BOOK REVIEW

Weekender

All equal before Sabbath queen

By ALPHONSE BARIASI
WHAT would the present world be like without the Sabbath? Imagine working a seven-day week with only the sleeping hours keeping one away from his labour.
While work is a necessary human activity, often loved, there are very practical physiological and social reasons why one ought to take a break before continuing the cycle of work to live.
The weekly rest, which we have come to take for granted and made a two-day “weekend” is not only a human necessity but the fourth commandment in Judaism and Christianity.
And nowhere is it more religiously adhered to than by the nation of Israel, which has the rare place in religious history of having heard and heeded the command to remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy.
In fact “welcoming” the Sabbath at Friday sunset is a hug deal for all observant Jews. For them it is not only entering into the hours of rest but also embracing the law-giver’s very presence, believed to be feminine in character – Shekinah – which makes the Sabbath complete.
I did some lockdown reading recently on how a former prime minister moved the Israeli parliament or Knesset to ground the aircraft of the national airline, in honouring the Sabbath. Doing so Israel proclaimed to the rest of the world the sacredness of keeping the Sabbath.

Welcoming the Sabbath on the Western Wall in Jerusalem. –Youtube picture.

You can’t see the blue-and-white aircraft of El Al landing or taking off at international airports around the world these days because of the landmark decision of May 1982 in the Israeli parliament or Knesset.
A heated debate ensued on the floor of the Knesset when the then devout right-wing Prime Minister Menachem Begin proposed to stop the national carrier flying on the Sabbath – sunset Friday to sunset Saturday.
The vote to pass such legislation was preceded by days of intense lobbying by the airline workers union. Some even collared members of the Knesset to vote against the move.
On the day, Begin rose to the podium and made the announcement: “Mr Speaker, ladies and gentlemen, members of the Knesset, the government has decided that following a time lapse of three months, the aircraft of our national airline, El Al, will no longer fly on the Jewish Sabbath and festivals.”
The announcement was met by a dramatic uproar.
I picked these parts of Begin’s debate from the book The Prime Ministers – An intimate Narrative of Israel Leadership by diplomat Yehuda Avner. In fact an entire chapter is on Begin’s address and the Knesset’s yes vote, after much heckling.
“And you want to close down the whole country, turn us back to the Dark Ages,” yelled somebody in response to Beigin’s opening remarks.
“Ah, the Dark Ages,” echoed the prime minister sarcastically, and to the delight of his supports, he calmly raised his right hand as if to catch a ball, tossed it back toward the heckler and resumed his rhetorical flow.
“The Dark Ages, you say. Well let me tell you something, my dear socialist friend: Sabbath enshrines a social-ethical principle without peer.
“Sabbath is one of the loftiest values in all humanity. It originated with us, the Jews. It is all ours. No other civilisation in history knew a day of rest. Ancient Egypt had a great culture whose treasures are on view to this day, yet the Egypt of antiquity did not know a day of rest. The Greeks of old excelled in philosophy and the arts, yet they did not know a day of rest. Rome established mighty empires and instituted a system of law which is relevant to this day, yet they did not know a day of rest. Neither did the civilisations of Assyria, Babylon, Persia, India, China – not one of them knew a day of rest.

Yehuda Avner’s book which records Menachem Begin’s Knesset address on grounding El Al aircraft on the Sabbath day. Pictured from left: Past prime ministers Levi Eshkol, Menachem Begin, Yitzhak Rabin and Golda Meir.

“One nation alone sanctified the Sabbath, a small nation, the nation that heard the voice at Sinai, ‘so that your manservant and your maidservant may rest as well as you.’
“Ours is the nation that bequeathed to humanity the imperative of a day of rest to apply to the most humble of beings. Ours is the nation that gave the labourers the dignity equal to that of their employers, that both are equal in the eyes of God. Ours is the nation that bequeathed this gift to other faiths: Christianity – Sunday; Islam – Friday. Ours is the nation that enthroned the Sabbath as sovereign queen.”
And then directly addressing the union men of El Al seated in the public gallery, Begin thundered on: “We cannot engage in profit-and-loss calculations when it comes to the eternal heritage of the Jewish people. There is no way of assessing the religious, national, social, historical and ethical values of the Sabbath day by the yardstick of financial loss or gain. In our revived Jewish state, we simply cannot engage in such calculations. If it were not for the Sabbath that restored the souls and revived the spiritual lives, week by week, our long-suffering nation, our trials and vicissitudes would have pulled us down to the lowest levels of materialism and moral and ethical decay.”
And to hammer his point home, he ended his speech with the celebrated saying, “More than the Jews had kept the Sabbath day, the Sabbath day has kept the Jews.”
Avner, an English-born Jew of Romanian and Spanish descent, had witnessed firsthand Israeli power struggles from the dramatic and violent days leading up to political independence in 1948 and many years later – working with four of the prime ministers following after founding leader David Ben Gurion.
Avner had a rare privilege of working as speech writer, secretary and advisor to Levi Eshkol, Golda Meir, Yitzhak Rabin and Menachem Begin.
The author says of his experiences, “I am everlastingly grateful for having had the opportunity to work for and alongside such prime ministers, and for having had my eyes opened to the fact that occasionally such larger-than-life champions of the Jewish people exist on earth.
“For reasons which the reader will discover as the story unfolds, the most exceptional among them, in my eyes, was Menachem Begin.”
The section on Menachem Begin clearly illustrates why he stands apart.
A holocaust survivor born and educated in Russia, Begin led the underground Irgun force to expel the British from Mandatory Palestine. His tactics, which included tit-for-tat, hanging-for-hanging, reprisals against the occupying forces, has earned him notoriety in Britain and a hefty bounty on his head.
The British finally gave in and Israel independence was declared on May 14, 1948.
Years later, he was voted prime minister. One of his better known accomplishments was the 1979 peace pact with Egypt’s Anwar Sadat for which both leaders won the Nobel Prize for Peace.
Begin was a noted orator who lamented the lack of good debating in the chambers of power at home and abroad. Political rhetoric, he argued, was a dying art.
To echo his words, if humanity denies itself the Sabbath or indeed rest by any other name then we would all be dragged down by materialism.
Give and enjoy the break.


Technological solution to election violence

By BETTY GABRIEL WAKIA
THE Highlands region of PNG is known for election-related violence, event among clans within tribes to split amongst themselves.
It is the bloody war that that has no ending. Provinces like Enga, Southern Highlands, Chimbu, Western Highlands and Hela are known for continues election-related violence in the country. The 2002 general elections were considered chaotic and violent, resulting in many killings. Meanwhile, the 2007 elections were characterised by widespread election fraud and malpractices.
The 2012 national elections were generally not free or fair, and the 2017 national elections were hijacked in many places with fraud and unprecedented violence and a sense of insecurity.
Due to the lack of understanding of what governance means, it seems that illiteracy and the high level of poverty in electorates, elections seem to be times of opportunity, not the time for making right voting choices. The PNG democracy is a money democracy; those who have more buy power during the polls and are most likely to win. The PNG democratic system has passed a serious test, and it has barely survived by the sacrifices made by candidates, political parties and voters.
The most challenging part of this test is how to overcome electoral fraud and misconduct that lead to election-related violence in the country. Electoral fraud exists at all political levels, ranging from the manipulation of results by corrupt electoral officials to outright intimidation by voters and law enforcement agencies. The average Papua New Guinean voter does not trust the credibility of the PNG Electoral Commission (PNGEC) and its official as long as the ballot paper is being used.
In this regard, Australian-based Papua New Guinean aerospace engineer Nicholas Wabiria proposed a solution to overcome the election-related violence in the Highlands of PNG.
Wabiria is from Koroba in Hela where he grew up with his late father Sir Andrew Wabiria, OBE who was the first elected member for Koroba-Lake Kopiago to the House of Assembly in 1972. He has developed and designed what he calls the Wabiria Electoral Solution (WES) system to help PNG Electoral Commission to conduct cheap, simple and successful elections without fraud and manipulation during the election.
WES innovation is a block-chain powered technology built to run high-security online elections for government and non-governmental organisations. WES innovation excels in complex, high-security elections that can help voters achieve true democracy. The use of WES system will bring transparency in an electoral process and also build trust and confidence of political parties and the voters.
Due to human error and fraud, the use of ballot papers cannot meet this demand, and the operation of ballot papers is usually very expensive.
To reduce the cost of election administration and eliminate human error and fraud in the electoral system, PNG has to resort to the use of technology.
Hela is one of the provinces that is known for continuous election-related violence and its becoming the new cause for tribal fights these days apart from land, women and pigs. Every year, people make predictions about possible violence, and based on past experiences, the electoral system has been affected by ethnic, religious, and regional differences. Even within the same political party, there may be candidates who are interested in holding a position individually, which may lead to violence and loss of life.
The violence during and after elections has been due to PNG’s lack of trust and transparency in the conduct of election. Although it may also be caused by other factors such as prejudice and deliberate incitement, the lack of trust and non-transparency seems to have played the worst role in the electoral violence in PNG.
In order to build trust and encourage voters, the proposed WES system can be used to accommodate the current voting system, and it can be seen currently as the most suitable and unique technology for reliable election delivery in PNG.
The average voter does not trust the current electoral process. On several occasions, electoral officials allow and even carry out multiple fingerprints of ballots for a candidates or political parties, exaggerating the results and even discarding the original results and replacing them with virtual results.
Ballot theft is a recurrent fraud that often occurs in elections in PNG, and in some cases supported by electoral officials and law enforcement agents at the polls. It also occurs in the form of election materials transferred to unknown destinations.
These ballots are thumb printed by a few individuals and somehow, the results from such stolen ballots boxes find their way into PNGEC office as part of the results. Vote buying is another frauds that happens during PNG election during campaigns and right in the poll.
Wabiria grew up with his politician father and is familiar with all these election corruption and election-related violence. Based on his personal experience and the local knowledge of how we do things and challenges we face during the elections, he has come up with a WES system that will fight the electoral corruption and will put a stop to this continues election-related violence.
If WES system is implemented by PNG government, I think more PNG women will have better opportunities and a chance to vote freely during the elections.

  • Betty Wakia is a freelance writer and blogger.

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