Saturday, March 25, 2017

America Second

Trump’s budget laments that we do not have the money we need to address the problems facing America, such as health care, education, climate change and the infrastructure. That’s why he says his proposed budget puts “America First”. Yet, he seems to have vast sums for Israel. Money for Israel is not on the chopping block. His proposal for deep cuts in foreign aid  are not to effect Israel.

According to the Los Angeles Times:

The budget plan from the White House calls for slashing the State Department’s $50 billion budget by about 28%, cuts that would mostly target climate change, democracy promotion, health programs, and numerous foreign aid projects.  Mark Toner, a State Department spokesman, said U.S, aid to Israel, which totaled about $3.1 billion this year, would not be touched under the Trump plan. Israel gets more U.S. aid than any other nation.

Aid to every other country will come under review.[1]

Israel has a population of about 7.7 million, far less than the state of New Jersey. It is one of the most affluent nations on the globe. Its unemployment rate is less than the U.S., Yet, we neglect our problems and borrow money to send billions every year, about $8.5 million every day, to help Israel deal with its problems.

There’s still more to the story, because parts of U.S. aid to Israel are buried in the budgets of various US agencies, mostly the Department of Defense. For example, since 2006, the American Defense Budget has included between $130 and $235 million per year for missile defense programs in Israel.[2]

Add it all up and Israel,  with less than 8 million people gets more “foreign aid” than all the countries of sub-Saharan Africa, Latin America, and the Caribbean combined – which have a total population of over a billion people.[3]

There are also hidden costs to our blind support of Israel, such as the oil boycott of 1973, and 9/11.  
According to Harvard professor Steven Walt:

The 9/11 Commission reported that 9/11 plotter Khalid Sheikh Mohammed’s  “animus toward the United States stemmed from his violent disagreement with US foreign policy favoring Israel”. Other anti-American terrorist – such as Ramza Yousef, who led the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center – have offered similar explanations for their anger toward the United States.[4]

And, of course, the biggie. Would we have ever invaded Iraq if it were not for the pressure from Israel?

Conclusion: The only reason I give a little money to a homeless beggar on the street is because I think he needs it. I support a shelter for battered woman because the mothers and children there are hurting and hope for a better life. I even give to my church because it reaches out to suffering people in dozens of ways. But, to give vast sums to Israel which obviously does not need it, but uses it to oppress Palestinians, build settlements on what is left of their shrinking land, confiscate their water, imprison their children and exploits them as cheap labor, among many other oppressive practices, does not make sense to me.

Oh, how I wish Mr. Trump really would put America, and American ideals, first.

Thomas Are
March 25, 2017

[1] Trump’s ‘America First’ Budget puts Israel right up there, Too, Mondoweiss, March, 17, 2017
[2] Jeremy Sharp, U.S. foreign aid to Israel, Congressional Research Service, March 12, 2012. Cited in Newsobserveronline, The Staggering Cost of Israel to Americans. , May 8, 2013.
[3] Richard Curtiss, “The Cost of Israel to the American People”, Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, 1998.
[4] Stephen Walt, Whiff of Desperation, Foreign Policy, April 25, 2011.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Children are Innocent

Children are innocent, but many of them are in Israeli prisons.

Shidi is 13 years old. He was 12, on December 30, 2015 when Israel arrested him, forced him to stand naked in a freezing cold prison cell for hours. No parent, no lawyer. His mother saw him across the court room at his “trial,” his hands and feet in shackles. He will spend the next two years in an Israeli prison because Israel says, “He would have stabbed an Israeli, if he had a knife.”[i]

Gideon Levy said, “There is nothing more Israeli than a court that gives a soldier who killed a Palestinian in cold blood a sentence fit for a bicycle thief.”[ii]

An 18-month jail sentence handed down to an Israeli Defense Force (IDF) recruit for the killing of a wounded Palestinian has prompted for widespread criticism for its apparent leniency in light of the severity of his crime…Yet, the ruling was a landmark case insofar as no member of the IDF has been prosecuted for actions carried out in over 12 years... The sentence he received is less than a Palestinian child gets for throwing stones.[iii]

Dr. Jess Ghannam, professor of psychiatry and global health sciences at the University of California School of Medicine notes:

Palestinian children in Gaza are exposed to more violence in their lifetime than any other people, any other children anywhere in the world. If you look at children right now who are 10 years old, they’ve been through Cast Lead in 2008 and 2009, the invasion in 2012 and the invasion and destruction in 2014. In addition to the siege, if you look at the statistics, even before Cast Lead, 80 percent of Palestinian children in Gaza have witnessed some sort of violence against them, a friend or a family member. And now they’re getting to the point where probably close to 99 percent of children in Gaza are being exposed to a level of violence where they have seen family members be killed, murdered, burned alive. There’s nothing like the levels of traumatic exposure that any child in the world has ever been exposed to on a chronic and daily basis.

According to Middle East Children’s Alliance, “Palestinian children are subject to attacks by the Israeli occupation forces and Jewish settlers on an almost daily basis, 1,518 have been killed since the outbreak of the second intifada in September 2000 up to April 2013, that’s one every three days for thirteen years. Almost 250 Palestinian minors, like Shadi, are being held in Israeli prisons.

Shadi’s friends described him as full of life, loved by family, neighbors, friends and classmates. They said that he loved to dance and sing and swim. He excelled in math. Shadi sounds like a delightful kid. But, I wonder what he will be when he is released after years in an Israeli prison?  How much hate can Israel control by force.  Children do grow up.

Thomas Are
March 19, 2017

[i] Farihan Farah,  I am a Proud Woman and a Humanitarian. I am also the Mother of the Youngest Palestinian Prisoner in an Israeli Jail.  Mondoweiss, March 8, 2017.
[ii] Haaretz, Who Needs the Hague when you have Israeli Army Justice, February 23, 2017

[iii] Bethan McKernan, Five Children Get Longer Sentences for Throwing Stones than Israeli Soldier who Shot Incapacitated Palestinian Dead.  The Independent, February 22, 2017.

Sunday, February 26, 2017

In the Name of Religion

I am not Jewish and therefore should be cautious in passing judgement on what is “good” Judaism and what is phony. However, one need not belong to a religion as deeply profound and tested as Judaism in order to recognize its many virtues and values. It is on this basis alone that I, even as an outsider, can emphatically declare that Benjamin Netanyahu is NOT Jewish and what he seeks to create in Israel is a racist state, not a Jewish one.

To make my case, I refer to Rabbi Donniel Hartman, leader of the Shalom Hartman Institute in Jerusalem who does speak with authority when lifting up the values and virtues of Judaism:

Speaking of the modern state of Israel, he writes:

I am trying to save my own religion from itself…  For much of our history, (Jews) were a powerless people and on the side of the downtrodden. Now, however, we find ourselves in a dramatically different reality… We not only have the ability to protect ourselves but also the power to harm others.

As such, he continues:

As the short history of Israel has revealed, it is all too often the same people who speak in the name of religion, who come down on the side of discrimination toward the non-Jewish national minorities in Israel… and who campaign most vociferously against pursuing peace with our Palestinian neighbors. (p.16)[1]

As I read Rabbi Hartman, I weep with him in the pain he feels for the distortion of his Jewish faith in the face of modern Israel. He writes:

One of Judaism’s central obligations is to “not remain indifferent” (Deuteronomy 22:3), to see the needs of others and to implicate oneself as a part of the solution. (p.20)… Moses “chose to see the injustice around him and rejected the safer path of indifference, and stood with those being wronged. (p.22)... We are all our neighbor’s keepers. (p.31) …He quotes Maimonides, “Whoever is in a position to prevent wrongdoing and does not do so, is responsible for the iniquity of all the wrongdoing he might have prevented. (p.32)

Hartman summarized Isaiah’s message:

Your prayer and fasting are worthless to me as long as there are hungry, poor, homeless, and naked people suffering just outside the walls of your religious sanctuary. Get out of the synagogue and create a society of justice. (p. 57)

Now, what does all this have to do with Benjamin Netanyahu who doesn’t even claim to be a religious Jew?  It makes the point that his understanding of Judaism is race, not religion. He would like for all, especially those of us living in the United States, to think of him as “Jewish” and have a warm feeling toward him. But, let us be clear, Netanyahu is not Jewish. He is a racist hiding behind the smoke screen of Judaism.

Thomas Are
February 26, 2017

[1] These quotes are from Rabbi Donniel Hartman’s powerful little book, Putting God Second, How to save Religion from Itself, (Beacon Press, Boston, 2016)

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Settlements Are the Issue

Netanyahu says, “We want peace with the Palestinians but they teach their children to hate us and to try to destroy the state of Israel.”  When someone asked about the settlements, he answered that the settlements were not an issue. It’s just that they teach their children to hate.

Netanyahu and Trump gushed all over each other bragging about how Israel and the US value life and live by the same moral standards.

Yet, any eye witness who visits Palestine will tell you that settlements are the issue.

Come into my neighborhood, knock down my house, build hundreds of Jewish only apartments on my land, surround it with Jewish only roads, keep me boxed into a small bantustan and it would be an issue with me.

I wish just one of the reporters in the Netanyahu/Trump news conference would have brought up the fact that Israel destroys Palestinian homes by the hundreds, steals 80 percent of Palestinian water, has built a separation wall, snaking down through the West Bank separating doctors from their hospitals, farmers from their fields and children from their schools. I wish someone would have had the integrity to ask about the number and treatment of Palestinians, including children,  in Israeli prisons, Someone could have asked about the skunk juice sprayed on Palestinian homes, the uprooting of Palestinian olive trees and the hundreds of check points.

I wish someone would have asked about Israel’s bombardment with planes and tanks and missiles from ships on the unarmed people of Gaza whom Israel keeps locked up like animals in an open air prison. Someone should have asked how Israel feels about the number of children who were left homeless and with no way to fight off the freezing cold of winter. And why does Israel deliberately limit the number of calories allowed for each person.

Netanyahu doesn’t care and Trump doesn’t have a clue. Mix apathy with stupidity and the outlook will be grim, every time.

When those two talk about shared values, they are not talking about my values or the values of any faithful Jew I know.

Thomas Are
February 16, 2017

Saturday, February 4, 2017

Football Deplomacy

I am not usually into football. I keep thinking that half of the people on the globe are hungry, millions are oppressed and abused, and we are flirting with a climate change catastrophe, so, what difference does it make which way a ball bounces. Yet, I find myself interested in Sunday’s Super Bowl because it includes the New England Patriots. It’s not just that the Patriots have such a close tie with Donald Trump, but because Robert Kraft has such a close tie to Israel.

About 20 months ago, I wrote:

If you are concerned about peace in the middle east and seek security for Israel when the entire neighborhood is in turmoil, if you want to avoid a needless war with Iran, (a war  which we will not win), and if you are looking for someone with great negotiating skills and experience in understanding the needs and point of view of the other, someone with knowledge of the region and its history, someone known for diplomacy, then, where do you turn? 

Of course, you call on professional football players.  Who better to understand what it is  like to be ordinary people trying to survive in an oppressive situation than those who grew up and continue to live in what the news media calls a “culture of entitlement?” 

Robert Kraft, ultra Zionist, and owner of the New England Patriots led a delegation of 20 National Football League players to Israel where they met with Benjamin Netanyahu. The Prime Minister wanted an opportunity to explain to them why America’s effort to avoid a war with Iran is a dumb move.  It’s not that Netanyahu himself seeks a war with Iran where Israel would have to pay the price in lives and money, he is clear in proclaiming that he wants the United States to go to war with Iran. So, he chose the bright minds of the NFL to make his case. He put it in terms that even they could understand. Call it football diplomacy.

Iran is one yard away from the goal line. If they get nukes, the preeminent terrorist regime of our day will be armed with nuclear weapons.  Our effort today is to make sure that we block them and push them back. That’s the ultimate contest and the ultimate challenge, and I hope it was advanced somewhat by this visit.[1]

“I lead my life according to the four F’s – at least phonetically,” Kraft is often reported as having said; “family, faith, football and philanthropy.  This trip has connected all those dots for me.” 

I want to ask, which of these “dots” includes the right of Jews to steal land from the Palestinians, kidnap and imprison their children, take their water, blow up their homes and lock them up behind cement barrows and barbed wire fences? Which of his four f’s justifies the past and on-going war crimes committed by Israel every day?  Mr. Kraft needs another “F” word to connect his dots. It’s the word fairness. When I read that wealthy professional football players are recruited to influence US policy in the Middle East, the best “F” word to describe me is flabbergasted with an equal measure of fear.

Football is entertainment, but when it gets involved in foreign affairs, which causes so much pain to so many people, it is no longer amusing.  Mr. Kraft should stick to something he knows something about for when he gets into defending Israel, he has fumbled and somebody needs to blow the whistle on him.

William Slone Coffin said it well. “If what you think is right causes some one else to suffer, there is something wrong with what you think is right.”

Thomas Are
February 4, 2017

[1] Philip Weiss, Patriots’ Owner Brings 20 NFL veterans to Netanyahu who calls them to block Obama’s Iran Deal. Mondoweiss, June 22, 2015

Monday, January 30, 2017

Israeli Apartheid

I grew up in South Carolina. Never heard the word apartheid but I lived in an apartheid system.  We simply referred  to it as “our way of life.” We defined it as “separate, but equal.” In reality, we were far more committed to keeping things separate than equal. I went to the better school while the black citizens in my community went to that ol’ fire trap on the south side of town. No matter what we called it, it was an evil system and it took years of external pressure (from the federal government,) and a lot of education to grow out of it. Thank God, the people of conscience rejected apartheid and our “right to exist as a white state.”  

Now, look at South Africa. Apartheid, which means “apart-ness” was sustained by all kinds of legal and emotional justifications.  Keeping blacks in Bantustans was “good for everybody.”  They were inferior human beings that just could not take care of themselves and as long as they provided a supply of cheap labor for the Afrikaners, apartheid worked until the world woke up to the pain inflicted upon millions of weak human beings and its conscience took over. The United Nations regards apartheid as a crime against humanity. Apartheid is now rejected by every civilized nation with the exception of Israel.

Today, Israel is an apartheid state. Of course, Israel rejects the title and prefers to call itself a “democracy” but changing the vocabulary does not change the fact of Israel’s brutal dominance of the occupied territories. Oren Ben-Dor explains:

Israel never officially annexed those areas to Israel (i.e., to ‘pre-1967 Israel’); on the other hand, instead of calling them ‘occupied, it insist on defining them as ‘held’ territories. Israel created this legalistic subterfuge to enable it to claim that articles 47 to 78 of the Geneva Convention that pertain to ‘territories occupied in war’ are not relevant there and to ensure that the state can be selective in the way it applies official Israeli law.[1]

It is amazing that so many people who openly opposed the apartheid system in South Carolina and South Africa are willing to give a pass to Israel.

It’s even called a separation (apartheid) wall. Add to that, hundreds of checkpoints, illegal settlements,  home demolitions, curfews, bombardment of unarmed Gazans, thousands of political prisoners and you have the face of Apartheid Israel.

Thomas Are
January 30, 2017

[1] Ilan Peppe, Israel and South Africa, The Many Faces od Apartheid,  (Zed Books, London, 2015.) p. 78.

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Two Letters

Both to the “editor” of the Atlanta Journal/Constitution. One by me and the other by James David. They did NOT publish mine. I was disappointed, but not surprised. I titled it:

John Kerry is being called a backstabber and betrayer because he failed to “protect Israel” against a UN vote declaring settlements illegal.  He did not veto the vote of Britain, France Russia and Egypt who voted with the 14 to 0 in favor of condemning Israel’s five decade long policy of settlements. Israel now subsidizes housing to more than 600,000 “squatters” in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

Where in the world did Kerry get the idea that settlements were illegal?  Well, he probably read Article 49 (6) of the Fourth Geneva Convention, to which even Israel is a signatory:

The Occupying Power shall not deport or transfer parts of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies.

Building settlements in occupied territories is illegal under international law, period.

However, the Journal/Constitution DID publish a letter by my friend James David, a military General with a heart for justice. He titled it: OBAMA RIGHT NOT TO SUPPORT ISRAEL.

President Obama’s decision to abstain and let the latest U.N. Resolution condemning Israeli settlements pass is an early Christmas present. Many of his critics are calling it bad for peace. (“U.S. abstains as U.N. vote blasts Israel,” News, Dec. 24.)

So, I guess Israel’s confiscation of Palestinian land, demolishing thousands of Palestinian homes, uprooting their olive orchards, spraying their homes with sewage, the building of an apartheid wall, the construction of thousands of illegal Jewish settlements, and the daily harassment, collective punishment, unnecessary killings of dozens of Palestinian men, women, and children, and the daily human rights abuses on the Palestinian people is good for peace?  

The only criticism that I have on President Obama’s decision to abstain is that I wish he would’ve voted in favor just as all 14 other nations in the UN voted. This unanimous vote should awaken the world.

Both as a military professional and as a private citizen, James David has knowledge of Israel’s abuse of the Palestinians which is seldom reported in the media or expressed by our politicians. His commitment in speaking truth to power is in itself powerful. People of conscience all around the world are grateful for his leadership. I am one of them.

Thomas Are

January 14, 2017