Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Gaza from the sky (Gideon Levy)

There's a lot to the image of Gaza from the skies seen as a Rorschach test in the article I introduce here. As in my previous post, the point is the inability of Israeli decision makers to understand the reality they think they are facing. Consequently they are fighting a myth.

Gideon Levy is a great Israeli journalist, even if he doesn't always attract the sympathy of his compatriots (check out comments to his columns to understand the level of hatred around).

Israel is starting to talk about a truce and the US administration has started stating that 'this time' we hope Hamas will have learned its lesson. Well, certainly, o great leaders, we can only expect that after 400 dead or whatever it ends up being, the Palestinians will feel a surge of peaceful sentiment for the occupation forces. If that doesn't work, let's kill another round and see if that does the trick.

In the meantime, click here to read Levy's last article "IAF, bullies of the clear blue skies" in Haaretz.

Continue to hope and/or pray for peace, not forgetting that there are also victims or this current conflict in Sderot and Ashkalon. Each death is pain unfathomable to one family. Each one a tremendous waste. Each one a holocaust of one--a sacrifice to human stupidity.


Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Israel's dead end: My Own Best Thinking Brought Me Here

People who go to AA meetings will have heard this before: "my own best thinking brought me here." A statement of complete failure and final understanding that a person's intelligence may be what brings him/her to complete devastation. Few of us get to that point and for those who do, it seems to be a struggle to accept that reality--hence the need to repeat these little AA mantras.

What about nations? What about intelligent, modern, enlightened nations? What about moral, dedicated, religious societies? What about powerful, rich, hyper-connected global communities? Can their 'best thinking' bring them to utter failure?

Okay, try this exercise: What about the French Fourth Republic (still producing some of the greatest literature on earth and 'spreading civilization' the world over)? What about the mighty Soviet Super-Power (I mean, they beat the US to space, had some of the greatest scientists and chess players on earth and were going to take over the world)? What about the Fuhrer in the last hour in his bunker (now, here was a wonder of organization, management and military strength)?

You're still with me? Good. Let's try harder.
What about the Jewish State of Israel circa 2008? What about the United States of America, the "indispensable nation?" (I always think of the "unsinkable Titanic" when I hear this phrase - don't know why.*)

O - I see you raise your eyebrow. You're thinking: "Here goes another anti-American, anti-Israel diatribe from someone who sees nothing wrong with Jihadists and folks who strap C-4 around the belt of children!"
Well, not quite. I actually think the Jihadists 'own best thinking' and behind that the fundamentalist neo-paternalistic Islamic ethos has led a good part of the Muslim world into a dead-end of its own. I actually like the US a lot; I love Eilat and Tel Aviv in the Summer; and I think Israel has shown that with the right size blank check from US tax payers, there's a lot you can do to develop a nation very quickly. I think it's brilliant how America won't provide health care to its own children but pays for a very effective public health system in Israel providing universal coverage to its citizens. (Way to export socialized medicine, America!) But I'm digressing.

But, let's look at Israel and Gaza today. Which way is this current crisis headed? What are its goals? What can it achieve? Is there any kind of a win for Israel? And if there isn't, then why would the brilliant minds of Kadima, Labour and the Likud all pursue a logic of death, destruction, bloodshed, and -- as the Lebanese war in 2006 -- no possible lasting gain?

I lack the time to expand on how pointless this killing of Palestinians is. (I love that CNN reports that X% of people killed were "militants" and the rest--a small fraction--"civilians." Folks in Gaza are playing puzzle with body parts to figure out who is dead, but CNN, live from Atlanta, already has a statistic about how many were militants. CNN is sooooo smart. I should ask them what I've done with my favorite pen I lost last month.) So, Israel is going to kill 1,000? 2,000? 10,000? or more Palestinians -- I assume CNN already has the percentage of collateral dammage on hand -- then what?

O yes, if they go in, they'll take out a lot of metal and stuff that can be used to make rockets. If they are very very successful, the only thing left in Gaza will be rubber bands and pita bread. For a few months. Then what?

Parenthesis -- before I continue, please note that I am writing according to the CNN script--that is, I pretend to ASSUME that Israel's actions are disproportionate, but that they came in response to attacks from Gaza with those rockets. I am quite sure that many of the readers (ok - there aren't so many readers of this blog) would also have a mental picture where Israel--right or wrong--is acting in response to being attacked. That's the interesting thing, and that's where you see that the US are themselves locked in their own best thinking. For this thinking actually contradicts the calendar of events wich led to the end of the truce betwen Hamas and Israel. There was a truce. Israel sent F-16's to destroy a tunnel and killed half a dozen Palestinians. The bottom line is that the resumption of hostilities came from Israel. (What? Gazans shouldn't build tunnels? You go there and tell them! Also, did the US stop providing high tech war equipment during that truce? No. So why should the other side stop playing in the sand then?) So, correcting the news: Israel ended the truce.--end of parenthesis.

The fact is that, while Israel has a strategy for the West Bank (essentially conquering more and more land while pretending to be negotiating peace, for as long as the gullible US can be kept in line with AIPAC), it doesn't have a strategy for Gaza. Israel controls who goes in and out of Gaza, what goes in and out (well - to some extent but they try), they have eyes in the air, they control when the fishermen go out or not, they restrict gasoline, electricity, the capacity to have drinking water, the availability of commodities. They can any day or night decide to send a troup of soldiers and kill a few people when they think it's a good idea. Basically, Israel 'owns' 1.5 million Palestinians in a 'rat cage.'**

Israel's best thinking imposes some actions:
- Lobby the US not to talk to Hamas; shun Hamas (except when desperate enough to negotiate a truce);
- Qualify all Palestinian resistance as "terrorism" and legitimize 'targeted killings' -- essentially a life and death claim on any Palestinian life;
- Crush people in misery, be "tough" and stand on the self-rigtheousness of the eternal victim;
- Since Palestinians cannot be trusted, armed Palestinians (i.e. "security forces" or police) must be killed (who will keep order in an open air prison without police?)

You add to that the internal Israeli politics: since the Minister of Defence is in competition with the Prime Minister is in competition with the Minister of Foreign Affairs, intelligent leadership in Israel becomes a rarity. What you have is populist escalation - a "I can be tougher than you against terrorists"-race to more belligerence. Which Israeli politicians is going to gain points against the other by saying "We've been wrong all along. We need to talk to these people. We need to make peace with our enemy. And it starts by losing the right of life and death over Palestinians; it starts with acknowledging we are not a superior race destined to rule over Arabs; we are not to control every element--no, we are not to control ANY element of the life of Palestinians and Gazans. And yes, if we talk to these people, we will lose something because our freedom stops where theirs starts, but we can gain a lot more."

No Israeli politician can make that speech. Well - almost: Olmert came close in his interview, just after he declared he was leaving power. Interesting.

Israel's best thinking is currently very sick. A brilliant mind in the prison of its own making, without an exit strategy. The Palestinians are first to pay the price. Unlucky residents of Sderot are next in line. All of Israel can only lose, regardless of the body count. Let me rephrase that: Israel's loss accrues with each dead Palestinian. This war is a lose-lose. And Palestinians - especially in Gaza - don't feel they have a lot to lose. Would you rather die fighting, even sending blind rockets, or sitting down? Please let's remember that all our nations have targeted civilians when this could lead to victory. (No? Did you study the Ulysses Grant campaign against the South in the American civil war? Have you heard of Dresden, maybe Hiroshima? And I'm not citing the US because they are the worst, but because they have been the 'good kid in the class' of Western Nations.)

Another time, I'll write about why America seems stuck also, unable to be the constructive third party it has sometimes been in history. Prisoner of its own 'best thinking' - in a global war on selected forms and agents of terrorism. So, America does not play its role - Obama or no Obama. [At least, Obama should be one step up from Bush circa 2000, whose motto to Israel & Sharon (remember, a 'man of peace' by W's standards) was "kill, baby kill!"] It is not the goodwill or the intelligence of America that is in question, but its ability to get out of the mental prison it has created for itself.

America is now Europe in the first half of the 20th Century. (Israel is Europe in the first half of the 19th Century it seems.) The question is, who can play the role America played for Europe? How can one be saved from oneself?

Maybe we should start 12 step programs for nations with too much military power.
"Hi. My name is Israel. I am powerless over my own strength and domination of Arabs."
"Hi. My name is America. I am powerless over the rhetoric of my war on terror and my 700 foreign military bases." (700 guys! ever think of that?)
"Hi. My name is Hamas. I am powerless over belief that violence can repay violence."

Welcome - have a seat. Now, let's start with the serenity prayer.


ps: As always, check out the links at the bottom right of this page. Brian McLaren left his blog entry for a text worth reading by Hannah Mermelstein.
IF YOU WANT TO DO SOMETHING: (1) visit; (2) write to your elected officials (for Americans, very easy through; (3) write questions to Obama and vote for questions to Obama on Palestine by going to and "open for questions" (4) send money to any of the following: Near East Council of Churches, CARE, World Vision, Holy Land Trust, Sabeel, Save the Children Palestine or Human Rights groups; (5) refuse to be overwhelmed and give up; denounce 'it's been going on forever' fatalistic lies. This mess is OUR (human) making; WE (humans) must fix it. If you're like me and believe in our powerlessness and the help of a Power Greater Than Ourselves, pray and pray again; but oppose the fatalism of those who use trust in God ("only One can bring peace") as a commandment to do nothing for peace. Whatever you do which is not passivity (this includes invisible acts in silence) contributes to the struggle for peace and justice. (6) remain outraged at the waste of violence: regardless of unequal political responsibilities on the two sides, the life of a kid in Gaza = the life of a kid in Sderot = the life of anyone on any side, even narrow-minded anyones.

* Don't worry - America's done great things and it's not the first self-important nation on earth. I know where I come from after all!
** Expression borrowed from a UHWC presentation made in Gaza by a Gazan, speaking of 'rat cage syndrome'

Monday, December 29, 2008

War, Strife, Bloodshed - again.

I am not set to give daily updates on a rapidly evolving situation in Israel/Palestine and particularly in Gaza. Others are doing this and doing this better than I would.

Just to say, being States-side these days, I don't even try to get information from television, and it's obvious newspapers have to coat everything with what passes for "balance" these days, which usually means Israel's actions have to be presented as rational and in response to a casus belli caused by others (Hamas, Palestinians, Arabs, terrorists). Forget that Israel is the party which broke the truce in Gaza.

So, if you want actual information on what is happening, I suggest you follow some of the links (bottom right) on this page, for example:
- The Palestine News Network, for up-to-date daily information (you can receive email updates if you so desire);
- Gush Shalom;
- B'Tselem;
- Miftah;
- Even the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, which has an English edition, will give you pro-Israeli information a lot more honest than its US counterparts.

Israeli leaders are no more able to think of a path to life, than Jihadist can imagine pro-life strategies. But both Hamas and the Israeli government can be brought to the negotiation table.
Sadly, today the US Big Brother of the Land has no ability understanding why it must talk to people like Hamas. You can talk people out of fundamentalism and radicalism with changes in their environment; you cannot isolate, shun, bomb, kill and destroy radicalism out of the heart of men, and ask them to surrender their weapons while they are being shot at. Won't happen.

At a time of transition in US politics, it's tempting to put some hope into the new leadership -- given the abysmal failure and abject war incitment the departing administration has bred from day one (this is me being fair and balanced)-- but given the choice of advisors of President-elect Obama, my optimism is extremely, extremely cautious.

Change may have to come from people, citizens, groups who choose to care, become informed, and work with other groups who don't look, speak or sound the same as them, but who are equally sick of a dead-end vision of unending strife.

A free Palestine is the only hope for Israel. (See previous post on this topic.)

War lives in the heart of people.
Peace also comes from the same place. It's just a matter of which inspiration we draw from.
Whatever your faith, pray we let it grow and force action for peace from our governments and political groups, from Khan-Yunis to Al Quds to Yerushalaim to DC.


Friday, December 26, 2008

So, you think you love Israel? Open Letter to America at the Dawn of a New Administration

With a new administration promising change in Washington comes an opportunity for infusing American support for Israel with a dose of realism that has been lacking thus far.

Actions taken by Israel result in a dwindling number of options for its future.1 Arab countries and populations have responsibilities of their own for achieving a just peace and the world is quick to point those out. When it comes to Israel, however, ‘friends’ too often drift in an ocean of rosy rhetoric, uninformed and counterproductive. Too many groups are friends of Israel as a barman is friend with a compulsive drinker—enabling rather than supporting.

Plural constituencies cooperate and compete to determine Israel’s policies and actions. The outcome is a lopsided set of priorities, which only serve to defeat aspirations for peace. Israel’s friends would do well to understand this.
(1) Demography is the absolute top priority. To remain a Jewish state, Israel [feels it] must ensure that its Jewish citizens far outweigh the number of its Arab citizens (currently below 20%), regardless of final borders. This affects the treatment of Palestinian and Israeli Arab families; it encourages the ugly gerrymandering of East Jerusalem and will ultimately increase pressure for the “transfer” of Arab populations—a form of ethnic cleansing.
(2) The geographic imperative leads Israel to continue expanding its borders, one hilltop, one house and one neighborhood at a time. This is carried forward by the government and by aggressive settlers, backed by powerful constituents operating beyond the authority of the state. Departing Prime Minister Olmert admitted that the settlement infrastructure on Palestinian land makes peace unachievable. It is telling that he was unable to express this prior to resigning.
(3) Although security is a genuine concern, Israel’s expansion into Palestine disproves the claim that preventing existential threats is the first driver of its actions. Some of Israel's security policies are actually self-fulfilling prophecies. Long before the wall which imprisons Palestinians was built, presumably to contain terrorism, ethnic policies and conquest already contributed to the violent response of alienated Palestinian youths.
(4) Once the first three priorities are addressed, Israel also wishes to be a rule-of-law, liberal democracy. Israel would actually like to treat all its citizens with equity and something akin to “liberty and justice for all”—quite a challenge when certain religious and ethnic groups receive preferential treatment.
(5) Morality is in fact a heavy concern for Israel and for the Jewish world, given the roots of Jewish faith. But because this concern is too low on the list of priorities, only a façade of morality can be preserved. Maintaining that façade requires a strong justifying narrative, demanding always greater self-deception and propaganda. These include “having no partner for peace,” de-humanizing Palestinians, and promoting covert and overt forms of racism. Current policies could not be reconciled with Jewish values without these rationalizations.

Israel’s order of priorities is fundamentally anti-Jewish and represents an existential threat against the Jewish state that is more imminent than the eventuality of Iranian missiles. When we become prey to our fears and irrationality, it is invaluable to have honest friends who call us back to reason. The problem is that political and religious supporters of Israel alike have lost the capacity to be honest friends.

You love Israel? More power to you! Whether in a synagogue, a church, a political office or the State Department, you can start by understanding what guides Israel’s behavior, helping it face the truth and change its self-destructive course.

American religious groups should help a complex Israeli society express a truly Jewish identity inclusive of different races and religions, purge itself of racism and, in so doing, perhaps heal the traumas of the past. Becoming the victimizer is no cure for having been a victim. Faith groups should reach out to Palestinian and Israeli peace groups and move from cheerleading for the occupation to the tough job of reconciliation, repentance, justice and peacemaking.

Political groups should stop blindly condoning violence and occupation and oppose the use of US funds and arms against civilian populations. President Obama should take the political risk of a tough love approach to Middle Eastern affairs. Building peace with security will require better than yes-men and yes-women in constant praise of dysfunctional Israeli politics. (Imagine President Obama naming Jimmy Carter, rather than someone handpicked by AIPAC, as special envoy to the Middle East!)

There are hundreds of mustard seeds of peace activism on both the Palestinian and Jewish sides of the conflict. What is not clear yet is whether America will serve peace and become a true—that is, honest—friend of Israel. By moving from enabling to supporting, America could also gain the moral clout it lacks in promoting the birth of a modern, pluralistic Palestine.

Wishes for 2009: No artillery fire, no military attack

I am still backlogged in travel and work -- wish you all the best for 2009 and hope you had great Christmas Celebrations. In the meantime, I cannot do better than to lend the space to a Gush-Shalom press release.




The Coalition against the Siege on Gaza


No to a military attack on Gaza!

War is not an elections spin!

Friday Dec. 26th, at 14.00, in the corner of Ben-Zion Ave. and King George St., Tel-Aviv

In the demonstration we will call for:

· Stop immediately siege on Gaza! Set no conditions for ending the inhuman suffering of innocents!

· Negotiations with Hamas and renew of the truce!

· Stop the military offensive and propose a political solution for ending the occupation!

· Learn from the Second Lebanon War! A military assault will not stop the missiles! Only an agreement can bring calm!

It is Israel which broke the truce already a month and a half ago, in early November, the State of Israel broke the truce in a series of military attacks on Gaza, which caused the death of six Palestinians. In this way, the government of Israel, with its own hands, brought a rain of Qassam missiles upon the heads of the inhabitants of Sderot and the other Gaza Border communities. Afterwards, every time that the situation started calming down, more Palestinians were killed by the army, their killing provoking new salvos of missiles. Now, the government is using the breaking of the truce as the pretext to launch a new military offensive. An offensive which would cost the lives of civilians, and would not achieve any of its declared aims – certainly not the aim of bringing calm to the inhabitants of the border area.

It is Israel which is responsible for the poverty and despair, entailed by the siege on Gazaalready for months the million and half inhabitants of Gaza live under an Israeli siege, with stoppages of water and electricity and a severe lack of vital goods. The Hamas government is already for weeks stating that it would be possible to restore the truce, should Israel agree to open the passages and allow the entry of goods, products, gasoline and people into the Strip. The government chooses consciously to ignore the Hamas declarations and cynically chooses, for electoral purposes, the path of war.

Contact: Adi Dagan (Coalition of Women for Peace) 050-8575730

Adam Keller (Gush Shalom) 0506-709603

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

The Lawlessness Of The "Righteous"

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, as they used to say... Click here to read and watch one of the many reports of abuses and gratuitous violence caused by Jewish Fanatics in Hebron under full immunity from the Israeli so-called Defense Forces. (In this case from B'Tselem- a leading Israeli Human Rights group.)

Before asking whether this is terrorism, simply ask the following question: "how would the world feel if such events were not by Jews against Arabs in their home, but by any group in the world against Jews?"

And yes, I know, it did once happen and the world stood still.

What happened last time we stood still:
___A: Things naturally got better
___B: Not much except a holocaust and a world war
The next question is pointed to the American taxpayer: Are you aware that--on average--each of these fanatical, ruthless, terrorizing settlers gets the equivalent of a $600 check from Uncle Sam every single year (not counting the guns)? We don't "talk to Hamas", but we pay for those misled extremists. Does it make sense?

One of these days I need to write something about Muslim terrorism, given the Mumbai attacks and the very worrisome trend of the past decades, but for a moment, forget global trends. Just imagine yourself as a 13 year old boys in one of these Palestinian homes where folks are beaten up, mothers are called horrible names, police may arrest the innocent and the father had to watch his fields get burned. You are this young teenage boy and you live through this daily stress, humiliation of your parents, and the loss of life of your community. Maybe your big brother was one day snatched from home and put in "administrative detention" (aka prison without trial for months or years). Maybe your big brother once threw a stone and was shot in the head by an M-16.
So, now who are you going to turn to? The Israeli police? The Israeli army? Remember Palestinians are not allowed to ensure law and order in Hebron: there's a reason it is called occupied territories. So your own political representatives cannot do anything. Who are you going to turn to? 1-800-CALL-OBAMA? The UN? None are credible and we--as a community--have decided this is not a priority, and we do not want to alienate Israel, our number one ally (at least for the US if you listen to political speeches).

So, you are this teenage boy. Unless you are neighbor with one of the few who can provide an example about how to direct your anger toward peace and justice [click here for one video testimonial], what are you going to do with the humiliation and rage?

Let us do nothing today.

Tomorrow should be soon enough to ask how fanatics and candidates for suicide / martyrdom emerge in the Hebron hills.

Today, we must bail out The Big 3 and ask politely our Israeli partner to "make things a little easier for Palestinians." What does that even mean? Pass out band aids after beating up a dad? Giving a bottle of coke after burning a field? Starting a 'Fun with Occupation' annual fair for Palestinian children?

I have no doubt that we are just as "nice" as our forefathers in the 1930's. But what will happen this time as we stand still:

___A: Things will naturally get better.
___B: ...?

You tell me.