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John and Bonnie Buhler

Peppers grown in the Arava
Photo by Eyal Izhar

Arava Greenhouses

1967: Entering Jerusalem through the Lions Gate - from the right IDF Chief of Staff Yitzhak Rabin, Defense Minister Moshe Dayan, and Jerusalem Commander Uzi Narkis. Gen. Rehavam Ze'evi's head is turned.
Ilan Bruner/GPO


by Rhonda Spivak, June 15, 2012


I want to comment on the letter to the Winnipeg Free Press that appeared the day after the JNF Negev Gala honouring John and Bonnie Buhler, which can be read here:

Dianne Baker seems intent on making the Buhlers be ashamed of associating their names with the JNF, saying essentially that the JNF is instrumental in perpetuating the occupation of the West Bank and the development of "export agriculture to benefit Israel meaning" that "space for a Palestinian state is diminished."

What is so unfortunate about this letter, is that all of the monies raised for the JNF Negev Gala in honour of the Buhlers is going to enhance the agricultural economy of the dessert region of the Negev in Southern Israel, (Not the West Bank), by supporting research and development to maximize agricultural production of bell peppers, despite extreme weather conditions and expand the growing season to a year-long process.

The fuller picture here is that expanding the economic infrastructure of the Negev, by maximizing agricultural production with the Arava Greenhouse project, is being done all with the purpose of increasing the population of the Negev by 2025. The development of the Negev by Israel is actually consistent with the interests of a two-state solution, and in fact will be vital for it. For a Palestinian state to arise at some point in the future (it could have arisen as far back under President Clinton in 2000 if Arafat had responded to Ehud Barak's offer, which included East Jerusalem as a Palestinian capital), then Israel will need to be able to develop regions such as the Negev and Galil to house its increasing population. Since Dianne Baker, the writer of the letter doesn't want the expanding Jewish population to move westward further into the West Bank , then surely she should be willing to see it expand southward, in a vastly under populated area--the Negev, which is part of pre-67 Israel. (This of course, presumes that Dianne Baker, believes that Israel has a right to exist altogether, which unfortunately is not the case for many who advocate the boycotting of Israel). The Arava Greenhouse Project, ought to be viewed only in a positive light by all those who truly wish to see a future peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians.

Secondly, the benefits of the Arava Greenhouse Project ultimately could be used to benefit surrounding Arab states--such as the poor country of Jordan, which has much dessert terrain similar to the Negev. Similarly, Egypt's biggest challenge will be to find ways of successfully feeding its growing population. Might Arab states with desert terrain not also be able to benefit by Israeli agricultural advances? Desertification globally is increasing, not decreasing, and any scientific advances that enable desert regions to sustain growing populations will not only have benefits to the Middle East but, others in Africa and around the world. What exactly is so objectionable about that?

Additionally, there is no reason for Dianne Baker to assume that a future Palestinian state, if it were truly going to be peaceful, has to be a state where Jews are not allowed to live. Just as Israel has a significant Arab minority, there is no reason that a Palestinian state should not allow Jews to become citizens. Ultimately, when peace comes, Jewish settlers who find themselves living in an area destined to become a Palestinian state should be able to become equal citizens of that state. Peace negotiations have also for a long time included the notion of land swaps, such that major settlement blocks will in all likelihood become part of Israel, with the Palestinians receiving alternative territory.

Finally, in considering the philanthropic legacy of the Buhlers, Dianne Baker may want to note that the Buhelr's have focused on providing support for such things as school and hospitals in Winnipeg and the province. Since Baker supports international aid, she would do well asking how much of the vast amounts of international aid Hamas has received have gone towards building schools and hospitals for Gazans, as opposed to buying and smuggling more arms and rockets and pursuing the Hamas agenda of wiping Israel off the map. Similarly, any supporter of a Palestinian state in the West Bank ought to be asking how much of the billions of dollars of aid money the PA has received have been used to build hospitals and schools and technology in the West Bank, as opposed to being used to line the pockets of corrupt PA officials. (On this subject, try reading Palestinian writer Klaled Abu Toameh,  or Barry Rubin, or



The Winnipeg Free Press should be taken to task for choosing to highlight Baker's letter and giving it the designation "letter of the day," a much larger title than other letters, and giving it a large photo. There were many other letters, but for some reason the editors of the Winnipeg Free Press chose to make only this one prominent. Is this just a tad of media bias? [The letter got far more prominence than the actual article about the JNF Gala a day earlier- which didn't have an accompanying photo ]


The choice of the photo to accompany the letter is also highly problematic, especially given the caption. On the internet the caption read: "Israeli border policewomen detain a Palestinian protester during a demonstration marking the 45th anniversary of "Naksa," Arabic for setback, of the annexation of the eastern part of Jerusalem by Israeli forces in the 1967 Six Day War, during a demonstration in the West Bank city of Hebron, Tuesday, June 5, 2012. (AP Photo Majdi Mohammed)"

 There is no mention whatsoever that in 1967, the intention of the surrounding Arab states was to annihilate the state of Israel, as they had tried to do in 1948. Had the Arabs been victorious in 1948 or 1967, its a pretty safe bet that there would not have been any state of Israel at all, no matter how small. The Israelis in 1967 asked

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Rhonda Spivak, Editor

Publisher: Spivak's Jewish Review Ltd.

Opinions expressed in letters to the editor or articles by contributing writers are not necessarily endorsed by Winnipeg Jewish Review.