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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 King Hussein of Jordan to stay out of the War and had the Jordanians done so, East Jerusalem and the rest of the West Bank, including Hebron, would have still been part of Jordan. So what exactly is the"Naksa"?  Is it not a rather self inflicted setback? Further, one ought to wonder what the Arabs states in 1967 would have defined as "success" in the six day war, as opposed to a "setback"-- that would have been the destruction of Israel, would it not?


 *For those interested in some history: The following is excerpted from Abraham Rabinovich’s "The Battle For Jerusalem: An Unintended Conquest That Echoes Still showing that if Israel had its way at the start of the Six Day War, Jerusalem might still be a divided city and the West Bank still under Arab sovereignty.

"0n the eve of the war, Moshe Dayan had told the Israeli commander of the Jordanian front, Maj-Gen. Uzi Narkiss, as they surveyed Jordanian positions outside Jerusalem, that the upcoming war would be focused entirely on Egypt. "You must avoid any action that would entangle us with Jordan," said Dayan, about to take over as defense minister. With the bulk of its army deployed on the Sinai border, the last thing Israel wanted was another front opening to the east.…

"With the launch of Israel’s preemptive strike against Egypt on the morning of June 5, the UN’s senior representative in Jerusalem, Gen. Odd Bull, was summoned to the foreign ministry and given an urgent message for Jordan’s King Hussein. If Jordan kept the peace, it said, Israel would too.…

"The king had already made his choice. On May 30 he had flown to Cairo to sign a defense pact with President Gamal Abdel Nasser. On his return, an exultant crowd, gripped by war fever, lifted his car at the airport with the king in it. Never had he been so popular. The pact with Nasser, Hussein told the American ambassador, was his "insurance policy."

"It was, however, a policy that carried a high premium, obliging Hussein to turn over command of his army to an Egyptian general, Abdul Moneim Riad. Two hours after fighting began with Egypt, Jordanian guns opened up all along the eastern front. Riad’s mission, to draw off Israeli forces from Sinai, was one that served Cairo’s interests, not Amman’s. Jordanian commanders wanted only a static exchange of fire unless it became clear that Egypt was winning. Yet Riad immediately ordered a tank brigade in Jericho to proceed via Hebron to the southern part of the West Bank in order to threaten Beersheba, headquarters of Israel’s Southern Command.

'To get to Hebron, the tanks would have to take a road that skirted Government House, Gen. Bull’s headquarters in southern Jerusalem. It was decided in Amman to occupy the UN compound, which abutted Israeli territory, despite the likely diplomatic repercussions in order to shield the road from Israeli attack.

"Artillery pounded the Jewish half of the divided city for hours but Israel’s reaction, in keeping with Dayan’s directive, was restrained. However, when a company of Jordanian soldiers crossed into Israeli territory from the UN compound, Narkiss ordered the Jerusalem Brigade, composed of local reservists, to drive them back.

"What abruptly changed the nature of the confrontation from a limited skirmish to all-out war was a report on Cairo Radio that Jordan had captured Mount Scopus in northern Jerusalem. Since 1948, Israel had maintained a 120-man garrison on Scopus, an enclave behind Jordanian lines. The garrison was rotated monthly under UN protection. Cairo Radio was in fact mistaken—there had been no attack on Scopus. But the report was taken in Israel, correctly, as a statement of intent.

"A paratroop brigade commanded by Col. Mordecai (Motta) Gur was dispatched to Jerusalem with orders to break through the formidable Jordanian defenses and link up with the Scopus garrison. Narkiss also ordered a mechanized brigade to push its tanks and half-tracks through the hills north of the city and block Jordanian tanks coming up from Jericho before they reached Scopus.

"As the day progressed and the dimensions of Israel’s success against Egypt became clear, mindsets began to shift. In the Cabinet, proposals were voiced for the capture of Jerusalem’s Old City, which had been on nobody’s agenda when the war started that morning. The Old City was strangely remote from the High Command’s thinking, as if its capture was too much to aspire to. Contingency plans existed for attacking virtually any significant target in the countries surrounding Israel but there was no plan for taking the Old City, which was literally a stone’s throw from Israeli Jerusalem.…

"Capture of the Old City was opposed by ministers who feared that the world—particularly the Vatican—would never accept Jewish rule over the most sacred sites in Christianity. They noted that Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion had caved in to Soviet and American demands that he pull out of Sinai in 1956. And Jerusalem counted more than the sands of Sinai.

"Eshkol issued a non-committal statement saying the Old City would be taken in order to put a stop to the fire coming from it—leaving open the possibility that withdrawal might follow.

'Israeli officers were at the forefront of the fighting and took disproportionate casualties. Half the paratroopers fighting on Ammunition Hill, the main Jordanian strongpoint, were either killed or wounded within a few hours. Among the 14 officers who led them onto the hill, the ratio was even higher—four killed and six wounded. In the hospitals on the Israeli side of the city, wounded soldiers often asked that their officers be treated first.

"By the second evening of the war, the capture of the Old City had become inevitable as the dynamics of battle carried the paratroopers to its gates. Before dawn, the Jordanian commander, Brigadier Ata Ali Haza’a, informed Governor Khatib that he was pulling out. All but two of his officers had deserted.

"A few hours later, Gur’s halftrack burst through Lion’s Gate into the Old City. Israel had concluded, almost as an afterthought, that the return to ancient Jerusalem was a dictate of history that a Jewish state could not ignore."





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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.