The first two chapters of the Book of Amos warn its reader that the Gaza and Jerusalem of that time might ultimately end up sharing the same shitty, terrible, catastrophic fate under the same sky that they uncomfortably share with each other. Because of certain injustices that have been allowed to continue, or be unatoned for, it is said that fire will be sent down from the sky and destroy them both (Amos 1:7, Amos 2:5). The wording in the original curses is exactly the same for both places – all you need to do is switch the names, and it becomes clear that the standards and are quite parallel: “I will send a fire upon (INSERT HERE) and it shall devour the palaces of (INSERT HERE).” There are other cities also cursed in these chapters for whom the same formula is applied (Damascus, Ashdod, Ashkelon, Basra, etc.), but the point that Amos is making is that when it comes to practical matters of justice and oppression, the Jewish people are not judged any differently or given any lesser punishment for non-compliance than their neighbors. More »
I am so tired of sides. I am so tired of one-sidedness. Of being expected to have empathy only for my own.
There is so much pain today. So much suffering.
More and more of our soliders dying. Teenagers just beginning their lives, who will never grow into the amazing people they would have become. Devoted fathers with children and wives waiting for them at home.
Hundreds of dead in Gaza. Thousands wounded. So many people who have lost their homes and everything they own. Parents who have had to bear the unthinkable task of burying their children. Terrified children who will suffer the rest of their lives without limbs, without parents, in pain. More »
A story: Jerusalem Day, 2012. I am standing at the Damascus Gate, before the Israeli parade has made its way from West Jerusalem into the occupied parts of the city to celebrate “reunification.” I am watching two small demonstrations, separated by a small police barrier. On one side, there is a group of young Israelis, mostly teenagers. They are waving Israeli flags, and their veins are bulging as they scream “Mavet LaAravim! Mavet LaAravim!” Death to Arabs! Death to Arabs! On the other side, there is a group of young Palestinian men, and they are also chanting and waving Palestinian flags, their fists clenched and their shouts filled with testosterone, “Khaybar Khaybar ya Yehud!” A reference to an incident in the 7th century in which Muslims forcibly expelled the Jews of Khaybar. And I think: they are so similar. We are so similar. We are all swept up in self-righteousness, we are all afraid and violent and capable of wishing expulsion and death on the other side. More »
Translated and introduced by Moriel Rothman-Zecher, cross-posted from his blog, The Leftern Wall.
Moriel Rothman-Zecher: My own process, in which I began to shift from a liberal to a leftist, from a Zionist to a non-Zionist, from someone who generally believed Official State narratives to someone who generally rejects them, and from someone who wanted to join the IDF and be a “good soldier” to someone who ultimately refused to enlist, began during “Operation Cast Lead,” almost six years ago. This was, in part, because of stories, including the story of the two brothers of one of my classmates at Middlebury College who were shot “by accident” by Israeli soldiers as they left their farm in the Gaza Strip, and then left to bleed to deathas the army forbid an ambulance from getting to them. But in addition to the stories, it was also the numbers: Israel had killed so many people- many of them children- in such a short period of time. I did not want to believe that the Israeli government and army acted with blatant, callous, cruel disregard towards Palestinian civilians, but that it is ultimately what I came to believe, in part thanks to Israeli journalists and writers who were brave enough to speak out against what was happening. And if I am honest with myself: It’s not that these Israelis were saying things that Palestinian journalists and writers were not saying. It’s that they were Israeli Jews. I am not proud of this, but I acknowledge it, and it is with this in mind that I decided to translate a piece on the first four days of this recent Gaza “war” by Israeli blogger Idan Landau, a Professor of Linguistics at Ben Gurion University. The Hebrew original can be found on his blog, לא למות טיפש, or, Don’t Die Dumb, which I cannot recommend highly enough for those of you who speak Hebrew. For those who do not, here is my translation of one of Idan’s pieces on the recent situation in Gaza.
Facing the Massacre with Eyes Shut Tight
Idan Landau. July 11th, 2014.
A riddle: If we are so right, if every one of the air strikes on Gaza is a solid rock of morality, if the residents of Gaza deserve all that they are getting- then why are the facts being concealed from us in the Israeli media? Why don’t they tell us what the entire world can find out with the click of a button?
I was shaking a bit when the siren went off early this evening but I am shaking much more now.
When we heard the siren, we were all standing in our living room just a few feet outside the reinforced safe room. Siren went off, all five of us walked more or less calmly inside, closed the heavy metal shutters. Sat on the floor, heard a quiet, muffled boom. Waited ten minutes per instructions, came out and continued with our evening. The kids seemed a little agitated but mostly fine.
Bedtime was delayed a bit. All asleep by 9:00. Around 12:00, out of the quiet night, I hear my eight year old yelling, confusedly, from his top bunk: “we have to — we have to go to the…” I get out of bed and run to him. He is sitting up with a bloody nose. I reassure him that he doesn’t need to run anywhere, get him more tissues, go back to bed. More »
Raphael Magarik is a graduate student in English at the University of California, Berkeley.
This week we read Parshat Pinchas, which opens with God’s approval of Pinchas’s vigilante killing of Zimri, an Israelite prince, who is sleeping with Cosbi, a Midianite princess (Numbers, 21:1-15). Liberal Jews are used to being alienated from Pinchas or condemning him, but this week, some of us uncomfortably find ourselves in Pinchas’s position.
The people of Israel have sinned. The blood of Mohammad Abu Khdeir, the innocent Palestinian teenager brutally killed by Israeli Jews, is on our hands, and we know it. Our centrist and right-wing friends are sending letters to the parents and posting outraged Facebook statuses. As the Torah says, Zimri was sinning, “while they were weeping at the door of the tent of meeting.”
Leah Solomon, an L.A. native who has lived in Jerusalem for 15 years, has worked since 1997 in the field of experiential and pluralistic Jewish education, most recently at the Nesiya Institute. She has studied at Harvard, the Conservative Yeshiva, and Pardes, and is the editor and publisher of the Anim Zemirot bencher.
My eight year old came home from camp today and told me his best friend said we should kill all the Arabs if that’s what we need to do to protect ourselves.
A friend of a friend was arguing on facebook that the children of terrorists are not innocent because they are happy that their fathers have killed Jews and therefore it’s legitimate to destroy their homes. She wasn’t even talking about a specific “guilty” child – she made clear that ALL Palestinian children are happy when Jews are killed, and therefore it’s simply wrong to treat them as innocent.
How did we come to this?! Why are so many of us convinced that we really are more human than they are, more deserving of life and liberty and happiness? More »
Rabbi Ari Hart is a founder of the Jewish-Muslim Volunteer Alliance and of Uri L’Tzedek.
In this week’s Torah portion, Pinchas (Numbers 25:10-30:1), God is called “Elohei haruchot l’chol basar,” the one who gives spirit to all flesh (Numbers 27:16).
In that spirit of a God who gives life to all beings, I ask that those who, like me, support Israel’s right to defend itself against Hamas’s civilian targeted missiles, stop and read the names below of the children who have died in Gaza since the fighting began. Know that the same God that breathed spirit into you breathed spirit into them.
Seraj Ayad Abed al-A’al, 8
Mohammed Ayman Ashour, 15
Hussein Yousef Kawareh, 13
Bassim Salim Kawareh, 10
Mousa Habib, 16
Ahmad Na’el Mehdi, 16
Dunia Mehdi Hamad, 16
Amir Areef, 13
Mohammed Malkiyeh, 1½ years old
Ibrahim Masri, 14
Mohammed Khalaf al-Nawasra, 4
Nidal Khalaf al-Nawasra, unreported age
Ranim Jawde Abdel Ghafour, a young girl
Though I hold Hamas responsible for this war and for the tremendous suffering they have inflicted on innocent Israelis and Palestinians, I also acknowledge that no matter how precise Israel’s strikes are, innocents will be killed as a result. Including children. Children who have the same goofy smiles, the same dreams, and the same fears as our children. Israel’s right to self defense is not free. It comes with a profound human cost that we, as a people who strive for moral grandeur, must face.
Israel still hasn’t found the 3 teenagers who are presumed kidnapped since they went missing on June 12th (though they have found other young people). Neither has anyone presented any evidence that it was, in fact, Hamas as the government claims.
This is a guest post by Sandy Johnston. Sandy is a recent graduate of List College of the Jewish Theological Seminary and of Columbia University, where he majored in Bible and Archaeology, respectively. He currently lives in Chicago. His interests include, in addition to the study of ancient Israel, railroads and transit systems, urbanism, Israeli and American politics, and critical thought about the future of the American Jewish community. And cats.
(Map of verified incidents, Monday, November 19, 2012. Via the Guardian.)
Now that the latest bout of bloodshed between Israel and the Palestinians of the Gaza Strip is behind us, the time has come for analysis, postmortems, prognostication, and punditry. I take issue with a particularly simplistic, troublesome, and unhelpful strand of what passes for “progressive” thought on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that surfaced in threads I saw on Facebook during the latest round of fighting. My desire is not to legitimize Israel’s operations against Gaza nor to delegitimize criticism of the same; in the vein of criticizing most heavily those with whom one most identifies, I write to hopefully help sharpen the arguments and solutions that my fellow progressives put forward about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. And yes, if I had the energy, I would write a response to some of the equally unsophisticated, idiotic, hurtful, and insensitive propaganda that came from the “Pro-Israel” side.
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?
Update: videos are now embedded in the post. Enjoy!
As I mentioned in my brief first-day J Street conference round up post, I secured interviews with Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf of the Cordoba Initiative (best known for the Ground Zero Mosque, which is neither at Ground Zero nor a mosque), and Mona Eltahawy, the Egyptian journalist and activist who rocked the socks off the J Street conference. Those videos are now online; the YouTube playlist is here. There are three videos – Mona Eltahawy on social media in the Jasmine Revolution and its potential in the future of the Arab and Muslim world, my question for Imam Rauf on the religious justification for his work, and footage of a few other press-folk asking him questions. Check them out!
Mona did a superb job of addressing the straw man argument made by most of the prominent critics of the social-media-as-organizing-tool theory (Malcolm Gladwell, Evgeny Morozov, etc.). That is, she made a strong case for how Twitter and Facebook were essential in helping garner support for a mass meeting and demonstration of a kind that was quite rare under Mubarak. Notably, she doesn’t claim that it was Twitter or Facebook that toppled the regime. No, that distinction belongs to the brave Egyptians who risked their lives to claim their basic human rights of freedom of speech and assembly. But if you look closely, most of us arguing for social media’s importance in democratic movements aren’t saying that it’s the Internet itself that overthrows regimes, just that it’s a tool for those who desire to do so. The key to any organized resistance movement, especially one that aspires to nonviolence, is organization. Today, the Internet is often one of the last places where free exchange of ideas can take place. Its fast pace and adaptability mean that dedicated users can often stay one step ahead of those trying to shut down the flow of information. This is what makes it important and in some ways game-changing.
Imam Rauf, who’s been one of my personal heroes for a long time, spoke beautifully about the religious underpinnings of his peace work. I hadn’t planned to ask him about this – the question came about as a result of a topic of discussion on the panel on Jewish-Muslim community relations on which he’d just spoken. One Jewish community leader explained a program called “Iftar in the Sukkah,” in which local Muslims and Jews gathered at an Orthodox shul to share the evening break-fast meal during Ramadan, which for the past few years has overlapped with Sukkot. The image of Muslims and Jews taking part in this ritual together was, for me, amazing, and reminded me of the phrase “ufros aleinu sukkat shlomecha” – “spread over us your sukkah of peace.” This is pretty much one of my favorite liturgical lines ever, and I felt that I just had to ask Imam Rauf about it. So I mentioned that connection, and asked him what scriptural or Islamic theological justification he found for his work. His answer, that it’s rooted in the very word “Islam,” coming from “Salaam,” was completely in line with his messages of peace and mutual understanding.
I continue to be inspired by the work that both of these courageous activists do every day. Mona Eltahawy speaks truth to power, and Imam Rauf (and the Park 51 project overall) has handled himself with incredible grace in the face of one of the worst smear campaigns I’ve ever seen, and more generally in a climate of increasing American Islamophobia. May they both continue their work and dedication, and may their efforts be rewarded.
The British catamaran Irene, the “Jewish boat to Gaza,” was diverted to Ashdod without incident and without capturing world attention as during Israel’s boarding of the Turkish Mavi Marmara. This was the second boat following the Marmara to be diverted. Predictions of a media circus failed to bear fruit.
Apparently, the global media is bored of this stunt already. Frankly, I am too. It stinks of pageantry, now that both sides now how the game is played. The boat announces their operating rules, the IDF states its intent to intercept, both sides play nice, and the Gaza blockade goes on. Which is not to say the stunt abjectly failed to raise awareness, nor that the violent prior episode was in any way preferable. (God forbid!)
Pageantry consumes the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. When I volunteered to cover a house demolition in East Jerusalem in late 2004, then too the roles were clear. The family applied for a permit, knowing they’d be denied. The Jerusalem municipality took their fee and considered their application, knowing they didn’t grant permits to Arabs as policy. The family built anyway, knowing the one-room hovel would be demolished. And indeed, the municipality sent over two dozen Border Police along with the demolitions crane, knowing the family would resist. The family called in demonstrators to help them resist, knowing their home would ultimately fall. The police removed the activists non-violently, knowing the press stink that would follow if one were harmed. The demonstration happened; the demolition happened. Everybody knew their role. Pageantry.
It’s an infuriating constant. I am enraged that the state-imposed impoverishment and economic stagnation of 1.5 million Gazans has achieved epic banality. It burns my heart that few in America seem to give a shit either way, pro or con. Unless a protest has a new, creative gimmick, it will be ignored. It’s also a crying shame that the organizers of the flotillas are harmful to and a distraction from the importance of the message. Utter predictability fosters inhumane callousness. ”Israel fatigue” turns away so many passionate, progressive and particularly young Jews. We’ve seen these headlines before. It’s the pageantry that kills us.
In the wake the Gaza Flotilla episode many labels were tossed about describing those on the Mava Marmara. It became clear quite early on that they were not peace activists solely interested in getting their cargo to Gaza. They were interested in provocation, in challenging the Israeli government against what they believed was an illegal blockade depriving Gaza’s citizens of food, clothing, and building materials. M.J. Rosenberg in the Huffington Post likened them to blacks who sat at all white lunch counters in the South during the Jim Crow era. They weren’t there for the pancakes. Some even called those on the Mava Marmara “terrorists.” This is an odd appellation given that they were not armed with deadly weapons nor were they travelling to Gaza to wage a battle against Israeli citizens.
The use of the term “terrorist” has become common nomenclature in Israel of many who openly and actively challenge its policies regarding the Palestinians. Of course, Israel had, and has, it own “terrorist” organizations (the Irgun and Lehi, more recently the Jewish Underground and today those who terrorize the Palestinians cave dwellers in the South Hebron Hills). And some of the members of the Irgun and Lehi ended up becoming prime ministers of the country, i.e., Menahem Begin and Yizhak Shamir. This irony rose to the surface this Sunday when I opened the New York Times Sunday Magazine and read Deborah Solomon’s interview with Tzippi Livni, the head of the Israeli Kadima party.
Solomon asked Livni:
Your parents were among the country’s founders.
They were the first couple to marry in Israel, the very first. Both of them were in the Irgun. They were freedom fighters, and they met while boarding a British train. When the British Mandate was here, they robbed a train to get the money in order to buy weapons.
So, Livni’s parents, who were both members of the Irgun, an organization that not only engaged in acts of terror against the British Mandate but was also guilty of killing Arab civilians, are called freedom fighters. Livni proudly and without solicitation speaks of how her parents robbed a British train to take the money to buy weapons. One could only assume the illegal weapons were used to commit acts of violence. But Livni’s parents are not terrorists while those on the Gaza Flotilla who were engaged in what began as a non-violent act of provocation (that is, until their ship was boarded in a pre-dawn raid by Israeli navy seals) are called “terrorists”? Here is one dictionary definition of terrorism: Terrorism is the unlawful use or threatened use of force or violence by a person or an organized group against people or property with the intention of intimidating or coercing societies or governments, often for ideological or political reasons.
We all know the answers from both sides, repeated ad nauseum. However, given the volume of this crisis and the loose ways in which “terrorist” is used by Israel, I find Livni’s proud declaration of her parents criminal and ultimately violent behavior somewhat jarring. Freedom fighter’s indeed.
As a member of this blogging community, a fairly lefty one at that, I am sure I am the only person who got the hard-copy of the Wall Street Journal today. So I am taking on a personal responsibility to report to all of you that the Simon Weisenthal Center has provided all WSJ readers with a very important supplement to their papers:
“2010 Top Ten Anti-Israel LIES”
You can download the seven page document for yourself, but here are some of the highlights. More »
Left-wing Jews in NYC held a debate for and against boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) and the whole thing is on YouTube. Voices against feature JJ Goldberg and Kathleen Peratis; those in favor feature Hannah Mermelstein and Yonatan Shapiro.
PMO announces plan to ease Gaza siege, but no such decision made
The Prime Minister’s Office announced on Thursday that the security cabinet had agreed to relax Israel’s blockade on the Gaza Strip, but as it turns out, no binding decision was ever made during the cabinet meeting.
The Prime Minister’s Office issued a press release in English following the meeting, which was also sent to foreign diplomats, was substantially different than the Hebrew announcement – according to the English text, a decision was made to ease the blockade, but in the Hebrew text there was no mention of any such decision.
Many of us have been struggling to understand the ways in which the blockade of Gaza and the Flotilla disaster have benefited Israel. The answer of the Israeli government has always been that the blockade is necessary for security and that there is no humanitarian crisis in Gaza (needless to say UN relief representatives on the ground in Gaza have a different take on this). In an article today in Haaretz, “Blair Hails Deal with Netanyahu to Ease Gaza Blockade,” we read the following:
At their first meeting [between the British and Israeli teams], the envoy handed Netanyahu a document prepared by Blair’s staff that included suggestions for easing the blockade. The prime minister told Blair that he never thought the blockade as constituted was particularly wise, as he understood that the civilian population, and not Hamas, bore the primary brunt.
Wait a minute. Bibi said he “never thought the blockade as constituted was particularly wise,” and he “understood that the civilian population, and not Hamas, bore the primary brunt”? This contradicts Israel’s entire justification of the blockade and confirms what critics have been saying for years. The Israeli response has always been just the opposite! Now after the Flotilla disaster, after worldwide condemnation, after the deaths of nine civilians, after all this Bibi basically says what his critics have been saying all along?! Truly amazing. If this is so, Bibi, why have you let a poorly constituted blockade continue for three years when you knew it was the Gazan population and not Hamas that was suffering. And why have you consistently denied this was the case. In Israel there is a saying when one is not sure about the intentions of another’s incompetence, “is he a klutz or a putz?” You decide.