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Latest Israel News – 17th August

Watch: US Ambassador to Israel  Friedman’s daughter makes Aliyah

US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman’s daughter made Aliyah to Israel on Tuesday, along with 232 other immigrants from North America brought on a special flight chartered by Nefesh B’Nefesh.

Ambassador Friedman met his daughter, Talia Friedman, on the tarmac to welcome her to her new home.

“We’re so proud of our daughter Talia,” Friedman told Arutz Sheva. “She’s always wanted to live in Israel and she’s realizing her dream and the whole family is just very proud of her. We’re here to just greet her and to give her a hug and to wish her hatzlacha rabba [success] here in Israel. We’re very excited.”

“We’re so proud of her, we love her so much, we just want her to be happy and this is something she always wanted to do. She loves Israel, we all love Israel, our whole family loves Israel, and this is her dream.”

Talia, a nurse, was the only one of Friedman’s five children who joined him on May 15th when he flew to Israel and was formally received as the US Ambassador to Israel.

When asked what his daughter’s plans were, Friedman said she would likely continue to work as a nurse, but was unsure of where she would live.

“She’s going to live wherever she wants, that’s up to her. She’ll make her decision, she’s a big girl, she’ll decide for herself.”

“She’s a nurse. She was trained as a nurse, she worked in a hospital in New York and she’ll probably do the same thing here. Hopefully she’ll bring refua [healing] to people here in Israel.”

Ambassador Friedman praised the Nefesh B’Nefesh mass-Aliyah charter flight, saying American immigrants to Israel helped to strengthen the connection between the two countries.

“What’s amazing is that you have so many Americans coming to Israel and they’re going to remain American but they’re going to become Israeli so you have this whole group of Israeli-Americans and I think they add a lot to both countries. And it’s very encouraging to see the connection strengthened between Israel and America.” (Arutz Sheva)

UNRWA closes Hamas tunnel detected under two of its Gaza schools

UNRWA has sealed a Hamas tunnel it found two months ago that the terrorist group had built under its two of its boys school in the Maghazi refugee camp in the Gaza Strip.

On Monday, Canada’s Representative to the Palestinian Authority Scott Proudfoot congratulated the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees for taking care of the tunnel.

“Visited school in Meghazi #refugee camp #Gaza; bravo @UNRWA for upholding neutrality & protecting children by detecting & filling in tunnel,” he tweeted.

UNRWA spokesman Chris Gunness confirmed that the agency had closed the tunnel, which it discovered at the beginning of June after the Maghazi Elementary Boys A&B School and the Maghaz Preparatory Boys School had been closed for the summer.

In a press release written in June, Gunness said, “UNRWA can confirm that the tunnel has no entry or exit points on the premises nor is it connected to the schools or other buildings in any way.

“UNRWA condemns the existence of such tunnels in the strongest possible terms. It is unacceptable that students and staff are placed at risk in such a way,” he said.

“The construction and presence of tunnels under UN premises are incompatible with the respect of privileges and immunities owed to the United Nations under applicable international law, which provides that UN premises shall be inviolable. The sanctity and neutrality of UN premises must be preserved at all times,” Gunness wrote.

He said in June that UNRWA had lodged a complaint with Hamas about the tunnel and told the group, which has governed the Strip since 2007, that the agency intended to seal it.

(Jerusalem Post)

Mossad chief leads delegation to brief White House on Syria

Mossad Chief Yossi Cohen will lead an Israeli delegation of defense officials to brief the White House later this week on the security situation in Syria, the Haaretz daily reported Monday.

Cohen will be joined by Military Intelligence chief Maj. Gen. Herzl Halevi and the director of the Defense Ministry’s Political-Military Affairs Bureau, Zohar Palti.

The group will meet with US National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster, deputy national security adviser Dina Powell, Special Representative for International Negotiations Jason Greenblatt and other senior officials, the report said.

The sit-down was orchestrated by US President Donald Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner.

“Talks will focus on Israel’s security needs vis-a-vis Syria and Lebanon, and will not deal with the Israeli-Palestinian peace process,” a White House official told Haaretz.

The teams are expected to discuss the ceasefire agreement in southern Syria that was brokered by Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu came out against the agreement announced on July 7, saying that it does not sufficiently address Iranian military ambitions in the area.

The condemnation presented a rare case of the prime minister at odds with the US president. Netanyahu told journalists that the agreement perpetuates Iranian plans to set up a disruptive long-term presence on Israel’s northern border, something he has repeatedly vowed that the Jewish state won’t abide.

Israel has repeatedly said it will not allow Iran to establish a permanent presence in Syria. Israel has also carried out a number of airstrikes in Syria against suspected shipments of “game-changing” weapons bound for Lebanon’s Hezbollah militia.

Security officials have warned that Tehran may use the area of western Iraq and eastern Syria as a “land bridge” to transfer fighters and weaponry to Lebanon.

The ceasefire was the first initiative by the Trump administration in collaboration with Russia to bring some stability to war-torn Syria.

Apprehensions over Iranian designs in the region were stoked by recent movements of Shiite Muslim militias — loyal to Iran and fighting alongside Syrian government forces — toward Jordan’s border with Syria, and to another strategic area in the southeast, close to where the two countries meet Iraq.

The advances are part of Syrian President Bashar Assad’s push to regain territory from rebel groups, some backed by the West, in the southern Daraa province, and from Islamic State extremists in the southeast, near the triangle with Iraq.

But Syria’s neighbors suspect that Iran is pursuing a broader agenda, including carving out a land route through Syria that would create a territorial continuum from Iran and Iraq to Lebanon.

The ceasefire for southern Syria is meant to keep all forces pinned to their current positions, said Jordan’s government which participated in the talks. This would prevent further advances by forces under Iran’s command, including Hezbollah.  (the Times of Israel )

Hamas money transferring apparatus revealed in east Jerusalem

A Hamas funding apparatus which transferred money to families of Hamas terrorists in Jerusalem has been exposed following a joint operation with the Israel Police, the Shin Bet cleared for release on Tuesday.

According to the Shin Bet, Hamas activists residing in the Gaza Strip provided financial backing and support for families of terrorists including Hassan Mahani from the Beit Hanina neighborhood, the father of one of the teenage perpetrators of  October 2015 stabbing attack in the Pisgat Ze’ev neighborhood.

Two Israelis were seriously wounded in that attack, which was carried out by Ahmed Manasra and his cousin Hassan Manasra. Hassan was shot dead by security forces, while Ahmed was hit by a car as he fled the scene.

Funds were also transferred to the mother of Tareq Abu Arfa from Ras el-Amud who was involved in the 1994 kidnapping and murder of Golani Brigade Sgt. Nachshon Wachsman.

In light of intelligence provided by the Shin Bet, Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman approved the seizure of funds transferred from Hamas to Jerusalem residents, equivalent to over NIS 130,000.

A large-scale search was later carried out in eight houses belonging to money allocators in the capital neighborhoods of Beit Hanina, Isawiya, Ras el-Amud and Wadi Joz, where authorities seized a private car and cash valued at NIS 100,000.

“The Shin Bet and Israel Police will continue to act with determination in order to prevent terrorist activities by Hamas and other organizations including activities related to the transfer of terrorism funds to activists and their families,” the Shin Bet stated.

Israel Police stressed that this operation comes as a direct continuation of one carried out in February, in which terrorists’ home were raided and some NIS 200,000 were confiscated along with two vehicles, a truck and jewelry.

It said law enforcement authorities will not allow financial or any other aid from terrorist organizations to families of those who carried out deadly attacks.

“This operation is yet another step in a wide range of actions that are being carried out by Israel Police to prevent terrorist activities and arrest those who encourage it.

“The involvement of Jerusalem residents in these kind of activities that are funded be Hamas is a serious felony and an attempt by Hamas to show its presence in the city. The police will reach all of those who received ‘terrorism money’ or expressed support for terrorism,” it added.  (Jerusalem Post)

Palestinians consider turning to international bodies again if peace process fails

The Palestinian leadership is considering turning to international institutions including the UN afresh, if US President Donald Trump’s administration fails to revive a “serious” peace process, Fatah Central Committee member Azzam al-Ahmad said on Monday.

“We are giving the Americans a chance to move a serious peace process forward and we hope they succeed, but if they fail to make progress, we will turn to international institutions including the United Nations to request full membership,” Ahmad said in a phone interview.

The Palestinian leadership submitted a formal application to gain full membership in the UN in 2011, but it was rejected because it had insufficient support from the UN Security Council. The Palestinian leadership could try to gain full membership again by submitting another membership application, but US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley would likely block it. Haley has consistently defended the Israeli government since arriving at the UN.

Ahmad defined a “serious peace process” as one in which the US and Israel announce their support for a two-state solution and Israel halts settlement activity.

Both Israel and the US have not endorsed the two-state solution since Trump assumed office in January. Meanwhile, Israel has committed to limiting construction to the settlement blocs as much as possible, but rejected freezing settlement activity altogether.

Ahmad’s statements came days after the White House announced it will dispatch a delegation of high-ranking officials including Trump’s senior adviser Jared Kushner, US special representative for international negotiations Jason Greenblatt, and National Security Council official Dina Powell to Israel and the Palestinian territories, in the coming days.

According to a White House official, Trump believes the relative calm in Israel and the Palestinian territories at the current moment presents an “opportunity to continue discussions and the pursuit of peace.”

If the Palestinian leadership decides to turn to international institutions, it would not be a novel policy. Since the failure of peace talks in 2011, the Palestinian leadership has applied for membership in tens of international organizations and sought to challenge Israeli policies in many of them.

Since Trump assumed office, however, the Palestinian leadership has significantly put the breaks on its international activity, refraining from pushing for new Security Council resolutions and other measures. The one exception is that Palestinian leadership initiated two UNESCO resolutions on Hebron and Jerusalem, which were approved in July.

Two other senior Palestinian officials said the possibility of engaging with international institutions to confront Israeli policies is being studied, but would not elaborate.

In the past two weeks, Palestinian officials have expressed increased frustration with the Trump administration, especially for its handling of the Temple Mount crisis. Nabil Shaath, Abbas’s international affairs adviser, characterized the administration’s response to the Temple Mount crisis as “negative.”

Sources in the Foreign Ministry said there is currently no indication that the Palestinians are planning to take any concrete measures at the UN.

“There might be something as we get closer to the General Assembly meeting,” one source said, “but right now there is nothing.”

The annual UN General Assembly meetings will take place on September 19, with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu expected to address the world body that day and Abbas on September 21.  (Jerusalem Post)

‘Iran building missile factory in Syria’

Syria’s Baniyas on the Mediterranean sea between Latakia and Tartus is the site of a large oil refinery. Before the civil war broke out in 2011 travel guides suggested tourists visit the Crusader fortress of Qalaat Marqab nearby. Today visitors can add to that list a mysterious military construction project stretching several kilometers along Wadi Jahannam, which is 8 km. from Baniyas.

A report on Channel 2 on August 15 provided images of the site from an Israeli satellite. The report said this is likely a factory to build long-range missiles. The area the factory is constructed in near the border of the Tartus and Latakia governorates is one that is closely linked to other military facilities of the Syrian regime and its allies. These include a Russian naval base at Tartus and Khmeimim air force base to the north, which is also allegedly used by Russia and the Iranians.

According to an August 14 report in Die Welt, “in June, aircraft from Iran were flown directly to Khmeimim airport… in order to bring military goods to Russia. The military goods were taken by truck to the Mediterranean port in Tartus.”

The report of the Iranian missile factory in Syria comes in the context of Israel’s recent warnings in June and July that Iran was attempting to establish bases in Lebanon and Syria.

Iran’s parliament also approved a bill on August 13 to increase spending on ballistic missiles by $260 million. In May, US lawmakers Peter Roskam and Ted Deutch expressed concern about “a permanent Iranian military base in Syria” in a May 25 letter to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Secretary of Defense James Mattis.

“The Islamic Republic seeks to solidify its access to the Mediterranean Sea by building a permanent seaport and constructing numerous military installations throughout the country.”

Knowledge and rumors of the existence of the new missile base has existed for months. On June 28, the Syrian opposition website zamanalwsl.net provided aerial photos and a report on the base. In a piece translated by MEMRI, the website noted that President Bashar Assad had made a visit for Id al-Fitr to Hama as cover for a “secret visit to one of the most sensitive military facilities of the regime and its ally Iran.”

This was a “new secret research facility whose construction began last year in a fortified area east of Baniyas in a rugged valley called Wadi Jahannam.” Assad met Iranians at the site and viewed the progress of construction of a facility for “developing and manufacturing weapons.”

Prof. Eyal Zisser, an expert on Syria and Lebanon at Tel Aviv University says the new reports are interesting and represent “a significant phenomenon and development.”

Because it has been Israel’s policy to interdict the flow of weapons from Iran to Hezbollah, a factory would provide another route for Iran to aid its allies. “This is uneasy for Israel and a dilemma. We need to confirm it is true and wait and see.”

Jonathan Schanzer, vice president of research at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, also sees this as a significant development. “It increasingly appears as if Iran is gearing up for a significant battle against Israel.”

The building of missile production factories and underground facilities in Lebanon and Syria is part of a larger Iranian goal of extending its “land bridge” from Iran to Lebanon via Iraq and Syria, he said.

“So we are seeing the execution of a long term strategy and this is one that puts Israel in a bind because Israel is fearful of provoking a war in Lebanon or entering the fray in Syria and is reticent to engage Iran directly.” That means Israel must weigh its next moves carefully, Schanzer said.

“Iran has found a strategy that puts Israel in check for the moment.” (Jerusalem Post)

Israeli pilot program puts women soldiers in tanks

The IDF has begun a pilot program of staffing tanks with women soldiers to study the possibility of expanding their service in the Armored Corps.

For the past two weeks, 15 women have been participating in the program, testing their ability to operate tanks, including lifting shells, loading them, driving and firing, an army spokesman said on Tuesday. The soldiers, who are being trained in southern Israel, enlisted in March and have just finished their basic training.

The focus of the program is to examine the physical abilities of these troops who are divided into teams, each led by a male soldier in command of a Merkava Mark III tank – the most numerous model in front-line service. Throughout all phases of the program, the women will be accompanied by experienced tank commanders, doctors, nutritionists and fitness experts.

The tanks involved in the program will be staffed entirely by women. As with other IDF tanks, each normally has a crew of four (commander, driver, gunner and loader).

The Armored Corps, in recent years, has become one of the least popular units for recruits because it is said to have the worst service conditions and fewer weekends off than other corps.

With fewer recruits wanting to join the corps and a reduction in manpower due to the cut in the mandatory service period for men to 32 months from 36 as of July 2015, the IDF began the pilot program to examine the possibility of integrating women into tank crews.

The concept had been criticized ahead of its implementation, with former OC Ground Forces Maj.-Gen. (res.) Yiftah Ron-Tal saying in November that further integrating women into the Armored Corps would do little for gender equality and put women’s lives at risk.

“This balance included the conclusion that it would be wrong to extend the scope of women’s service in combat roles in the Armored Corps and infantry. Any different decision, if adopted, would undermine in a very dangerous way the delicate and sensitive balance in an already volatile area of the IDF and would fundamentally alter the status quo,” Ron-Tal said.

Women soldiers have been involved in training male recruits in the IDF for decades but have not previously been part of a tank’s crew.

Former IDF chief rabbi Yisrael Weiss also criticized the idea of female soldiers serving in tanks, saying: “If we put two people into a closed box, there’s no way something won’t happen. We can’t put a couple, a man and a woman, a male soldier and a female soldier, into a closed box for a week and expect that nothing will happen. You’ll get a little tank soldier in another nine months.”

The IDF has responded to the criticism by saying there would be no mixed-gender tank crews, and female tank crews would not be part of battalions that would operate in enemy territory, but rather would be deployed at the borders.

Thirty eight percent of female recruits ask to be evaluated for combat service, which is one of the reasons the army is opening new combat positions to them.

While the most popular units for female combat soldiers are the Home Front Command and Border Police, many also join combat-intelligence units, the Artillery Corps and certain infantry units. The IDF expects that at least 2,500 women will join combat units in the coming year. (Jerusalem Post)

Palestinians: The Honeymoon with the US is Over

by Bassam Tawil              The Gatestone Institute


The Palestinians have a condition for the US to be accepted by them as a mediator in the conflict with Israel: bias in favor of the Palestinians. This is the Palestinian state of mind: If you are not with us, you are against us.

The Palestinian leadership does not wish to talk about improving the Palestinian economy because Palestinians do not perceive themselves as engaged in an economic conflict with Israel: they perceive themselves as engaged in an existential, struggle-to-the-death conflict with Israel. In their view, for Palestinians to thrive, the State of Israel must go.

Notably, the Palestinians reject the idea of Israel making peace with its Arab neighbors. They fear that such peace would come at the expense of them achieving political supremacy over Israel.

US President Donald Trump’s envoys, Jason Greenblatt and Jared Kushner, are planning to return to the Middle East soon to discuss ways of reviving the stalled “peace process” between Israel and the Palestinians. Greenblatt tweeted last week that he was looking forward to returning to the Middle East “as we pursue peace.” He added that Trump was “optimistic,” but did not elaborate.

Pursuing peace sounds wonderful. Less wonderful, however, are the facts on the ground of “pursuing peace” with the Palestinians.

Not surprisingly, the Palestinians have returned to their old habit of accusing the US of being “biased” in favor of Israel.

As the US envoys prepare to head to the Middle East, Palestinians are saying that they have lost confidence in the Trump administration, as they have done with all previous administrations.

For the Palestinians, a US administration that openly supports the State of Israel cannot play the role of an honest broker in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. For the Palestinians, US commitment to Israel’s security and well-being disqualifies Washington as a mediator because it means that the Americans are “biased” in favor of Israel.

The Palestinians have a condition for the US to be accepted by them as a mediator in the conflict with Israel: bias in favor of the Palestinians. This is the Palestinian state of mind: If you are not with us, you are against us.

In the Palestinian logic, the US administration must endorse the Palestinian narrative and comply with all their demands if it wishes to broker “peace” with Israel. The Palestinians do indeed want the US to be involved – as an axeman for their execution of Israel.

The Palestinians are prepared to cooperate with any US administration, on one condition only: that it forces Israel to withdraw fully to the 1949 armistice lines and allow the incompetent and discredited Mahmoud Abbas to establish a corrupt, undemocratic and failed state, one that would set its predatory sights on the now-much-harder-to-defend State of Israel.

Until recently, Abbas and his Palestinian Authority (PA) in the West Bank believed that the new president would swallow their fabrications and perhaps collude with them to bring Israel down. At one stage, Abbas even instructed his aides and spokesmen to avoid making any criticism against Trump or his administration, toward just this goal.

However, the Palestinian tone has changed in recent weeks. Palestinian officials and factions and political commentators are no longer concealing their distrust of — and disdain for — the Trump administration. The “honeymoon” between the Palestinians and the Trump administration is over.

In his recent meeting with US presidential envoys Jason Greenblatt (left) and Jared Kushner (center) in Ramallah, an enraged Mahmoud Abbas (right) rejected their demand that he halt payments to terrorists and their families. (Photo by Thaer Ghanaim/PPO via Getty Images)

Palestinians are waking up to the fact that the Trump administration is not planning to act as a puppet in their expansionist play. They are starting to see that the US has no intention of strong-arming Israel into making territorial concessions that would compromise its security. For the Palestinians, this is sufficient evidence that the Trump administration is not to be trusted.

The Palestinians are not interested in the US acting as a mediator in the conflict with Israel; rather, they are interested in the Americans, and the rest of the world, imposing a solution upon Israel that threatens its security and strategic and national interests.

In a reprise of a very old story, the Palestinians are prepared to return to table with Israel only if the US guarantees that the “negotiations” will involve compelling Israel to comply with all their demands.

In light of the Palestinian disappointment with the Trump administration, what kind of reception are the Palestinians planning for Trump’s envoys?

Here is one sign of what awaits Greenblatt and Kushner when they arrive in Ramallah for talks with Abbas and his lieutenants: mass demonstrations.

After an emergency meeting in Ramallah on August 13, Palestinian factions called for organizing mass protests against the visit of Trump’s envoys and US “bias” in favor of Israel. The call could not have been issued without the approval of Abbas and the Palestinian leadership in Ramallah.

A statement issued by the “National and Islamic Factions,” a coalition of various Palestinian groups, including Abbas’s own ruling Fatah faction, accused the Trump administration of working toward pressuring the Palestinians to resume peace negotiations with Israel unconditionally.

The statement also accused the Trump administration of “incitement” against the Palestinians and allowing Israel to “steal” Palestinian land.

The statement went on to accuse the Trump administration of promoting the idea of “economic peace” by focusing solely on the need to improve the living conditions of the Palestinians. It also dismissed as a “mirage” the Trump administration’s talk about a “regional peace” that would see Israel and some Arab countries sign peace treaties “behind the Palestinians’ back.

Such sentiments are echoed by Palestinian political analysts who are affiliated with Abbas and the Palestinian leadership in Ramallah.

The Palestinian leadership does not wish to talk about improving the Palestinian economy because Palestinians do not perceive themselves as engaged in an economic conflict with Israel: they perceive themselves as engaged in an existential, struggle-to-the-death conflict with Israel. In their view, for Palestinians to thrive, the State of Israel must go.

Notably, the Palestinians reject the idea of Israel making peace with its Arab neighbors. They fear that such peace would come at the expense of them achieving political supremacy over Israel.

“It has become clear that the US viewpoint is biased in favor of Israel,” remarked Palestinian political analyst Anwar Rajab in an article published in the Palestinian daily Al-Hayat Al-Jadeeda, which serves as a mouthpiece for the Palestinian Authority. “It has become clear that Trump’s envoys only carry suggestions for improving the living conditions and economy of the Palestinians.” Rajab also scoffed at the idea of a “regional peace” and dubbed it a lie, illusion and a miserable piece of merchandise.

Once again, the Palestinians are broadcasting clearly that the Trump administration’s renewed effort to revive the peace process with Israel is unacceptable and doomed to failure because the US is not prepared to force Israel first into retreat and then into defeat.

Blinded by their hatred for Israel, the Palestinians have long sidelined both their economy and their future to achieve their real goal: to see Israel forced to its knees, and then removed from the face of the earth.

Can medical marijuana revive Israel’s kibbutz movement?

By Andrew Tobin               JTA

Can medical marijuana revive Israel’s kibbutz movement?

By all accounts, Eilon Bdil has no personal interest in marijuana.

But as the business manager of Kibbutz Elifaz, he’s a big believer in the herb. Bdil sees medical marijuana as a unique opportunity to revive his remote Negev community.

“This cannabis gold rush has to pan out for us,” he said. “There’s simply no other choice. We need young people with good minds to come here, and medical cannabis is what can draw them.”

Elifaz is one of dozens of kibbutzim – and hundreds of local companies — seeking to join Israel’s new medical marijuana industry. After decades of stagnation, the collectives are betting that the move can revitalize their finances and even their way of life.

Israel’s gold rush – or “green rush,” as some are calling it – took off after the government in February threw its support behind legislation that would allow the export of medical marijuana. The Knesset is expected to pass the measure into law this summer — some industry insiders say as soon as this month. If that happens, Israeli companies would suddenly have access to a rapidly growing multibillion-dollar global industry.

Export is part of a larger government plan to make Israel a world leader in medical cannabis. Yuval Landschaft, the director of the Israeli Medical Cannabis Agency, said well over 700 companies have applied for official permission to grow, produce, distribute and dispense medical cannabis. By the end of the year, he said, the agency would give the OK to the first new medical marijuana farms and factories.

“We are really about to enter the medicalization of the Holy Land,” Landschaft said. “The Torah once spread out from Israel. Now medical cannabis will spread out from Israel.”

After playing a powerful role in founding and building Israel, the kibbutzim slid into social and economic crisis during the national financial crisis of the 1980s. Many young members decamped for the cities. By shifting away from their socialist roots — embracing differential salaries, members working off the kibbutz and non-members working on it — the kibbutzim, which number about 250, have largely stabilized.

Elifaz, located in the Arava Desert valley in southern Israel, is the only kibbutz that is already growing medical marijuana. It is one of just eight farms the government licensed to do so in 2010 as part of a limited system that will be replaced by the new one. (Recreational marijuana use is illegal in Israel, though it was recently largely decriminalized.)

So far, the medical marijuana business has not been particularly lucrative for Elifaz’s more than 100 members and children. The vast majority of its income still comes from date and pomelo farming and tourism. Just last year, the kibbutz began paying differential salaries to its members, a reform most of the once rigidly collective communities have made.

Eilon Bdil overlooking Kibbutz Elifaz

But Bdil, 42, who was born on Elifaz and returned to raise a family here, expects the years of experience to pay off when the exporting of medical marijuana starts. He said Elifaz also would benefit from its close ties with other kibbutzim. In the same way the kibbutz produces date honey and date liquor as part of a kibbutz conglomerate, Bdil said, it would one day manufacture cannabis products like extracts, creams and oils.

According to Nir Lobel, 37, Elifaz’s secretary, the kibbutz voted to get into the medical cannabis business in part because it seemed like a natural way to update the traditional kibbutz ethos — and hopefully attract a new generation of members.

“We’re pioneers, and this is a new journey. We’re farmers, and this is agriculture. We care about values, and this is a way to help people who are suffering,” he said.

However, Hagai Hillman — one of Israel’s eight licensed cannabis growers, who co-owns a marijuana-centered pharmaceutical company called BOL Pharma — says most of the kibbutzim and companies rushing into the industry are being overly optimistic.

“For those kibbutzim that don’t have money, medical cannabis is not going to be the answer. To survive in this market you need very deep pockets, and without vertical integration you’re lost,” he said, suggesting that profitable companies will control the medical marijuana supply chain from farm to pharmacy.

“A lot of farmers think it’s like growing melons. But the future of this industry is medicalization.”

Kibbutz Gezer, a largely American immigrant community located south of Tel Aviv, is exploring joining Elifaz in a medical cannabis business partnership with an Israeli pharmaceutical company. Laura Spector, a 62-year-old New Jersey native who immigrated to the kibbutz in 1977, is a leader of the project.

Spector said Gezer had only recently paid off the debt that it, like most kibbutzim, wracked up during the Israeli financial crisis in the 1980s, and was ready to invest. She shares Bdir’s interest in making a principled profit.

“I believe in medical marijuana because I believe in the plant, which can help in so many different ways,” she said. “At the same time, I think there will be a huge financial advantage to Kibbutz Gezer.”

According to Spector, Gezer’s main asset is its land, which is located in the center of the country and is licensed for mixed use. As such, it would be relatively easy to build processing facilities near the crops — a major advantage many kibbutzim have over other farms.

In contrast with Elifaz, Gezer is not motivated by a need for more members. The kibbutz is about 240 strong and expanding. It is building 16 houses for the founders’ children and new members, with plans to add 22 more in the coming years.

Rather, Spector said, she wants Gezer to enter the medical marijuana industry to create communal employment opportunities. For young people, the business could mean a career close to home, and for pensioners, it could provide the purpose and extra income of part-time work, she said.

“I was one of the people who pushed privatization on the kibbutz, but I think there’s a certain social and economic spirit that we should keep in some ways,” Spector said. “I mean, we came here for a reason.”

Few kibbutzim embody the spirit of the movement better than Kibbutz Ruhama, which was established near the border of the Gaza Strip in 1943, several years before the State of Israel’s founding. Today, the kibbutz’s main business is the struggling KR Hamivreshet brush factory, and most of its some 200 members are of retirement age.

According to kibbutz secretary Ran Ferdman, a 40-year-old third generation member, Ruhama voted overwhelmingly to partner with researchers to enter the medical marijuana industry, mostly in hopes of filling up their pensions funds, which were emptied during the kibbutz debt crisis.

“They believed the kibbutz would exist forever, and the younger generation would take care of the older one,” he said. “But everyone has to take care of himself these days.”