Thursday, January 29, 2009

You Make Peace With Your Enemy - Gerald Kaufman's Speech

I keep being delayed in writing my next entry as far greater people than I keep writing far more important things.

I strongly encourage you to read the full text of Sir Gerald Bernard Kaufman, a British MP, who made a short but powerful speech in Parliament on January 15th, 2009. I grew up believing we had passed the age when we referred to people and had to say: he's a Catholic, she's a Jew, they're Communists, he's from India and a Budhist. But apparently I was raised wrong. In this day and age, it seems we need those attributes to qualify or disqualify each other. Well, in this case, Sir Kaufman is a Jew, who speaks with a loud moral voice on the Palestinian situation, specifically Gaza.

The text isn't long - there's no point in my summarizing it. Click here and read this powerful text.

I heard today from two people from Ashkelon. It is undeniable that even the threat of a random rockets--regardless of the fatality ratio--causes stress, distress and has led people to want their government to 'just do something' (and maybe forget all their government has done to cause the situation in the first place).

The insanity is that, if you wonder why (some) people in Gaza are still tempted to throw rockets rather than rebuild their country, you have to remember that...
there's no cement (Israel controls that),
there's little fuel (Israel controls that),
there's very little heavy machinery to remove the rubble (Israel controls that),
there's no legal way to bring in the money (Israel controls that),
money and equipment can only come through the tunnels (the US will spend 30 million dollars closing those) or by sea (the French have sent two war ships to help Israel control that),
and the BBC in its wisdom is keeping British NGOs from raising money through TV ads to help Gaza.

God have mercy on us fools! Jewish fools, Muslim fools, Christian fools, goys and koufars

Elrig

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

The Status Quo is not a Status Quo

Since world news mostly only report when there's a flare up of violence from Palestinian groups, the less informed follower of the news is left to wonder: "why didn't they leave things in peace this time?"

So, just to remind everyone that the status quo is actually not a status quo; that there is a conquest of land going on which forces the control of a people and the necessary violence to enforce conquest and control, PEACE NOW - as quoted by Haaretz - reports that Israel in 2008 has increased the number of "settlements" by nearly 57% from 2007, and doubled the number of "outposts."

Settlements are internationally illegal Jewish-only urban developments on Palestinian land, claimed as legal by Israel. 1,257 new structures were built in 2008.

Outposts are the same thing but not recognized as legal by Israel (for now). Although Israel claims them illegal, the army protects them. They often start being more temporary structures (trailers, etc.) which ultimately develop into towns. These are then later generally made "legal" settlements. 261 structures were built in 2008.

In both cases, this requires an infrastructure to expropriate Palestinians.
That is the status quo, which is not a status quo --

Its end point? ... As I tried to explain before: unending violence (link). The starting basis for peace is to stop the conquest and the occupation (link). In that context, we (Israelis, Palestinians, Friends of either or both groups and engaged world citizens) will get beyond terrorism and put it behind us.

Elrig

Photos : www.cnn.com/.../mideast.settlements/index.html and picasaweb.google.com/.../4vfcM9Wgy_JMxHJM8ArAPg

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Interesting and Less Interesting Critiques

Short entry today (pending a serious post), but someone has cared enough to leave an insult on this blog. I'm touched. I've decided for now to let it go and post the comment. I suspect that the comment in question (which calls me names, hints at population transfer, and suggests weird ways to peace) is actually paid counter-blogging, but maybe I'm just flattering myself. Click and follow the comments on on my December entry: "Israel's Dead End: My Own Best Thinking Brought Me Here."

More interesting, this Foreign Policy analysis of where Tom Friedman gets it close but wrong (again). Click here to read this analysis, but the take home message is again -- sadly -- that the US public largely fails to understand the role the US government has been playing in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. And it's not about anti-Americanism, believe me, but about getting a clearer picture of reality, so we can reform and make progress. (Hmm - should I say 'Yes, we can?').

Peace to all--following the footsteps of his O'ness*--to Christians, Muslim, Jews, Hindus, Buddhists, Humanists and Non-Believers; and I'm still hoping to post my analysis of some pro-war widely spread rhetoric (which I promised a while back) soon.

Elrig

*
I'm like most quite not believing the contrast between the new and old US President models. But it's never too soon to be a little bit of an iconoclast with the powerful, right?

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Israel in Gaza: A Critical Reframing

As inauguration day announces the promise of a truce (see my prediction below), I learned today that a Palestinian physician who works in Israel but lives in Gaza saw half of his family killed by a tank shell while he was being interviewed by Israeli TV. This is not only tragic, but it is also ironic. This man, thinking that I was Jewish after we had met and interacted about research projects, sent me his best wishes for Pessah last year. There are many Palestinians Israel (I should say the Israeli government and military apparatus) could work with to build peace, if -- and only if -- it wanted peace.

But this is not the narrative which justifies today's war. So, speaking of narrative, I'll leave room for this analysis done by the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions (ICAHD).

Elrig
[And yes, I stole the link from David's blog - again.]

[Photo Credit: http://www.wrmea.com/images/April_2008/twair2.jpg]

************************

Israel in Gaza: A Critical Reframing
Israel's core messages, listed below, argue for the justice of its cause in Gaza, cast Israel as the victim and ensure that its war is seen not in terms of occupation but of the broader Western struggle against terror. The critical reframing we offer, that of Israelis committed to human rights, international law and a just peace as the only way out of this interminable and bloody conflict, argues that security cannot be achieved unilaterally while one side oppresses the other and that Israel's attack on Gaza is merely another attempt to render its Occupation permanent by destroying any source of effective resistance. It argues that Israel could have avoided all attacks upon it over the last twenty years, and the rise of Hamas, if it had genuinely negotiated a two-state solution with the Palestinian leadership. Israel, the strong party and the Occupying Power, is not the victim. Indeed, its attack on Gaza is a form of State Terrorism.

Israeli PR: Like all countries, Israel has a right and duty to defend its citizens. Israel, acting as any life-loving nation would, has a right to be a normal country living in peace and security.

Critical Reframing: To pursue offensive policies of prolonged occupation as well as sanctions, boycotts and closures that impoverish a civilian population, and to then refuse to engage with that population's elected leaders, is not defending ones' citizens. To expect your citizens to live in security while a million and a half subjugated people just a few kilometers away live in misery is both unrealistic and presumptive. Israel will only be able to defend its citizens - which is indeed its duty - if it addresses the causes of their insecurity, a 41 year-old occupation.
Israeli PR: Israel had no choice but to attack in response to the barrage of 8,500 Hamas rockets fired from Gaza into Israel over the past eight years that have killed 20 Israeli civilians.

Critical Reframing: In the past three years alone Israel - together with the US, Europe and Japan - imposed an inhumane siege of Gaza while conducting a campaign of targeted assassinations and attacks throughout the cease-fire that left 1,700 Palestinians dead. Hamas' barrage did not exist in a vacuum. This war is no "response:" it is merely a more deadly round of the tit-for-tat arising out of a political vacuum. The rocket firings could have been avoided had there been a genuine political horizon. To present the "barrage" as an independent event disassociated from wider Israeli policies that led to them is disingenuous.
Israeli PR: There is no occupation - in general, but specifically in Gaza. Israel ended its occupation of Gaza in 2005 with the "disengagement." Gaza could have flourished as the basis of a Palestinian state, but its inhabitants chose conflict.

Critical Reframing: Economic development, not to mention a political process which might have prevented the violence on both sides, was actively prevented by both Israel and its international supporters, which share responsibility for the present tragedy in Gaza. At no time since the "disengagement" did Israel ever relinquish or even loosen its control. The closure remained in force, including by sea; Gazans were never allowed to reopen their sea or air ports; nor were any conditions conducive to economic development allowed. Israel's claim that there has never been an occupation of the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza is rejected by every member of the international community. Neither does it accept Israel's claim that occupation ended in 2005, since the definition of occupation in international law has to do with exercising effective control of a foreign territory, which Israel obviously does over Gaza.
Israeli PR: Only Hamas violated the cease-fire, and thus it carries full responsibility.

Critical Reframing: Israel and Hamas agreed to a truce (through Egypt) by which Israel would allow the opening of the Gazan border crossings (at least partially) in return for an end to rocket fire on Israel. Hamas largely, though not entirely, kept its part of the bargain; Israel almost never did. Killings of Palestinians from the air continued, and on the American election day in early November it attacked the tunnels (which functioned as alternative means of supplying Gaza in the absence of open borders, which would have allowed control over the movement of arms), killing a number of Hamas people. In response Hamas launched rockets and....the truce began breaking down.
Israeli PR: Israel is only attacking the "infrastructure of terror" in Gaza and only targets Hamas fighters.

Critical Reframing: Being the elected government, all the infrastructure, from traffic cops to schools to military installations, "belong" to Hamas. It is clear that Israeli attacks go beyond "the infrastructure of terror." Who's a "Hamas fighter?" The graduating class of traffic cops that was slaughtered in the first aerial attack on Gaza? Professors and students who attend the "Hamas" Islamic University? Family members of Hamas military figures? People who voted for Hamas? All, but for those actively participating in hostilities, would be defined as civilians under international law.
Israeli PR: Civilians may die, but it's because Hamas hides its fighters and weapons factories among ordinary people.

Critical Reframing: Israel's military headquarters are located in the center of Tel Aviv, the military headquarters over the West Bank are in the densely populated civilian settlement Neveh Ya'akov in East Jerusalem, the Pentagon is located in downtown Washington D.C. and the British Ministry of Defence is located in central London. Hamas, of course, as both a government and a military organization, carries responsibility for protecting the civilian population and keeping the fighting away from them but the question that should be asked, and never is, is why western nations who do the same are not faced with such criticism?
Israeli PR: Hamas is a terrorist organization that refuses to recognize Israel or enter into a political process.

Critical Reframing: Which Israel should Hamas recognize? 1947 U.N. partition borders? 1967 borders? With annexed East Jerusalem? With the settlement blocs? So long as Israel refuses to define its borders then there is only an abstract concept available for recognition. Hamas has openly declared that it will de facto recognize Israel on the 1967 borders. Israel has made no such offers to any Palestinian faction, government or representatives.
Israeli PR: Hamas is a global problem, part of Islamist fundamentalism together with Iran and Hezbollah and therefore Israel is only doing its part in the West's agreed-upon War on Terror.

Critical Reframing: Hamas started as a social welfare organization that was allowed by Israel to develop as a political force in Occupied Palestine to weaken the standing of the secular PLO. There also, was no Hezbollah prior to the 1982 Israeli invasion. The theocrats in Iran were an organized but quite small political force until the U.S. overthrew Iran's democracy. The local population will always resist when foreign countries try to oppose their will and the resistance will not always be pretty. Painting Hamas as part of a global conspiracy when it's a product of the Occupation itself is disingenuous and a gross distortion of history.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Gaza: my forecast for the coming weeks

Before anything -- ignore my blog, but read Gideon Levy of Haaretz, "Someone must stop Israel's rampant madness in Gaza." Or read Laila El-Haddad. What is there to say or write that hasn't been written? I suppose in addition to so many lies and so much propaganda. Aren't we trying to out-blog each other? As if blogs could undo phosporous bombs and bullets.

The Jewish Alliance for Justice and Peace also provides links to some excellent articles. Between people like this, and my Gaza friend hiding in his basement in a wasteland but still speaking of rebuilding and forgiving, I feel chastised for giving way to despair too easily. This is the true religion.

But if you are a US citizen, please answer yes or no: "if my government provides the guns and the funds, if Congress by a 90% majority supports the war, if my president and secretary of state stated their support for the war, are we--yes or no--ourselves at war against Gaza?" I think it's important in a democracy to know when you are at war.

This is a tragic story only if Arab lives matter. But do they?
This is only a catastrophe if God loves all people in the same manner. But does He?
This is only a stain on our conscience if we are our brothers' keepers. But are we?


Now - on to my forecasting abilities:
---------------------------------------------
Even though "making predictions is difficult, particularly about the future," here are my fearless predictions about the coming weeks with regards to Gaza:

January 16th to January 19th:
  • Massive escalation in casualties and destruction by the IDF in Gaza.
  • Hamas, Jihad, and whomever shoot rockets toward Sderot, time permitting.
  • The PNA / Ramallah restates on occasion it's not happy with Gazans being blown up and threatens to release another condemnation.
  • UN continues to say progress is being made toward a solution.
  • Egyptians continue to hold all kinds of meetings. Tea is provided at breaks in the patio.
  • EU and everybody else agitates around the idea that it's not cool to blow up Gaza and Israel should go easy on the phospore.
  • The USA already voted 90% in favor of a House Resolution stating its approval of current activities in Gaza (conducted with its money and its weapons). It is currently otherwise quite busy with the economy and Washington DC preparations for the inauguration. Please call back in a few days.
January 20th:
  • Barack Obama is inaugurated as the first Black American President in history.
  • The civilized world bids farewell to the previous President, who is on record as being "disappointed" that there were no WMDs in Iraq--bummer! Eight years ago same exiting president found that Ariel Sharon was a "man of peace." 98% of the literate world will not really regret him.
  • Israel congratulates President Obama. Shoots a few things and people in Gaza, but nothing really special.
  • Gazans seem to boycott watching the inauguration on TV. Unless it's because there's no electricity .
January 21st-24th:
  • President Barack Obama makes an eloquent statement about the need for hostilities to stop in Gaza, the necessity to protect Israel against rockets and terrorism, the importance of protecting civilians in Gaza, and commits to engaging full force to finding a resolution to the conflict
  • Hillary Clinton boards an airplane for somewhere in the Middle East, probably Israel, or Egypt.
  • Phone calls are made (and reported) from the White House to Ehud Olmert (exiting Israel PM), Ehud Barak (Israeli Minister of Defense and aspiring new PM), Tzipi Livi (Israeli Foreign Minister and aspiring new PM), then Abu Mazen (PNA President although his term has expired).
  • Nobody calls Hamas in Gaza. First we don't speak to them, then phone lines are down in Gaza and - detail - most of the leadership will be dead by then. But some calls are made (secretly) to Syria, who will pass the message.
  • Israel bombs a few more things, but the Washington Post reports that after a call from Obama or Clinton, it commits to slowing military activities in hope that terms for a truce will be found.
  • Ehud Olmert states that it really really doesn't have anything at all against Palestinians. Some of his good friends happen to be Palestinians, actually...
January 25th-31st:
  • Hostilities cease.
  • Basic terms of a truce are agreed upon in Cairo.
  • The UN and the EU are asked to come up with bright ideas about how to run Gaza - well, by "running" we mean jump start and rebuild, but avoid working with an elected government. Brilliant success of Iraq is suggested as a template. Hillary Clinton shows great mastery of Middle Eastern affairs and flies to all kinds of places. A fair and balanced ratio of visits to Israelis and Palestinians is computed. As a sign of great urgency, visit to Yad Vashem is postponed until next month. Clinton is even seen smiling at an Arab child.
  • The Washington Post reports on page A5 that a total of 600 children died in the war, including 3 in Southern Israel. A picture of a grieving Israeli mother is provided side by side with the picture of a grieving Palestinian mother. Take that, Fox News!
  • Ehud Olmert, Ehud Barak, 'Tzipi' Livni all give press conferences committing to providing assistance to the civilian population in Gaza. 'Bibi' Netnanyahu comments that Israel should be ready to resume bombing if need be. Tzipi Livni proves her moderation by saying Hamas has been crushed and efforts should now go to developing good Palestinian governance in Gaza. Tony Blair wears a new tie for a photo-op and sounds concerned.
February:
  • A road map to a road to a map to rebuilding a road where a map can be displayed is drafted by the world community to figure out what the heck to do with 1.5 million Gazans (minus 1,000-2,000) now that there's no government and no police. President Obama thinks for a second that maybe someone in Gaza should be consulted - Rahm Emanuel assures him he's got friends in Tel Aviv who can do that, so don't worry about it.
  • Elections in Israel bring a new government coalition led by the first woman Prime Minister since Golda Meir. The Washington Post prints profiles of Golda Meir and Tzipi Livni.
  • Commentators write that Palestinians now have a unique opportunity to embrace peace.
  • Barack Obama makes a really good speech on peace.
  • Tony Blair misses the speech for unknown reasons, notices that President Abu Mazen's term has expired and asks around about what to do about that.
Away from any camera, a woman in Deir el Balah cries over the death of her husband, two of her children, and the ashes of her family house. Her eight-year old, Ahmed, and her seven-year old, Layla, listen to a new song on the radio about the suffering of the Palestinian people.

No one has a clue what Ahmed and Layla will be ten years from now.
Benjamin Netanyahu has a dream where he's the PM and it's his turn to launch a widescale military intervention. Maybe against Nablus this time. Ah! Give it a couple years...

I cry.

Elrig

ps: please don't blame ME for the cynicism. Lord, G-d, Allah, have mercy on us.
ps2: scroll down and read the letter from the Director of PMRS about the health situation especially for women and children in Gaza.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

PMRS: Don't Forget Gaza

I leave this space for a short report by Jihad Mashal, a very nice man who is also the Director General of the Palestinian Medical and Relief Services, the largest non-governmental provider of health services in West Bank and in Gaza.


Elrig

**************

Dear Friends

As more rumors are spreading that we are approaching the end, protection of civilians becomes more and more important since history tells us that the Israeli army will do their best to end the War with maximum amount of gains at the expense of more civilians killed.

While we all are waiting the end of this War, hundreds of Palestinian who took refuge in the UNRWA schools were targeted by Israel tank shelling for the third time, Many were killed or injured.

The situation for medical personal and hospitals is alarming , injured persons are left to bleed to death, we demand that civilians and the injured must have access to medical care and all medical personnel and their facilities be protected at all times .

Due to the focus on Emergencies, and trauma care, management of chronic disease and routine care of pregnancies and deliveries are becoming major areas of concerns and neglect. 40000 women are forecasted to be pregnant at any point of time exposed to all kinds of stress ,150-170 deliveries per day ,most of them do not receive proper care at home or in the Hospital ,they are unseen victims of the current situation.25-30 women should perform C-section on daily basis which is not possible now . Since the beginning of the incursion into Gaza an estimated 3150-3570 babies have been born many are premature exposed to hypothermia due to the lack of electricity or heat .

Do not forget the civilian population innocent women, children and men who continue to die. Do not forget Gaza

Regards

Jihad Mashal
Director General - Palestinian Medical Relief Services

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

An Army of One Casualty: Perplexed Meditation on Suicide Bombers

Haaretz reports on Israeli casualties engaged in fights with "Hamas militants." (I actually suspect that some Gazans may take up arms against an invading army killing civilians,* regardless of affiliation with Hamas, but that's another topic.) One thing caught my eye.

Haaretz--which is generally a credible source of information--reports that IDF soldiers killed a number of suicide bombers.

And here's something to pause about, if this is true.

Now, I'm looking at this from a purely tactical point of view. There's no moral discussion in what follows. We're in a context where two groups are trying to kill each other, a somewhat normal and popular human activity in any given century. Here are my perplexed observations:
a. This is obviously not terrorism; these guys are involved in street / guerrilla warfare with the mighty IDF soldiers. The name of the game is kill the other guys.
b. You're not going to come cozy up with the soldiers dressed as a civilian and - bam! - surprise them as you blow up the C4. I mean, the soldiers are already there and they're shooting at whoever they see. This is a workable tactic to kill civilians, but soldiers?
c. Why in the world would you ever choose to attack soldiers with a method of warfare which has one and only one guarantee: that your own guys will die?
I mean, think about it: you're a sergeant and you're sending five soldiers off to battle. Your last pep talk is: "now remember, whether or not you inflict casualty on the enemy, just make sure to pop one and shoot yourself dead!" If this whole mess wasn't so tragic, this would have a Monty Pythonesque flair to it.

I take a glib and cynical tone when human absurdity gets too much for me. It annoys some people and I apologize. But while I certainly am 200% against the occupation; I condemn Israel's oppression of Gaza and its conquest of the West Bank every day; I think this Gaza war was avoidable [and I think it's not just a stain on the conscience of Israel, it's drinking the blood of pigs straight into your conscience**]; this nonetheless shows us that there is something fundamentally off and wrong in the thinking of some of Palestinian armed groups.

"This" (the absurdity of suicide bombing) does not justify "that" (the occupation). Maybe "that" created "this." I don't know. (Suicide bombers also exist as far away as Indonesia.) But the fact is, there is a sickness in society, which will need to be healed. Of course killing more children is unlikely to start the cycle of healing and recovery any time soon. Unless you want to kill them all. (And make no mistake, some do.)

But as we condemn the atrocities of Israel today, let's also realize that healing and recovery will be needed on the two side to get us to sustainable peace. I suppose this will have to wait until Obama is inaugurated or Olmert feels he has killed enough Arabs to have a legacy, whichever comes last.

Sad and perplexed.

Elrig
* All this "targeting militants" is not a lot more than good propaganda to start with.
** Welcome to Middle Eastern Over-Inflated Metaphores-R-us.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

A Simple Picture: Spectators of War

The caption reads: "Spectators on a hill near Kibbutz Nir Am in Israel watch weapons fired by Israeli forces explode over the northern Gaza Strip. Israeli news media show relatively few images from Gaza."*
...
It's nice to be a spectator of a war (930 deaths so far, men, women and children). I look at this group, and I wonder who will provide popcorn, soda, ice-cream, maybe some falafels. But then again, people have called me a cynic before.
...
Until I looked at this picture, I didn't know I had enemies. I look at this group and hear Jesus say: "love your enemy" and I just ask myself, "how?"
...
Back in June, eight students, civilians, innocent, were killed in a lone terrorist attack in the Mercav Harav Yeshiva in Jerusalem--the Mercav Harav Yeshiva sounds a little bit like Jewish Jihad from a distance--but my brother and host in Beit Hanoun (north Gaza) commented about how any of these deaths are a loss to all of us, how this cycle of violence has to end some day, how death and killing has to stop. Now my brother is in the prison of Gaza. His house got hit twice. 20 houses around his own house were hit by phosphorous bombs and burned to the ground in the last two days. He decided to send his family somewhere maybe safer and stayed behind, because "some of these bombs are small and can be extinguished to save the house." He plans to stay up every night to turn off the fires.
...
I wonder how many "spectators" from Kibbutz Nir Am will be watching the show.
...
Today I am particularly grateful for the Jewish voices for peace and sanity, such as Gush-Shalom, the Other Israel, Not In My Name, B't Selem, the ICAHD and many others.
- Toda - Thank you for reminding me we are one family and we need to watch over one another -- not watch the Other burn.
...
Sami Awad reminded me today that 'we shall overcome.' We are not spectators.

Elrig

PS--If you were still fooled about thinking that this war is primarily about rockets being shot at southern Israel, have a read about what is happening "meanwhile back at the ranch," or rather in East Jerusalem. Click here and read about people who did not shoot Qassams and are losing their homes.

*Photo Source: Jerry Lampen, Reuters. Washington Post January 11, 2009 Page A12

Multiple Links to Honest Commentators about Gaza

I have a lot of things I want to follow on, including posts from last week, but I am running a little behind. Since I am not writing tonight, I am providing 12 links below --voices of reason, including a number of Jewish and Israeli voices.*
Jonathan Cook (British journalist/citizen who married an Israeli Arab and lives in Israel) looks at Israel's hidden agenda;

Israeli historian Avi Shlaim (Israeli) gives a good insight into the background to the current situation ;

Ilan Pappe (Israeli historian), delves into the peculiar self-righteousness of Zionist Israel;

Robert Fisk (British journalist - The Independent newspaper sheds some light on the Israeli standard positions in times of war, on who the Hamas rabble in Gaza are, and on Israel's role in pushing them to the corner from which they have no option but to act in the way they do;

Omar Barghouthi (Palestinian) gives but one example of the complicity and preconceived prejudices of so many international officials and reporters.

Prof. Rashid Khalidi, published an op-ed in the New York Times

Rabbi Michael Lerner's continuous reflections on Gaza and the general Israel/Palestine debate are worth reading, including his book on the Geneva agreement.

Michel Sabbah, Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem.

Uri Avnery, former Israeli soldier and Israeli MK, and a man of tremendous qualities offered a speech at the end of this report. (His other writings are available on Gush-Shalom.)

The always informative and analytical Norman Finkelstein, offers comments on this video.

Amira Haas provides a matter of fact portrayal of what this war means to real people. One day there will be a Pulitzer and Nobel prize combined for Israeli journalists Amira Haas and Gideon Levy. I hope they will receive their prize in a peaceful, but restrained Israel having rediscovered its conscience and the equality in God's eyes of its Palestinian neighbor -- an independent and liberated multi-religious state.

Chicago-based Jewish group Not In My Name quotes here a speech from Jeff Halper, coordinator of the Israeli Committee Against House Demolition--a great man, who's already received an honorary Palestinian passport.

Finally, this short video offers a short report on Jewish American groups struggling for peace (and far more intelligent than the US House of Representative in their friendship with and support of Israel).
If one day, a child asks us, "but did you know?" -- we will have to say "yes."


Elrig
* A number of these links were provided by a dear friend--I didn't have time to ask her authorization so I am not providing her name here. I believe a number were collected by Dr Hatim Kanaaneh, founder of the Galileed Society for Health Research and Services.
Photo credit: http://newsbusters.org/static/2007/06/2007-06-14GazaHamas.jpg

PS: If you follow the news, you know Israel in its blind war is eager to go deeper into urban centers. None of my personal friends in Gaza have been killed yet - that I know of. But friends of friends, colleagues, 'random' families decimated. If there is a God of Truth and Love and Justice, He has been by the side of the victims, not the self-righteous gunner in his tank. Maybe this one will find forgiveness too - God is a God of Grace after all. But I am quite certain that God is not a sponsor of C-4, anymore than He is the sponsor of M-16's or tank shells. God has done enough in my life to make me loath the gods of C-4, checkpoints, M-16's and F-16's. What a sordid lot we humans are. Today, Israel is the case in point. I do not believe that Israel is the only, the first, or the worst case in point. But at this moment in time of the 21st Century, sadly, Israel is shaming itself and Gazans pay the price.

The US side of the debate is unsurprisingly one sided on the political side, even as medias are starting to ask questions, ever so faintly. Four Democrats (Kucinich, Moore, Rahall, Walters) and one Republican (Paul) had the courage to stand for sanity and vote "no" to a House Resolution supporting the right of Israel to "defend itself." One wonders why this right is not granted the inmates of Gaza.

Monday, January 12, 2009

What We Are Sowing

Here's a quote from Robert Fisk in The Independent:
Yes, Israelis deserve security. Twenty Israelis dead in 10 years around Gaza is a grim figure indeed. But 600 Palestinians dead in just over a week, thousands over the years since 1948 – when the Israeli massacre at Deir Yassin helped to kick-start the flight of Palestinians from that part of Palestine that was to become Israel – is on a quite different scale. This recalls not a normal Middle East bloodletting but an atrocity on the level of the Balkan wars of the 1990s. And of course, when an Arab bestirs himself with unrestrained fury and takes out his incendiary, blind anger on the West, we will say it has nothing to do with us. Why do they hate us, we will ask? But let us not say we do not know the answer.
As I stated in this earlier blog entry, we might not feel responsible, but we will face the consequences. We humans are our brothers' keepers -- and today, regardless of the rights and wrongs we think we understand, we are letting Gazans be slaughtered.

I would be outraged and furious and demand action if we let anyone do this to a Jewish population. We must remember history.
I am outraged and furious and I demand action because we are letting the Jewish State do this to Palestinians (for the US, we are complicit). Haven't we learned from history?

Elrig

PS 1: The Washington Post Sunday edition had the most shocking picture today. I couldn't find it on the Web (please email it if you find it). It was a group of Israeli civilians from Southern Israel congregating under the shade of a wide tree on a hilltop, binoculars in hand--to watch the bombing and destruction of Gaza. I don't know if anyone was selling pop-corn. Maybe Michael Bloomberg, James Dobson, or one of our elected officials would be happy to open a concession stand.
I'm sorry to be cynical, please tell me what response I should have to such a picture.

PS2: Watch the news for editorials saying "it's too bad those people have to die, but really there's nothing we can do." This is conscience-numbing propaganda. Don't buy it.
There is an answer to darkness - it's called light.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

In Someone Else's Shoes

Remember to follow the links -- some friends on the blogosphere have truly good points to make. Visit Marlin Vis' entry if you/I were a Palestinian (also pasted below). Worth a read. (And if you think it's two one sided check out his following entry. Warning: contains religious language--hope you can deal with it.)

Folks are stuck on their ruts right now. Some because there's no option left to them (i.e., Gaza residents), some because they can't see the good options they have (i.e., too many Israeli decision makers, Palestinian militants and average Joe's in the streets of Tel Aviv and Ramallah.).
The last group are those who are seemlingly irreversibly actors and proponents of death until the end. I am sure this includes some extremists in jihadist groups and Hebron settlers among others.

If we--outsiders--lose the ability to think out of these ruts, then we are useless.

Elrig
Marlin's text follows---------------------

If you/I were a Palestinian.

The current situation in Gaza has once again brought the Israel/Palestinian conflict on to the world’s center stage. And once again we are presented a variety of images of Palestinians and Israelis. Who are these people? And if I/you were a Palestinian or an Israeli, then what would we be about in the midst of this ongoing, bloody feud?

Good to think about, I think. Let’s first consider the Palestinian. If I/you were a Palestinian, then what?

Yossi Sarid, an Israeli news commentator and former politician, recently entertained this question in an article with Haaretz, Israel’s leading news-providing organization. He began by quoting one of his students, who, according to Sarid, had expressed rather conservative, accepted opinions - that is, opinions tending slightly to the right. Most Israelis lean to the right. It’s always a matter of degree. Sarid wrote that this student’s response “succeeded in surprising me.” He then went on to explain why. “Without any provocation on my part, he (the right-leaning, Jewish student,) “opened his heart and confessed: ‘If I were a young Palestinian, I'd fight the Jews fiercely, even by means of terror. Anyone who says anything different is telling you lies.’"

Okay, fine and good, and fairly typical as to how many Israeli Jewish people put themselves in Palestinian shoes. About 10 years ago Israel’s current defense minister, Ehud Barak, expressed the same sentiment. Haaretz journalist Gideon Levy had asked him then, as a candidate for prime minister, what he would do had he been born Palestinian, and Barak replied frankly: "I would join a terror organization."

I once had a young Israeli soldier tell me that if he were a Palestinian he’d “strap on a bomb belt and walk to Tel Aviv.” The fact is that this soldier’s confession, as well as Sarid’s student’s emulation, and even Barak’s frank admission, does not represent the normal response from or feelings of the vast majority of Palestinian youth. Forget everything else and simply look at the way most Palestinian young people live their lives. Like their parents and grandparents, they are not fiercely fighting the Jews, are not joining terror organizations, and are definitely not strapping on bomb belts and walking into Tel Aviv or Jerusalem or anywhere else for that matter. What most Palestinian youth are doing is what you or I might very well be doing if we were doing our best to resist what seems like a natural response for a people oppressed, hopeless and without power. They are surviving. They are trying to get an education, a job, a leg up, or they are desperately trying to find a way out.

It doesn’t matter what I/you think we would do if we were Palestinian. We are not, and if we were then we would do exactly the same as they. We would struggle against our oppressor. We would resist in everyway possible, and yes, some of us would be violent, but the vast majority of us would not. Just as the vast majority of Palestinians are non-violent, even passive in the face of a relentless, “seemingly never ending,” belligerent occupation.

Furthermore, if I/you were a Palestinian, we would vote for change just as the Palestinians did in 2006. And, I might add, just as the citizens of the United States did in 2008. No, I am not comparing the Democratic Party in the United States with Hamas. I am a Democrat, and about half the time I’m even proud to admit it – although a little nervous given the labeling which goes on in the States these days. For the record, half the time is a slightly higher rating than I’d give if I were a Republican, which is the only reason I’m not. If you asked the average Palestinian if he/she was a member of Fatah or Hamas, he/she would say that most of the time he/she is neither, because neither party represents him/her. The primary reason that Hamas won in 2006 was because the Palestinian people wanted to let their leaders know that they wanted change. The change they wanted was NOT a shift toward violent resistance, something I am sick and tired of hearing from folks who wouldn’t know a Palestinian from an Iranian, and who assume every Muslim is the same. Every exit pole conducted in 2006 concurred with this analysis. The change the Palestinian people wanted was any change from what they had, which at the time was a Fatah party rift with corruption, cronyism and ineptitude. Nothing was going anywhere fast, and the people decided to “throw the bums” out! The mistake the Palestinians made was to believe that the leaders of the free world – that’d be us, by the way – really believed that democracy worked. Had we given the process a chance then we might be seeing a different Hamas then we are seeing today. But we’ll never know because we never gave democracy a chance.

So if I/you were a Palestinian, then we’d be in the very same place AS the Palestinians. We’d be struggling to survive. And quite frankly, like the Palestinians, we’d be losing.

Friday, January 9, 2009

U.S. Foreign Aid. No Comment.

Righteous Kills?

I did not know (as stated here) that Gideon Levy was a former IDF soldier, but that's maybe why he can be such an honest and sharp commentator. This is probably why Levy doesn't tip toe in the name of 'balance' when he writes about his own society. He will--no doubt--be called a self-hating Jew by some (as if bashing Bush had made half of the US citizens "self-hating Americans"), but I've always found substance and intelligence in his columns.

I tried to write about the debate of morality versus expediency in Israel; I also commented about how to believe in moral intentions faced with immoral actions; and finally there is a great sense that Israel is getting blind, tone deaf and endangering itself, and I tried to discuss this also. I did it in my own clumsy way, but this column of Levy kind of sums it up with clearer -- also more severe -- language.

The one argument I rarely follow, however, is that of numbers. The rightness of a war is not judged by the differential body count. Some commentators (including Levy below) sound as if the indicator of how wrong the war is is how many Palestinians died (versus IDF soldiers or Sderot random victims). But in modern times, those who have won wars have done so by being ruthless. The best example of that is the US. The Civil War was won by "gutting out" the South -- and that meant killing a lot of civilians. At the end of WWII we pressed Germany to capitulation by merciless artillery bombings of Dresden, Frankfurt, etc., killing mostly civilians. And need I mention the Pacific front and Japan? In a cold-blooded pragmatic world, if you decide to go to war, maybe ruthlessness pays off (certainly does in sparing your soldiers, if not 'colateral dammage'). The differential just shows how much better equipped, trained or smarter you are than your enemy.

So the numbers can be shocking as they translate into civilians, innocent, flesh and blood women and children. And my friends. But to me, Israel is not wrong because of the casualty rate, but because the occupation and subtle rejection of peace efforts which forces unending war as the only logic. It's not a matter of degree of violence, it's a matter of the nature of the choices which have been made--the choice of violence embodied in conquest and occupation.

Levy's column is in Haaretz but you can read it below.

Help me not despair.

Elrig
Photo credit: www.flickr.com/photos/aheram/283162678/
---------------------------------
The Time of the Righteous - Gideon Levy
This war, perhaps more than its predecessors, is exposing the true deep veins of Israeli society. Racism and hatred are rearing their heads, as is the impulse for revenge and the thirst for blood. The "inclination of the commander" in the Israel Defense Forces is now "to kill as many as possible," as the military correspondents on television describe it. And even if the reference is to Hamas fighters, this inclination is still chilling.

The unbridled aggression and brutality are justified as "exercising caution": the frightening balance of blood - about 100 Palestinian dead for every Israeli killed, isn't raising any questions, as if we've decided that their blood is worth one hundred times less than ours, in acknowledgement of our inherent racism.

Rightists, nationalists, chauvinists and militarists are the only legitimate bon ton in town. Don't bother us about humaneness and compassion. Only at the edges of the camp can a voice of protest be heard - illegitimate, ostracized and ignored by media coverage - from a small but brave group of Jews and Arabs.

Alongside all this, rings another voice, perhaps the worst of all. This is the voice of the righteous and the hypocritical. My colleague, Ari Shavit, seems to be their eloquent spokesman. This week, Shavit wrote here ("Israel must double, triple, quadruple its medical aid to Gaza," Haaretz, January 7): "The Israeli offensive in Gaza is justified ... Only an immediate and generous humanitarian initiative will prove that even during the brutal warfare that has been forced on us, we remember that there are human beings on the other side."

To Shavit, who defended the justness of this war and insisted that it mustn't be lost, the price is immaterial, as is the fact that there are no victories in such unjust wars. And he dares, in the same breath, to preach "humaneness."

Does Shavit wish for us to kill and kill, and afterward to set up field hospitals and send medicine to care for the wounded? He knows that a war against a helpless population, perhaps the most helpless one in the world, that has nowhere to escape to, can only be cruel and despicable. But these people always want to come out of it looking good. We'll drop bombs on residential buildings, and then we'll treat the wounded at Ichilov; we'll shell meager places of refuge in United Nations schools, and then we'll rehabilitate the disabled at Beit Lewinstein. We'll shoot and then we'll cry, we'll kill and then we'll lament, we'll cut down women and children like automatic killing machines, and we'll also preserve our dignity.

The problem is - it just doesn't work that way. This is outrageous hypocrisy and self-righteousness. Those who make inflammatory calls for more and more violence without regard for the consequences are at least being more honest about it.

You can't have it both ways. The only "purity" in this war is the "purification from terrorists," which really means the sowing of horrendous tragedies. What's happening in Gaza is not a natural disaster, an earthquake or flood, for which it would be our duty and right to extend a helping hand to those affected, to send rescue squads, as we so love to do. Of all the rotten luck, all the disasters now occurring in Gaza are manmade - by us. Aid cannot be offered with bloodstained hands. Compassion cannot sprout from brutality.

Yet there are some who still want it both ways. To kill and destroy indiscriminately and also to come out looking good, with a clean conscience. To go ahead with war crimes without any sense of the heavy guilt that should accompany them. It takes some nerve. Anyone who justifies this war also justifies all its crimes. Anyone who preaches for this war and believes in the justness of the mass killing it is inflicting has no right whatsoever to speak about morality and humaneness. There is no such thing as simultaneously killing and nurturing. This attitude is a faithful representation of the basic, twofold Israeli sentiment that has been with us forever: To commit any wrong, but to feel pure in our own eyes. To kill, demolish, starve, imprison and humiliate - and be right, not to mention righteous. The righteous warmongers will not be able to allow themselves these luxuries.

Anyone who justifies this war also justifies all its crimes. Anyone who sees it as a defensive war must bear the moral responsibility for its consequences. Anyone who now encourages the politicians and the army to continue will also have to bear the mark of Cain that will be branded on his forehead after the war. All those who support the war also support the horror.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

There is no balance in evil. Link to Ali ElHajj

I'm fast approaching the point where I will have more posts per day on this blog than readers. But aware of this peril, I still offer below an interesting take about a "Christian" position on this deadly struggle.

I must acknowledge that I am a bit more direct in defining wrong-doing than the author of the article below. While I agree for the need for balance and avoiding partisanship, I don't think a "balanced" position tries to be a zero-sum game in assigning blame. There is no balance in evil. The logic of suicide bombing and human shields is evil in its own right. I do not need to raise or tamper my condemnation by how the occupation and despair contribute to it. But similarly when the strongest party, an organized state with massive US support, chooses to make war and conquest its main priority, I must condemn that in full force. Trying to "balance" this by also commenting on the terror inspired by ... terrorism, finds no balance at all.

In fact, this is usually used to simply point the finger at the other side and justify each camp's continuation of violence.

Apartheid did not end because ethnic violence ended in South Africa. Ethnic violence ended because the momentum grew for a peaceful civil resolution.

Right now, the fundamental driver of the cycle of violence is the Israeli occupation and ongoing conquest. Sadly, each day we continue increases the 'transaction cost' of peace, as revenge and hatred accrue with each death. With each battle won, Israel is losing the war. And for peacemakers the work will be twice as hard--talking to Hamas about moderation was a lot easier in January 2005 than it is now. Talking about trust in Sderot would have been easier before the Qassams became the main form of communication allowed from beyond the prison wall.

So, with this caveat, have a look at the blog entry of Ali Elhajj, whom I quote here:

"Fear, hatred, death, uncertainty and fanaticism rule the day.

For all these reasons, and more, I beg my brothers and sisters in Christ to undertake a revolution in thought which extends beyond entrenched racial and political dogmas, one that is grounded in the gospel of peace in Christ and one which propels the body of Christ to care for the sick and dying, for the fearful, and for those whom we call friend or enemy."

Click here for the rest of the text.

Elrig

Editorial by Jimmy Carter

Reports from Gaza this morning continue to be distressing - the things we don't even think about, like Depleted Uranium Bombs, a staple of modern warfare introduced during Iraq 1 and Kosovo. At least you start to hear some voices to acknowledge the Palestinian narrative on the airwaves in the US. You also start to hear a rhetoric of hatred and vengeance hard to escape when people are being killed. Such a waste...

Below is the text of Jimmy Carter's editorial in the Washington Post today:

"I know from personal involvement that the devastating invasion of Gaza by Israel could easily have been avoided.

After visiting Sderot last April and seeing the serious psychological damage caused by the rockets that had fallen in that area, my wife, Rosalynn, and I declared their launching from Gaza to be inexcusable and an act of terrorism. Although casualties were rare (three deaths in seven years), the town was traumatized by the unpredictable explosions. About 3,000 residents had moved to other communities, and the streets, playgrounds and shopping centers were almost empty. Mayor Eli Moyal assembled a group of citizens in his office to meet us and complained that the government of Israel was not stopping the rockets, either through diplomacy or military action.

Knowing that we would soon be seeing Hamas leaders from Gaza and also in Damascus, we promised to assess prospects for a cease-fire. From Egyptian intelligence chief Omar Suleiman, who was negotiating between the Israelis and Hamas, we learned that there was a fundamental difference between the two sides. Hamas wanted a comprehensive cease-fire in both the West Bank and Gaza, and the Israelis refused to discuss anything other than Gaza.

We knew that the 1.5 million inhabitants of Gaza were being starved, as the U.N. special rapporteur on the right to food had found that acute malnutrition in Gaza was on the same scale as in the poorest nations in the southern Sahara, with more than half of all Palestinian families eating only one meal a day.

Palestinian leaders from Gaza were noncommittal on all issues, claiming that rockets were the only way to respond to their imprisonment and to dramatize their humanitarian plight. The top Hamas leaders in Damascus, however, agreed to consider a cease-fire in Gaza only, provided Israel would not attack Gaza and would permit normal humanitarian supplies to be delivered to Palestinian citizens.

After extended discussions with those from Gaza, these Hamas leaders also agreed to accept any peace agreement that might be negotiated between the Israelis and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, who also heads the PLO, provided it was approved by a majority vote of Palestinians in a referendum or by an elected unity government.

Since we were only observers, and not negotiators, we relayed this information to the Egyptians, and they pursued the cease-fire proposal. After about a month, the Egyptians and Hamas informed us that all military action by both sides and all rocket firing would stop on June 19, for a period of six months, and that humanitarian supplies would be restored to the normal level that had existed before Israel's withdrawal in 2005 (about 700 trucks daily).

We were unable to confirm this in Jerusalem because of Israel's unwillingness to admit to any negotiations with Hamas, but rocket firing was soon stopped and there was an increase in supplies of food, water, medicine and fuel. Yet the increase was to an average of about 20 percent of normal levels. And this fragile truce was partially broken on Nov. 4, when Israel launched an attack in Gaza to destroy a defensive tunnel being dug by Hamas inside the wall that encloses Gaza.

On another visit to Syria in mid-December, I made an effort for the impending six-month deadline to be extended. It was clear that the preeminent issue was opening the crossings into Gaza. Representatives from the Carter Center visited Jerusalem, met with Israeli officials and asked if this was possible in exchange for a cessation of rocket fire. The Israeli government informally proposed that 15 percent of normal supplies might be possible if Hamas first stopped all rocket fire for 48 hours. This was unacceptable to Hamas, and hostilities erupted.

After 12 days of "combat," the Israeli Defense Forces reported that more than 1,000 targets were shelled or bombed. During that time, Israel rejected international efforts to obtain a cease-fire, with full support from Washington. Seventeen mosques, the American International School, many private homes and much of the basic infrastructure of the small but heavily populated area have been destroyed. This includes the systems that provide water, electricity and sanitation. Heavy civilian casualties are being reported by courageous medical volunteers from many nations, as the fortunate ones operate on the wounded by light from diesel-powered generators.

The hope is that when further hostilities are no longer productive, Israel, Hamas and the United States will accept another cease-fire, at which time the rockets will again stop and an adequate level of humanitarian supplies will be permitted to the surviving Palestinians, with the publicized agreement monitored by the international community. The next possible step: a permanent and comprehensive peace."

Resisting Cynicism

Once you see evil in your enemy -- not just in the actions of your enemy -- it becomes difficult to see anything but evil in your enemy. Israel is not my personal enemy, but it behaves as the enemy of a lot of my friends and is an insult to Jewish conscience (no, I'm not Jewish but I inherited a high opinion of Jewish ethos and its contribution to civilization).

Today, Israel allowed 3 hours of truce to allow humanitarian trucks (a mere 80) to come into Gaza.
Also today Bradley Burston published 'A Jew's Prayer for the Children of Gaza' in Haaretz.

Just the day before, the IDF (Israeli army) stood against the humanitarian truce.
In the preceding days, Burston stood firmly in support of Israel's war against the population of Gaza.
So, cynicism is whispering to me that the humanitarian 3-hour truce and the nice prayer were PR moves to counter-balance blowing up a school and killing 40 people. [And indeed, the first battle of Israel is a PR battle--consisting as selling as "defensive" an offensive and conquering occupation.]

But cynicism achieves nothing.
I'll say 'Amen' to your prayer Bradley Burston while I remember it is not those who say "Yes Lord, yes Lord" but those who act rightly who will win the day.
I will recognize in Israel the intent and hope for morality, even if not always put into action. (More on these intentions squelched by misplace priorities here.)
I will recognize your actions when they are simply in the right direction, believe you can be a power which engages in righteous actions, and encourage you to continue.

Now, remember -- had Israel and the United States followed that principle when Hamas won an election fairly and peacefully after nearly one year of restraint from attacks on Israel, we all would be in a better place today.

If we stopped judging our neighbor or our enemies by the intentions we project on them or we suspect, but judged them by their actions, encouraged right actions, we might all move along a real road map to somewhere.

So, quick reminder:
- Israel says - sometimes - it wants to live in peace with a free Palestinian State. At a time when this is blatantly unbelievable, we will believe that you can have a conscience to abide by your words, while we will oppose your current crime with all of our might. We have little might but that of conscience today.
- Hamas has offered a hundred-year truce and shown it would make agreements, curtain and stop violence. It has shown also wrong-headedness in its resistance strategies by relying on terrorism, and the rhetoric of some of its members is sometimes hopeless. While we will always oppose terrorism, we will believe that you can abide by the road to peace, even as each day takes us further away from it while children are being killed.

We will continue to believe humans--who can be monsters--can find the path to peace.
And we will reject the cynicism which ensures hopelessness.

I must say that these days, it is hard.
I personally need a Higher Power to make that choice.

Would you rather call onto God to help you hate your enemies more fervently or to allow the roots of hope to take hold against all odds?


Elrig
PS: I know I owe a follow up on the last 2 entries - I'm getting there.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

The Rhetoric of Endless War - Justifying the Unjustifiable

Before my updates, start with reading Eboo Patel referenced on Brian McLaren's blog.

I asked some rhetorical questions in my last post--and here's an example of how they too often get treated. This article from Ralph Peters in the New York Post is probably a fair example of the rhetoric, propaganda and discourse which try to justify the unjustifiable in Gaza today.

I did a simple deconstruction of Peters' column, as the basis of my analysis, and I identified a series of fallacies, justifications and downright lies. Next post, I will go into what this really means. I will write a short summary about the implications of this type of thinking when it passes as acceptable language. I'm sorry for not being able to do it now. {Finally got to it, click here for that analysis.}

[In the meantime if you are interested after reading Peters' column, send me an email and I'll send you back a 4 page table looking at it line by line in a Word document.]

Today was the most murderous in Gaza. The airstrikes have run out of targets, so it's up to tanks and foot soldiers to go out and kill who they can kill. Is Israel targeting militants as it claims? It would need to have pretty good intelligence to recognize militants among the folks huddled in their homes and hiding in their basements.

I always try to strike a balanced tone, but let me make my opinion clear: Israel has put itself at exactly the same level as those it purports to fight. Even worst, because Israel has other options, it has access to a free world, to an open field of ideas and it should know better. Finally, Israel is the one who has chosen to continue an abomination at the center and root of all this, the occupation.

In thoughts with the ignored victims of Gaza, who have nowhere to go, as well as the far fewer victims in Sderot, who can hop on a bus.

Elrig

Monday, January 5, 2009

Five critical questions to decode the news about Israel / Gaza / Hamas

OK - friends told me that they noticed a change in the language of my entries, that I have drifted to a more emotional, less analytical tone. Good point. So, let's try to engage with analytical distance (while I let my friends handle tanks in front of their house).

There are questions we need to ask if we want to be able to fairly assess the news coming to us and to judge the situation. I have listed the top five (below), which seem to underlie most of the assumptions of articles and commentaries in support of the current Israeli intervention in Gaza:

1- Isn't Hamas dedicated to the ultimate destruction of Israel and "pushing the Jews back into the sea?" And if that's the case, what choice does Israel have but to abolish the threat, no matter what the human cost?
2- Hasn't Israel shown itself willing to live in peace beside a Palestinian population organized under a viable state? So, why is it being threatened and why shouldn't it defend itself.
3- Even if we feel sorry for the Palestinian people (and these days everyone feels "sorry for the Palestinian people," even Ehud Barak), isn't it the corruption of their leaders which have forced this dead-end situation and pushed Israel to intervene militarily?
4- What is happening in Gaza is terrible, but what choice did Israel have when Qassam and Katyusha rockets were shot at civilians in Sderot and now Ashkalon? Which country in the world would tolerate such threats on its population?
5- Why haven't Palestinians chosen the non-violent route to achieve statehood and freedom? It seems this would work much better than what has been tried in the past.

Many commentaries implicitly address these questions in a way which can only then justify Israel's actions anywhere from a "least of all possible evils" to "heroic struggle."
I will use future entries to provide short answers to these five questions / set of assumptions.

But I will give you already my conclusion already about where this is all leading. When you have killed the last Hamas militant (if you could) and destroyed the last workshop where those stupid primitive rockets can be built, and anihilated the last thread of a police / security force in Gaza, and obturated the last tunnel allowing Gazans the free circulation of goods your forces have forbiden for years, you will have a pile of rubble, under the rubble a pile of bodies - men, women, children, militants, non-militants, ex-militants, future-militants ("Dieu reconnaitra les siens"), piling up the bodies for burrial you will still have 1.4 million people (I'm betting on less than 100,000 dead right now), half of whom under the age of 15. What you won't find underneath all this is a path to conscience and a path to peace.

There is a path to peace, but you can't drive there in a tank.
Click here and here for past commentaries on this path.

Monday Morning Update on Gaza

One of my very dear friends in the northern part of Gaza reported to me the continuation of the Israeli onslaught on Gaza.

Helicopters seem to go after specific targets, but tanks in the street appear to be randomly making targets of houses. On Saturday a 7 year old died in Beit Hanoun. Since then a pregnant woman and five of her kids also died in their house.

People who lived through the 2001 incursions into Bethlehem will recognize the patterns of wanton destruction. You go in with a tank, what are you going to do? Shoot at nothing?

The Palestinian National Authority should consider resigning and dissolving itself. It cannot protect its population in Gaza. It has not inflected the course of Israel one inch over the past years: settlements have expanded; even during the truce with Hamas, Israel has never fully respected its engagements and allowed free circulation of goods and resumption of a normal economy in Gaza. True, Hamas did not manage to curtail 100% of militant rocket fires, but it did curtain it very drastically and there was no Israeli victim until Israel intervened on November 4th-5th.

For the record, departing abysmal-failure president Bush encouraged Israel to continue the killing. At least he is consistent; he had the same position during the 2006 Lebanese waste of a war. This guy has never seen a war in the Middle East he didn't like.
Michael Bloomberg is in Israel to support Israel. If you want my opinion about what supporting Israel would mean to a sensible human, click here.

The concluding words of my friend for today:
"This blood will not be spilled for nothing. Inch'allah it will one day lead to peace. And freedom for the Palestinian people."
Message to Israel: The world does not hate you and a lot of us in the world really don't hate the Jews. We, civilized people of the earth, humans regardless of confession (and all confessions are represented) think all people are born equal and imbued with inaliable rights and duties. We loath Antisemitism as much as we loath your Arabophobia. Some of us -- this includes our Jewish brothers & sisters and other monotheistic believers -- even believe Hashem / God / Allah / a Higher Power is the One who gives these things to us all.
The commandment of the Torah is to "love your neighbor."
Hashem is asking you today: 'How have you treated your Palestinian neighbor? How are you treating him today?'

And no, please, for a minute stop justifying your crimes and your sin through an unfair balance in judging the sins of your neighbor. First, God abhors an unfair balance (read the Torah, please). Second, you are not the judge of your neighbor. You do not have eternal rights to rule Arab lives. Get the point. Stop the occupation. Free Gaza. Choose life.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Short notes on Gaza and Watching the news

Heard Leila El-Hadad on CNN last night, a "Mother from Gaza". Click here and visit her blog.

When a nation has lost its moral compass, its bearings, its sense of security, and its sense of control of the future, proving to yourself that you can go in, be the stronger one, decide life and death on those you fear, yet come out on top in the court of world opinion must make you feel better. Mazel Tov!
Sorry friends - I am in a sarcastic mood today, while my friends are being bombed, invaded by tanks and I fear for their life.

Tomorrow Israel will declare that it has killed enough Arabs, then we--the world--will tell them there is a truce and that obviously they should be happy now and not want more violence. Sane thinking, right?

I observed the US news for a few hours and observed how the Israeli Ambassador (clean cut suit, impeccable English) sat in the CNN studio for hours explaining the rightness of Israel's actions (including how they target "Hamas militants" not "Palestinians"--more on that below). Journalists -- always so sorry for the victims -- keep repeating that Israel is doing all this BECAUSE Hamas won't stop the violence. Images are provided by the Israel Defense Forces. Well - that's so nice of you to offer!
During that time, except for remarkable and welcome exceptions like an interview with Hanan Ashrawi (I think that was on Fox, who tampered her comment that anything Israel did could be judged "cruel" because - said Geraldo - "cruel" is subjective. A dose of fair and balanced a day keeps the guilt away.) or Leila El Hadad (see intro), Palestinian views are not represented, or represented by folks with an accent (always suspicious). Of course the views from Hamas are not represented. (Not that these guys are very smart at PR).

People I run into and who dare breach the topic have all heard the same thing: Israel's violence (some debate about how justified it is) comes in response to Hamas violence. It is repeated so often, it must be true. Wait! Who's the political leader who built a career on saying all you needed to do was repeating a lie enough for it to be the truth? Dangerous territory, I am drawing a moral parallel, a moral equivalency... But really not. I'm way past moral equivalency. I look at Israel's actions as what they are. A modern state, a want-to-be modern liberal democracy, behaving like a 19th Century warmonger.

I usually have a lot of sympathy for the Israeli people, their heritage, their fears and angst, and the violence they have suffered from.

I'll be honest with you. Today, I can't muster this sympathy.

Israel is blind, drunk, violent. They've run out of targets; they don't know what to shoot. Last night in Beit Hanoun a seven-year old was killed in his or her bedroom. Ooops; collateral damage. Sorry. We called "collateral damage" so it doesn't count, right?

Yes it counts.

O - before I close this pointless entry - I said I'd get back at the "Hamas militant" vs. "Palestinian citizen" issue.

Let's say I fly down to Mississipi and start taking pot shots at people claiming I'm only targetting "Red Necks," or "Republicans," or "Democrats," not "Americans" (to whom I wish the best) what would you think of me? How could I tell one from the other?

40% of Palestinians voted for Hamas, for a reason.
Killing Hamas (and an acceptable level of "oops, sorry Collateral Damage") won't change those reasons.
Also killing the police rarely leads to more law and order.

Watching the news last night felt like reading 1984.

Peace?


Elrig

Friday, January 2, 2009

While we are sleeping

A question is haunting me. It's a question which should only haunt young idealistic minds, not seasoned pragmatic minds like mine.
Still, it's there.

It's a question for me and it might be a question for you -- particularly if you're not thinking about it. But I'm embarrassed; I dare not ask it for fear of showing a lack of realism, a lack of understanding about how the world works.

College or high school kids have nothing better to do but point the finger at the world and they ask questions like that. In my opinion, that makes them sound like Debbie-Downer. (Debbie-Downer is a Saturday Night Live or Mad TV character who kills dinner parties with one-liners reminding everyone of all the horrors in the world, which we can do nothing about.)

Still, I have this question, so I must ask:
If our country (our government) is passively or actively complicit in wrong-doing while we are sleeping, will we be held responsible for that? How about if our government is the best possible government we could dream of, and still has a blind spot and does not see that it is passively or actively complicit in wrong-doing, will we still be held responsible for that?
I think back on history. The European powers in the 1920s and 1930s weren't doing much evil, except for some colonization here and there, and only with the best intentions in the world at that. We also felt we were rightly exacting due punishment on the Germans for World War I. Nobody felt too involved in the rising anti-Semitism among impoverished Germans. We didn't react much to Adolph writing "My Kampf." Could the French and British really be held responsible for the brew mixing in Germany? Not really. Payment for war damages was crushing to the German population, but that was just a consequence of WWI. What could possibly be the responsibility of the average citizen in that? Pointing to what was happening in Germany at that time, both what was happening to the German population and what was happening within the German population would certainly have felt like a Debbie-Downer moment. Neither appropriate during the roaring 20s, nor during the 30s' financial crisis. The average French or Brit honestly could not feel overly responsible for the story unfolding in Germany.

50 to 72 million people -- most of them "average people" -- died in World War II.

We may not speak of responsibility, but we can speak of consequences.
So I ask my question again.
Michael Scheuer who used to work for the CIA and specifically led the hunt for Osama bin Laden (OBL), neither a poet nor a peacenick, made a simple point in his books+: muslim terrorists do not try to kill us because of who we are but primarily because of what we (the "West") do in their countries. And we all know--by now--what happened to all those weapons and all the guerilla training we provided to moujahideens in Afghanistan.

After the first Gulf War (which had international law behind it, regardless of how you feel about the decision to go to war), the US and the British stayed in Iraq. Directly or indirectly we contributed to the death of at least 500,000 children in 10 years through economic sanctions--even if responsibility was shared with the actions of a nutcase dictator (Hussein)--and we also contributed to a severe worsening in the health of the Iraqi population (notably through the use of depleted uranium bombs). Between the first and the second Gulf War, local papers kept repeating that 'we would have to go back into Iraq and finish the job.' A friend of mine shocked me on the verge of the 2000 US election by stating that the US was "at peace with everyone."

Direct links of causality are not easily drawn, but a picture emerges with inescapable causes and consequences. We were sleeping. We were not responsible. We were not willingly bothering anyone. But the cycle of action-reaction spun one more time around. We got 9/11, we got Madrid, we got London, and we're now in another unending war in Iraq.*
So, looking further back, I ask my question again.
What about the US Founding Fathers, as remarkable as they were, and their blind spot on slavery? What about the average Joe in Louisiana, who didn't know any better, and was even "nice" to his slaves? How about the average Jim in Pennsylvania, who opposed slavery but understood that the priority was to consolidate the Union, that this would have to wait? Would they be responsible for the consequences of that stain?

700,000 people died in the Civil War, from both the North and the South.
This leads me to today.
For good reasons, we (the West, but even more specifically the US) support Israel and we support it blindly. I say for good reasons, because there are actually good reasons, valid historical reasons, even more grey-zone cultural reasons for recognizing and supporting Israel--just maybe not so blindly.

Our own understanding is that we're fighting terrorism. And who wouldn't want to be fighting terrorism? Who wants to stand up and say "heck no! I support terrorism." So we have a global war on terror. We don't speak to terrorists--consequently we don't speak to the democratically elected leaders of the Palestinian people. Our government even plays a part in fostering violence between different factions. We even allow--against our own laws--the use of military equipment against civilian populations. Of course, we're "sorry" for the collateral damage, but what are we going to do? Obama said it, 'hey, if you shoot rockets in my house, I'll do something about it!' That's sensible enough to the average Joe. In fact, there are no more than 30-35 US Congressmen and Senators, Democrats and Republicans, who stand against that logic, who question whether Israel is the liberal, democratic state respectful of human rights and decency.

400 people died in Gaza in the last two weeks.
Our policies support the total subjection of 1.5 million Arabs in Gaza to the whims of a foreign occupier.
These 1.5 million people (75% of whom were driven by force from their homes) are born and live in the largest open-air prison in the world.
Israel continues to conquer and control in the West Bank.

But the average Joe cannot understand the details. "Haven't these people hated each other for centuries?" (The answer is "no", but how would we know?)
"Anyway, the Jews have the right to defend themselves." (Certainly, but is it what is happening when a village is locked behind a wall and the farmers lose their field?)
The average Joe has to listen to the politicians and the media. And if we were that wrong about the whole thing, someone would say it. Right?
"Plus we give a lot of money to the Palestinians, why don't they just get along and build Switzerland behind a wall?"
"What?"
"OK - they can build it behind 5 or 6 separate walls, but why would they care so much if they can't go and see their cousin? I don't care much for my cousins, why should they?"
"Anyway, it's not solvable."

Certainly it's a mess. How can we be responsible? We're the good guys.
Now, let me ask one more time,
What if...
...the people who struggle for peace, whether Humanists, Jewish, Christian, Muslims, those who tell us that there is a great injustice being carried out, were right?

...our US tax dollar and our US-made weapons of targeted destruction were in fact used to occupy, dispossess, humiliate and kill? [CNN would tell us, right?]

...it were actually a bad thing to lock up 1.5 million people and every day decide whether it's one or ten who are classified as 'militants' and are 'taken out?'

...our money (our abundant money), our weapons (our many weapons), our explicit support or our silence made us complicit of injustice?

...the Israeli government were led by flawed humans [is it that hard to imagine? then you haven't been watching], with their biases, sometimes racism, and a growing delusion -- as other governments in the past have-- in the pursuit of the national interest?

...we (Americans) were really really well-meaning and wouldn't hurt a fly -- and there's hardly a nicer people group than Americans as a whole** -- but for some reason our media and politicians had it wrong?
Well, what then? Could we be held responsible tomorrow for driving an entire population to despair?
I don't really know what being held responsible means, but here is my hunch:

If these things are true (and sadly they are true),
whether we sleep or wake,

whether confused or enraged,

whether honest in our error or cynically calculating,

whether we just think there will be one joyous nuclear Armageddon to spare us from all this, or we expect that in the fullness of time Jesus will make all things right and it's not our job to think too much for now,

whether we support the status quo out of genuine affection for a people which has also suffered more than its share, or out of ignorance,

whether we have serious concerns, like the economy and our 401k to worry about,
in this lifetime, on this planet, for you and I and our children, I am quite certain that there will be consequences to both the action and inaction of our countries today.

I'm sorry for being a Debbie-Downer. But I also think we can strive to change this before it's too late.
And that could have consequences too.
Salaam - Shalom - Peace. At least if we rise before it's too late this time.


Elrig

+'Through the eyes of our enemies' and 'Imperial Hubris'
*
Of course for now "the surge has worked." More boots on the ground and $325 million a month in protection money to radical groups have led to improvements, which 'of course will be sustained.' I think the Sadr Army and others must be using the $325 million to send their kids to Disney World or Peace School, or to launch massive fun-with-macrame programs. Well- I'm not sure of the details, but with that much money coming from the DOD, we can be sure it is being put to good use, can't we?.
**OK - I'm just buttering you up right now, but you guys are suckers for that and you are nice folks; it simply wouldn't work on the Brits. They're not "nice" and they're cool with that.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Statements from Sabeel and Gush Shalom on Gaza

I'm just shamelessly pasting from David's blog here to present Sabeel's reflection on Gaza. If you have never set foot in Gaza and are perplexed by what you hear about it and can't cut through the rhetoric, there are worst places to start to hear an honest voice about Gaza and the situation there. The Sabeel text is pasted below.
[DIGRESSION -- I like the theology of Sabeel because it seems to care for people, including in stating that justice will not bring peace without mercy and charity [my paraphrase]. That's the only time I can stand hearing the word "theology." After a few years in the Holy Land, it's hard to hear that word without a strong gag reflex--what with all the theology of land, ethnicity, religious groups, architectural reliques, end time armageddons and all similar sorry excuses for another round of blowing up each other "with God on our side." So, I'd like Sabeel even more if they didn't use that term, but at least they center it around quaint ideas of "love of neighbor" (made popular by a Jewish Palestinian whose name still circulates in pro-Armageddon churches) and all people being equal in God's sight (as if God could love un-chosen people and chosen people alike.) Enough of me digressing.]
Before that, here's this week's message from Gush Shalom about the current Israeli warmongering.

And, yes - I know. It's no way to run a blog.
My apologies.

Elrig - [the slacker blogger?]

Tiger of war (Gush Shalom)
The government
Has mounted the
Tiger of war.

Now it doesn’t
Know how to
Get off.

All of us
Will pay
The price.

Ad published in Haaretz, January 2, 2009


SABEEL’S REFLECTION ON GAZA

The Narrow Gate of Justice

“Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the road is easy that leads to destruction, and there are many who take it. For the gate is narrow and the road is hard that leads to life, and there are few who find it.” (Matthew 7:13-14)

On Saturday, December 27, 2008, as the children of Gaza were about to leave their schools to return home, the Israeli air force carried a massive air attack against the people of Gaza. In less than 4 hours, over 150 people were killed and 200 injured – men, women, and children. By the end of the fourth day, over 390 Palestinians were killed and almost 2,000 injured. On the Israeli side, 4 were killed and no statistics are available on the number of injured.

FACTS ABOUT THE GAZA STRIP:

Population: 1.5 million. 75% of them are refugees. 45% of them are under 14 years.

Area: 360 sq km, 139 sq miles.

Population density: 4,167 people/sq mile (The highest in the world.)

80% of Gazan households live below the poverty line, subsisting on less than $3 per person a day. 80% of all Gazan families would literally starve without food aid from international agencies.

The Israeli occupation of the Gaza Strip, similar to that of the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, started with the 1967 June war. In September 2005, the Israeli army pulled out of Gaza and removed its illegal settlements. However, the illegal Israeli occupation of the Gaza Strip did not come to an end. Israel maintained its tight control over Gaza’s borders (air, land, and sea). To make things even worse, Israel imposed a siege on Gaza in June 2007, thus tightening its border restrictions and causing the humanitarian conditions to deteriorate further. Under the brutal siege, every aspect of the lives of the people of Gaza was controlled. They were totally dependent on Israel for fuel, electricity, cooking gas, medical supplies, food supplies (even flour), building material, etc. Israel made sure that the Palestinians would remain alive at barely the survival and basic subsistence level.

On November 14, 2008, UN General Secretary Ban Ki Moon issued a statement that said, “The Secretary-General is concerned that food and other life saving assistance is being denied to hundreds of thousands of people, and emphasizes that measures which increase the hardship and suffering of the civilian population of the Gaza Strip as a whole are unacceptable and should cease immediately.”

IMPORTANT POINTS TO REMEMBER:

FIRST: A word about tahdi’a (the period of calm or truce). It is important to note that among the terms of tahdi’a was the understanding that Israel would lift the siege of the Gaza Strip, and gradually extend the truce to the West Bank. This Israel did not do. It only partially lifted the siege and allowed a trickle of vital commodities into Gaza which kept the people at the level of mere survival. Israel’s raids into the West Bank continued on a daily basis and scores of Palestinians were arrested or assassinated.

The International Herald Tribune reported on December 19, 2008 that it was Hamas’ understanding that after the tahdi’a Israel would open the crossings and allow the transfer of goods that have been banned since the siege was imposed. There was never a return to the 500 – 600 truckloads of goods shipments that used to go into the Gaza Strip before the siege. “The number of trucks increased to around 90 from around 70.” The facts and figures tell the real story. Sadly, however, many western leaders have shut their ears, eyes, and mouths against the cry of the oppressed and they fell into the deceptive snares of Israel. Most of the world judges Israel by what it says and not by what it does; while they close their ears to the comprehensive and workable 2002 Peace Initiative adopted by all the Arab leaders including the Palestinians. Even Hamas has agreed to a Palestinian State within the 1967 borders as expressed to President Carter on his latest visit to Syria.

SECOND: So long as Israel holds the Palestinians in general and the Gazans in particular under occupation, they (the Palestinians) have the right, according to international law, to resist the “seemingly never ending” belligerent occupation and struggle for their liberation. Israel, therefore, cannot demand from the international community sympathy and political support and from the Palestinians calm and security, while it maintains its inhuman and illegal occupation. It is only when Israel ends its occupation that it can have a legitimate right to defend its borders. Israel stands in violation of international law and is the aggressor due to its belligerent occupation.

THIRD: The Arab leaders and governments can do more for peace. Many people accuse them of a conspiracy of silence. Most of the Arab people are ashamed of the positions of their governments because they have not used their resources collectively to end the occupation. Sabeel is not talking about the use of force although many of our Arab people do. We believe that the Arab governments could have contributed much more towards a resolution of the Palestine-Israel conflict through nonviolent means. Tragically, this did not happen.

FOURTH: Although Sabeel wishes that Hamas and other Palestinian factions had chosen a nonviolent way to resist the Israeli siege, we feel that the disproportionate use of military force against the Gaza Strip and the number of casualties that it produced must be strongly condemned. It is a shame that once again many western leaders have failed to see the deeper issues that are involved. They chose to stand with the occupier rather than with the occupied, with the oppressor rather than the oppressed, and with the powerful rather than with the weak. It is important to continue the resistance against the belligerent occupation. But we call on our Palestinian people to abandon the armed struggle and to choose a more potent and effective way – the way of nonviolence. We can do it and we can win. The Palestinians are capable of setting an example for the rest of the world. This is what we must do; and this is what can restore to us our human pride and dignity.

In fact, we must look to a world where wars, and weapons of violence and destruction would be banned and where oppressed nations would choose the higher moral ground and resist the evil of belligerent occupations by nonviolent means. We hope for a world where a reformed United Nations would never be held hostage by powerful nations, but would enjoy the freedom to establish justice for the oppressed of the world.

FIFTH: We believe that the real message of the Palestinians to the world is a genuine cry for freedom and liberation. The Palestinians did not initiate the violence. The prolonged illegal Israeli occupation is the real cause for the violence in our area. Israel has shut the door on justice. The only way that can guarantee a lasting resolution of the conflict is for the United States’ new administration to dare and open the door of justice. We believe that it is the narrow gate of which Jesus Christ spoke. It is the gate that leads to a life of peace and security. “Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the road is easy that leads to destruction, and there are many who take it. For the gate is narrow and the road is hard that leads to life, and there are few who find it.” This is the narrow gate of justice. This is the basis of international law. The way of military domination, occupation, violence, and wars is the wide gate that leads to destruction; while the gate that seems narrow and hard is the one that leads to justice, peace and security for both sides. We have tried the wide gate and it has only brought us destruction. It is high time to try the narrow gate of justice so that we might find life.

Sabeel Ecumenical Liberation Theology Center

Jerusalem

December 31, 2008

www.sabeel.org