Monday, March 23, 2009

From Tikkun: Morality, Judaism and The Crimes in Gaza

Jewish believers, friends of a viable Israeli State and American supporters of Israel must read the comments from Tikkun and Rabbi Michael Lerner.

In the meantime, listen to and read this letter to Obama from an Israeli woman, written back on the day of his inauguration. The price for having a conscience is such a "pain in our stomachs."


************************************ FROM TIKKUN***************************

Whenever human rights violations have occurred, the Israeli propaganda machine in the US and Israel proclaim that Israel has "the most moral army in the world and adheres to a doctrine of "tehorat haneshek" (purity of arms) that is a higher standard than any other fighting force in the world. Yet Occupation always and inevitably undermines such intentions. And as Ethan Bronner documented in theNY Times on March 22, there is a significant voice of religious Jews who no longer believe that they have a moral obligation to treat Palestinians by such higher standards, and that group has increasing influence in the Israeli Army's actual practice. Yet you don't have to be a Jewish religious extremist to treat Palestinians harshly--the logic of Occupation itself pulls for a disregard for the humanity of the occupied by the occupiers. And now we have concrete proof--supplied by the soldiers themselves. And what will the Israeli propaganda machine do? What it always does--it will set out to attack those who have raised the issue rather than addressing the substance of the charges.

All this deeply saddens us at Tikkun. We reject the notion that Israel is worse than all the other countries of the world--a notion that is too prominent in some circles of the Left. Similarly, we reject the notion that Judaism or "religion" automatically leads to these kinds of distortions. What is happening is a product of a specific set of historical circumstances--the Occupation, the moral failure of the Israeli Left to challenge the ethical distortions of the Occupation, the blind loyalty of American Jewish institutions to the Israeli government no matter what it does, the capitulation of Congress and every American Administration including the current Obama Administration to the political pressure from the Israel Lobby (which is composed not only of Jewish forces but also of the Christian Right), and the failure of the American media to honestly report what is happening while excluding from public presence voices like that of Tikkun which provide a different narrative and analysis to that of the propagandists. From our perspective, all this is tragic, will likely lead to decreased support for Israel in the long run and also to a growing rejection of Judaism on the part of young Jews who cannot accept a Jewish world that has lost its ethical moorings. So we send out this information not to rejoice in some "gotcha" but in mourning for the high values of the Jewish people, as well as in sympathy with the suffering of the Palestinian people and the people of Israel who are not served by this Occupation.

Please read the details of the latest revelations, plus the latest analysis of them by Gideon Levy, at

Monday, March 16, 2009

Economic Crisis and Life-Giving Spirituality

I've got to admit, more often than not I write about political issues. I was going to say 'about political issues, not spiritual issues,' but I don't understand how you can be 'spiritual' without being political. You can be political and not spiritual. Maybe. But you sure as heck can't be concerned with the Life of the Human Spirit -- whether you consider our connection to one another or to a Higher Power -- without at least putting politics in the equation.

Let me restate: if you think you can, it's because your forefathers were never under slavery, victims of a genocide or ethnic cleansing, you never spent a day in a slum, you never met someone dying for lack of access to health care, and you've never seen a mother separated from her kids at a checkpoint.

So when I write about political issues, particularly in a Land which has the arrogance of calling itself Holy, I am (also) writing of spiritual things.

But this time, allow me to foray into a spiritual meditation. I believe in clarifying language, so allow me a longer introduction to clarify my use of spiritual lingo.
You can be spiritual without being a Christian, a believer in any Monotheistic religion, or any religion at all. A Chinese friend of mine told me that when Communism crashed as an ideology in China, the country found itself without any known spiritual values (and everything needed to be reinvented). I personally think that Communism was probably as bankrupt spiritually as Greed -- I mean Capitalism -- but it nonetheless had a spiritual component. End of the digression: "spiritual" does not mean "religious."

And correspondingly being "Christian" or "religious" does not mean you're necessarily more spiritual than the next guy. It probably should, but it's not always the case. Religious people can be militaristic, materialistic, violent and hateful as much as the next guy. (Come visit the Holy Land!) I suppose all these things have a spiritual component -- even admiration for an F-16 -- but not the kind of life-giving, healing, redemptive spiritual value I'm interested in.
So, after these caveats, allow me to continue.

We're in a context of economic crisis. I don't feel it because I haven't lost my job or my home. If I did, I'm sure I'd perceive this much more as a reality. But it is a reality for many.*

But the extent of this economic crisis and its relationship with our unsustainable mode of production and consumption is--for once--well described by Thomas Friedman. I usually disagree with Friedman, notably on his views of the Arab world, but since he seems to get it this time, I recommend his column (click here).

I'm not going to go into further analysis and recommendations, as I have none. But I want to post here and excellent writing by Robb Davis on what Life-Giving Spirituality might mean in a time of not only economic crisis, but quite possible collapse of references particularly in the US where the prosperous have been sheltered from the un-prosperous so effectively. I have few readers but they are Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Buddhist and Agnostic -- I think there's something of value to all in Robb's text.

You can click here to visit Robb's page, but I'm pasting his last entry below and invite you to read it. (I kind of assume Robb is allowing me to do so. Hey! It's the blogosphere; if we can't pillage and plunder, what good is it?)

Thanks Robb,


* The crisis seems for now to be better shouldered in Europe than in the US, because Europe has kept relatively stronger elements of social protection than the US. This burdens us economically (yes, it does) and those who can climb can't climb as high as fast as their Americans counterparts can when things go well, but when the going gets tough and we start falling, we fall slower and we buffer the fall a little better than the Americans.

On Weakness (a Lenten Reflection) - [Robb Davis]

I listen closely to a broad array of top economists who, collectively in this time, communicate a message of uncertainty, fear and warning about the potential for a severe and long-lasting economic downturn. Some are already experiencing the leading edge of this storm (here in CA unemployment is already near 16% in the central valley, areas in the rust belt can't be far behind), and it is a storm that is likely to lead to many changes--most of which no one can predict. There will be much pain, suffering, perhaps violence and, with all of this, the opportunity to live out the gospel in novel and life changing ways.

This much perhaps is not earth-shaking news. Many are wondering how to live faithfully in this time of uncertainty. I share that "wondering" and am thinking about how we might walk forward in this time. I don't have any economic solution to these present woes. I offer no "strategic plan". I offer merely a few reminders and an exhortation about faithfulness.

First, I think about the meaning of this season of Lent which is a time of reflection concerning the cross--the crux of history. As Jesus approached Jerusalem he did so in a spirit of service and with a clear sense that he would lay down his life. This embrace of weakness is remarkable and, in itself, stands as both a model for the way of the kingdom but also a judgment of world systems, principalities and powers who dehumanize and dominate by force. However as Marva Dawn points out in "Powers, Weakness and the Tabernacling of God" (if you have not read it I recommend it) Jesus' decision was not a simple one as he was confronted with an ongoing temptation to choose the way of domination. This temptation began before his public ministry began and clearly continued throughout that ministry and into the garden the night before his crucifixion. In other words, the choice of weakness was constantly challenged and the way of worldly power always present as a choice for Jesus. This makes his decision to take up the cross an amazing illustration of his love for us.

Dawn points out that the theme of weakness dominates the writings of Paul and other New Testament writers and suggests that Paul's words in I Corinthians 12 would best be translated this way:
...(B)ut he has said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for your power is brought to its end in weakness." All the more gladly, then, will I boast in my weakness that the power of Christ (not mine!) may tabernacle upon me.
Powerful words--the tabernacling of God--the dwelling of Christ in us--comes when we acknowledge and embrace our weakness.

And so as we walk towards the cross--the crux--in this season, a season full of doubt, uncertainty and fear my exhortation to myself, to others, is to embrace this weakness and to publicly acknowledge that we have no solutions. We have no grand plans. We have no power to effect the kind of change that the world is clamoring for. What we have is weakness, and in that weakness we have hope that the Christ will powerfully use our humble obedience to accomplish his kingdom purposes on our midst (things like healing, freedom, sight, justice). Jacques Ellul in "L'homme et l'argent" makes it clear that "Mammon" is one of the powers that Jesus defeated at the cross. I will not, therefore, encourage people to trust God until the economy "turns around". Nor to "hunker down" until the storm blows over. Rather I encourage myself and others to meditate on a theology of weakness--that our trust in our own power might come to an end and that God might reveal God's power in us. We must envision, not some ideal economic order nor a return to the status quo of the "business cycle", but a way of walking each day in generosity--an open hand--in a time of testing. Only this can enable our liberation from the false promises of a modern economic system that has promised (but failed to deliver--as it must) security, comfort or "a better life".

I will demonstrate my commitment to this kind of walk by fasting and praying on Good Friday. May our prayers on that day be prayers of thanks that our power has come to an end. May they be prayers in which we "boast" in our weakness. And may we seek God's wisdom and guidance as we prepare to faithfully serve the suffering, oppressed and fearful in the days ahead. I agree with John Howard Yoder that the church carries the "inner meaning of history" in that God (for reasons that are a mystery) has chosen this entity to bring about the great unwinding of the fall.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Stimulating read on radical living

Well, I'm not a radical, but here's a Young Turk* who's putting some serious thinking about what this might mean. Visit David's blog and read his entry on Christian Peacemaker Team member, Tom - who died three years ago in Iraq. I am not always sure what I think of such 'radical' people, but in a world which relishes "heroes" and "martyrs," you have to respect someone willing to lay down HIS life to love and help friends and enemies alike -- as opposed to someone willing to kill friends with enemies through an act of suicide; or someone willing to live with the collateral damage of his/her acts of war.

[And if you want a good read about people putting into question the US's excessive reliance on the military, check out David's blog entry just before that. (Click here.)]

* There's a long tradition of me calling David names -- it has to do with all the beer he's plundered out of my fridge.

Monday, March 9, 2009

What kills the people of Darfur? (With footnote on mistaken comparisons between tragedies.)

If I look at a map, and go West and South from the (un)Holy Land, I see Sudan and I hear Darfur.

What kills the people of Darfur? (I link below to a must-read article from Kristof in the NYT.)

According to Mouammar Qadhafi, it's Israel. O well--even though former President W Bush and even the EU bestowed Kadafi the "good student" award and he is now an "ally" (sorry, trying not to choke on that), I don't pay much attention to this guy. [Side note: unlike Saddam Hussein, he directly involved himself in terrorist attacks against civilians.]

No, Israel is not killing Darfurians. Actually Israel is trying to deal with the problem of Sudanese refugees -- I don't know enough to judge whether it is doing better or worst than a lot of our Western countries.

It seems that what is killing Darfurians is:

1- extreme poverty and limited resources, which created a conflict around means for maintaining livelihood. With that seem to come barbaric standards for the respect of human life and the treatment of women.

2- a genocidal Sudanese governmental policy, with murder, rape and mayhem institutionalized at the highest level. It's very hard to qualify it as "racist" because the eye does not catch the race element in this conflict. The ethnic separation comes from identification to Arab culture and the respective weight of traditional beliefs and Islam in tribal culture. It's still horrible. And let's remember the Sudanese government only has violent, fatricidal problems with (1) the South of the country--which can't wait for independence after 2010, (2) the East of the country, and (3) Darfur, aka the West of the country. This is a government which only has legitimacy with a regional minority. It would be easier to have the North of the country and Khartoum demand annexation by Egypt and let the other regions become independent, than work with this abject and backward government.
3- The last thing which kills Darfuris is complacency from the West, from those with power; a complacency of nations manifested through their collective UN organ. (I don't blame the UN: the UN is doing some absolutely necessary work there. I've seen the UNICEF, WHO, UNHCR and WFP folks in two of the three Darfur capitals and I couldn't do what they do. NGOs also do a remarkable work. And no, the UN and the NGOs don't cost the same; but they also don't do the same thing.) But the problem remains one of insecurity and war and chaos.

Now, there are many reasons why the West doesn't want to push for what could lead to war with a Muslim regime. The Sudanese do have oil, but honestly not that much, and... last time we followed the hawks, well... Fallujah comes to mind. And at least they have coffee shops in Fallujah. There's nothing in Darfur. Lots of sand.
The last eight years have made such a mockery of international law and international responsibility, that the US -- in this case the indispensable leader, that's a fact -- is reasonably afraid of ending up with the bill. And there are a lot of bills to pay these days.

So, we do nothing... And people die. I think 40,000 died in the camps in 2007 alone. Say nothing of rape and forced displacement.

Read Nicholas Kristof's article: "Watching Darfuris Die."

But let me segway to mistaken comparisons with a familiar topic of this blog -- the Palestinian situation.

From the Israeli side, you often hear about the severity of the situation in Darfur and there are a number of citizen and NGO initiatives to try and do something. That's great and laudable.
You also hear of the death differential between Darfur, where many agree a genocide is occuring, although it's a strange genocide to be sure, and Palestine. If I remember correctly 600 Palestinians were killed in 2007. With the Gaza war, that number will have jumped to maybe around 2,500 for 2008. The Israeli government and advocates are prompt to compare that number with the stagering figures in Darfur. Usually, the implication of the comparison is that: (a) Israel is not committing genocide [I'll agree with that and I'm never comfortable when that term is used loosely]; and (b) the only reason the world cares about Palestinians (and not about Darfuris) is because we're all a bunch of antisemites (see a previous entry on this).

I disagree with that last assessment. I think the West's and the US's roles in these two conflicts is shameful, but the shame is of a different nature, just as the two conflicts are of a different nature.

* In Sudan, an Arab (or so it claims to be) backward fundamentalist underveloped autocrat is killing his own people by the thousands to pursue some weird ethno-religious ideology.
* In Israel/Palestine, a modern somewhat-democratic Western-like democracy (or so it is claimed) is pursuing a slow but effective strategy of ethnic cleansing without the name (migration would be preferred to war and death, but both can do the job), dispossession, and domination over another ethnic group, which made the mistake of being there first. Israel also wants to be a good guy; it's only when it comes down to the land on which Palestinians live that a 'higher mandate' demands ignoring principles.

Faced with this, the US and the West have a different burden of responsibility:

* For Sudan, we (Western nations) have identified the bad guys and we are either impotent or complacent, moving at the speed of a snail, and providing some efforts at protection of the population. The question is how forcefully we will oppose Bashir, the criminal president of Sudan?

* For Israel/Palestine, the US (more than its Euro-partners) funds Israeli efforts, equips its military, and votes resolutions of support for its wars. Band-aids thrown to Palestinians while undermining and destroying the structure of society simply don't redeem a conscience. America is not complacent (leave that to the Europeans); the question is when do we stop aiding and abeiting lawlessness? The question is - whether we like that idea or not - how complicit are we of occupation policies?

I hope and pray Obama and our leaders get us out of both complacency and complicity. It's time to at least make an effort to be moral again.


Sunday, March 8, 2009

Non-Violence in Palestine and Israel

I often hear questions like: "why don't the Palestinians choose non-violence as a strategy?" This always stimulates a lot of thinking since I don't know of any people who have. Indians didn't. Ghandi did and achieved a huge following -- until the Pakistan-Indian split and his own violent death. Americans didn't either. Ever. Even African-Americans. MLK did and achieved a huge following -- until his own violent death. Both those landmark movements gathered critical mass and made history. But none was the choice of an entire people. So the answer to the question above is simply, "because no people ever do - we're just to dumb for this as the human race."

A more interesting question then becomes, "how are non-violent movements and efforts faring in Palestine and Israel?"

Here are two stories from yesterday about non-violence in Palestine (click here and here); and one link to an exciting Israeli group in Sderot (click here) - I visited them yesterday and will tell you more about it soon. (Finally, you can access Sami Awad's blog through the links on this page -- always a mine of inspiration about Palestinian non-violent struggle.)


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Friday, March 6, 2009

10 minutes to understand the basic issues for Israel / Palestine.

This short report from CBS / 60 minutes presents the issues very very clearly and simply. I encourage you to take just 10 minutes to watch and understand (2 part video below).

Part 1

Part 2

Only one correction, the report starts by saying that Palestinians hoped to build their state in the West Bank -- well that's not totally true. They hoped to build a state over all of historic Palestine and were crushed by the British in the late 1930's. Recently, following the 1967 war and the Oslo 1994 agreements, they have hoped to build a state over internationally recognized borders, i.e. all of the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem.

The key quote in this report is from the Mayor of a Settlement who says very clearly: "Settlements prevent the establishment of a Palestinian State."

The episode of the IDF soldiers occupying a home in Nablus is a common occurrence. Courageous soldiers have started speaking out about this and have videos documenting all this. (Visit Breaking the Silence.)

The reporter makes a clear and simple case about the dead end of current policies. And dead end must be taken very literally -- see my entry these suicide and death policies.

We ask Hamas to recognize the Israeli State and stop violence. Should we not ask Israel to recognize a Palestinian State and should we not stop funding, supplying and cheering this violence?


Thursday, March 5, 2009

Me and Hillary in Jerusalem

Well, Hillary and I arrived in Jerusalem at the same time, but no, we were not on the same plane. We have another point in common: both she and I are absolutely useless to the resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It's only mildly more worrisome for her as she is the flag bearer of American democracy abroad. To be fair, I only listened to 5 minutes of a press interview and those 5 minutes were enough to tell me that no matter how brilliant she is (and the lady is smart!), no matter how many gestures she makes (and she's writing checks left and right), and no matter how many great speeches she delivers, she is irrelevant to the pursuit of peace in this country.

So, what's the indicator I used to identify her as a non-player? It's simple; she repeats the dead-end verbiage that, no matter what anyone does, "we" cannot talk to or deal with Hamas." End of the story. We cannot have peace without putting enemies at the table, and even less by cheering one on and crushing the other -- that's called being party in a war.

I'll skip the obvious parallel and contradictory process where "we" will not only talk to but pay up to whichever Prime Minister Israel names -- including Benjamin Netanyahu who long ago buried the peace process after the assassination of Yitrach Rabin and who now promises Palestinians they will live happily in their little city-prisons.

Now, tell me what we think of foreign figures who claim to love the people of Europe and the US, but only want to kill our leaders, blow up our military, and (only if absolutely necessary) are ready to destroy our cities to make their point? No matter how many nice things they might say about the American people, we would consider such people enemies of our societies.

If you are a Palestinian, even more so if you are a Gazan, you may have voted for Hamas through a free and fair electoral process. Or if you didn't your husband or cousin did. You may have voted against them, even hate their guts, but they won the election and they represent resistance to a cruel occupation* and an attempt to run society according to their ethos. Then people who reserve the right to lock you down and visit you with lethal force virtually every night sent their soldiers in. The chief of the soldiers said they should be "very violent" and use "disproportionate means." The rabbis came to pray and bless the soldiers. The US sent money, weapons and amunition. President-elect Obama at the time chose to be silent. The US Congress voted 90% in favor of Israel sending the soldiers in. These soldiers killed 1,400 people - about a third were women and children. Acceptable collateral-damagism we've been told. Now, Mrs. Clinton comes, signs checks for some blankets and flour (how about getting a permit from the Master, Israel, for people to be able to buy cement? no? OK, never mind.). But Mrs. Clinton also says Hamas must simply cease to exist. Essentially, next time the Israeli Prime Minister is itchy or having a bad political day, and wants to send soldiers to kill more people, there is already a US State Department blessing, as long as all dead body are labelled as "Hamas militants" or collateral damage. So, once again, if you are a Palestinian from Gaza, how likely are you to see the gestures of the US Department of State as pro-peace, no matter how many checks get written and squandered.**

So, Mrs. Clinton's promise to love Palestinians and kill their political leaders probably does not win a lot of hearts and minds. And if it's a matter of trying to kill, refusing to have a partner for peace (remember Israel always decides who is not a partner for peace - strategic avoidance) and allowing Israel's madness to continue, why does Israel need Hillary? We already have Bibi and Lieberman and a whole host of crazies - she adds nothing.***

There is a war going on. One group is winning and crushing the other. Crushing more and more viciously and cruelly. The losing team is confused, disorganized, and getting seriously dysfunctional (sorry guys, but that's true whether we look at Hamas' Medievalism or Fatah's spinelessness and second fiddle politics). And Hillary says: "the change we can believe in is to continue supporting the strong party unconditionally, regardless of right or wrong or even pretenses of justice."

Right now, I sort of lack in optimism as you can tell.
Every mention of more humanitarian aid to Gaza irks me. I know Gazans; they don't need our humanitarian assistance. They need freedom and peace. And I hope it doesn't come too late to defeat the ideology of Hamas, allowing the Palestinian culture to be restored, to heal and move away from dogmatism and other forms of obscurantism, just as much as the energy and intelligence of Palestinian civil society must overcome the mediocrity and pettiness of Fatah. As those things progress, elections are lost and elections are won. And political leaders learn lessons. But those lessons are not taught with phosporous bombs.

Once upon a time, America understood this. But not Hillary. Not today.
I hope America remembers soon, because right now Israel is diving into its own paranoid, racist, conquering obscurantism. And it needs a sane friend to shake it out of this madness.
Sooner would be better than later.
See you Hillary; don't let the door hit your back on your way out.


* Side note on the resistance from Hamas: yes it is violent, and yes, it is terrorist resistance -- but it's only us, comfortably hidden behind our widescreen plasma TV CNN programs who can make the difference between a terrorist attack on Sderot, and a little girl decapitated by a US-donated missile in her house in Khan Younis. For information, the latter is not terrorism it's collateral-damagism. At least for the last five years, collateral damagism has killed a lot more civilians than terrorism. Basically 100 times more. The innefficiency of one form of terror does not make it more moral than the more modern and efficient one. But at least I try to call a cat, a cat.
** That's an alltogether different topic, but can you imagine the waste of trying to pour millions of aid in a tiny place like Gaza but keeping any form of local government out of the picture? Apart from Rush Limbaugh, I don't think anyone thinks you can manage a people without government. Gazans are remarkable. Paris or Los Angeles would be sheer chaos by now.
*** Either Hillary is truly convinced of this never ending war logic, or she just doesn't want to lose the political support and funding of American Jewish Polical Action Groups for future campaigns. In any case, she needs Israel's support more than Israel needs hers.