Jewish Sightseeing HomePage Jewish Sightseeing
  2006-03-17-Judy Lash Balint
Writers Directory

Gerry Greber


Israeli freelance writer tells her
view of the bad—Iran and Hamas—
and the good—Negev development,  March 17, 2006

By Gerry Greber

ENCINITAS, Calif.—“In Israel things change weekly” said Judy Lash Balint as she opened her talk before residents of the Seacrest Village Retirement Community in this suburban city north of San Diego. Yesterday, on behalf of the Jewish National Fund, I had the privilege of introducing this Jerusalem-based freelance journalist and writer, to present an update of the current Israeli political situation and a “peek behind the headline view” of the Israeli news.

Balint spoke about two major issue confronting Israelis today.  First, and foremost, is the upcoming election and its implications for the security of the country.  The second was the changing view of the Negev as a place to live.

The political  landscape has changed from six months ago when Prime Minister Ariel Sharon was healthy and Mahmoud Abbas was leading the Palestinians, to the current situation of Hamas in charge of the Palestinians and Sharon "no longer sitting in the driver’s seat."    In addition, there is the specter of Iran  “threatening the whole Middle East and, in fact, the whole western world”

Although polls indicate that Acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert is the favorite, “it is difficult to predict the outcome of an Israeli election” according to Balint.  The people do not vote for any individual as their leader, but vote for a party.  Usually no one party will get enough votes and therefore, the leading party has to call upon a coalition to rule in the Knesset.  

Balint said she doesn't trust polls because, historically, when questioned about the election, individuals usually give non-committal answers, or answer the way they feel the questioner wants them to answer.  Therefore, she said, predictions about the outcome usually never match the result.

However, she did state that “Olmert, the current Kadima leader, is not very popular in Israel, nor is (former Prime Minister Binyamin) Netanyahu. And Amir Peretz was head of the Labor Party when there was a series of strikes which nearly brought the country to its knees.  Which is why most people don’t like him.  Plus he has no foreign policy experience.”

Of concern to Israelis is the fact that Iran  is reported to be working on atomic weapons.  Israel is surrounded by 22 Muslim countries and the President of Iran is trying to rile up the Muslim world against Israel and the United States.  And secondly,  the election of Hamas in the Palestinian territories is worrying. Balint stated that she “does not believe” that the victory was due to the “corruption in Abbas  government” as stated.  She said that Hamas’ slogan of “five years of resistance is stronger than 10 years of negotiations” was the deciding factor.

The freelance writer and lecturer passed along an interesting observation:  every time you see a Muslim leader on TV there is a picture of a mosque behind him.  Have you ever seen a picture of Sharon, or any other Jewish leader, standing in front of the Western Wall or the Temple Mount?  Silence ensued.

On the question of humanitarian aid by the United States to the Palestinians, Balint said that the feeling in Israel is that the aid does not go to the people, and never did.  It went to the corrupt Arab leaders, and to purchase arms and therefore should not be forthcoming. 

Balint lives in Jerusalem and the Palestinians living there voted overwhelmingly for Hamas.  This has made the Jewish residents there, including her, “very uncomfortable," she said.

Turning to other issues, Balint reported that  the JNF is trying to encourage Israelis to move to underpopulated portions of the Negev—and is having some success. More and more young people are moving into temporary shelters in a village about 10 miles north of Beer Sheva awaiting permanent  homes in other areas of the desert.

“There is a wonderful generation of new young, modern, generation Zionists, for want of a better word, who have seized the challenge of going down to the Negev, and settle in a piece of Israel which is so underused.”  

The Negev represents 60 percent of Israel’s land mass but only 8 percent of the population live there.  The prospective residents will be able to commute to jobs in Tel Aviv on a newly built railroad line.  .

Balint said Bedouin Arab communities living in the Negev are the fastest growing population in the world. Many of the Bedouin are being “persuaded” by the Islamic fundamentalists to come over to their point of view, she said. In many cases,  Bedouins who have served honorably in the Israeli army, are shunned by their villagers when they return home, she said. 

Judy Lash Balint is a Jerusalem based journalist, writer, and author of Jerusalem Diaries: In Tense Times.  In 2003, Balint received the Mosaic Award for Excellence in feature writing about Israeli Peoplehood, Culture and Society, among others.   Her work has appeared in numerous newspapers and magazines, and she is the Israeli correspondent for several Seattle area radio stations.