next seven years, and this can only happen if import capacity was boosted.

The new seaport, which began a pilot phase operations a few weeks ago, is expected to play a key role in the anticipated expansion of foreign trade and in the country's overall economic growth. The first phase is expected to be officially inaugurated in early 2016. Originally, the project was planned to be completed in 2030, but the World Cup announcement has triggered an acceleration of the works to allow the complete project to be opened already in 2020.

Dubai skyline â€" Photo: Mohammad Sabbouh

To meet the new deadline the Qataris save no money and effort. No fewer than 9,000 workers are working around-the-clock to complete the project, and virtually every mechanical device that exists in the port and ship building industry has been brought to Qatar to live up to the tight schedule. Located south of the capital Doha, the new port is considered one of the world's most technologically advanced. It stretches across 26.5 square kilometers and includes several terminals: a general terminal with an annual capacity of 1.7 million tons, a 1 million ton crops terminal, a car terminal with room for half a million cars a year, and a livestock terminal. Once completed, the port's cargo capacity will be 6 million tons per year.

Saudi Arabian authorities also have big projects in the works, including the target of connecting all households to the Internet within ten years. For achieving this goal, huge budgets have been allocated. For example, in 2013 Saudi investment in communication infrastructure stood at approximately $10 billion. According to estimates, this year this investment will exceed $13 billion. Consequently, Internet and mobile phone penetration in the kingdom is the highest among all Middle Eastern countries.

None of these projects has happened overnight, of course â€" just compared to other countries, it only seems that way.

Geopolitics
Dani Rubinstein

The Economic Costs Of Palestinian Unrest In The West Bank

TEL AVIVâ€" The recent wave of violence and Mahmoud Abbas' threats to dismantle the Palestinian Authority could represent not just a security emergency for Israel, but also an economic nightmare.

More than 1,000 factories in the West Bank rely solely on the manpower of Palestinian workers. And they're just a small part of the financial cost that Israel will pay in the event of the Palestinian administration's collapse.

When the Israeli government was passing power over to the Palestinian Authority 20 years ago, there were approximately 20,000 Palestinians working in government institutions, most in the health and education systems. Today there are more than 150,000 public workers to which we must add pensioners whose monthly checks support about one million people.

The Palestinian government's budget is around $4 billion, which mostly comes from foreign donations. If the Palestinian Authority collapses, who is going to administer all of these payments? Who will run public offices and services? These questions don't even account for the security issue, which will probably lead to a larger and more costly presence of Israeli military forces in the region.

The economic consequences help explain why Abbas continues to delay carrying out his threat to defy the Oslo Accords and unilaterally proclaim a "Palestinian state under occupation," dismantling the Palestinian Authority in the process.

The ultimate reason is clear: The Palestinian economy is completely dependent on Israel. Without Israel, the West Bank would quickly turn into a sort of Gaza II, with social upheaval and skyrocketing unemployment.

Economic coexistence

A good illustration of the Palestinian economic dependency on Israel can be seen in the data of more than 1,000 Israeli factories that operate in the West Bank. There are 14 Israeli industrial zones in the area, including Adumim near Jericho with 330 factories, Barkan in Samaria with 160 factories and the zone between Jerusalem and Ramallah.

At the Soda Stream plant in Adumim â€" Photo: Nir Alon/ZUMA

Without exception, the factories are low-technology operations and workshops that exploit the advantages of the West Bank: low wages, rents and property tax rates. The main domains of these factories include food processing, textile, printing, furniture manufacturing, construction and plastics.

As Israel's economy was undergoing its much discussed modernization, moving into the exportation of high technology, more traditional enterprises left the country. Textile left the Israeli development zones for the Palestinian Territories, and from there to Jordan, Egypt and Turkey. Moreover, according to data, this industry increasingly has left the region altogether, opting instead for China and other Asian countries. "Basic materials to make a pair of shoes cost more than a finished pair of Chinese shoes,” says a Palestinian shoe manufacturer from Hebron.

Traditional heavy industries, nevertheless, continue to be the main economic force in the Palestinian economy. In the Israeli industrial zones in the West Bank, more than 30,000 Palestinians are employed, with some 20,000 more working in construction, transport, supply and agriculture.

In total, more than 200,000 Palestinians make a living from activities in contact with Israel. Estimates indicate that they represent roughly more than one-quarter of the Palestinian workforce, and produce 20% of the Palestinian GDP.

Most of these workers have no alternative. Furthermore, the Western boycott movements on Israeli products made in the settlements sometime underestimate the number of Palestinians employed in Israeli factories in the West Bank â€" and the coexistence that has reigned in these factories.

The current wave of violence risks undermining the security arrangements in the West Bank, and could lead to an Israeli blockade of Palestinian territories. This would completely destroy the West Bank's already shaky economy. Then it would finally be connected with Gaza, but in a very unpleasant way.

Economy
Raphael Kahan, Michael Pearl, Meir Orbach and Assaf Gilad

For Israel, Cyber War Is Existential And Economic Priority

TEL AVIV â€" Israeli Defense Forces are turning their attention to a new front: the war raging in cyberspace. And in an attempt to coordinate what up to now have been disjointed, sometimes overlapping operations, the Israeli military's chief of staff recently announced the creation of a special cyber unit.

The unit will be similar to cyber commands established in recent years in other military structures around the world. But in Israel, this is also seen as a potential boost to the economy, as the professional training the unit's soldiers receive will allow them to later move to Israel's high-tech sector. The result could be a boom in Israeli start-ups.

In the global cyber war, the presidents of Russia and North Korea are the enemies. Last summer a senior source in South Korea's cyber apparatus gave Calcalist a rare glimpse into this intricate world of interests. The two Koreas have been engaged in a cyber hostilities for several years now. Hackers affiliated with North Korea attack South Korean companies and civil infrastructure such as airports and governmental ministries. A large offensive two years ago saw banks, ATMs and TV stations in South Korea being attacked.

"Defending against such attacks goes through the usual diplomatic channels," the South Korean source said. "But many times we face situations where we need to rely on a foreign power such as China or Russia. We don't always get the assistance we would like. Often we need to rely on their goodwill and trust them completely."

Fighting the cyber units of North Korean President Kim Jong-un requires sophisticated diplomacy because, as the source explains, the hackers are actually based in China and trained by the Chinese and North Korean hacking units.

For Russian President Vladimir Putin, the past year has been particularly turbulent with plummeting oil prices, an economic meltdown and sanctions imposed on Russia after it annexed Crimea. Nevertheless, support for Putin is growing, and Russia is very active in the cyber arena. Russian attacks target the United States, including federal facilities and major corporations, primarily in the finance sector.

Hacking for ransom

Today's hacker is no longer the teenager computer wiz who found a way to infiltrate a company's computers. The vast virtual space, alongside the plethora of business opportunities it offers and of course the generous compensation, is attracting a new generation of hackers: computer science professionals with broad knowledge in programming and little concern for ethics. In the past, hackers may have been lone wolves who collaborated online. Today they are true professionals who are hired by organizations and governments.

One increasingly popular activity among this corps of digital soldiers is hacking for ransom. That is, penetrating organizations and threatening to reveal information unless a ransom is paid. Professional hackers work not only for corporations but also offer their services to anyone willing to pay, including armies and governments.

Check Point, Impreva, Palo Alto, Trusteer, WatchDox. This is just a partial list of the companies with which Israeli entrepreneur Shlomo Kramer has been involved. He got his industry start at Check Point with Gil Shwed and Marius Nacht, and is now considered a leading figure in both the Israeli and Silicon Valley cyber industries.

Kramer spent five years in the Israeli military

Kramer left Check Point after disputes with Shwed over the way the company was being run. In 2002, he started Impreva, a company that addresses abuse of databases by internal users and is now traded at $2 billion. Kramer is both the chairman of Impreva and the CEO of Cato Networks, and he is also an active investor in many companies. In fact, he is a one-man hedge fund. In most cases, the companies he invests in become popular among other funds and investors.

Twenty-two years after Check Point was established, founder and CEO (until early September) Shwed can look back with pride, but also with some paranoia.

The company that invented data security and started by selling the first firewall is now facing exceptional competition. Rival Palo Alto Networks, founded in the United States by Check Point alumnus Nir Zuk, has been giving Shwed a hard time in recent years. In business terms, Check Point has an edge on Palo Alto, but this year the latter has also shown impressive growth in terms and value, overtaking Check Point's. And Morgan Stanley's forecast for Check Point are pessimistic.

The change in the business environment has also made Shwed more alert. The opinionated executive who overcame his wariness of acquisition and mergers with Israeli firms has bought Hyperwise and Lacoon. The former, a technology that protects against malware, was meant to be Shwed's response to the acquisition of Israeli firm Cyvera by Palo Alto. But his shopping spree isn't over and Check Point is considering more purchases.

The company still lacks solutions for virtual security, physical infrastructure security and proper responses to very dangerous coordinated cyber attacks.

Check Point developed a technology based on firewall and protection of organizational networks. In its second generation, Israeli cyber companies like Palo Alto Networks and CyberArk develop technologies that complement the firewall. But in recent years the cyberspace is facing more threats and new cyber heroes are born â€" that's the third generation â€" who work on developing technologies that go beyond curbing attacks.

The third generation is represented by a few dozen companies that have each raised millions of dollars in investments already. They generate incomes of tens of millions of dollars and serve the world's most sensitive defense organizations.

Among these companies are Adallom, which was sold last month to Microsoft at a valuation of $250 million and deals with data security of organizations' cloud-based applications; Cybereason, which raised $30 million, is also valued at around $100 million and deals with curbing doom's day-style coordinated cyber attacks; and Ensilo, which raised $13 million and develops a technology for exfiltration prevention.

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Geopolitics
Dani Rubinstein

Ask Palestinians Why A Boycott Of Israel Is Bound To Fail

It's home economics, not geopolitics.

TEL AVIVâ€" Just a few days before the decision by the European Parliament to label products coming from Israeli settlements a survey was released to gauge Palestinian opinion about boycotts as a way to punish Israel's policy.

The Jerusalem Media and Communications Center (JMCC), a Palestinian research institute, surveyed 1200 people from East Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza about the boycott issue. Some 50% said they supported a full boycott on all made-in-Israel products, yet only 10% said they wanted a boycott of products only from Jewish settlements. In other words, Palestinians don’t care if the products come from the West Bank or from Tel Aviv.

In a similar survey published six months ago, 60% of the people said they supported a full boycott on Israeli products, which means Palestinian support overall for the international sanctions is declining. Only one-third of the respondents said they themselves refuse to buy any Israeli products (often there are no Palestinian substitutes for certain Israeli-made product), and 12% did not support any boycott at all.

The idea of a boycott on Israeli products has been consuming Palestinians for the past decade, since the movement first began abroad. Palestinian officials who visited Europe in the past were asked how could the Europeans be expected to help against the settlements if Palestinians themselves were buying their products.

Basic economics

Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad initiated a law at that time that prohibited buying any settler-made products, which included a public list of all the Israeli factories in the West Bank, as well as fines and prison sentences of 2-5 years to those who sell, deal or store settlements products. Moreover, Palestinians who worked in Israeli factories were required to quit their job and find a different one in Palestinian factories.

Even with the measures taken back then by the Palestinian government, the boycott on products coming from Israeli settlements failed for simple economic reasons. Today 40,000 Palestinians work in Israeli settlements and factories in the West Bank. The salary of a Palestinian working in Israeli factories is three times higher than the average West Bank salary.

Though half the Palestinians may still support the boycott on Israeli products, the boycott has no real chance to succeed since the Palestinian economy is so utterly dependent on Israel.

Future
Shay Aspril

Nir Kalkstein: My Algorithms Can Make Cash Or Detect Cancer

Having built one of the world's most successful algorithmic trading companies, Israeli entrepreneur Kalkstein now is putting his mathematical wizardry to saving lives.

The following is a summary of a Calcalist cover story last month

TEL AVIV â€" Nir Kalkstein, one of Israel's most successful high-tech entrepreneurs, prefers to fly below the radar. He quietly made millions as the founder 14 years ago of Final, among the world's most successful algorithmic trading companies.

But by 2009 the super low-profile, bright mind behind this money machine came to the conclusion that he had achieved the scientific challenge he had set for himself. Moreover, he began to realize that Final was not generating value for the wider public, but was mainly using a technological advantage to fill up the pockets of its 30 shareholders.

This was the cue that led to Medial, Kalkstein's new venture. This time he is determined to rattle the medical world. Now employing 27 people, and financed personally by Kalkstein with millions of dollars every year, Medial had launched with the goal of developing an algorithmic system for early diagnosis of colorectal cancer.

"We are not the typical commercial company," Ofer Arieli, Kalkstein's business partner, told Calcalist. "We have a shareholder who committed to fund the company for the next years. So, if we are to choose between making a lot of money and saving few people on one hand, and earning little but saving many people on the other hand, we opt for the latter."

Final and Medial founder Nir Kalkstein â€" Photo: Amit Sur/Calcalist

Kalkstein has told his team that even if Medial generates profit, he will reinvest it all in the company. "He doesn't need the money from Medial," notes Arieli. "He has enough."

Hong Kong cash

According to the World Health Organization, every year around 15 million people are diagnosed with cancer, and 7 to 8 million die of the disease.

Just like with Final, Medial's inception required obtaining a huge database that would allow the company's analysis of historical records. Negotiations with Israel's Maccabi Healthcare Services ended with a barter: blood test data in exchange for free diagnosis services. These were then matched with data received from the National Cancer Registry in the Israeli Health Ministry, and the algorithmic models produced are subsequently used for generating an assessment of a patient's likelihood of getting cancer. Similar algorithms will be used for diagnosing esophageal and stomach cancers, and another will try to identify lung cancer.

Medial has also expanded into five additional fields: alerts for deterioration in E.R. patients, identification of possible complications after cardiac catheterization, early detection of epilepsy attacks, early detection of heart failure, and quantifying the personal risk due to a patient's general check-up.

Two years ago Hong Kong business magnate Li Ka-shing agreed to invest in Medial, buying 28% of the share of the daughter company Medial Cancer Screening for $20 million.

And now Medial awaits its next milestone: for its algorithmic system to be approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

"I would have preferred you didn't publish this story now, but rather wait a year or two," Kalkstein tells Calcalist. "When you then come back we would tell you, not only about the models, but also about the people we saved. I hope it happens."

Future
Nimrod Zook

The Coming "Glass Age," Where Transparency Is Everywhere

The so-called Silicon Age of IT may soon give way to an era of see-through clarity to help usher in ever more wearable technology and the Internet of Things.

TEL AVIV â€" Historians tend to associate human epochs with the dominant raw materials of these eras: the Stone Age, Bronze Age and Iron Age.

Accordingly, our contemporary times are often characterized as the Silicon Age â€" not as a tribute to Silicon Valley, but to silica, the foundation stone of the Information Technology industry.

And yet a few months ago, Adam Savage and Jamie Hyneman, hosts of the popular American TV show MythBusters, coined a new name for the current era: the Glass Age. It is an era where more and more materials become transparent, and technological advances enable using these materials in more sophisticated instruments: mirrors and glass sheets that can serve as computer screens, windows that are also solar panels, daily devices that, with a thin film, are made into intuitive touchscreens, and even materials that, after a complex process, would make them look transparent even though they aren't.

These materials and technologies already exist, or are at least in advanced stages of development. For armies they could offer solutions for old battlefield problems, and they open up new possibilities in the world of architecture. They join the growing trends of minimization, wearable technologies, and the so-called "Internet Of Things."

If we are indeed on the verge of the Glass Age, this would be a natural evolution from the Silicon Age. The high-tech industry's formal objective is to create advanced, comfortable and light applications that upgrade our daily routines so that even technology becomes invisible.

Fold your iPad

Last year Cambridge University researchers presented a prototype of a flexible screen. It is a thin and transparent display that heralds the near future of folding tablets and wearable multimedia. This screen is made of one of the world's most revolutionary materials: graphene.

Graphene was discovered by Andre Geim and Konstantin Novoselov, earning them the 2010 Noble prize in physics. It is a hard sheet of graphite, the same material used in pencils, and is one-atom thick. This microscopic thickness and complete transparency are astonishingly coupled with conduction and rare stiffness.

Nevertheless, a number of technology companies, primarily LG and Samsung, have already begun developing flexible LCD and OLED screens that can be bent or even rolled. Other companies have presented preliminary concepts for fully transparent TV and computer displays.

Rethinking recharging

Imagine you could cover pretty much anything with a thin transparent film that would convert sunlight into energy. Light bulbs could recharge through their own glass, mobile phones would be charged on café tables, and apartments would be powered by their own windows.

Such technology has been developed at Michigan State University and now serves American startup Ubiquitous Energy. The university researchers discovered a material called Transparent Luminescent Solar Concentrator (TLSC), and Ubiquitous hopes to use it to usher in the boldest of energy revolutions. In the meantime, the main hurdle is its low efficiency â€" 1% utilization, seven times less than standard solar panels.

A transparent car prototype shown at Las Vegas' 2015 International Consumer Electronics Show â€" Photo: Yang Lei/Xinhua/ZUMA

Ubiquitous stress that the technology is still young. In fact, the very existence of a transparent solar panel is in itself remarkable.

Thin walls

A glass-like concrete might still be far away, but translucent concrete is already on the market. Until recently it was primarily found in design exhibitions, but it has already started appearing in cities. Lucem, one of the producers of this material, has used it for the façade of its headquarters in Aachen, Germany. In February, award-winning Belgian architect Gianni Botsford designed a garden pavilion made of translucent concrete that allows, at certain times of the day, the landscape around it to be seen through the walls as if they were made of a milky glass.

Creating this material is rather simple â€" the concrete mix includes 5% glass or plastic shreds that have been grounded to powder. Another technique weaves tiny optic fibers into the concrete blocks creating a pattern of "light tunnels."

For now, the main obstacle standing between this new material and the market is the related cost.

Killing the blind spot

It might still be a bit too early for fully transparent cars, but some researchers and car producers have recently been toying with various concepts of standard cars that would seem transparent for their passengers.

Scientists in the media design department of Japan's Keio University and automakers such as Jaguar Land Rover are exploring new video technologies, cameras and thin, flexible displays that would substitute those parts of the vehicle that block drivers' field of vision, thus creating an optical illusion of a completely transparent vehicle.

A few months ago Samsung tested a different version of the new gimmick. A truck was fitted with special cameras at its front and a large flat screen on its rear, showing the road ahead of the truck. Such screens, Samsung says, could help prevent accidents during passing.

Researchers from Keio University went even further last year when they presented an experimental system that includes sensors that track eye movements and allows every passenger in the car to enjoy a realistic optical illusion of transparency.

Society
Dr. Varda Milbauer

On Church-State Separation, Israeli Views Intersect

While lawmakers wage political battles every day about how much religion the government should impose, ordinary Israelis, both religious and secular, are surprisingly unified on the notion of keeping the government out of their private lives.

-OpEd-

TEL AVIV â€" The political relationship between secular and ultra-Orthodox Jews in Israel is approaching a breaking point. Ideological differences between the two groups are continually widening, fueling legislative disagreements about how much the government should or can intervene in the private lives of citizens.

There is no separation between church and state in Israel, which means imposing a religious worldview and lifestyle on even the part of the population that is non-religious.

Since the founding of the current political coalition, secular Jews have grown more concerned about the enormous power that religious parties hold. They fear that the government will push forward a religious agenda, worsening an already existing anxiety about losing their "home."

That fear is justified insofar as religious members of the Israeli parliament â€" or Knesset â€" are exercising their power as fast as they can to intensify and promote laws and regulations that are very different from the views and lifestyles of the country's many secular Jews.

Inside the Knesset â€" Photo: Itzik Edri/PikiWiki

The good news is that while these political divisions persist, ordinary Jews of various religious bents are more ideologically unified about the role of church and state than the divisions of lawmakers would suggest.

In a recent survey, 79% of Israeli respondents said they believed the current government's legislative changes are unnecessarily widening the gap between religious and secular populations. Predictably, 91% of secular Jews responding held this view. But even 75% of the traditionalists who responded said they agreed, along with, perhaps most shockingly, 40% of ultra-Orthodox respondents.

It is commonly said of Israel's policies and its leadership that they are blinded by sectarian interests and petty politics. Perhaps the views of the population on issues of such profound national importance will wake up lawmakers, forcing them finally to reconsider the country's direction.

Geopolitics
Tal Shavit

Why Israelis Are Tired Of Bankrolling Military Might

-OpEd-

TEL AVIV â€" The reactions to last week's Locker Commission report that calls for massive cuts to the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) budget is perhaps the best proof to date that the Israeli people don't understand the mechanisms that keep them safe.

The report recommends keeping the defense budget at $15.4 billion for the next five years, reducing compulsory military service to two years and canceling early retirement for noncombatant officers. The problem is that citizens don't judge in any rational way what the consequences of those decisions would be. Instead, they view the recommendations subjectively, through the lens of their own reality. Apparently, that reality is very different from the IDF's.

Since 2011's major social protests, the views of Israelis have changed dramatically. People are thinking with their wallets and asking more questions, which are good things up to a point. Until now, the defense system has been immune to any social protest because the prevailing view has been that Israel wouldn't exist without a strong army.

The debate now is how to maintain a strong defense against multiple kinds of threats. A decade or two ago, the notion of security revolved around support for a strong military that would protect the country's borders. The concept today is more complex and includes a desire for economic strength and security.

Here's the paradox: Israelis are very much aware that they need a strong military and an expanded Iron Dome air defense system, but they are less willing to pay for it. Especially if these protections come at the expense of the education or health budgets or if they have a negative impact on standard of living. Those who are having difficulty buying an apartment can't help but notice that there are Israeli army bases sitting on some of the country's most expensive land.

Retirement issues

Israelis are perpetually conflicted. They admire the army's heroes and veterans. But they resent the fact that defense force members retire at 45 while the rest of the population face increasingly unfavorable pension and retirement circumstances. The retirement age seems to climb every year, and nobody's getting rich.

Iron Dome at work during "Operation Pillar of Cloud" â€" Photo: Emanuel Yellin

The army has dispatched its best generals to attack the Locker report and to warn of deep and lasting damage to the country if its recommendations are executed. They have tried to offer rational explanations â€" namely, that security has a price â€" to an irrational populace. Israelis admire their generals, but none of its generals is as beloved as former Defense Minister Amir Peretz, who in 2006 pushed for the development of the Iron Dome anti-rocket interceptor system over the objections of the offensive minded IDF, saving hundreds of Israeli lives and changing the face of the war on terrorism in the process.

It's unlikely that the recommendations of the Locker report will be pushed through this time around. But Israeli lawmakers won't be able to reject its recommendations forever. The next report or the one after that will have to be accepted.

The public was once united on security issues, but today it unites even more on economic and social matters. The will of the population to change the face of Israeli society toward more a rightful distribution of goods and more progressive social justice will affect the defense and security apparatus. Perhaps a more civilian security strategy and a more civil army is the right answer?

Perhaps. But these are the questions that become impossible to consider effectively when the people scream.

*Tal Shavit is associate dean of the business school at Israel's College of Management/Academic Studies (COMAS).