Thursday, April 30, 2009

Alert by Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP)

An important alert from different Jewish peace groups. Please read and follow up on some of the calls for action.Shalom = Salaam,

Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP) Alert—from Sydney Levy
Let me cut down to the chase. We have just learned that a number of Israeli peace activists have had their computers confiscated, have been called for interrogations, and have only been released upon signing agreements not to contact their political friends for 30 days. We are asking you to contact the Israeli Attorney General to demand an immediate stop to this harassment.

The activists targeted are members of New Profile, a group of feminist women and men daring to suggest that Israel need not be a militarized society. They are being wrongfully accused of inciting young people—like the shministim—not to enlist in the army. The charge is not true. While New Profile does not tell youngsters not to enlist, they certainly support those who do not: pacifists, those who oppose the occupation, and others. New Profile informs them of their rights and gives them legal support when necessary. But Israel is a country that does not acknowledge the basic human right to conscientious objection.

The government's accusation against New Profile is not new. It has been out there for some time, as a source of harassment. Today's police actions tighten the screws considerably. We've seen how international pressure has helped get many shministim out of jail. Now it's time to put as much pressure so that Israeli peace activists can do their work free of intimidation.

I leave you with a note from New Profile: "These recent acts confirm what we have been contending for many years: the militarism of society in Israel harms the sacred principles of democracy, freedom of expression and freedom of political association. One who believed that until now criminal files were conjured up "only" for Arab citizens of Israel saw this morning that none of us can be certain that s/he can freely express an opinion concerning the failures of society and rule in Israel."

Read more - click here.
Support Israeli activists - here.

For interviews:
Dr. Diana Dolev, telephone: 052 872 8300
Attorney Smadar Ben Nathan, telephone: 052 358 9775
For further details:
Ofra Leith, telephone: 0502 4372
Eilat Maoz, Coordinator of the Women's Coalition for Peace, telephone: 050 857 5729

Monday, April 20, 2009

On trauma, its memory, its future, its repetition?

Tonight started Yom Shoah, the day of remembrance of the holocaust- a sobering day for all of us. And I mean all of us.
Roger Cohen writes an interesting piece on Israel's need for closure in today's NYT. Two quotes I can only agree with:
The biggest risk to Israel is Israel.
The second is from Ehud Barak:
Every attempt to keep hold of this area as one political entity leads, necessarily, to either a non-democratic or a non-Jewish state, because if the Palestinians vote, then it is a binational state, and if they don’t vote it is an apartheid state ...”*
In an older post I wrote that "The beliefs we feed now create the world we will live in tomorrow." (See The Words of War to the Death in Palestine.) Cohen for his part concludes:
"Closure ... cannot be attained through the inflation of threats, the perpetuation of fears, or retreat into the victimhood that sees every act, however violent, as defensive."
The current tone promoting paranoia, racism and more and more radical (aka lethal) "solutions" certainly does not encourage closure.


PS: As always good column by David, also related to this topic. See

* I would ask what about a Federation of a Jewish State and a Multicultural Palestinian State, where members of one state can be resident in the other? That would solve the "Jewish identity" issue, allow settlers to get their Palestinian green card if they so desire to live in "Judea and Samaria", and give a viable option for Jerusalem residents. (I did not make that up - I heard a former Palestinian negotiator raise that option once in public.)

Picture Source:

Friday, April 17, 2009

Wrong and Wronger

In the last three weeks, there have been two incidents whereby authorities -- once Israeli and once Palestinian -- disrupted and suppressed peaceful cultural events (all by Palestinians). Both were wrong, but this is a good illustration of how Palestinians let themselves get caught in a corner. Israelis were wrong, but served their purpose, while Palestinians were wrong and hurt their cause.
1- First there was the cultural festival of "Jerusalem, Cultural Capital of the Arab World 2009," with dance, music, art exhibit all around the West Bank and Jerusalem. The teenage daughter of our landlord desperately hoped we would see her group dance the Dabka in their traditional dance costume. In a place that's too often bleak, it's wonderful to see kids and adults get excited about something creative and joyful.

Now, of course from the Israeli standpoint the entire premise of the expansion of Israel's territory and the 'indivisible Jerusalem' is to deny the very obvious reality of the Arab presence in Jerusalem. It takes walls, house demolitions, expulsions and subjugation to make that denial a reality--it's a very active policy. And letting Arabs celebrate Jerusalem as any kind of a capital is obviously not something "tolerable" to this ethno-political ideology.

For all those who question, "why don't the Palestinian do peaceful things rather than encourage suicide bombers?" here's a case in point. Hopelessness is not the inherent fruit of Arab culture - no matter what its flaws - it is a product of the occupation. So the Israeli government sent in the police and all events around Jerusalem were canceled. (Read here.) My landlord's daughter didn't get to dance with her group. She was reminded that she is a non-citizen of a non-state and thereby not entitled to the common rights of all people. Even though her parents, grand parents, great grand parents and so forth have been in this place through generations.

Israel is wrong. Dead wrong. But this wrong is serving its political ideology of crushing the Palestinians into submission, denying existence and expression. It's a wrong which serves a purpose -- even if it's an immoral one.

2- Next comes the Palestinian example of Wafa Younis, a violinist and peace activitist who gives lessons to children in Jenin. Not only that, but she goes back and forth between Jenin (West Bank) and Israel and uses music as a way to create a different reality than checkpoints, soldiers, freedom fighters and terrorists. She uses art to recognize the humanity of all and the value of all humans. Not to mention that these kind of activities are desperately needed by children and youth in the grey world of refugee camps (where she works) and West Bank cities.

Now as part of her efforts, Mrs. Younis performed for survivors of the Holocaust as well as for Palestinian families who lost a member of their family to war and occupation. What a statement: 'let us acknowledge our diverse losses and traumas, acknowledge our humanity, and use art to speak healing to all of us (rather than use our respective traumas and pains to invalidate the Other).' That's serious peace work and it's gutsy.

What happened (read here) is that the Palestinian security forces in Jenin ended up closing down her operation because she had played for Holocaust survivors (presumably because of concerns that it showed 'fraternizing with the occupier and normalizing relations while Jenin is very much still occupied and suffering).

The first thing of interest is the narrative of how this happened. If you trust the Haaretz article, it seems that the security personnel sent to interrupt her wasn't too happy about it and pulled some legalese (e.g. being an Israeli citizen she is not allowed in the West Bank by the Israelis--something which usually does not concern the Palestinians). Then it seems the orders came from the West Bank-based Palestinian Authority, which itself has done a lot to show goodwill and cooperation with the Israelis (perhaps too much). So, it's unlikely that President Mahmoud Abbas or Prime Minister Fayyad were really personnally upset at these activities. No, it seems they decided to react because of the accusation put by Hamas that they are "normalizing relations" (aka collaborating) with the Israelis.* The bottomline motivation was internal politics and posturing.

End result: we see that a security forces officer did something he did not believe in, under orders from a government which did not believe in it either, to appease internal political posturing against a political group which has been excluded from government of the West Bank.

This is my point: the Palestinians were here just as wrong as the Israelis in the previous example. The only difference is that in the Israeli case, actions were taken from top to bottow (law enforcement) to pursue a clear and single agenda (essentially the judaization of Jerusalem** in this case). While, in the Palestinian case, each level of action was motivated by a different short-view agenda and the ultimate result did nothing to advance the overall Palestinian strategy. (What it did is reinforce anti-Palestinian propaganda on the lines of "the Palestinian Authority opposes playing music to Holocaust survivors and hence, perhaps, is still denying the Holocaust, even worst planning the new one, etc.")

My conclusions?
  • Short-sighted political idiocy abounds, but when the field is not even and you're losing the battle, you have to be smarter and better than the other team. Otherwise you keep losing.
  • People like Wafa Younis are the people who will create the change we need. Some of my friends see those with a gun as "realists" and those with a violin as "idealists." Well - feel free to call them what you want, they impress the heck out of me and I'm betting my life that the violin beats the gun in the end. That's what faith tells me.
Wafa - and others like her, Palestinian, Jewish, Christian, Muslim or Secular - are the ones telling a story for the people, all the people. Holocaust survivors and Nakba survivors. More importantly she is telling a story for today and tomorrow, one where we can all live in peace.

Idealists change the world.

Salaam - Shalom,


* This is happening in the context of national reconciliation discussions taking place in Cairo.
** For a glimpse of the personal significance of this to flesh and blood individuals, read Marlin's interesting vignette here.

Picture source:

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

The U.S. sacrificed 120,000 lives to an idol since 9/11 only

Guns seem to be the topic du jour...(See the excellent column by Bob Herbert in today's NYT.)

I regularly go into circular debates about gun deaths in America with some of my more conservative friends. We usually go nowhere. It is not that we disagree on what needs to be done, but my friends disagree that anything either (1) can be done, or (2) should be done. Alternatively they argue that if anything is done, well... in the 80's the commies were going to come and take over the Capitol, or there's always the Government, or someone ill-defined which currently is dissuaded from invading not by the US Armed Forces or Police, but by the heat packed by average Jo's, plumbers and all -- anyway "they" are going to come and it will be the end of that if we surrender our guns.

I usually try to point out that common sense gun laws don't even have to 'take away the guns,' but that a nice licensing and registration program and proscribing of anonymous gun sales would go a long way in reducing the Uzzi distribution in American inner-cities. I also point out that the French only have 30% fewer guns than the Americans per capita but simply don't die in the calamitous proportions observed in the US.

I'm faced with the same slogans: 'if we take the guns away, the bad guys won't listen to the law and the good people will not be safe.' As if they were safe now; as if we were powerless to have a rule of law at all. And I always ask, 'what about the French bad guys?' Either the French police and gendarmerie are exceptionally more gifted than their American counterparts at taking the guns away from bad guys, or the French bad guys are inherently better people than the American bad guys. If we assume that 'bad guys always get the guns' then those are the only explanations. [I must say that the inherent sinlessness of the French is a thought-challenging and original implied suggestion from my American friends. We are deeply grateful and we concur!]

With Christian friends, I also get lost in long discussions about every solution being purely symptomatic but that the root problem is sin, which is better left to spiritual efforts. The implied conclusion is still that we (1) can't or (2) shouldn't do anything about guns. This baffles me, because--while the concept of sin is not unfamiliar to me--my friends also don't mind using the rule of law to proscribe gay marriage, proscribe abortion, enforce speed limits, prevent or punish theft and robbery, etc. It's just on this one issue -- guns -- that nothing practical can be done.

I have come to the conclusion that this issue reveals a mixture of two things:
  • A cultural blind spot. It seems almost all societies have their blind spots which they can't look into, no matter how much evidence there is. The French have theirs, Arab societies have theirs, the Brits must have theirs and Americans have this one.
  • A peculiar form of idolatry. I use the word with caution, but this gun-worship comes along with an inordinate societal attraction for violence. Everyone in France has heard of Malick Houssekine, a young man who died of police violence in the 1980's in the aftermath of a large scale demonstration. Many Americans have never heard of Amadou Diallo, a West African American Resident who was shot 41 times by five police officers in New York City in the early 2000's. The point is not to focus on police violence but to recognize that America can't keep up with its violent deaths, gang deaths, office shootings, suicide by guns, accidents, school shootings, etc.
Bob Herbert presents it very articulately. The figure is astounding:

Since 9/11 only, there have been 120,000 gun deaths in the US.
120,000 lives.
One every 17 minutes.
8 kids every day.
8 kids
every day
day after day.

You can do something: license, register, close the anonymous sale loopholes, enforce. And not at a local level, unless you want checkpoints between Maryland and Virginia.

But I agree with my friends-- it is a spiritual issue. People need to turn back from gun-worship. In religious terms, "turning back" is called repenting. But it's so rooted in many people's psyche, I also don't think political lobbying and activism will suffice. Prayer might help break the hold of the idol on people's mind. That will help pass common sense laws and save lives. Let's say half of those 8 kids a day. That's a start.



(Go to the excellent column by Bob Herbert in today's NYT.)

PS: After the exchange of comments with Alexis below - I went back and dug this out:

TITLE: Australia's 1 996 gun law reforms: faster falls in firearm deaths, firearm suicides, and a decade without mass shootings.
Background: After a 1996 firearm massacre in Tasmania in which 35 people died, Australian governments united to remove semi-automatic and pump-action shotguns and rifles from civilian possession, as a key component of gun law reforms. Objective: To determine whether Australia's 1996 malor gun law reforms were associated with changes in rates of mass firearm homicides, total firearm deaths, firearm homicides and firearm suicides, and whether there were any apparent method substitution effects for total homicides and suicides. Design: Observational study using official statistics. Negative binomial regression analysis of changes in firearm death rates and comparison of trends in pre-post gun law reform firearm-related mass killings. Setting: Australia, 1979-2003. Main outcome measures: Changes in trends of total firearm death rates, mass fatal shooting incidents, rates of firearm homicide, suicide and unintentional firearm deaths, and of total homicides and suicides per 100 000 population. Results: In the 18 years before the gun law reforms, there were 1 3 mass shootings in Australia, and none in the 10.5 years afterwards. Declines in firearm-related deaths before the law reforms accelerated after the reforms for total firearm deaths (p=0.04), firearm suicides (p=0.007) and firearm homicides (p=0.15), but not for the smallest category of unintentional firearm deaths, which increased. No evidence of substitution effect for suicides or homicides was observed. The rates per 100 000 of total firearm deaths, firearm homicides and firearm suicides all at least doubled their existing rates of decline after the revised gun laws. Conclusions: Australia's 1996 gun law reforms were followed by more than a decade free of fatal mass shootings, and accelerated declines in firearm deaths, particularly suicides. Total homicide rates followed the same pattern. Removing large numbers of rapid-firing firearms from civilians may be an effective way of reducing mass shootings, firearm...
SOURCE: Injury Prevention; Dec2006, Vol. 12 Issue 6, p365-372