In 1996 I was working for the International Center for Peace in the Middle East, a now defunct NGO based in Tel Aviv. One of the things it did was lead trips of various sorts in Israel and the Occupied Territories. For example, a trip with loads of journalists from the Arab world (Morocco, Jordan), Israel, Palestine and other countries – and a smattering of diplomats. I was a coordinator of the trip, though my main function was fundraising.
So there I was on a bus in Jerusalem, at the height of the imploding peace process. Rabin had already been assassinated, and Hamas was pushing back against both Arafat and Peres with suicide bombers. Anyway, it was March 4th and a suicide bomber detonated himself at Dizengoff Center, on a cross walk, It was Purim evening, just before 4pm, which was pretty close to the time that my daughter Esther was to be picked up from her pre-K childcare situation, over on King George Street. Right by the corner of Dizengoff, you know – right by Dizengoff Center.
We are all on the nice tourist bus in Jerusalem, listening to the radio describe what is known about the latest bombing. Multiple victims. Many children. And of course the cell phone towers couldn’t handle the traffic spike, so it wasn’t possible for me to call my Esther’s mom and find out if she is safe. Traffic gridlocked from one minute to the next. And right then, in front of all the diplomats and Arab journalists, I lost it and began crying hysterically as the entire bus retreated into silence, that is, except for the radio which continued to speculate on the number of casualties.
That was the last time I can credibly say that I’ve ‘lost it’ and I can’t help but hope that my capacity to do so is gone forever. FYI my daughter was unharmed and pretty far away from what happened.
Let me go out on a limb and say that all of us have different ways of dealing with traumatic events. I spent a few hours today coming up with funny/tasteless one liners (“they hate us for our Nikes”).
Living in New York City, I bet there are lots of folks who experienced what I did back on 9/11. And a few more who went through that today, in Boston. The world being what it is, you can count on the number of folks with this type of experience to increase over time, even in the United States. And if I could speak to all of those folks at one time, I’d ask them if they have any tasteless jokes about what happened today.
This thing we humans do, to look on a tableau of death and suffering and find that one thing that makes us laugh or snark – that’s a precious thing. Don’t feel like it has to die as well. At a time like this, it might be laughter or falling apart. That not a choice we can make for anyone but ourselves.
Israel’s Documented Story started posting last June and it’s been an interesting read. It’s an English language blog run by The Israel State Archives. They’ve been posting and commenting on documents, including recently declassified documents in the archvies. Here are some highlights:
They have British Mandate immigration records from 1920-1947, much of which were recently put online. While some records were destroyed or removed, the remaining documents have a lot of details, including pictures–and they are indexed by family: Immigrants to the British Mandate (Record Group 11)
There’s a great series on documents relating to Anwar Sadat’s 1977 visit to Jerusalem and the subsequent Israel/Egypt peace process. The primary documents are here and I think all posts are tagged at: israelsdocuments.blogspot.com/search/label/1977 Here are some nice segments from that series:
Principles sometimes change: They document Israeli Foreign Minister Moshe Dayan’s guiding princples to negotiating with Egypt, how much these seemingly nonnegotiable principles deviated from the final peace agreement, and why.
“Over a period of 29 years all six of Israel’s prime ministers, including myself, have stated their readiness to go anywhere and at any time to meet the Arab rulers to talk about peace. These offers have remained without response apart from certain clandestine meetings subsequently publicly denied by both sides.” Huh? Run that by me again? Never ever any meetings except for the ones we’ve all denied?
The Spook’s Report: A Mossad agent’s perspective on the then top secret meeting in Morocco of Foreign Minister, Moshe Dayan Egyptian Deputy Prime Minister Dr. Hassan Tuhami.
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.
Ever wonder about the peace, love and hate Palestinians folks? Well, Shaul Magid has an interesting piece at The Times of Israel about the phenomenon which goes way beyond snark. Using Radio Free Nachlaot as a case study he writes:
The station’s founders sport long hair and long beards, colorful head scarves, flowing dresses, and tye-dye T-shirts. Many of the announcers and guests reminisce about the good old days of the student protests, peace marches, and anti-Vietnam War demonstrations. Some even talk about the Civil Rights movement. But when they talk about Israel they are almost exclusively right wing, defending the settlements and Israel’s right to the land, and repeating the rhetoric heard among many settlers. When they’re playing music, they sound like WBAI from 1970 (the famous radical leftist radio station in New York); when they’re talking politics, they sound like Arutz Sheva (the settler news network in Israel). All this is done seamlessly, as if playing Bob Dylan’s 1963 protest song “Masters of War” and defending Greater Israel are somehow congruous. Although my integration of counter-cultural values may differ from theirs — and I was once very much a part of their sub-culture in Israel — I only use them here as an example to ask a larger question: How does a progressive ideology devoted to fairness, equality, and justice became an ideology that defends what appears to me to be its opposite?
His answer is just as interesting. Read it here and then come back and discuss.
There is something of a surprising campaign which has taken hold on Facebook which has also garnered some attention in the press. Two Israelis, Roni Edry and Michal Tamir added a poster to their Facebook profile with this statement in bold colors: “Iranians, we will never bomb your country. We ♥ you.” Within days there were tens of thousands of “likes” on Facebook, messages from around the world, a new Facebook page and even hundreds of positive responses from Iran.
What to make of all this? All the messages seem rather sappy and simplistic. “We ♥ you” is not a foreign policy. It is not a negotiating position. It is not even an obvious claim on justice or morality. It is strange.
It does, however, have resonance in its simplicity. This counterpoint to the bombast of Iranian, Israeli and American leaders is stark in the very minimalism of its claims. There is a rather strong denial of what French philosopher Emmanuel Levinas calls the “ontology of war” in these statements. The ontology of war is the understanding that peace comes at the end of a narrative which includes victory over the enemy. Peace, then is one stage in an ongoing process of war. Inevitably, peace will also be followed by war, since the peace is only assured by victory. Peace which does not partake of this narrative, peace which is a response to the Other, makes one vulnerable.
Purim is upon us. Remember Purim? For those not in the know, Purim is the next in the order of Jewish holidays which fit the meme: “they tried to kill us, they didn’t, lets eat,”—though Purim adds “and drink,”—a lot. Most Jews who celebrate Purim remember it as the story of the evil Haman who bribed the buffoonish King Ahaseurus to kill all the Jews in the Persian kingdom as a result of his rivalry with the Jewish courtier Mordecai. The story is situated in the second or third century BCE in Shushan the capital of Persia. According to most scholars the story is a myth. However, like all myths, the story seems to reflect a deep truth and it has resonated with Jews over the centuries since it reflected the fact that in many countries over time Jews had been threatened with extinction by a variety of satraps and princes and ministers and so on, and had survived against all odds.
The Purim story (told in the biblical Book of Esther) is also different insofar as the Jews not only survived but they fought back and killed those who would have killed them—and their wives and children. This fantasy of revenge must have resonated deeply for a Jewish community in the many stations of the diaspora in which they were powerless against the actual enemies who wished them actual harm.
There is however a different reading of the Book of Esther which offers the Purim narrative as a darker story which poses a different set of questions. The key to the story is a statement by a Rabbi who lived centuries after the story might have happened, in the place that it was supposed to have happened—Persia. Before we get to this statement I will summarize the story itself for those whose biblical knowledge is a bit rusty. More »
For the past three years, my wife/producer Pennie and I have been working on a film about the moral and practical failings of the two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. We believe that not only is the one-state solution inevitable at this point, but that it has the potential to yield a much more just and moral resolution to the conflict than the two-state solution. Objections to our vision usually come in two flavors: The theoretical and the practical. On the theoretical side, people argue that the one-state solution would mean the end of Israel as a Jewish state. They argue that demographic realities make it inevitable that very shortly after the creation of a single state, Jews would find themselves in the minority. The phrases that often pop up alongside these observations are: “Israel has a right to exist” and “Jews have a right to self-determination.”On the practical side, people usually argue that there is too much hatred for these peoples to coexist peacefully in a single state. The corollary to this argument is that a single state would quickly devolve into civil war, as was seen in Lebanon, or in the best case scenario end up as a failed state like Belgium.
It is true that the one-state solution would mean the end of Israel as a Jewish-majority state. Indeed, when the Zionists came to Palestine they were a minority and the only way that they were able to achieve their coveted majority status was by ethnically cleansing the land of most of its inhabitants. But the new state could still be a homeland for the Jews. Ali Abunimah famously argued in his book “One Country” for the maintenance of the Law of Return, which grants Jews automatic citizenship, alongside the implementation of the right of return of the Palestinian refugees. Whether or not this concept is actualized in the new state, any one-state solution would obviously have to guarantee the rights of its sizable Jewish minority. But the key here is that Jews would be equals, not privileged ethnocratic masters. Israel doesn’t have a “right to exist as a Jewish state.” States are political constructions and as such they don’t have rights. Individuals, however, do have rights and when a state infringes on those rights, its legitimacy is correctly brought into question. Moreover, even if we accept that Jews have the right to self-determination as a nation (a somewhat controversial claim), this right does not entitle them to deny the self-determination of another people group.
As in any ethnic conflict, an enormous amount of animosity has built up between the two sides and suspicions run deep. On the Palestinian side, 64 years of dispossession and oppression, along with two decades of insincere peace negotiations, have led to a total mistrust of Israeli intentions. On the Israeli side, a culture of Siege Mentality co-opts the history of Jewish suffering to perpetuate an unjust and immoral ethnocracy. But were we to look at Apartheid South Africa in the late 1980’s, we would also see deep mistrust and hatred between Blacks and Whites. Moreover, Germany in the 1940’s didn’t exactly look like a good place for Jews to live but today, it is one of the best countries in the world for Jews. Political realities change. And sometimes, when people of good will get together and work at it, political realities can change for the better.
We need to move away from the discourse of partition and ethno-nationalism and towards a discourse of integration and human rights. The two-state solution is immoral, because it denies millions of Palestinians their right of return and it legitimizes the second-class citizenship of Palestinian-Israelis. Now it is possible to conceive of a two-state solution that respects the right of return and transforms Israel from an ethnocracy into a full democracy, but such a solution is not on anyone’s agenda. Indeed, an examination of the motivations behind the two-state solution reveals why such a conception was never in the cards. On the Israeli side, the motivation for partition comes from the will to maintain a Jewish-majority state in as much of historic Palestine as possible. On the Palestinian side, partition was only accepted by those who live in the West Bank and Gaza under the boot of the IDF, because they were so desperate to end the Occupation. And in their desperation, the Palestinian leadership came close to negotiating away the right of return which is and always has been the central issue of concern for a majority of Palestinians.
The only way to really solve the conflict is to respect all of the human beings involved as equals. The one-state solution, therefore, is the most logical and practical way to achieve a just resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Much work still needs to be done on what the precise contours of the new state will look like. But in the meantime, we are trying to articulate and facilitate a paradigm shift that will help set the groundwork for a peaceful political transformation of Israel/Palestine.
Eli Ungar-Sargon is an independent filmmaker. He and his wife Pennie are currently raising funds to finish their second feature-length documentary “A People Without a Land”. All contributions are tax-deductible and entitle the contributor to awesome perks: www.indiegogo.com/withoutaland
Two weeks ago, the American-born Israeli journalist, author and commentator Gershom Gorenberg spoke at an event hosted by Mechon Hadar and moderated by Rabbi Shai Held entitled, “How It Broke, How to Fix It: The Crisis of Israeli Democracy.” Gorenberg said, “I’ve seen enough changes happen that weren’t supposed to happen. Politics is not geology. Change happens.” Beside me, a friend whispered, “He is so hopeful.” Gorenberg’s most recent book is The Unmaking of Israel. He is also the author of The Accidental Empire: Israel and the Birth of the Settlements, 1967-1977, The End of Days: Fundamentalism and the Struggle for the Temple Mount, the co-author of The Jerusalem Report’s 1996 biography of Yitzhak Rabin, Shalom Friend, and the editor of Seventy Facets: A Commentary on the Torah from the Pages from the Jerusalem Report. He is a senior correspondent for The American Prospect and has written for The Atlantic Monthly, The New York Times Magazine, The New Republic, Mother Jones and in Hebrew for Ha’aretz. He blogs at southjerusalem.com/gershom-gorenberg/ and lives in Jerusalem.
“Israeli school children do not know where their country starts and ends on a map,” Gorenberg said. “You can interpret the facts however you want, but you still have to have the facts. I don’t want to see Israel unraveling…we can’t ignore the rising role of the Right in the army and the power of settlers.” According to Gorenberg, there are three things necessary to restablish Israeli democracy: The separation of synagogue and state, the graduation from being a national liberation movement to one that takes care of its citizens, and an end to the occupation.
“The social justice marches in September have shaken Israeli politics,” said Gorenberg. “I was a bad prophet, I thought it wasn’t possible.” It’s unclear, however, who’s going to come out of this as a leader. “The fact that I can’t name who the next prime minister will be is not a reason to give up hope…Giving up hope is a luxury, only the people who aren’t in the situation every day can afford to give up hope.”
There were some particularly striking moments during Gorenberg’s talk. The first is the story of a night he spent in the settlement of Yitzhar, located in the West Bank south of the city of Nablus, while interviewing folks living there. In the morning, he was faced with the decision of whether to daven in the settlement shul. “People are saying the same words, but it’s not my religion. They’re not going to mean the same thing.” said Gorenberg, who identifies as “a left-wing, skeptical Orthodox Zionist Jew.” Ultimately, he did decide to pray in the shul, because “I’m not going to give them the pleasure of ceasing to be religious because of their twisted interpretation of Judaism.”
The second moment came with an audience question-What can American Jews do for Israel? (The q/a, by the way, was handled extremely well-index cards were passed around the room and the questions were vetted by Held.) Gorenberg cited Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech in which he declared, “It’s 1938 and Iran is Germany,” which Gorenberg described as “anti Zionist,” in that it portrays Israel as perpetual victim, and dismisses the strength and power it has gained since its inception. “American Jews need to give up idea of a besieged Zionism, but then the question becomes, if we can’t relate to a beleaguered Israel, how do we relate to Israel?” Israel, offered Gorenberg, is suffering from a collective PTSD. “How do you put an entire nation on the couch?” American Jews remind Israelis what it means to actually be living as a minority and what the diaspora experience is. If American Jews want to support Israel, suggests Gorenberg, they should support institutions that work for equal rights for minorities in the country.
Gorenberg also talked about taking part in a recent social justice march in Jerusalem that traveled down Bezalel street through the neighborhood of Nachlaot. “Suddenly, it was 28 years earlier,” he said, recalling another march in 1983 with Peace Now that traveled the same route. During that march, people hurled objects at the marches from the balconies. On the recent march, there was no violence. “Circumstances will force people to change.”
“All the alternatives (to peace) are awful,” concluded Gorenberg, who earlier in the evening said that the words “one state solution” do not go together, “but Israelis don’t have to buy into the Palestinian narrative and vice versa to have a peace agreement.”
Jewschool founder Daniel Sieradski is organizing a Kol Nidrei minyan in at Zuccotti Park, home base of the Occupy Wall Street folks, at 7 p.m. this Friday night.
I don’t believe it’s set in stone yet, but Rabbi Arthur Waskow may be delivering a devar and or leading the service. Sieradski is looking for knowledgeable service leaders. If you can help and you’re interested, get in touch with him on Facebook or twitter.
This will be a service, not to mention a Kol Nidrei, of once-in-a-lifetime coolness. Let me know if you’re coming so I can make sure we say get the chance to wish each other a Gemar Chatimah Tovah.
So says Larry Derfner – he was canned for a blog post he wrote (now removed) titled “The awful, necessary truth about Palestinian terror.” Apparently, a lot of Jerusalem Post subscribers cancelled their subscriptions after reading his post.
Shame on them.
I’m taking the easy way out by blaming a large group of people that I have no control over (I tend to like making arguments about things I can actually have an effect on) but this is just one more instance of a trend in “civilized” communities the world over – Israel & the Jewish community at large being no exception. Reading something you consider disagreeable or even abominable in a publication you subscribe to is generally a bad reason to unsubscribe from that publication. Media organizations exist to challenge the way we think about the world, and rejecting any opinion that doesn’t fit with our existing notion of how the world works completely undermines that purpose.
Derfner makes a really solid point here:
By skewing my words so badly, today’s Post column, the Web commentaries and what the Post will publish on page one tomorrow portray a writer announcing that he wants Israelis to get killed, instead of one who’s trying to stop that from happening.
Putting myself in the position of those who cancelled their subscriptions, I can understand being shocked by what Derfner wrote (although I haven’t read the original column). He doesn’t seem ashamed of that. But saying that he wants Israelis killed is the last refuge of a scoundrel. After all these years, we shouldn’t have to keep saying that just because someone disagrees with you doesn’t mean they want civilians exploded, children shot, or puppies killed. Seriously, folks.
How many more of these “X was fired from her/his position at Important Newspaper after writing a column criticizing Netanyahu/settlers/terrorists/the flotilla/etc.” stories am I going to write? Cutting down the number of smart journalists writing about Israel-Palestine is going to help exactly no one.
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 »
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?”
Today, June 1st, is Yom Yerushalayim, Jerusalem Day, marking the reunification of Jerusalem during the Six Day War in 1967. This is both an Israeli state holiday and a rabbinically mandated minor religious holiday, which means it’s celebrated both with parades and liturgy.
I’ll admit that this mixing of politics and religion makes me deeply uncomfortable. Attributing military and political victories to God is a step further down the slippery slope of political demagoguery than I’d like to take. It makes it easy for politicians, generals, and their supporters to confuse luck, skill, and power for divine right. It’s not surprising that the term demagoguery originates in Ancient Greece — that’s also where the habit of proclaiming religious holidays for military victories started. Perhaps you’ve heard of Chanukah?
I’m not alone in my discomfort with this conflation. The sages of the Talmud were so uncomfortable with Chanukah as a military holiday, they wrote a new backstory for it… you know, the bit about the oil? The rabbis thought we’d be better off with a fairy tale invented 600 years after the events of the holiday instead of celebrating the military victory. One might wonder whether the hindsight knowledge that the victory came at the price of quite a bit of Jew-on-Jew violence and resulted in a corrupt Hasmoean dynasty that further consolodated the roles of high priest, king, and general into one person and eventually lost Israel to Rome.
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?
My lovely friends are getting married in Jerusalem next week, and as their wedding gets closer, I’ve been thinking about them more and more-how they’ve been together for longer than most people I know, the unfathomable amount of patience required to hold a relationship in place during army service, college, and many, many miles. I hate that now they have to think about how today’s bombing is going to effect their wedding.
A few weeks ago, I read a piece in the New Yorker called “The Dissenters,” about the future of Ha’aretz (the newspaper). The author, David Remnick, interviewed the paper’s columnists, including Zeev Sternhell, one of the founders of Peace Now. The quote below is from him, and it’s been in my head since reading the peace. I think now is as a good time as any to post it.
“I still am a Zionist—a super Zionist…That has never changed for me, you know. If I didn’t want to keep Israel as a state of the Jews—a state in which the Jews are a majority and enjoy sovereignty—I would have lived elsewhere. I came here when I was sixteen because I wanted to participate in this story. This was a Jewish renaissance. And I wanted to be part of that. That was the meaning of Zionism for me. If the result is to be the end of the Jewish state, by the creation of an apartheid state or even of a binational state, both of these solutions are unacceptable. This would be the end of it.”
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.
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.