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A New Battle Over Resources in Israel

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Posted on Apr 28, 2011
Wikimedia Commons / MathKnight and Zachi Evenor (CC-BY-SA)

The Israeli flag flies near the Mediterranean Sea.

By Jon Dillingham

The Knesset approved a law late last month drastically increasing taxes on Israel’s mammoth, newly discovered offshore natural gas reserves. The vote should have been a clean victory for a coalition movement calling for broad socioeconomic change in the Jewish state, but powerful right-wing blowback weakened the bill in a saga eerily similar to the stripping down of President Barack Obama’s health care plan and the hollowing out of economic reforms in the United States.

The Sheshinski Law, which will double the tax on oil and gas to more than 50 percent in the near term and raise the level to as high as 62 percent later, passed by a landslide 78-2 vote after vigorous debate in the national legislature and the society as a whole.

The lobby behind the bill, made up of both left and right, was led by the Israel Civic Action Forum, which has been calling for profits from Israel’s only major natural resource to be used to help the poor and strengthen social programs. The bill came on a wave of strikes and demonstrations throughout the country in which workers from across the spectrum (nurses, social workers, prosecutors and foreign ministry employees, to name just a few) protested low pay and rising prices, forcing the government of Benjamin Netanyahu to raise the minimum wage.

A report of the international Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development last year found Israel to have the highest poverty rate in the developed world (2.5 times the average) and the second-highest gap between rich and poor. An onslaught of neoliberalism is largely blamed for the problems, and the Israel Civic Action Forum is a reaction to economic policies seen as benefiting the rich at the expense of the poor. Prime Minister Netanyahu has cut income and company taxes while raising value-added taxes, lowering the purchasing power of the poor, who don’t benefit from a cut in income taxes (half of all income earners in the country don’t reach the tax threshold). The poor are also simultaneously forced to cope with water prices that have jumped 33 percent in two years (the utility is undergoing a broad privatization process), as well as with rising housing, gas and electricity prices.

“In Israel, there is such a close relationship between the government and tycoons, but we won because there was a public campaign,” said Rabbi Michael Melchior, founder of the forum and also a Meimad party member and a former Knesset member known for unifying left-wing ideals with the tenets of Orthodox Judaism.


Square, Site wide
“It’s still not finished, it’s not optimal, there were a lot of compromises, but it’s about fair share versus endless greed that has no comparison.”

Last year, 16 trillion cubic feet of gas was found at the Leviathan field in Israel’s Mediterranean waters, one of the largest offshore gas finds in the last 10 years. In 2009, the United States Geological Survey estimated there was 120 trillion cubic feet of gas under the eastern Mediterranean. Israel has staked a claim to much of the area in question; Lebanon also claims part of it.

Ever since the discoveries, a growing number of Israelis have demanded that their government change its policy of light taxes on natural resources, which until the Sheshinski law were among the world’s lowest, at 24 percent. The debate surrounding the law was so fierce that when economics professor Eytan Sheshinski suggested taxes should be higher, he was accused of plotting to push international investors into the hands of Lebanon and Hezbollah.

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By MeHere, May 1, 2011 at 9:16 am Link to this comment

Interested in Israeli-Palestinian peace?  Check this site:

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By Robert, April 30, 2011 at 7:00 pm Link to this comment

As a Holocaust Survivor, AIPAC Doesn’t Speak for Me

by Hedy Epstein

April 29, 2011

At the end of one of my first journeys to the Israeli-occupied West Bank in 2004, I endured a shocking experience at Ben-Gurion Airport. I never imagined that Israeli security forces would abuse a 79-year-old Holocaust survivor, but they held me for five hours, and strip-searched and cavity-searched every part of my naked body. The only shame these security officials expressed was to turn their badges around so that their names were invisible.

The only conceivable purpose for this gross violation of my bodily integrity was to humiliate and terrify me. But it had just the opposite effect. It made me more determined to speak out against abuses by the Israeli government and military.

Yet my own experience, unpleasant as it was, is nothing compared to the indignities and abuses heaped on Palestinians year after year. Israel’s occupation of the West Bank is based not on equal rights and fair play, but on what Human Rights Watch has termed a “two-tier” legal system – in other words, apartheid, with one set of laws for Jews and a harsh, oppressive set of laws for Palestinians.

This, however, is the legal system and security state AIPAC (The American Israel Public Affairs Committee) will defend from May 22-24 at its annual conference. And, despite this grim reality, members of Congress will converge to hail AIPAC and Israel. The Palestinians’ lack of freedom is bound to be obscured at the AIPAC conference with its obsessive focus on security and shunting aside of anything to do with upholding fundamental Palestinian rights.


{Hedy Epstein is a Holocaust survivor who writes and travels extensively to speak about social justice causes and Middle Eastern affairs.};=&size=1&l=e

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By Go Right Young Man, April 30, 2011 at 6:09 pm Link to this comment

I believe Manchild brings to the fore an important context.

If you support the death of Anwar Sedat, if you’re willing to die in an attempt to harm all who would make peace with dog Jews, if you believe in the writings of Zawahiri, Rahman and Shaaban, if you pledge yourself an enemy of the United States - specifically as the cause of the planet’s ills- you are an exalted hero who’s name should be remembered for a thousand years.

I do not believe most here understand that they closely share the beliefs of people such as Sayyid Nosair and Hassan Nasrallah.  I believe it is unwitting.

I blame Western media culture.  A culture which places the United States at the center and apex of the universe.  A universe which enslaves Arabs in abject poverty in Jordan’s West Bank and Gaza while completely surrounded by the globe’s wealthiest per capita nations.

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By Steve E, April 30, 2011 at 3:18 pm Link to this comment

They are beginning to eat their own, interesting.

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By Robert, April 30, 2011 at 7:38 am Link to this comment

The Brown Daily Herald

Jonathan Ben-Artzi: Yes, apartheid

As an Israeli, I had to start planning for my military service during my senior year of high school. In Israel, interviews, medical checkups, examinations and forms are all a routine part of one’s 18th birthday. However, long before scheduling my first interview, I had already made up my mind: “I will not join the military.” I decided that I had to take a stand in the face of policies of segregation and discrimination that ravaged (and still ravage) my country and the occupied Palestinian territories.

Within Israel, these acts of segregation include towns reserved for Jews only, immigration laws that allow any Jew from around the world to immigrate but simultaneously deny displaced indigenous Palestinians that same right, and national health care and school systems that receive significantly more funding in Jewish towns than in Arab towns. Even former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert described the situation as a “deliberate discrimination,” and added that “governments have denied [Palestinian citizens of Israel] their rights to improve their quality of life.”

The situation in the Occupied Territories is even worse. Nearly 4 million Palestinians have been living under Israeli occupation for over 40 years without basic human and civil rights. Examples include roads that are for Jews only, discrimination in water supply (Israelis use as much as four times more water than Palestinians, while Palestinians are not allowed to dig their own wells and must rely on Israeli supply) and the collective punishment of Gaza, where 1.5 million Palestinians have been living in the largest open-air prison on earth for over four years.


One of the few honest & conscientious Israelis with a “pro-human” agenda…”discrimination in water supply (Israelis use as much as four times more water than Palestinians, while Palestinians are not allowed to dig their own wells and must rely on Israeli supply).

Click on link for details:

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By ardee, April 29, 2011 at 3:49 pm Link to this comment

rico, suave, April 29 at 9:21 am

Why you are so intent upon proving yourself a one dimensional shallow thinker is beyond me. Perhaps it is because you are a one dimensional shallow thinker…..

You may certainly distort the meaning of anyone post and sit back thinking you have accomplished something. I doubt many here will agree with you. But then you care not for real debate, honesty or integrity.

Perhaps this is so because you are a one dimensional shallow thinker….

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By PatrickHenry, April 29, 2011 at 1:49 pm Link to this comment

Good for Israel, I hope they find a new source of revenue other than that from the U.S.

Time to cut them off.

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By nefesh, April 29, 2011 at 9:26 am Link to this comment

By rico, suave, April 29 at 9:21 am Link to this comment


“Of course, Israel also has a similar problem to ours in that they, and we, commit violence upon others.”

Commit violence, indeed. We committed frightful violence on Germany in WWII. Amen to that.

Apply that concept (if you can) and let’s move on. Jeeez.

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By rico, suave, April 29, 2011 at 9:21 am Link to this comment


“Of course, Israel also has a similar problem to ours in that they, and we, commit violence upon others.”

If only the US and Israel would totally disarm, the world would finally be at peace!!! No more Bosnias, no more Darfurs, no more Rwandas, no more Chechnyas, no more Kashmirs, no more Tibets, no more Gaddafis, no more Sunni/Shiite split, no need for sharia. And MOST important- no more Israel! It will be ever heaven on earth!

Once again, the mantra, with feeling truthdiggers!!:
There is trouble in the world.
The US/Israel exists.
It’s the US’s/Israel’s fault.

And exactly how is your post apropos of taxing gas fields? Or do you just use the fact that the subject is Israel to vent your spleen? Again.

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By nefesh, April 29, 2011 at 8:24 am Link to this comment

By Go Right Young Man, April 29 at 5:04 am Link to this comment

Yes, Manchild, embedded in your comments is an important point.

If you’re predominantly Caucasian, predominantly Christian or Jew, if your country holds free and open elections, has an independent judiciary, a vibrant and free press, if you’re able to criticize the government without fear of arrest or being murdered you are obviously evil and the cause of the world’s ills.


That’s the sound of an idealistic fool just not getting the joke. Tough crowd, eh? But hey, all you can do is tell ‘em. The rest is up to them, win or lose.

Apparently there are two rather sizeable natural gas finds in Israeli territorial waters, one of which is the aptly-named Leviathan field. This, plus the vast petroleum deposits embedded in shale under the Negev, should allow Israel to provide for her own needs as well as becoming an energy exporter for the first time.

There is a delicious irony here. Ever since Israel’s independence from colonial rule in 1948 she has had to survive the attempted strangulation of her economy by the oil-rich Arab tyrants and their radical lackeys, in addition to the constant state of war imposed on her on all fronts. This has been a huge economic weight to bear for all the obvious reasons, but has forced Israel - out of vecessity, certainly, but perhaps as a natural consequence of cultural values and traditions as well - to rely on a knowlege-based growth strategy emphasizing scientific research and innovation.

The result: Israel has reinvented herself, from an agrarian economy into a high-tech entrepreneurial success story. Oil sheikdoms pay foreigners to extract mineral resources for which they can neither handle themselves nor ever claim any credit for having created, enriching the few but leaving even the monetarily rich intellectually impoverished.

For example, having no extractable energy sources (to date, anyway), Israel is emerging as a leader in electric drive vehicle technologies. It’s green, it’s very politically correct, and it’s going to be a hugely lucrative market in years to come, all over the world. Smart, yes? Check out Better Place:

Time Magazine’s story:,8599,2066975,00.html

And here is where I first read about this great company and the backstory of not only the founder but of the ethos and culture which allowed this game-changer to emerge:

Startup Nation by Saul Singer is a great read. I admired the Israeli spirit before I read this book, but came away with an even deeper appreciation for how she is not only beating the odds but making the world a better place - literally.

So here’s the rub. What made the economic miracles so finely portrayed in Startup Nation possible was the imperative to succeed, against all odds. No oil wealth to count on, just the brainpower of a few million Jews. So now that there is the potential for easy - call it lazy - money to be made simply by extracting resources from under the ground and sea, how will this affect the culture of innovation that has come to characterize the Israeli economy? Smart policy planning can ensure the spirit never atrophies, but we’re talking politics and economics, so “smart” and “policy” are never a given. Stay tuned, good people.

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By Robert, April 29, 2011 at 7:31 am Link to this comment

Vandals Foul Palestinian village’s Water Supply

By Israeli journalist Amira Hass


The Madama village’s spring was deliberately contaminated and its water supply system was sabotaged 10 days ago, village council head Ayed Kamal said Sunday.

This is the sixth time in the past three years that the spring, the only source of water of the village’s 1,700 residents, and the water system, has been deliberately damaged.

The village is located near the extremist Yitzhar settlement and its outposts.

An Oxfam delegation, accompanied by an Israel Defense Forces unit for protection, set out last Thursday to gauge the damage. The Oxfam group needed protection after armed Israelis opened fire on workers repairing the spring and water pipes on two previous occasions during 2002.

Talia Somech, a spokeswoman for the IDF’s civil administration, told Haaretz that the IDF learned of the damage only during the visit on Thursday and that the matter would be passed on to the police.

Kamal told Haaretz that 10 days ago a group of Israelis, some of them armed, clashed with shepherds near the spring. That evening the water stopped flowing to the villagers’ houses. On Thursday they found that the water pipes had been broken and the cement encasing one of the water wells had been smashed to pieces. The debris had been thrown into the well.

A number of times from the end of 2000 to the end of 2003, the villagers had no water to their homes after unknown perpetrators smashed the water pipes and threw building waste into the water holes.”


Click on link:

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By Robert, April 29, 2011 at 7:23 am Link to this comment

Water War Leaves Palestinians Thirsty

Like many other things in the region, water is in hot dispute between the Israelis and the Palestinians.

BBC News


“The water that Israel receives comes mainly from the Jordan river system, the Sea of Galilee and two underground sources.

The supply is shared between Israelis and Palestinians, but, as ever, is a source of great controversy.

At the Third World Water Conference in Kyoto, former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev outlined the history of water conflict around the world.

He said there had been 21 armed disputes over water in recent history and 18 of them involved Israel.

“It’s highly unfair,” said Yehezkel Lein, a water expert for Israeli human rights group B’tselem, who help to solve water problems in Palestinian areas.

“We are talking about mainly the mountain aquifer and the Jordan River system. Regarding the first one Israel exploits approximately 80% of the renewal water resources, and the Palestinians the remaining 20%.

“Regarding the Jordan River system, the Palestinians do not have any access.” “


Click on link for the rest of details:

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By Go Right Young Man, April 29, 2011 at 5:04 am Link to this comment

Yes, Manchild, embedded in your comments is an important point.

If you’re predominantly Caucasian, predominantly Christian or Jew, if your country holds free and open elections, has an independent judiciary, a vibrant and free press, if you’re able to criticize the government without fear of arrest or being murdered you are obviously evil and the cause of the world’s ills.

On the other hand; if you are opposed to all of the above, well, you’re obviously a “Freedom Fighter” and a hero!

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By madisolation, April 29, 2011 at 4:46 am Link to this comment

I don’t understand the poverty statistics. Philip Giraldi wrote that Israel:
  “...has a strong economy and in per capita income it ranks at the same level as Great Britain.  Its citizens receive free medical care and education through university level.”
“It has received generous trade and co-production concessions from Congress that some claim amount to $10 billion a year in aggregate national income while its own markets are difficult for US companies to penetrate.”

Sure, the corporate fascists are going to infiltrate the already-corrupt government of Israel. Excuse me, though, if I don’t waste my time sympathizing with a country that launched the Lebanon War, followed by Cast Lead, and threatens Iran at every turn, while AIPAC threatens or blackmails Congress for the unconditional support of Israel at the expense of our own children’s safety and security.

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By ardee, April 29, 2011 at 2:55 am Link to this comment

Israel seems to have very similar internal problems to our own with far right wing groups refusing to allow common sense legislation to pass unhindered. Of course, Israel also has a similar problem to ours in that they, and we, commit violence upon others.

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