This is a guestpost from two national leaders of J Street U:
Simone Zimmerman, a Junior at the University of California Berekely, majoring in Middle Eastern Studies. She is from Los Angeles, has spent many months in Israel, and is in the process of founding the J Street U chapter at the UC Berkeley.
and Ben Elkind, a Senior at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill, majoring in Philosophy. He is the President of J Street U at UNC, and is the South East Representative on the J Street U National Student Board.
On Friday, September 30, 2011, a violent mob attacked Assaf Sharon and Sara Beninga in the Anatot settlement outside of Jerusalem. Reportedly, during the attack, police stood idly by and watched. Though badly beaten, Assaf and Sara remained fervently committed to democracy and social justice. In response to the violence at Anatot, my friend Simone and I wrote this letter expressing our solidarity with Assaf and Sara. We have since been joined by more than 100 students across the country. You can stand with Assaf and Sara too. Add your name by clicking here.
Dear Assaf and Sara,
We are humbled writing to you with the knowledge that as we celebrated the new year and the Jewish holidays here in the United States, your Rosh Hashanah in Israel was neither good nor sweet. We are frustrated knowing that our words cannot repair broken bones or ease bruised faces, yet we are compelled to speak.
This is what we understand of what transpired in Israel on Rosh Hashanah:
On September 30, you traveled to the settlement of Anatot, just outside of Jerusalem. A Palestinian farmer owns land in Anatot, and asked members of Ta’ayush – an organization that has gained respect and acclaim for its non-violent activism – to accompany him in planting trees on his land. He and members of Ta’ayush were met with violence, both physical and verbal. More »
Growing up in Israel, I joined a lot of organizations: Youth Against Racism, Hashomer Hatza’ir, Reut Sadaka, and maybe one or two groups even further to the left. I attended Neve Shalom/Wahat al-Salam and Meretz Youth weekend seminars, a kind of experience I’ve never seen in the US, not even when I was a college student. At these seminars, high school students would listen to Members of Knesset, well known professors and journalists, professional youth educators and others as they dissected Israel’s social issues.
During this entire formative period, regardless of where you stood in the left wing spectrum, certain things were true:
Our side was in favor of dialogue with the Palestinians, while right wing Israelis were racists who denied the Palestinians essential humanity, let along their human and national rights.
Our side addressed a combination of moral elements and enlightened self-interest. The occupation might be wrong, but it is also suicidal.
Our side drew inspiration from Western values that flowed from the enlightenment. Rationality, skepticism, a slight fear of the mob, an emphasis on individual identity over collective identity.
Our side was focused on liberating Israelis (Jews and Arabs alike) from the burden of having to represent anything else other than who we were. In other words, even the hard core Zionists were often in favor of ‘post Zionist’ measures like removing religion from identity cards, affirming the validity of the Palestinian narrative, and de-mythologizing the founding of Israel.
I was part of the lucky minority of Israel Jews that interacted with Israeli Arabs and Palestinians from the Occupied Territories on a regular basis. They represented a fairly diverse range of opinions and backgrounds, though less from among the poor and seriously religious, a bit more from the upper and middle classes, the Christians, and those from larger cities and villages. At a certain point, my identity as an Israeli changed into one that wholeheartedly embraced the reality of Israel: one fifth Palestinian, one fifth Russian, inclusive of countless racial, ethnic and religious minorities, with a tragic mix of conflicting impulses. Together, we were Israeli, and deserved to be truly equal for all our sakes. More »
Speaking of boycotts, check out the new Israeli boycott campaign against opening a McDonald’s at Masada. And, yes, under the new law, McDonald’s corporation can now sue any Israeli who “likes” that Facebook page. As a friend of mine suggested, perhaps the Judean zealots “committed Supersize” rather than be killed by the Romans. (Hat tip Heeb.)
Breaking the Silence is an Israeli organization of former combat soldiers who served in the occupied territories who make it their cause to educate Israelis and American Jews about the reality of the daily occupation. Using their personal experiences as soldiers on the front lines and tours of Hebron, they explain the complex relationship security measures, settlement growth, human rights abuses, and 18-year-old Israeli soldiers out of their depth.
Next tour: July 22. Want to understand the conflict? See it for yourself.
L, my companion for the evening, wonders if we can say we actually saw Wallace Shawn, who appears to be sitting three rows ahead of us. It’s definitely him, right? We strain our ears for his trademark voice, but the din proves too much for us discern properly.
This is not really important, of course, a celebrity sighting at the screening of “This is My Land, Hebron,” at the Human Rights Watch International Film Festival. It is, however, a reminder to myself to be observant of the audience, which I have come in worried about. The theatre is full, and this is both joyous and disconcerting. Who are these people? Did someone make a phone to right wingers to come and start a ruckus? Is someone going to say something anti Semitic? Some people walk onto the stage and sit down. The audience applauds. I sweat.
The three people, introduced by the moderator, are Dotan Greenvald, a former solider/ activist withBreaking the Silence, and the directors, Giulia Amati and Stephen Nathanson. The moderator asks if anyone would like to say anything before the film starts. Greenberg says that serving in Hebron has changed his views and how he’s active in the society he lives in.
“This is My Land” is a documentary composed primarily of footage and interviews from Hebron, one of the first of which is of a home covered with a wire cage. The owner of the house, a Palestinian woman in hijab, tells the camera that the wire is necessary to keep the stones thrown by Jewish settlers from hitting the people who live there, but that they’ve adapted by throwing smaller stones.
The film interviews some of the Jewish settlers (there are 450? 600? 800?), and settler leadership who live in Hebron among 150,000 Palestinians. The settlers claim that Hebron is the place in which the matriarchs and patriachs were born, making it “the heart of the Jewish people.”
A Jewish settler, a woman with covered hair and glasses, walks up to the wire where the Palestinian woman is standing. “Sharmuta (whore),” she shouts, and then, softly, “Sharmuuuttaaa.” It’s chilling and relentless, and the two women scream at each other, while the camera records. After this scene, every time a settler comes on the screen for the next hour and a half, the audience gets twitchy and tense and starts to whisper.
Yehuda Shaul, one of the founders of Breaking the Silence, spent 14 months in Hebron during his army service (he was actually Dotan Greenvald’s commander.) “One day, you’re looking in the mirror, and you see horns on your head. You think, it’s not me, doing this things, but it is you.” Now, in addition to giving testimonies and traveling with the organization, he gives tours of Hebron.
While escorting a group down Shuhada Street-the principal street for Palestinian residents and businesses and at one time, a prominent market place, now closed to Palestinian traffic- Shaul says to his group, “You’ll only get one perspective today, and I’m sorry for that.” Standing near by, shaking his head, is David Wilder, Hebron settler spokesperson. According to Shaul, Wilder won’t talk to “traitors.” “In any other country,” says Wilder, later in the film, “(Shaul) would be charged with treason and hung.”
There’s footage of a young Palestinian man who’s shackled for 14 hours, allegedly for protecting his sister from IDF forces invading his home. He tells the camera that he’s been beaten on his back. Settler children yell at and knock down internationals from the Christian Peacekeepers. “That’s what you get for defending Arabs,” one girl says. In another scene, Palestinians picking olives while settlers look on, and then eventually face off with soldiers, who tell them that the Palestinians are allowed to pick from their own groves. There is screaming and swearing and accusations. At some points, I’m so uncomfortable that I try to re read my notes in the dark theatre, which is of course, impossible.
“I’m deeply ashamed,” says Levy. “It’s on my behalf, all Israelis are paying the price. The idea is to drive the Palestinians out, create impossible circumstances. We’ve become a country who only cares about ourselves, and maybe not even that…this is proof that the Palestinians are some of the most tolerant and non violent people in the world. Anyone else would have exploded.”
When the film is over, the audience is restless. Nathanson, Amati and Greenvald return to the stage. Amati talks about how hard it was to obtain the settler’s point of view, and without it, making the film would have been useless. And now, the questions. One woman asks why so much of the focus of the film was on Shuhada Street, instead of on the rest of the city. Greenvald: ”If you went to Manhattan, and Broadway was closed and only white people could walk on it, wouldn’t that be a story?” She’s not satisfied by his answer and has to be shushed into sitting down.
Every time someone gets called on, I hold my breath anticipating the question. ”Why did you only focus on settler violence against Arabs?” asks an audience member. “In Hebron,” says Greenvald, “Palestinians know the recourse. You don’t see Arab on Jewish violence because everyone is aware of the consequences-curfews, collective punishment. The soldiers are there to protect settlers, and they know the consequences of looking like if they side with Palestinians. That’s why the consequences for Jewish kids throwing stones are different from those of Palestinian ones.” Amati adds that while filming, they never witnessed any Palestinian violence against settlers.
Greenvald is also asked to comment on his experience with Breaking the Silence in Israel. “Settlers in Hebron are very extreme,” he says, “Not like most Israelis. Most Israelis don’t respond like they do.” The film has not yet been distributed in Israel, but there are plans to do so.
When the q/a is over, and everyone is leaving, I hear a woman’s voice behind me. She’s been making comments to her friends the entire time (“Yeah, that will go well,” re-distributing the film in Israel) and sighing gustily after each of the right wing-y questions. “”Those people,” she says, disgustedly, gathering her things, “Why don’t they go back to Brooklyn where they came from?”
This past week, rabbis across the country received a request from the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism to sign a public rabbinic letter to Congress that urged our Representatives and Senators not to cut any foreign aid to Israel as part of the FY2012 budget. The request was co-signed by the rabbinical leaders of four major American Jewish denominations.
As rabbis who received these appeals for our endorsement, we would like to voice our respectful but strong disagreement to the letter. We take particular issue with the statement:
As Jews we are committed to the vision of the Prophets and Jewish sages who considered the pursuit of peace a religious obligation. Foreign Aid to Israel is an essential way that we can fulfill our obligation to “seek peace and pursue it”
We certainly agree that the pursuit of peace is our primary religious obligation. Our tradition emphasizes that we should not only seek peace but pursue it actively. However we cannot affirm that three billion dollars of annual and unconditional aid – mainly in the form of military aid – in any way fulfills the religious obligation of pursuing peace.
This aid provides Israel with military hardware that it uses to maintain its Occupation and to expand settlements on Palestinian land. It provides American bulldozers that demolish Palestinian homes. It provides tear gas that is regularly shot by the IDF at nonviolent Palestinian protesters. It also provided the Apache helicopters that dropped tons of bombs on civilian populations in Gaza during Operation Cast Lead, as well as the white phosphorus that Israel dropped on Gazan civilians, causing grievous burns to their bodies – including the bodies of children.
In light of Israel’s past and continuing military actions, how can we possibly affirm that our continued unconditional aid fulfills the sacred obligation of pursuing peace?
We also take exception to this assertion:
U.S. foreign aid reaffirms our commitment to a democratic ally in the Middle East and gives Israel the military edge to maintain its security and the economic stability to pursue peace.
In fact our ally, the Netanyahu administration, has even rebuffed mild pressure from the US government to comply with the longstanding US position against new settlements in the West Bank. If we believe that any peaceful settlement requires the end of the Occupation and Israel’s settlement policy, how will massive and unconditional foreign aid – and the support of hundreds of rabbis for this aid – promote a negotiated peaceful settlement of the conflict?
An Israeli government that continues to settle occupied territory with impunity will not change its policy as long as it is guaranteed three billion dollars a year. With every other ally, our government pursues a time-honored diplomatic policy that uses “sticks” as well as “carrots.” We believe the cause of peace would be better served by conditioning support to Israel on its adherence to American and Jewish values of equality and justice.
We are also mindful that the Arab world itself feels under assault by the US when it witnesses Palestinians regularly assaulted with American-made weapons. With the vast and important changes currently underway in the Middle East, we are deeply troubled by the message that this policy sends to Arab citizens who themselves are struggling for freedom and justice.
We know that many of our colleagues who have signed this statement have taken courageous public stands condemning Israel’s human rights abuses in the past. We also know it is enormously challenging to publicly take exception to our country’s aid policy to Israel. Nonetheless, we respectfully urge our our colleagues to consider the deeper implications represented by their support of this letter.
Unconditional aid to Israel may ensure Israel’s continued military dominance, but will it truly fulfill our religious obligation to pursue peace?
Coming of age in Israel, I encountered quite a few reminders of how strange politics can be. In the mid-80s, I went with members of the scouts (Tzofim) to protest Meir Kahane outside a venue in Petah Tikva. An elderly man came to argue with us. He didn’t yell and wore a forgiving smile. And a kippa. He said that Arabs are dogs, they only look human. Looking back, I can finally appreciate how bizarre he was. Only… he was one of the more normal Kahane supporters. And he didn’t try and assault anyone (that I saw). Not like the other guys spitting and throwing punches at us.
A few short years later, Kahane came to my little hometown. I only found out because the bus passed the town square he was using. A couple hundred folks had gathered – more than I’d ever seen assembled (outside of the soccer games). I got off the bus, put away my schoolbag, put on my keffiyah, and marched over there to protest. By myself. While I didn’t have a sign, I did have bright yellow stickers reading ‘say no to racism’. I held one up and stood not four meters away from him.
Again, looking back, I have to say that was stupid. Even if thugs hadn’t followed me in a car and given me a stomping outside my apartment building in front of all the neighbors.
Later still, when I was a soldier, I was forced to attend a lecture by the commander of our corps. Which is to say, he was above the head of our training base and in charge of all sorts of things related to our specialty, though he would never again lead troops into battle. In this lecture, he gave a military-political survey of the situation with Lebanon and the Occupied Territories. When he opened up the Q and A, I said: “Officer sir, since the conflict with the Palestinian people can only have a political solution, not a military one, aren’t you deceiving us by talking about ‘winning’?”
Boy was he mad. I never got punished though. Just ostracized.
These incidents surely paint a picture of the young man as a foolish dissident. But grant me that I had heart – lots of heart. Whatever my politics, however wrong headed my political analysis or ideology, it was sincere and flowed from a sense that my reference group, my peers in Israeli society, included both Palestinian and Jewish comrades. Whenever some right winger or patriot made a bloviating reference to ‘we’ meaning Israeli Jews, I always thought to myself – yes, ‘you’, because my ‘we’ is made up of Arabs AND Jews. Of all Israelis, exactly in the way that in America, ‘we’ includes whites AND blacks.
How odd then, to find myself dismissed as a ‘Zionist’ here and there in the Palestinian solidarity movement. Not like so many people actually know me or anything. But… there was that JATO woman at the UFPJ gathering, the trainer at the Student PSC conference, the outright verbal assualts on the activist listserve, and a picture comes to mind.
The Palestinian solidarity movement, especially as it has coalesced around the strategy of BDS, has two faces. One face is warm, friendly and intelligent. It says that BDS is a tactic not a preferred political solution. It doesn’t require B, D and S, and it can be directed at the occupation or at Israel in general – no coercion. It makes Gush Shalom feel right at home.
The other face is quite clear that the one state solution is preferred and the two state solution is dead – and good riddance. Anyone in support of an Israeli identity is a Zionist. Anyone seeking compromise with Zionists is a Zionist. Anti- or non-Zionists who refrain from calling for an end to Israel are ‘soft-Zionists.’ Israelis are ‘butchers’ who commit ‘massacres’, their peace camp isn’t really for peace except for a handful, the Palestinian Authority is not only corrupt, it is ‘only corrupt’, lacking in any other attributes or identity. It’s everything awful about the 90s campus culture wars/identity politics madness, with the eager pleasure in despising whatever isn’t politically correct.
Everything I used to hate and fear about the Israeli right wing: the extremist language, the eagerness to demonize the other, the closing of ranks around a narrow set of ideas, the very harshness of the voice and tone. It’s the flattening of every nuance into a slogan or holy truth. It’s the utter impossibility of dialogue with people who feel differently.
I used to be part of that first group. Some days, I still am. But… I keep running into that second group and it turns my stomach. Sometimes it’s the same person displaying one face or the other, depending the audience. It’s as if all the experiences I have growing up in Israel and ‘putting myself out there’ as a refusenik, participant in militant demonstrations, getting arrested, working inside of majority Palestinian political organizations – count for nothing. Because I’m insisting on the slogans of my youth (Arab/Jewish unity, two states for two peoples, down with the occupation, negotiations yes/war no) somehow I’m excluded from the cool kids lunch table at the Palestinian solidarity middle school. Back in Israel, that’s who I sat with. Now they sneer at me.
But I can’t sit with the Zionist kids anymore! Not after all that stuff I said about not being a Zionist…. sniff.
I guess I’ll go sit by myself. And I am NOT a Zionist! I’m just another Israeli yored in New York waiting for the occupation to be over. So I can go home.
I have this red notebook. I bought it when I was at Pardes during the summer of 2005. It’s red, and thick, and I never managed to use all of it for class things, so now, it’s full of clippings and photos and testimonials and articles on the disengagement from Gaza. I left the country a few weeks before the disengagement actually happened, and when I came home, I became completely obsessed. Not with the political implications, not immediately, but with the settlers-the young girls sobbing, the folks in the synagogue the night before demolition, in sleeping bags on lawns, standing on roofs, holding signs, wearing orange.
The same thing happened last summer after my tour of Hebron with Breaking the Silence. I remember seeing the settler kids near the Tapuz Gross checkpoint and thinking what a hateful thing it was to bring children into a place like this for ideological reasons. When I got back to Jerusalem, I looked for everything I could find on Shalhevet Pas.
Currently, I cannot stop thinking about Tamar Fogel, who came home to find all but two of her family members dead in Itamar on Friday night. Who is taking care of her and her two younger siblings? What will her life be like? Will she become (further) radicalized? Will we hear her advocating for peace and co existence? What right does anyone have to ask anything of her? (I’m going with none.)
I don’t think I’m unique here. I know I’m not the only one who has this predilection, whose imagination is engaged by the religious settler community (as opposed to those who are in the Territories for economic reasons, which is an important distinction), in spite of/because of the politics I hold about ending the Occupation and the settlements as a barrier to doing so. My obsession, or fetishization or whatever it is, stupefies me. On one hand, it creates an empathy that I’m not sure what to do with, and on the other, thank Gd for empathy. This world could use a little more of it.
This guest post is by occasional Jewschool guest-poster Treyfe. Treyfe works with the pro-Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions group Jewish Voice for Peace. Given the controversial nature of BDS, now is a good time to quote the editorial policy, as displayed on the Masthead:
“The ideas, thoughts, and words published on Jewschool.com by Jewschool contributors and/or commenters are the opinions of those individuals only and do not represent the views or positions of Jewschool….”
My blogging career began at J Street a year and a half ago, so I am forever indebted to the organization, even if my first post criticized their dis-invitation of a trio of spoken word poets. This time around, there were no spoken word poets on the program. There were however, numerous Israeli activists whose work I draw inspiration from, and, most controversially Jewish Voice for Peace Executive Director Rebecca Vilkomerson. She was present to tackle the hot-as-latke-oil topic of Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions. When J Street got predictable flak over this–to their credit–they did not un-invite. Their skins have presumably grown thicker after episodes like their own shul-banning and Hillel-banning. (Full disclosure: I do consultation work with Jewish Voice for Peace, edit their blog The Only Democracy?, and am a former board member.)
Below, video of JVP Executive Director Rebecca Vilkomerson’s talk at J Street
J Street Executive Director Jeremy Ben-Ami did present a justification: he was bringing Vilkomerson there in order to discredit the BDS movement! And indeed the panel was stacked, with Ameinu’s Kenneth Bob, a Berkeley student named Simone Zimmerman, and champion of global capitalism Bernard Avishai–all opposed to BDS. Hopefully, Ben-Ami did not actually believe that the best way to discredit someone was to stack the deck against them. In any case, it did not succeed. More »
I find myself overwhelmed. My heart has been bursting with pride for two days. Tomorrow I lead two delegations to legislators on Capital Hill, bouyed by the show of grassroots power I just witnessed. Check that, no, that I have helped build. This weekend, I remember why I do what I do. And I celebrated with the fruition of our planting.
At opening ceremonies on Saturday night, J Street flexed 16 months of growth since their last conference for show. That’s what political conferences are for, after all. And what a showing – purportedly among the top five largest gatherings of Jews in America. (AIPAC’s annual showing is 7.5K, the General Assembly is roughly 5K, URJ’s Biennial is too, and J Street is over 2K.) Waves of cheers erupted as each of 40 local chapters took shout outs. Then a parade of beaming students marched across stage calling out each of the 138 campuses represented. Waves of cheers. The who’s who of progressive global Jewish life was there — including Canada and the UK. The 30 sponsoring groups included Israel’s leading human rights leaders, like Naomi Chazan and Hagai El-Ad. Rabbis, grassroots leaders, campus heads all gathered under one roof.
Rabbi David Saperstein enthusiastically delivered the opening address, a preacher in his element. Saperstein’s fast-paced and booming voice evoked a Judaism of aspirations: freedom, social justice, hope, and spirit. Peace is God’s work, we remembered. Peace wasn’t a wussy buzzword. Peace was power. Compared to the sullen crankery of Rabbi Eric Yoffie last time, Saperstein was inspirational.
Like his boss before him, he delivered criticism as well, warning attendees: More »
So with our eyes wide open, it is important to assert that Israel’s vision of its future cannot be premised upon an eternity of Arab authoritarianism and an eternity of Palestinian statelessness. Such a vision is wrong, and it will not work. It is painful, for someone who admires the Jewish state for its democratic character, to see it emerge as an enemy of democratization. Jews should not rely on Pharaohs.
One interesting side effect of the situation in Egypt has been to force defenders of Israel (I use this to mean anyone who doesn’t solely blame Israel for the perpetuation of the conflict) to decide where their sympathies lie: with people struggling for democracy against their own Pharoah, or with Netanyahu’s initial position of support for the Mubarak regime, which he’s since walked back (like the US). Israel is now coming into the phase of its nationhood where it has to grapple with the real issues that calling yourself a democracy brings – namely, supporting democracy in other places (something that modern democracies have in general been pretty bad at). This is to say nothing of the profoundly undemocratic nature of the occupation, but the situation in Egypt is a lot more visible, and poses more immediate diplomatic questions to the Israeli leadership.
As any of us who are at all politically involved can attest to, it’s pretty damn hard to stay optimistic about world politics. We’re surrounded by immense amounts of pain and suffering, and the governmental structures that supposedly exist to improve those conditions usually move far too slowly, often doing too little too late. I observe this dynamic everywhere I look – on Israel-Palestine, US domestic issues, foreign policy, and global financial problems. Particularly for progressives, who by definition are interested in “progress” – that is, substantive change in the way the world works – it’s incredibly frustrating to have to abide by the glacial pace of most policy discussions. More »
The second time I landed in prison the situation was more complicated. I wouldn’t be able to rely on the Shministim to help – the group had more or less disbanded. In any case, I hadn’t refused to serve in the Occupied Territories; I’d made the decision not to serve at all. The whole premise of refusing was the sacred right to say ‘no’ to injustice. Every day, all around me, were my fellow soldiers, part of that great occupation beast ruling cruelly over the Palestinians as a foreign power. The olive drab clothes I had to put on every day felt like a sickening, constricting uniform of hypocrisy. My own. What was I doing in the army?
After a few days in one cell, they transferred me to a tent compound. The next morning we were informed that prisoners would be sent on work teams to various locations around the large based that houses the military prison. I asked one of the guards if I could speak to him in private. I said: I’m here because I refuse to serve in the army. I will refuse to serve on any work team you assign me to. You can count on me to say no for just about anything you ask, with the exception of keeping my bunk tidy. However, I have no interest in causing a scene or surprising the guards – hence my pulling you aside.
He took it in for a moment. And said he’d let the officer know.
The next day, I was ordered into the office of the officer in charge of our compound. He tried to persuade me to behave. He said, no one cares what you do. There are no demonstrators outside the walls, nothing is in the newspapers, no one will hear about this. You’ll just incur more severe punishment. Why bother? More »
Palestinians are hurt frequently in unarmed protests, even killed. But it took Israeli Jewish activists to get one tragic death any Western attention or the IDF’s admission of fault.
Jawaher Abu Rahmah, a 36-year-old kindergarten teacher from the West Bank village of Bil’in, died after inhaling tear gas shot by IDF soldiers trying to disperse a weekly protest. Her brother was killed two years ago after being hit by a tear gas canister to the chest. The family’s account and that of dozens of witnesses were quickly dismissed by the IDF through off-the-record tips to sympathetic blogs, and without a formal investigation.
Dogged Israeli activists have forced right-wing blogger, news media and the IDF to walk back misinformation aimed to exonerate the IDF, like whether Abu Rahmah even attended the protest, whether she participated, and (incredulously) whether she died quietly of cancer. The activists chronicling their work through the portal +972 Magazine deserve the bulk of the credit for being at the protest, debunking the rumors started by the IDF, and taking on the right-wing conspiracy machine.
Since the earliest vouchings of IDF’s innocence have proved hollow, the Israel-can-do-no-wrong voices have switched to a new line: “the Israelis killed her, so what?” Christian Zionist magazine Israel Today opined, “The point is that even if Abu Rahma died from inhaling tear gas, it is a non-story.”
Quite the contrary. Even while losing the proxy war on Abu Rahmah’s death, Israel boosters seem to miss the greater points: More »
At 10:03 on Monday morning, Osama Rusrus phoned from Beit Umar in the West Bank with wonderful news: His wife Sunya and daughter Dalal had crossed through the checkpoint into Jerusalem, on their way to Alyn Hospital.
It took nearly two months of wrangling with the Israeli authorities, especially the agency that never signs its name, and it was touch and go till the last moment.
Before I tell the story, let me note that this is just an early chapter. The next chapter is getting Dalal the full treatment she needs at Alyn, in order to allow her to live as fully as a girl with brain damage can. Right now she is unable to walk, has use of one hand, and has a vocabulary of one word. Treatment, according to Dr. Eliezer Be’eri of Alyn Hospital, will allow her “to develop to her potential, whatever that is” and enjoy a greater quality of life. It will require a lot of money. If you want to help, read on, or just go here.
Be’eri met with Osama and his daughter Dalal in October to give an initial assessment of her condition and of whether Alyn could help her. Dalal is three-and-a-half years old and has suffered since birth from brain damage that has drastically slowed her development. (An account of that meeting is here.) Neither Osama nor his wife Sunya were able to enter Jerusalem, so Be’eri performed that initial examination on the patio of the Everest Hotel outside Beit Jalla in the West Bank.
Be’eri’s assessment was that Dalal not only could benefit from treatment, but needed to begin quickly. He arranged for a multi-disciplinary examination at Alyn, and made sure it was scheduled as “urgent.” With Alyn’s letter, Osama requested a permit to enter Jerusalem.
(The following is a condensed report of an Israeli and Palestinian delegation I was part of two weeks ago in Istanbul)
“The word ‘peace’ has become hollow.It has lost its meaning,” said one of the participants.“That may feel like the case,” said another, “but we cannot let the voice of despair and violence re-appropriate our language for the world we hope to build.”
This excerpt came from a recent gathering of Israelis and Palestinian peace builders meeting in Istanbul, Turkey.The gathering was billed as a “Consultation” of bi-communal field experts. Over the course of three days, twenty participants acted as a think-tank to envision the seemingly impossible – the reemergence of a cross-border peace movement in Israel / Palestine.
The host organization was a Massachusetts based NGO called the Karuna Center for Peacebuilding (KCP), which specialize in bi-communal trainings for grassroots peace-building practitioners all over the globe.Istanbul was chosen as a compromise for an off-site location close enough but far enough away from the conflict zone.Ten Israelis and ten Palestinians, from places that included Jerusalem, Hebron, Bethlehem, Jaffa, each with advanced level peace-building resumes, were invited.
The founder ofKaruna Center for Peacebuilding, Dr. Paula Green, organized this gathering with one goal in mind: to assess ‘what kind of bi-communal programming would be useful for this region.’In other words, what kinds of trainings or actions could bring Israelis and Palestinians together in joint cooperation under today’s reality? What could be helpful now, when the prospects for meaningful resolutions are not promising and the political will of the leaders are not inspiring.But this was not a gathering of politicians.The twenty men and women, ranging from their late twenties to their early sixties, were assembled in an effort to help make sure that grassroots collaboration projects between Israelis and Palestinians do not become extinct.
As irrelevant as co-existence work may often seem to a cynical person, this was a battle tested group of peace workers.More »
There has been quite a bit of conversation both on this blog and in the Jewish press and blogosphere on both the tactics and content of the recent JVP action at the GA. I have to say I was really inspired to see the coverage and conversation generated by these protests. More than that, I am inspired by the statements behind them. Talking back to Bibi was a way of getting heard. The message, contained in their Young Jewish and Proud declaration, makes it clear why we should, in the words of Peter Beinart, “expect more of this.”
We are not apathetic. We know and name persecution when we see it. Occupation has constricted our throats and fattened our tongues. We are feeding each other new words. We have family, we build family, we are family. We re-negotiate. We atone. We re-draw the map every single day. We travel between worlds. This is not our birthright, it is our necessity.
Not only should we expect to hear this message getting louder and stronger, we should be prepared to listen. Jews, committed to their identities, histories, and traditions, are increasingly seeing how the ongoing occupation and human rights abuses, the loyalty oath, and the stunted discourse on Israel and Zionism within the OJC are making a perversion out of the lessons of Jewish history (which illustrate that oppression and othering can be a deadly mix), and of Jewish teachings (which, in Rabbi Sid Schwarz’s formulation, are “dedicated to expanding the boundaries of righteousness and justice in the world“).
I’ve recently been corresponding with one of the organizers about JVP’s choice of message and their tactics. In light of the all the debate around that action, I wanted to share some of that correspondence here. In talking with her it is clear that there were significant conversations within the group about both tactics and messaging. The first thing she emphasized was that the goal of this action was not the disruption itself. “Our original idea,” she told me, “was actually the opposite, that the disruption of Netanyahu’s speech would be silent and dignified.” More »
We all got painted into a corner on the issue of settlements, unfortunately, and where we should have concentrated was on territories and the borders of a future Israeli-Palestinian two-state solution.
It’s bewildering to me that the issue of settlements can somehow considered to be a pesky distraction to the peace process. How can talks on “territories and borders” proceed with anything resembling good faith if one side settles these disputed areas with impunity and the “honest broker” to the proceedings refuses to rein it in? How can we be expected to take such a process seriously?
We already know that one of the main reasons for Oslo’s failure was the inability to deal with the settlement issue directly. As a result, Israel took that as an opportunity to significantly expand its settlement regime during the course of the “peace process.” This has brought us to where we are today: in the wake of Oslo more than 500,000 settlers now live throughout the West Bank in settlements and small cities, with special Israeli-only highways that effectively cut Palestinian territories into individual cantons separated by military checkpoints.
Have we learned nothing from past experience? Here’s lesson #1: the settlements are not a side issue. The Israel’s settlement of the West Bank and East Jerusalem are – and have always been – a central obstacle to the peace process. Until it is made to cease and desist, I can’t see how the latest round of talks can be considered anything but a charade.