Monday, February 23, 2009

What the "Status Quo" looks like from the wrong side of a wall (reprise)

Reprise on a theme --the status quo which isn't one -- this is about the West Bank. Remember, where Hamas does NOT rule but the US-supported and Israeli-recognized Fatah government of President Abu Mazen and Prime Minister Salaam Fayyad? So, that's where there's no threat from the Palestinians, no rockets, no enticement to violence. What does the status quo look like?

Read the report from Gush Shalom - and consider taking action.


Nightly invasions to Palestinian villages in the West Bank
Imagine being awakened to the sound of a stun grenade. Imagine such a grenade landing in your front yard every night. This is the reality that residents of Palestinian villages who are struggling against the apartheid wall are forced to deal with since the attack on Gaza.

These nightly invasions by the army, which terrorize villagers, are becoming ever more frequent. Invasions take place three to four time a week in the villages of Beit Likia and Bil'in. In the last week, the villages of Ma'asara, Ni'ilin and Jayus too have joined the list, as troops have been harassing those who participate and organize the village protests.

During the invasions soldiers shoot tear gas and stun grenades into civilian's houses. They also use rubber coated bullets and live rounds. On 13.2.09, two children were injured in their homes in Beit Likia, and a 60 year old woman was hit in the stomach. On that same night, soldiers reached the homes of Ma'asara popular leaders Muhammad Barjia and Mahmoud Zoahara, kept them for hours outside their homes in the cold with very little cloths, and caused damage to their property, threatening to arrest the two if demonstrations in the area were to continue. A report by Zoahara is attached hereunder.

The media does not report these incidents, which have become a tiring routine of the reality of occupation. It seems that under this media blockade, army commanders feel free to carry out these crimes.

A link to a video from Wednesday 18.2.09. The army invaded during the day to set a checkpoint and later at night, just to shoot some teargas and bullets.

Background to the Villages
The village of Bil'in has become renowned for its on going struggle against the wall, and Beit Likia too has been known to participate in the struggle. Three Beit Likia children were killed by soldiers and private security guards. The village of Ma'asara has for two years now been leading the popular struggle of the Beit Lehem district villages, in quite demonstrations against the land grabs committed by both settlements and the wall. Jaaus was the first village that conducted a struggle against the wall, back in 2003 and Ni'ilin is protesting for the last year. Four people were killed by the army in Ni'ilin, two of them were children.

Testimony: The night after the demo in AL-Ma'sara village
At the mid of the night 7 Israeli army cars entered the village, they have two target places to attack on is the house of Mohammed BRYJYA The spoken man of the popular community against the wall in the village and the second is the house of Mahmoud Zwahre the coordinator of the popular community against the wall.

Around 12:30 at night the solders knock the door of my house asking me to open the door in a non pilot way then I opened the door more than 10 solders entered my house without my permission, then they asked for my ID and my wife also, and then the check the house putting everything on the other destroying the furniture of the house , at that time they push me out side in the cold weather wit very light clothes, asking the same questions for the demonstration many questions, they told me that they are going to arrest me and they blind me and they tied then they remove the things on my eyes and they start taking pictures for my, while im on the ground on my knees at that time I thought that im in Gwantanamo , then they tied off me and then he told me this week we came and we will not arrest you, the massage this week take care we are going to arrest you next week we are going to come in more difficult way.

So don't come to demonstrate, don't organize demos.

At that time I preferred to be quite no answers and I refuse to talk to them because I know the mode that they are in at that time.

While they was checking in my house they found emails for many friends from solidarity associations from Europe I dint know if they are going to use them or not?

After three hours they left me then I phone Mohammed and I found that they did the same to him.

All of what they are doing we expect it since long time.

All of that is a sign of victory.

Today or tomorrow we are going to win because we have the faith.


Visit Gush Shalom and write a letter to the Israeli Ministry of Defense (Gush Shalom provides a sample letter). In the US, write to your representatives (Congress.Org makes it easy for you) and ask them to request State Department action.
If you wonder how exceptional this is, view this older video:

Photo Source: Gush Shalom /

Monday, February 16, 2009

Curious about Israeli Elections?

Israeli elections and the naming of a new government are based on a proportional legislative process, somewhat confusing to US observers. The French have the experience of the disastrous IVth Republic to look at, so have a "been there, done that" to the mess presented by this unstable system. At any rate, here's a great summary of the groups involved, the issues at stake and the options being considered by Gush Shalom's Uri Avnery.

[Avnery was a soldier in the 1948 war and once an MP in the Knesset. I believe he is up in age and battling cancer, according to what I read. If you are the praying kind, pray for such a man. If you are not the praying kind, wish him good luck and long life. There are far too few giants like this Mr Avnery - a man or character, intelligence and vision.l

There are other links pertaining to this election in the 'Quick Updates' section. ------>


Saturday, February 14, 2009

The Words of "War to the Death" in Palestine

This entry is for the next time you hear about tanks or shells in Gaza. Or Jenin, Nablus, Tulkarem. It is about next time when there won't be 1,400 dead Palestinians and 5,000 wounded, but when there will be 14,000 dead and 50,000 wounded. Or more. It is about the next time we'll shrug it off as just a terribly sad thing that "we only wish someone could do something about," while really believing nothing can actually change.

This is about the words and thoughts which inhabit our readiness to accept war and justify death, particularly when it comes to Arab and Palestinian lives. It is somewhat about beliefs and explanatory models among some Jewish groups.* Not exclusively Jewish however.

[Now, I must immediately take a break and respond to a question before going any further: "What about the Israeli deaths? What about the words and thoughts which allow sending suicide bombers in pizzerias and shooting rockets indiscriminately at civilians?" I'll respond two things: 1- "What about" questions are rhetorical gimmicks and I don't respond to rhetorical questions. 2- On the more serious topic of protecting Jewish lives (actually any life) and facing the crimes of terrorism, yes it is important. It's simply not the topic of this particular post. Maybe one of these days I should write about my views of radical Islam, since I've written in favor of speaking to Hamas. Just not in this post. End of parenthesis.]

It started with a column I mentioned before ('Damned if they do but Israel's dead if they don't.' by Ralph Peters in the New York Post).** This column was circulated among US groups in support of the Gaza war. I just use it because it is illustrative of other papers, pieces and speeches. In fact, I've started reading and hearing similar thoughts in emails and in discussions with Israeli friends. I'm still under the shock of hearing 'normal' people in the 21st Century think that what the world needs is 'one more good war'.

I'll skip all the circular logic and implied warrants of arguments, which Peters fails to defend and just summarize what he tells us.

Claim #1- Peters tells us something about Israel, something about the world, and something about Arabs in general and/or Palestinians specifically.
  • Israel is by definition peaceful and the sole point of light in a dark Middle East.
  • The world is, continues to be, and will always be fundamentally antisemitic (a.k.a. anti-Jewish). Nothing has changed since 1933.
  • Palestinians are illegitimate in their identity and in their claims and -- the two themes are used interchangeably -- Arabs and Muslims are untrustworthy, dangerous, lesser people, with a single dedication to killing Jews.
Those are presented as self-evident facts, the premise upon which today's history pages unfold. They are the assumptions which allow to judge any event intelligently. If it were just propaganda and rhetoric, this would be one thing. I don't know Peters, I have no idea who he is, but what scares me is that I meet more and more people who actually think that way.

Claim #2- Peters tells us two things about how to judge the events which were unfolding in Gaza:
  • Violence against Palestinians is violence against terrorists and is thus justified (as much as we may regret the unavoidable collateral damage).
  • Criticism of Israel at any time, including when women and children are dying by the hundreds, is simply a sign of antisemitism.
To support claim number 2, simply refer back to claim number 1 and loop the loop. There's a lot more in Peters' text and each theme has a number of variations, which I summarize as an end note.*** But where does that lead us?

Claim #3- The conclusion of Peters is implied, but his job is to lead you to conceive of it, to be ready for it, maybe to wish for it. And when you talk to some people in Israel and in the US, you realize it is working. There's only one conclusion we have to be ready for:
  • No path of peace or negotiation is possible (once again, go back to 1).
    [In the same vein, there were a number of editorials in the US during the active phase of the Gaza war telling the public: "Isn't it a shame for the poor children? But nothing can be done. It's better to leave it alone for now and not worry about it. Please return to your normal activities."]
  • Absolute violence will be needed and will have to go on until the Arabs are either subjugated or destroyed.
Now, if that doesn't send shivers up your spine, it's probably simply because this is all too far away from you and we humans are not designed to see, without great effort, the consequences which distant and remote catastrophes will have on our daily lives tomorrow.

My point is not to take all of these claims and disprove them one by one (a good place to start for that is Gush-Shalom's Truth vs. Truth). My point is to ask what happens when you view the world with such hopelessness? What happens when you believe that hatred against you is so pervasive? What happens when you see one people group as inherently lesser - lesser than you, lesser than others - lesser than human? What happens?

It's actually not all propaganda. Of course these themes are part of a propaganda campaign, which is well analyzed elsewhere. But for many this propaganda has become a core belief, a reality to live with.

Many people living in Southern Israel, for example, have accepted the authorized history of this land in the 20th Century. They are (though not all) impervious to the successive deceptions of governments playing the game of a fictitious 'road map to peace' while allowing conquest by illegal settlers and pushing all the wrong buttons at the wrong time to ensure the continuation of the conflict. In that context who wouldn't be traumatized by rockets flying over one's city -- the fact that these rockets killed 20 of your own people in eight years, while about 3,000 of "them" were killed during that same period gets hidden by a few acts of humanitarianism and generosity. (And if you start to question those facts, go back to claims #1 and 2.)

Whether it's propaganda or you honestly (even if perhaps blindly) believe in the first set of claims, you then have to agree with the second set. And pretty soon, you don't even have to agree with the third set, you just have to be ready and to accept it. You just have to make it an acceptable idea. A thought. A possibility.

The other thing that happens is that you don't have to look at the facts, you don't have to question the news and you don't have to learn history: it's all written. Black and white, no grey, no room for compromise. Those who would not believe in the necessary return to brutish times which these beliefs demand--us vs. them--are naive fools who believe in fluffy concepts of peace and goodwill to men; they are appeasers and dreamers.

I am many things but hardly naive but I believe something else is possible. I believe, as do Jimmy Carter, Desmond Tutu, Uri Avnery, Elias Chacour, Naim Ateek and others that good fences make good neighbors. That should Israel pull back behind its recognized borders and--with the Western powers--allow the Palestinians to resolve their own internal questions, there would be a partner for peace and someone to bring order against extremist groups, assuming Israel dares to bring order to its own extremist groups. (Click here for more of my essays.)

What I believe is, however, hardly the point. The point is that if the beliefs captured in these three sets of claims are true, then we will have slaughter, mayhem, blood and chaos on a new scale in the Middle East. Some coldly say: "So be it. Just as long as Israel wins." It is the blind arrogance of fear and rage speaking. If we continue going down that path, the whole world--maybe even Smalltown, USA--will take another hellish turn.

The beliefs we feed now create the world we will live in tomorrow.

So, I am certainly asking those who call themselves 'friends of Israel' what they are doing to either feed or heal this nihilism?


* I sort of trust readers of this blog know where I stand for the most part; that I am equally amazed at the workers of peace and justice on the Jewish, Muslim, Christian and secular fronts and equally sickened by the culture of death which can reside in those same groups. I assert the freedom to express my views about any influence on peace and war and the future of our common world. I may be right, I may be wrong, but I don't think I can be accused of lumping any one type of people into a single undifferentiated group in order to point the finger at that group. What this post does is try to look at a reality among members of a global community and how it can affect our collective history - let the reader judge if it is accurate and pertinent on the ground of the analysis provided, without misjudgment of intent ("procès d'intention" in French).

** I actually did a line-by-line deconstruction of the Peters piece, which I can send as an MS Word file to anyone interested.

*** Among Peters' variations on a theme: the righteousness of Israel means that all of Israel's wars are moral wars; the IDF (Israeli army) is going out of its way to be a moral army and always uses restraint; finally Israel has left Gaza alone and ended its occupation since 2005 (the objectively most blatant lies of all). The world's unquenched antisemitism shows in the UN, the embodiment of the world's hatred for the Jews; the concern of the global community for the Palestinians is just one more sign of antisemitism; and even Jewish criticism for Israeli behaviors can only be due to naive self-hating Jews. On the Arab side of the equation, Palestinians are not from Palestine and there is no occupation; Palestinian grievances are mere excuses to blame and hate Jews; and Arab states conspire to maintain the Palestinian refugee problem simply to create problems for Israel. (I'll grant Peters that Arab states' treatment of Palestinian refugees has been shameful.)

Source of picture:
Martin Niemoeller's poem inscribed on a stone in the New England Holocaust Memorial.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Quick News - Legal Kidnapping (and release) in Egypt


* Let me take you to Egypt, and see how the "Mother of the World" (nickname Egyptians give to their country) treats people who are interested in the people of Gaza. Philip Rizk was kidnapped now almost a week ago by the secret police. Philip wouldn't know me from a tea kettle but I've met him twice - looked like a really good guy. Read about his kidnapping here (very enlightening about Egypt, the 2nd largest recipient of US aid - we really pick the winners!). There's a Facebook group to coordinate support for his release.

* Finally, just yet another link to a Gideon Levy paper (this guy is good really) about the death of the Israeli Left and the meaninglessness of the term Zionism. If you are pro-Israel, you really should read this. (I'm also pro-Israel, simply pro-Israel behind borders just as any other state on earth.)

Now, skip this and go to my previous analysis of the fear and hatred which feeds the kind of Zionism Levy denounces: "The Words of 'War to the Death'."

Peace is possible. Collective Suicide - not so fun.


Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Nations can do something about the higher death rate of poor children

This is about poverty and the health of children in "rich" nations. In fact it looks at the death of children, which is a pretty bottom-line measure of health. (My next topic on Israel/Palestine is hard to finish - so for once, I'll speak about something else.) The figure posted here* shows how the relative poverty of a nation relates to the mortality rate of children under five.

For the very few technicians among my few readers, this is obviously an ecological association, but still this makes a strong argument for fighting poverty seriously. Note that "relative poverty" is relative to the country's wealth (below 50% of median household income); it is not an absolute number.

The authors of the commentary,* which is the source of this note, point out that the UK, France, Australia, New Zealand and the US all have relative child poverty rates above 25% before (THAT"S THE IMPORTANT PART) any welfare benefits or effects of taxation. Now, after considering the effect of taxation and benefits [effectively socially-progressive** measures] this relative child poverty drops down as follows:
  • France: from 28% to 7%;
  • England, Australia and New Zealand: from about 28% to 15%; and
  • US: from 27% to only 22%.
Now, I'm sure there are pros and cons to "redistributive" income policies. (Remember 'spreading the wealth' during the presidential campaign?) But look at the graph and how this reduced relative child poverty impacts the death of children under five in these five countries. Although the cause-effect is not direct, the US which reduces relative poverty very little compared to France, also has a 33% higher mortality rate for its children. (Of course, another factor is that access to health care is so much better in France particularly for the poor.)***

Certainly, being 'pro-life', we will pay attention to this and consider the value for a nation of actively protecting the poor and equally actively fighting poverty. (For a bit of practical thinking about poverty and 'class', read the very personal account of Robb.)

Peace / Shalom / Salaam, is also found in preserving our children from the aggression of poverty.


* Source: Relative Child Poverty, Income Inequality, Wealth, and Health. Eric Emerson. JAMA. 2009;301(4):425-426.
** The funny thing is that my readers from any country but the US just skim over a word like "socially progressive"; for Americans we're working at reintroducing a sound appreciation for well-designed and managed social programs (yes, we can?)--reversing 25 years of Reaganism and anti-poor policies.
*** Yes I'm happy to brag, when - for once - the French get it right.