Friday, October 24, 2008

Things can get better in Israel / Palestine

If you think nothing can work or get better in Palestine / Israel, read this text from MJ Rosenberg, Director of Israel Policy Forum's Washington Policy Center. It was circulated on the Common Ground Newsletter.

It is clear that people of different political backgrounds can come to a peaceful resolution - I offer this text as an illustration. Note the important statements about the attitude of Palestinian groups toward Israel (and the question of whether AIPAC abides by the same principles); note the comments on Hamas and the truce that is being respected (so yes, we can and we should talk and negotiate with Hamas). And yes, it does matter which politicians are in charge in Washington DC. Thank God we won't have Giulliani; but let's remember that 8 years ago a new Administration came to power in the US with a Green Light policy for killing Palestinians. Bloodshed was horrific and the devastation considerable. Let's hope for better things today.

Let's also remember that things won't stay better unless radical changes happen for Palestinians in their many small prisons. (See the intentions of the Israeli Right in a previous entry.) And this is urgent. But it's good to state positive evolutions once in a while.


Some Good News for a Change

In Sherlock Holmes stories, the dog that didn't bark is considered significant. That is not true when it comes to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict where only bad news is considered news.

It is now four months since the Egyptian-brokered Israeli-Hamas cease-fire went into effect. According to Alex Fishman, the security-minded Yediot Achronot military correspondent, the "agreement has resulted in an almost complete cessation of Kassam rocket fire" on Sderot and other Israeli towns.

Four months of calm may not seem like much to those of us living here. But in a town where residents had, until June, routinely been given a 30 second warning of an incoming rocket, it is a long time indeed.

Now the Israelis have to decide whether or not they want to extend the cease-fire for another six months. Defense Minister Ehud Barak favors extending it indefinitely, although he may be resisting the Israeli side of the bargain—easing the blockade of Gaza.

Of course, few people here even know that the cease-fire is holding and that Hamas is scrupulously enforcing it. In fact, I imagine many believe Hamas is still firing those rockets, despite the evidence. The very thought that Hamas actually adheres to agreements is, for some, an inconvenient fact.

Another inconvenient fact is that Egypt has been effectively working to shut down the smuggling tunnels between Egypt and Gaza. Fishman reports that Israeli officials "praise the Egyptians' achievements in discovering tunnels to and from Gaza." These officials note that the Egyptians "successfully nabbed part of a terror cell operating in Hezbollah's service, which was planning the kidnapping of Israeli tourists in Sinai."

You won't read about that in those direct mail appeals from pro-Israel organizations whose raison d’être is to convince Jews that the situation is bad and only getting worse. And that even the Egyptians are not to be trusted. Fear is, quite literally, these organizations' bread and butter. But facts are facts.

Then there is the continuing good news from the West Bank where General Keith Dayton has helped transform some violence-ridden population centers—starting with Jenin but moving into other towns—into veritable islands of tranquility (at least by West Bank standards). For years, Americans and Israelis have demanded that the Palestinian Authority crack down on local terrorists and gangsters and, under Salam Fayad, it is happening.

Here is what Amos Harel and Avi Issacharoff have to say in Ha'aretz: "Four and a half months after the Jenin project began, it is proving a big success. The Shin Bet security service has received very few intelligence warnings about attempts at terror attacks emanating from the region, and clashes with the IDF have almost subsided. Commerce and industry have improved and, what is most important from the Palestinian perspective, order has returned to the streets."

Things will improve further if Israel gives a boost to the Palestinian economy by dismantling unnecessary and redundant checkpoints (rather than continuously adding more). You can't do business if your customers and your inventory are held up at internal checkpoints.

The important thing is not to let Jenin First become Jenin Last. Replicating the Jenin model is imperative.

Along those lines, I want to offer a "shout out" to Congresswoman Nita Lowey, chair of the House State and Foreign Operations Appropriations Subcommittee. Lowey controls the foreign aid purse strings in the House and made sure that General Dayton had the funding he needed to make Jenin possible. Without her, it would not have happened.

Also on the Washington front, I attended the annual banquet of the American Task Force on Palestine (ATFP) last Sunday. The keynote speaker was Prime Minister Salam Fayyad who issued a stirring call for implementing the two-state solution. There were several other speeches and various greetings and messages.

But there was not a single anti-Israel statement. Speakers decried the 41-year occupation but there was not one anti-Israel remark. ATFP sent a clear message of friendship for Israel and Jews. By way of contrast, the loudest cheers at AIPAC (and other Jewish organizational events) are often reserved for those speakers who indulge in the most paranoid and extreme Arab-bashing. To their credit, these Palestinians have turned the page, in large part due to the leadership of Palestinian-American physician, Ziad Asali, his wife and partner Naila Abed Asali, and the American Task Force, the organization they founded.

Perhaps most impressive was that this event was happening at all. A dozen years ago, Palestinians were on the margins of acceptance here in Washington. Few respectable types—let alone U.S. officials—would allow themselves to be seen at a Palestinian event where, of all things, the Palestinian national anthem is sung along with the "Star Spangled Banner." But this year I saw dozens of prominent officials, including Deputy National Security Council Adviser Elliot Abrams, enjoying themselves among Fatah-supporting Palestinians. Not an image I'll soon forget!

Things have changed since Golda Meir preached that there was no such thing as Palestinians. The Palestinians have been "mainstreamed" which means that at long last their voices are being heard in Washington. Whether or not the next administration will take action to address their legitimate needs—and Israel's as well—is an open question.

But even here there is good news. In three presidential debates, neither John McCain nor Barack Obama issued those pointless and demeaning statements of support for the Middle East status quo. The lobby had supplied both of them with the usual claptrap rhetoric that previous candidates have uttered but which few, if any, really believed. After all, how could any politician smart enough to be a candidate for president believe that Israel is always right and the Arabs always wrong or that it is in America's best interests to exclusively identify with one side?

Instead, this year both presidential candidates have put out position papers stating their support for Israeli-Palestinian negotiations toward implementation of the two-state solution. (Since Giuliani left the race, there has been no candidate promoting the neocon dream of war to the death for Israelis and Palestinians).

Avoiding simple-minded hawkishness on Israel is good politics. According to the just-released American Jewish Committee poll of American Jews, Israel ranks number six on the list of issues Jews consider when they vote for president. Three percent cite Israel as compared to 54 percent of Jews who cite the U.S. economy (this was before the stock market collapse) and the large numbers citing health care, Iraq, and other domestic concerns.

This is not to say that American Jews do not care about Israel. They most certainly do. But when it comes to voting for president, the Israel issue is barely a blip.

That is because Jews know that in this election both candidates are pro-Israel and also because they understand that mouthing lobby-crafted formulations about Israel does nothing to advance its security.

They certainly aren't buying the lies being circulated in partisan "hate" e-mails. Jews have been called a lot of things. "Stupid" isn't one of them.

Source: Israel Policy Forum. M.J. Rosenberg Weekly Opinion Column.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

A day as any other - where is the violence?

Today, I'll leave the floor to Sami Awad - a Palestinian Christian leader and teacher of non-violence - to report a "small incident" which happened 3 days ago near Bethlehem. What is described here would be outrageous (a "big deal") if it happened to, for example, to French or American citizens. If it happened to Jews anywhere in the world, as it has too often, the world would be right to be outraged and cry foul. Certainly democratic nations would stop supporting the country which would allow this. But somehow, when it happens to Palestinians, it's a "small incident" as far as life in the West Bank is concerned, where Israel enforces a state of selective lawlessness beyond scrutiny and accountability it seems. I am not being rhetorical, I think my language is precisely descriptive. Before letting you read and judge for yourself, I must say I am amazed that people like Sami and others will endure and keep on struggling, choosing non-violence, and loving their enemy. Blessed are the Peacemakers? I hope.
When Settlers get Abusive, Israeli Soldiers Attack the Abused, but the Sun Shines on All by Sami Awad [click on the title to visit Sami's blog.]

On Thursday the 16th of October, hundreds of Israeli settlers / squatters gathered in a Palestinian hill known as Oush Gurab located in Beit Sahour (Shepherd’s Filed). This location was used for many years as an Israeli military outpost. Palestinians who live in its vicinity recall daily the violence and terror they experienced from Israeli soldiers stationed there. When the location lost its strategic advantage to the illegal separation barrier, the Israeli military evacuated the location. They no longer had to be in the middle of a Palestinian residential area, they can move to the other side of the prison walls now. After the evacuation, Palestinians returned to Oush Gurab and began working on numerous humanitarian and recreational projects including a children’s hospital and an outdoor activity park.

The aim of these settlers / squatters who showed up on this Thursday was to stop all Palestinian activity there and eventually confiscate this hill and build a new settlement. If built, the settlement will violate the policy of the Israeli government and military for this area. The irony of the matter is that for the settlers it does not matter, their movement is above policy and above the law and it is so strong that the Israeli government, military and police are bound to not only “protect” the settlers when they show up in such high numbers but to facilitate their agenda before political pressure is applied.

To confirm the rightful Palestinian ownership of Oush Gurab and as a sign of protest to the illegal presence of the settlers, a small group of Palestinian and international activists began a walk around the location to monitor the environmental damage that was being caused in the area where open sewage pounds are forming. The Israeli military is not allowing the Palestinian Authority to treat waist water there. The trip also included monitoring of wild life (especially birds) in that area. Dr. Mazin Qumsiyeh from Bethlehem University led the group and explained the environmental disaster that was taking place there.

We were quickly followed by several Israeli soldiers who interrupted our walk and asked us to leave, admitting that they had no order to stop us, we continued our walk and reached a side dirt road that was being used by the settlers to go up the hill. Hundreds of settlers were there accompanied by Israeli soldiers and police.

As we stood there, some settlers began to taunt and curse us and then one took his machine gun, pointed it straight at us and yelled “Go him you F—ks or I will kill every one of you.” The Israeli soldiers smiled and one simply asked him to leave, but he just stood there. This reminded me of an incident a few weeks ago in the same location when Marwan from our office was attacked by a settler. The settler threw a boulder in the middle of Marwan’s back (still getting treatment). When he went to one of the Israeli captains and complained, the captain asked Marwan if he had done anything in retaliation, Marwan said no. The Israeli captain smiled and told Marwan “good, you would have been in deep trouble” and walked away.

We made it a clear intention not to talk to or respond to the settlers in any way, but the abuse and threat of the settlers was getting louder and it either became too much for the soldiers or it provoked them enough to attack us instead of controlling the settlers and asking them to leave the area (which they could have easily done).

It began with immediate pushing and shoving even though by that time we were ready to leave, but as we began to move back they jumped to arrest one person who was walking just behind me in what may have been a slower manner. I tried to grab him only to be chocked by a very large policeman and had my arms twisted by another Israeli soldier. As I was trying with incredible difficulty to take one breath I saw how they engaged in all out attack on what truly was a small group that was not there to confront.

I was thrown to the ground, arms pulled behind me and tied with plastic handcuffs that only become tighter with any movement. With this, and even though there was no intention on my part to move and I informed them of this, the same police officer seemed to have felt that he had just hunted down a big game in the jungles of Africa and wanted to show off to his friends and settlers, so he put his foot on my side as a sign of victory.

I was then taken and thrown to the side of the road where the settlers were walking and eventually six others, one Palestinian and five international, joined me. From there, they took us to an area away from the main roads and while remaining in handcuffs demanded (some of them with extreme foul language) to keep our heads down and not talk, even threatening to tie one person’s head to his feet. The only reason he was moving was because he was badly hurt in his neck and back.

After a few hours in the same position and with the same handcuffs, one captain who knew me from previous nonviolent actions came and told me of their intention to let us go. The captain tried to convince me that he was releasing us because of me, but I can not and will not allow such a statement to take any value in my life. The reason; while his knowledge of my commitment to nonviolence may have helped and may have even created in him and his superiors some acknowledgment and respect, my task is not to allow him to place this as a burden on me and have it become a tool he or others may use in the future to try and hinder my commitment and resolve; the most complimenting of statements combined with the slightest of an improper intention can lead to the most detrimental results. So my task is to push and challenge him even more now not with the intention of having him declare his approval or disapproval of what I do, but with the intention to truly free him from his own handcuffs and shackles.

At the end of the day, they released most of us because (in my opinion) they truly had no reason to keep us. They kept one of the international volunteers and drove of with him in a police car. The reason was never made clear to us.

A moment before that same captain came to me to inform me of their decision; the sun began to set behind Bethlehem and the beams were breaking through some white and gray clouds. There was a slight and beautiful chill from the autumn air. I gave thanks for that beautiful day and for the fact that the sun does not know Palestinian from Israeli, Christian from Muslim or Jew, and Asian from American or African, and I asked myself, if the sun shines on all of us as one, how much more does the sun’s creator see and love us all as one?


Visit Sami Awad's blog by clicking here.
Visit Holy Land Trust by clicking here.
Picture caption: Israeli settlers attack a Palestinian photographer during an olive harvest in the occupied West Bank, 18 Oct 2008 (picture released by Active Stills). Source: Voice of America.
click to Read the Herald Tribune report of a similar incident-- there are dozens such exactions every week.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Israel / Palestine: Trouble Getting the Facts Straight?

Those of us who work in Palestine / Israel are often faced with not only questions but also perplexity when we visit the US and share our experience. The difference between what we report, what we have seen, and what the common understanding of the situation is in the US is so tremendous, that the truth takes a while to sink in. Also many people will honestly acknowledge a lack of understanding of the basic facts and history of the region. This blog entry will not try to summarize the last 70 years or so (and no, it’s NOT been going on for thousands of years—so let’s stop saying that), but I’d like to present some recent sources of information on the situation, notably based on recent interviews of two Israeli Prime Ministers and the visit of the Episcopal Bishop of Washington DC to Israel / Palestine.

[1] There actually IS an occupation and conquest of land going on, and the expected end result of current Israeli policies if Palestinians comply with Israel’s every whim will not be peace. That’s why Israeli policies are opposed by informed people of conscience in the world. Antisemitism is a problem but it’s not the root of this particular problem.

RESOURCE: Here are 12 minutes worth listening to. Thanks to Sabeel ( for providing a recording of the Episcopal Bishop of Washington DC, The Rt. Rev. John Bryson Chane’s October 5th sermon on the topic of his recent trip to Palestine. Click here and listen.

[2] There actually ARE solutions, which parameters are widely known and agreed upon. Those are essentially framed by international law. They were agreed upon by different Israeli and Palestinian constituents during the Taba discussions (after the failed Camp David negotiations in 2000, which were doomed from the start and did not align with past international agreements); they were reframed by the Geneva Accords; and departing Prime Minister Ehud Olmert finally recognized they were inevitable solutions, but only as he is departing from his role as prime minister. Current policies of Israel are only partly justified by security concerns but mostly serve to support the continuation of conquest.

RESOURCE: I will quote extensively from an interview of departing Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. The full English translation from Israel News Today can be downloaded from Yahoo News among others.

Ehud Olmert recognizes that "The time has come to leave the territories, including the West Bank and East Jerusalem, with various arrangements, and the Golan Heights as well."
He pins the flaws of the governmental system in Israel on the reality of the occupation. "There is no government because there are no borders." He admits that he erred in his foreign policy

Olmert also recognizes that Israel locks itself in a dead-end scenario with its security approach. (This is also stressed by the fact that he made these statements only after losing his position. While Prime Minister he was as aggressive as any, and even let himself be pushed by the US into a destructive war with Hezbollah which wrecked havoc in Lebanon and Northern Israel in 2006.)

He says: "We face the need to decide, but are not willing to tell ourselves, yes, this is what we have to do. We have to reach an agreement with the Palestinians, the meaning of which is that in practice we will withdraw from almost all the territories, if not all the territories. We will leave a percentage of these territories in our hands, but will have to give the Palestinians a similar percentage, because without that there will be no peace." When the journalist asks about Jerusalem, Olmert says: "Including in Jerusalem with special solutions that I can envision on the topic of the Temple Mount and the sacred and historical sites." He continues: ""Whoever wants to hold on to all of the city's territory will have to bring 270,000 Arabs inside the fences of sovereign Israel. It won't work. A decision has to be made. This decision is difficult, terrible, a decision that contradicts our natural instincts, our innermost desires, our collective memories, the prayers of the Jewish people for 2,000 years."

[3] The aggressive militarist policy of Israel, which leads it toward more and more wars, will not achieve security. It is also clear that Israel is not the weak power surrounded by ferocious enemies; it IS the dominant power in the region. Here again, it is instructive to hear what Olmert has to say at the end of his term as Prime Minister.

"I ask, let us assume that in the next year or two a regional war breaks out and we reach a military confrontation with Syria. I have no doubt that we will roundly defeat them; we are stronger than them. I am telling you, Israel is the strongest country in the Middle East. We can face any of our adversaries, and we can face all the adversaries together and win. I only ask myself, what will happen when we beat them? First of all, we will pay prices, and they will be painful... As a person who sits on this seat, you have to ask yourself where you direct your efforts, do you direct the effort at making peace, or at constantly becoming stronger, stronger, and stronger in order to win the war...And I say, we are strong enough as we are. The strength we have today is great, and it is sufficient to face any threat. Now we have to see how we use this infrastructure of force in order to build peace and not to win a war."

[4] Of course the people of Israel want peace, but Israel's actions are far from having been pro-peace. Since the assassination of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin by an Orthodox Jew who opposed peace agreements with the Palestinians, the dominant thrust of Israeli politics has been to conquer more land, which means limiting the freedom of Palestinians, taking their land and pushing them out progressively. And this trend continues to a large extent.

RESOURCES: As an illustration to the continuous drive to occupy Palestine, former Prime Minister Benjamin ("Bibi") Netanyahu was recently interviewed by the Financial Times. (Click here to read this article.) Netanyahu was the darling of the American media when he was prime minister given personal charm, his flawless English and his closeness to American culture. But as soon as he was in office, he put a stop to the past efforts of Rabin to make some headways toward peace.
Even now, what Netanyahu proposes is a series of disconnected Palestinian cities supposedly kept at peace through economic development projects. It is impressive that someone as visible as Netanyahu would openly speak of abandonning the idea of a Palestinian State, but some US politicians also continue to raise that prospect.

The fact that the political default mode in Israel continues to effectively put obstacles to peace is also acknowledged in Olmert's interview referenced above. He says:
"What I am saying to you now has not been said by any Israeli leader before me. The time has come to say these things. The time has come to put them on the table...The goal is to try to reach for the first time the delineation of an exact border line between us and the Palestinians, where the whole world-the United States, the UN, Europe-will say, these are the borders of the State of Israel, we recognize them, we anchor them in formal resolutions of international institutions. These are Israel's borders, and these are the recognized borders of the Palestinian state...Who thinks seriously that if we sit on another hilltop, on another hundred meters, that this is what will make the difference for the State of Israel's basic security?"

Olmert goes on to report that he told a group of "the most central people in the decision-making processes on the most crucial issues in the country"; "When I hear you, I understand why we have not made peace with the Palestinians and the Syrians for 40 years, and why we will not make peace for 40 more years with the Palestinians and the Syrians."

Olmert even refers to the current situation with Iran and seems to respond to the too easily thrown around idea that 'Israel will take care of it.' Having led the country, he seems to have lost some appetite with part of the rhetoric of power and war.
"Part of our megalomania and our loss of proportions is the things that are said here about Iran. We are a country that has lost a sense of proportion about itself...The assumption that if the United States, Russia, China, Britain and Germany don't know how to deal with the Iranians, we Israelis will know, we will do, we will act, is an example of loss of proportions."

[5] Finally, it's important to be clear about the fact that the historical truth CAN be understood. Of course, different views will prevail, but the essential parameters of what has really happened in this land are accessible to us. The notion that 'it's too complicated to figure out,' is simply a tool to force complacency on us while violence goes on and is condoned directly or through silences notably by the US government. (I'll add some book references as a Post Scriptum.)

I hope this served to update some references and facts about this sad conflict. I have not taken time to go into Palestinian and Arab World politics here. Those are already heavily debated and critiqued usually in a flow of excuses for whatever Israel chooses to do at any point. They probably deserve a better treatment. But I was only trying to balance this by pointing to recent evidence for what is really going on and correct misleading assumptions about Israel, which too often find their way into American rhetoric and support, without critical review.


PS: I can't provide an exhaustive list, but some of the links on this blog will prove useful. And here are some books I recommend among an infinite library of books on the topic (most easily found on
* To understand why the Camp David negotiations led under President Clinton failed, read Shattered Dreams: The Failure of the Peace Process in the Middle East, 1995-2002 (Hardcover) by Charles Enderlin.
* For a general history of Israel / Palestine from an honnest Jewish perspective, read: Healing Israel/Palestine: A Path to Peace and Reconciliation, by Rabbi Michael Lerner (
* To understand the basis for a peace resolution, read: The Geneva Accord: And Other Strategies for Healing the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict (Terra Nova) by Michael Lerner
* To understand the Oslo Peace Agreement and the process which led to it, read: This Side of Peace by Hanan Ashrawi
* For a personal account of a Palestinian Christian family's history, read Palestinian Memories: The story of a Palestinian mother and her people by Alex Awad. (
* For detailed historical reviews of the facts, read any of the books by Benny Moris (notably Righeous Victims) and Illan Pappe (including The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine), two leading Israeli historians of totally different political leaning.
* For a focus on Christianity in the land, read Dying in the Land of Promise: Palestine and Palestinian Christianity from Pentecost to 2000 by Donald Wagner.
* Palestine: Peace not Apartheid by Jimmy Carter provides an interesting look at the future.
* The One State Solution by Virginia Tilley provides the best analysis of the conflicting Israeli constituencies I have read so far.

It's also important to realize that shameful disinformation and propaganda books have circulated and sadly gained undue recognition. Just as the "Elders of Zion" was an antisemitic text, racist and baseless, which still finds its ways into extreme-right antisemitic literature, "From Times Immemorial" is a racist manipulation and fabrication of history. It has been totally discredited in serious circles, but sadly still finds its way in reading lists in the US, and was vastly tapped to support a very dishonest propaganda book by Alan Dershowitz. (Norman Finkelstein deserves the credit for taking down a lot of these deceptions.)

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Ad for Peace by Israeli Group

Here is the text of an ad published October 10th, 2008 by Gush Shalom, an Israeli Peace Group:

All our governments
Have assumed that
As long as the American
Support us,
We can ignore the whole world
And oppress the Palestinians.

But no Empire lasts forever
And the message is written
On the Walls of
Wall Street.

The only way of ensuring
The future of Israel:
To make peace with
The Palestinians,
To be accepted by the
Arab world -
And do it quickly,
While we can.

Well - I'm not sure what the walls of Wall Street say (except that the invisible hand of the market is not as magical as advertised), but more power to all those who acknowledge the truth and imperative of peace. (See the link to gush-shalom bottom-right of this page.)

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Why The Green Line?

If there’s going to be a solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict—apart from ethnic cleansing advocated by both Hassan Nasrallah (Hizbollah), and Pat Robertson et al (Christian Hizbollah, I suppose)—it is going to be a One State solution or a Two State solution. The former may have been the better choice, but the latter is the only one with political currency today.

So, let’s imagine for a minute that there actually is a possible ‘two state solution’ to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Where should the border between the two states be if this situation is going to be viable? I would like to make the case—obvious to some, but opposed by many and more every day—that this border ought to be on what is called the Green Line.

The Green Line refers to the border that existed between the new Israeli state and its Arab neighbors before the start of the 1967 war. A number of border lines have been drawn, so why should the Green Line have any particular value? We can all flip the first pages of our family Bible if we have one and see maps of antique kingdoms. A friend of mine gave me a book covering centuries of invasion, occupation, dispossession, and conquest in the Middle East in order for me to catch up on who should be mad at who for what, with a different map for almost each page of the book. In more recent history, there has been the Sykes-Picot agreement line, the 1948 UN partition plan line, the 1967 Green Line supported by UN resolutions, and now the line drawn on the ground by the wall—the “security fence” being erected by Israel around islands of Palestinian population. Why should the Green Line be more acceptable than this latter line, any previous one or another one to follow? On which basis should we support one or another potential border line?

I would like to examine some of the rationales used to support various positions, from slogans, history, to religion and perhaps human decency.

You might think that slogans would play no role in such a weighty debate, but you would be wrong. Slogans are often all that is needed to build a large consensus and stay the course on a suicidal and/or destructive position.

Maybe I need to define what I call a slogan. A slogan is a short, preferably catchy phrase, which sounds like an actual principled and self-evident position, but is in fact nothing except a jingle to rally weak or prejudiced minds behind an indefensible position.

Let us examine some of the slogans which tend to shape the Israeli-Palestinian debate. I will start with an easy anti-Zionist one.

Zionism is just another version of Western colonialism. The Jews have not had a
state in Palestine for millennia, so what entitles them to take over the land?
If the Europeans felt bad about what they did to them, they should have settled
them in Central Europe.

Given my Palestinian sympathies, this is a tempting one, but it actually denies the particulars of Zionism among other European-born colonial ambitions, and it ignores that Jews have been repeating “next year in Jerusalem” for 2,000 years, not “next year in Kampala.” If absence of a state for such a long period were enough to take away all claim on the land, then all the most radical settlers would have to do to be “legitimate” would be to keep the Palestinians they have evicted at bay for another century or millennium. By then Palestinians would have lost all legitimate claim on their land. Ridiculous either way.

On the other hand, there are even more slogans used to deny the Palestinians their basic human rights, usually through some variation on the following:

Palestinians are not entitled to a state because they are terrorists. All they
want is to destroy Israel and they will never be happy. Just look at how Arafat
turned down Ehud Barak’s generous offer in 2000. They are not a partner for

The world of people who care about this place seems divided between those who see nothing wrong with this statement, and those who can’t even begin counting how many things are wrong with it—namely lies, distortions and hypocrisy. For a rapid review of what actually is wrong with this statement, it is useful to remember that Palestinians are millions of individuals all with their own persona, beliefs and actions; the vast majority of them are actually not terrorists; that many other groups of people produce terrorists in certain circumstances (including the pre-1948 Zionists and many more), that the Irish—for example—have not lost their rights to Ireland simply because the IRA was born in their midst, and finally that there was nothing “generous” or even acceptable about the 2000 Camp David proposal of Barak and Clinton.

Let us stop here, if we can agree that slogans are not going to give us the proper answer to a complex question. Can history be a better guide? After all, history is about facts and what really happened. Nothing could be further from empty slogans than recourse to history.

A proper historical perspective will help us come to some sense, but there is a caveat. While we all sing the praises of “objectivity,” we live in a world where it is hard to find. And historical writing—the “production of history” in postmodern terms—is no less subjective than any other endeavor. Whether it be “history is written by the winners” or a case of “silencing the past[1],” a historical text can be highly biased toward a given perspective. This basically means that history, in and of itself, will not solve our question. But an effort to look at historical facts from different angles may still help us come to better terms with challenging human problems.

In the case of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, there are at least two obvious perspectives. Each one has its own narrative, which can fully deny the rights of the other side. People genuinely interested in a long term solution (or rather interested in a moral and humane long term solution) have put some effort into addressing the differences between the “two narratives.[2]

The Jewish narrative has been the dominant one in the US and the Western World, ever since the end of WWII and the Holocaust. It is the history of 2,000 years of life in Diaspora, with regular episodes of persecution, widespread anti-Semitism particularly in Europe, marginalization from the official networks of power, all the way to the end of 19th Century pogroms and finally the Holocaust itself. During that time, the religious heart of Judaism has remained attached to the “Promised Land” and its ideal of a homeland where Jews are not second-rate citizens but masters of their own destiny. “Next year in Jerusalem” was a ritual phrase, until it became a rallying point of Zionism. The Russian pogroms and then the Nazi holocaust turned Zionism into a life-or-death movement, which carried the new state through a series of generally successful wars—some provoked, and some by choice. While a “land without people” was a clear example of a deceptive slogan, the early Jewish community in Palestine—the Yishuv—found a land ruled by colonial powers, inhabited by people whose national aspirations as “Palestinians” was at best ill-organized (and when it organized itself in 1937 was crushed in blood by the British), although they all recognized themselves as Arabs, Muslims or Christians. The better Jewish organization, greater cohesiveness and determination, (heavily supported by the British during formative years) carried the day in spite of general opposition, threats and conflict from generally disorganized Arab neighboring nations.

What is less known is that from the early Zionists on to the political leaders of today’s Israel, there has been a clear recognition that the success of a Jewish state required the eviction of the major part of the Arab population. “Transfer” has been spoken of, more often whispered about, and also implemented on regular occasions, giving birth to the Palestinian refugee problem.

The transfer—or ethnic cleansing—of Arab populations is clearly required by the settler movement. But for a significant number of Israeli Jews the narrative remains one of trying to live in peace with Israel’s Arab citizens and neighbors, including the Palestinians. It is not unusual for a cognitive dissonance to exist between a people and its political leadership. It is part of the art of politicians to know how to deceive their own people. And people are nowhere more interested in being deceived than when the facts challenge their conscience. Consequently, for a number of Israelis the dominant narrative remains one of rejection of their own rights by the Arabs at large, and one of rejection of peace—manifested through terrorism—by the Palestinians in particular. The voice of the Hamas and other Jihadist groups, and the blood of civilians in discos and public buses after suicide bombings reinforce this view.

The point is not whether you and I agree or disagree with this version of history. You may call, “What about Deir Yassin? What about women dying in childbirth at checkpoints? What about Israel’s role in strengthening the Hamas against the Palestinian Authority?” The point is that the pro-Zionist version of history exists, can be defended, and is shared by people who find in it the motivation and inspiration to vote for their leaders, to organize and to take action.

Where objectivity plays a part is in at least recognizing that there is a different narrative. Unfortunately, for reasons deserving their own examination, this second narrative has generally been ignored or rejected by the Western world.

For the Palestinians, the last centuries have been about occupation and domination by one power after another: the Ottomans, the British and, after the 1967 war, the Israelis. Before a national identity was even clearly formed, dispossession started—surprise—by the dispossession of the poor who were farming and maintaining the land of rich Palestinian owners. As the landowners sold their land to the early Zionists and as a policy of hiring “Jews first” was progressively adopted to strengthen the Yishuv, the farmers found themselves dispossessed of their livelihood. The colonial powers, principally the British, played a very uneven game at being an arbiter of a growing conflict. Much like the US today, the British who spoke loudly of the rights of all people in Palestine, actually made irreconcilable deals with both sides, and in practice strengthened the hand of the Jewish colons at almost every turn. A national Palestinian identity developed under this process of dispossession, which took a turn for the worse through massacres committed by the Yishuv, occasional terrorism, as well as forced evacuation of villages during the 1948 and 1967 wars and from then on, less dramatically but ever more efficiently, through the settler movement.

While neighboring Arab countries shared a cultural and linguistic identity with the Palestinians along with opposition to the Zionists, the bonds of “Arab brotherhood” have not delivered much benefit to the Palestinians. The average Palestinian has few reasons to feel love from his Egyptian, Lebanese, Syrian or Jordanian brothers. In fact, every Arab intervention against Israel has generally left the Palestinians in a worst situation than they were to start with. Only the first Intifada—an internal, non-lethal Palestinian uprising—has at least led to Madrid and Oslo. But since the assassination of Israeli Prime Minister Rabin (not by a Palestinian mind you, but by an extremist Israeli Jew), the ascendancy of the hard-liners in Israel, the acceleration of the settlement project and now the construction of Palestinian ghettos behind the Wall erected by Israel, the dreams of Oslo have pretty much been shattered and Palestinians have very limited reasons for hope.

Once again, you may react to this narrative and ask, “What about the suicide bombers? What about Islamic Jihad and its call to push the Israelis back into the sea?” My answer is that these are actual phenomena, but that you cannot progress without first recognizing that most Palestinians are not Jihadists, and that the above summary narrative exists, can be defended historically, and is shared by people who can take collective action.

History will only give us an easy answer if we choose one of the two narratives against the other. This happens every day in speeches and writings, where words are chosen to write a different story. It’s “terrorists” versus “martyrs;” it’s “security fence” versus “annexation wall;” and it’s “making the desert bloom” versus “stealing water resources.”

History will help us however, if we understand that peace requires that a common narrative be created from actually positive facts on the ground, and if we accept that the starting point is two extremely different stories. A viable border somehow will have to reflect the evolution from two narratives into one. This is obviously a challenge.

If the perspectives of men are hard to reconcile, what about turning to God? He should know, He should be fair, and He should be objective. Can religion help us find where the border should be?

The most secular minds will easily complain about the role of religion in human ills, wars, and fundamentalisms of every kind. “Take God out of the equation” they will advocate “and human reason can solve all these problems.” Who knows? They may be right. But getting God out of the equation in Jerusalem is like taking the sand out of the desert. An interesting perspective, but it’s not going to happen.

There is little point in debating whether God said this or God said that. Theology is an internal debate within each religious group. How can I interfere with the Muslim understanding of where God’s commitment and promises lie, who He favors, and what He wants for the Umma, the Muslim community? How can I debate about the “Promised Land” with an Orthodox Jew and what the main commandment of the Torah is? I am a Christian myself, and I have almost given up totally on trying to make sense of the most fundamentalist of my friends within the Christian community. So I hold little hope for mutual understanding with fundamentalists of other brands.
But there are a few questions that might be made for consideration, regardless of one’s religious belonging.

If you believe that sacred texts from God command that the land—all the land—be yours, what do you make of the text which says “You shall not kill,” and “love your neighbor as yourself?” Aren’t you making a choice between which commands you will obey? Aren’t you in essence making yourself God and committing idolatry?

If you believe that God has rejected a people, which proved unfaithful to Him and has given your group a better revelation that will provide order to the world, what do you make of God’s compassion and mercy which you call for every day? And if God has rejected a people wholesale (meaning all the individuals in that group) because of their past behavior, do you not fear that there is enough sin in the history of your people to cause your own rejection?

Finally, there are many—and I am among them—who have a problem with the very concept of a state based on religion. But if you and I were part of a group systematically stigmatized and oppressed for centuries because of that very religion, wouldn’t we want to take over some place we can call ours, and where we do not have to take order and domination from anyone else?

Ultimately, men of violence and hatred will use anything to take from others and to kill. Even religion. But people of faith will allow God to challenge their selfishness and greed, their racism and hatred, and maybe let Him give them the courage to change and become an instrument of peace rather than war. This may not tell you and me where the border lies, but it should guide all people of conscience into taking away from bloodthirsty zealots the right to claim God’s name to sanction their greed. Both the Torah and the New Testament are nowhere more vehement than in their condemnation of religious tyranny and hypocrisy. And I am quite certain the Qur’an doesn’t take hypocrisy lightly either. If you and I believe in peace and justice as foundational values, especially if we call upon a God of love, or a God of mercy, or a God of compassion as the foundation of that peace and justice, we will have to agree that the conflict will precisely not be solved by those who claim to act directly on orders from God.

So, let’s look at the options left to us.

Human decency, and a pragmatic view of international law
It is supposed to be balanced to place back-to-back crimes from one side and crimes from the other. Considering that there are two sides to the story does not, however, imply a moral equivalency between all actions. The reality is far messier. Crimes feed on each other; they do not balance each other. There is not a last act of conquest, violence, oppression or destruction that can “solve the equation” or bring the sum to zero. It has been said many times, “an eye for an eye leaves everyone blind.” People of conscience and courage simply one day come to recognize that enough is enough, and that peace needs to start now, while doing the best—not the ideal, which does not exist—to redress past grievances.

The Green Line is neither just, fair, nor determined by divine will, but by conflict, victories, defeats, historical mistakes, and ultimately some pragmatic consensus. That consensus was reflected in international—U.N. sanctioned—resolutions. I for one do not imbue the U.N. with mystical power. It is simply a bureaucratic, messy way for humans to try something else than the rule of force in governing our international affairs. But that consensus was also reflected in the Oslo agreements. Here again, many people have a lot of issues with Oslo. But it reflects a landmark, a place where some compromise position was found by the two parties. It is imperfect, but what human endeavor is not?

If you look at the Palestinian side of things, the Green Line border represents a huge sacrifice over what was once the territory inhabited by their ancestors. The space left for a Palestinian state is merely 22% of what was historical Palestine, and it is much smaller than what was agreed upon by the ruling powers before 1947. There are hundred of Palestinian villages, which have been destroyed over the remaining 78% and from where hundred of thousands of refugees have come. Most Palestinians are at least resigned to this border as the best they can hope for after decades of conflict and many lost battles by Arab forces. Additionally there is—or at least there was after Oslo—a sense that this could be a viable option with some adjustments.

For the majority of Israelis except for the most radical groups, the Green Line represents a viable border. With it, full recognition by neighboring countries has been pledged. It represents a tremendous success for Zionism, establishing a Jewish state over 78% of a land which contained more than 90% Arabs only a century ago. It would also call for a relative yet significant sacrifice given the extent of settlement activities which have taken place particularly since 1967 in the West Bank and Gaza, and which would have to be dismantled.

Once again, the point is not to find some moral equivalency. Some view with justifiable reason the entire settlement enterprise and construction of the wall as an illegal land grab and continuation of the politics of dispossession by Israel (well, I do). Others may have different views. Some may claim that Palestinians need first to stop terrorism before being entitled to a state, while others will say that without a state apparatus there is little chance the Palestinians can actually reverse the tide of young people attracted to a violent resistance. The polemic can go on and on, still opposing one narrative to the other (and letting guns and mortar do the real talking in the meantime). On the other hand, building peace will require building the common narrative that a common border can symbolize and materialize. The Green Line represents a border line based on some modicum of mutual agreement, as well as a reasonable reference to international law. It is not perfect, but it is much better than the law of suicide bombers or that of targeted (and untargeted) assassinations by Israel, settlers who still the land from farmers, checkpoints and collective house-arrest.

No other moral alternatives
Finally, there is no alternative to the Green Line that does not call for more war and death, or an aggravated dispossession and oppression—maybe tomorrow transfer and full-fledged ethnic cleansing.

For the Palestinians to get more than the Green Line at this point would be hard to imagine, and involve a war of re-conquest of huge proportion and intensity. Some might dream of it, but reasonable people would rather avoid this Armageddon-like scenario, if they can conceive it at all.

For the Palestinians to get less than the Green Line is, on the other end, easy to imagine. Just look at the map being drawn by the separation wall, the continued occupation of the Jordan valley, the total absence of any border between a tentative future Palestine and its Arab neighbors, and the scenarios being presented for ensuring the “territorial continuity” between islands or Bantustans of Palestinian territories. It is easy to imagine, but can anyone really expect this to represent a viable solution? Hopelessness universally leads humans to death. Combined with dispossession and hatred, the resulting mix is not something people of reason and peace want to contemplate.

If you watch the Israeli and US media, you will read at regular intervals some discussion of how “indefensible” the Green Line is. The speciousness of the argument is fairly obvious, its point being to always extend the border of Israel. Security is a legitimate concern, but it is a legitimate concern for the two sides.

The fact of the matter is that Israel has now solidly established its upper hand in the conflict. Palestinians have by and large recognized and accepted this. There is no option for a just peace without at least a return to the Green Line. And this means a dismantling of the separation wall in most places where it has been erected. Cynics will say that this return to the Green Line is already doomed. Maybe they are right. But in that case there can only be more war, terrorism, bloodshed and suffering. If the world accepts the new “facts on the ground” and forgets to require the return to the Green Line, it will condone the next cycle of violence, and the next, and the next. Until Armageddon or some reverse variation of a “final solution.”

I for one would hope for a different outcome.

* For historical maps of Palestine / Israel, see
[1] Silencing the past. Michel-Rolph Trouillot.
[2] Healing Israel/Palestine. A path to peace and reconciliation. Rabbi Michael Lerner.Shared Histories. A Palestinian-Israeli Dialogue. Paul Scham; Walid Salem; Benjamin Pogrund; Editors.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008


What you will find in this blog are my personal analyses and thoughts about life, faith, politics, culture, peace and human madness with a number of discussions about Palestine / Israel. [Les mêmes informations en français, cliquez ici.]
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Since I started this in June I found out that I don't really have the time or want to be commenting on the news, at least not on a day-to-day basis.
A good way to find what you're interested in is to follow the LABELS (scroll down to the right of the page). Here are some key labels and what they stand for:
  • 21st Century Politics: Current trends in our collective political culture. Will the 21st Century build on innovations of the 20th, go back to the 19th Century, or bring a totally different set of universal values?
  • Palestine / Israel: That is self-explanatory.
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In addition to these three main themes, other labels can help you track entries:
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Peace - Paix - Salaam - Shalom - Pax

Naviguer les "Labels"

Bonjour - quelques tuyaux (de poële) pour naviguer les labels:
Tout d'abord,
  • Français: Offre des textes uniquement en français, comme il se doit, quelque soit le thème.
Les thèmes principaux sont sous ces trois labels (en français comme en anglais):
  • 21st Century Politics: Evolution de la culture politique globale: construire sur les acquis du 20ème siècle; retour en arrière; nouvelles idées?
  • Palestine / Israel: Pas d'explications nécessaires.
  • Pneuma / Philo: "Pneuma" réfère aux choses de l'Esprit et"Philo" à la poursuite de la sagesse. Soyons philosophes et cultivons notre jardin...
En plus de ces trois thèmes d'autres labels peuvent aider la navigation:
  • Guest Blogger: Textes d'amis ou textes piqués à de bonnes sources.
  • Essay: Textes plus longs que la moyenne et plus analytiques
  • English: To view only English entries.
N'hésitez pas à cliquer sur les liens vers d'autres blogueurs et sites intéressants.
Et faites moi plaisir, abonnez vous et encouragez d'autres lecteurs à s'abonner (ça m'encouragera).
Bonne lecture.