Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Jews Rethink Israel

After every conversation concerning Israel/Palestine, the question arises. Is it getting any better? Is there any hope?

Well, not from the prospect of those of us who live in the United States. We have a biased media which, for whatever reason, seldom even acknowledges the real problem of occupation and brutality. We have a gutless government afraid of AIPAC and its powerful lobby, and we hear on television day and night the idiotic and unbiblical views of the Christian Zionist who tell us that Jesus cannot come again until Jerusalem is purged of non-Jews and the temple rebuilt. There are days when it seems as though there is no hope.

However, something is changing that may have a most significant effect on Israel’s imperialism. That is the changing attitude of the American Jew.

For many years, I have tried to pay attention to the American Jewish writers who were seeking to hold Israel to the moral standards of their Jewish faith and theology. My reading was limited to Marc Ellis, Michael Lerner and Noam Chomsky. In spite of their heart felt attachment to biblical Israel and the security of identity, these powerful critics kept calling Israel to accountability. In previous blogs, I have referred to each of them. Typical is Michael Lerner, editor of the leading Jewish magazine, TIKKUN:

Israel’s attempt to regain control of the refugee camps by denying food to hundreds of thousands of men, women, and children, by raiding homes and dragging out their occupants in the middle of the night to stands for hours in the cold, by savagely beating a civilian population and breaking its bones---these activities are deplorable to any civilized human being. That they were done by a Jewish state is both tragic and inexcusable.[1]

This Jewish writer amazed me. Then I read Marc Ellis:

Can Jewish Israelis continue to torture and kill Palestinian youth ad infinitum? Can North American Jews continue to support these horrible acts?[2]

Noam Chomsky was more specific in spelling out Israeli atrocities.[3]

All of these were writing twenty to twenty-five years ago.

These leaders spoke to me but they seemed to make little impact upon their own Jewish community which continued to give Israel a pass on any treatment of its neighbors, no matter how abusive.

Now, suddenly, Ellis, Lerner and Chomsky have company. There are more Jewish writers than I can keep up with, such as:

Joel Kovel, who writes on the very first page of his book, Overcoming Zionism, published in 2007, “I write this book in fury about Israel and the unholy complicity of the United States and its Jewish community that grants it impunity” He goes on to condemn Israel’s theology and practice for its imperialist behavior.

Normal Finkelstein seeking to cut through the myth of ‘Purity of Arms,’ quotes the former director of the Israeli army archives, “In almost every Arab village occupied by us during the War of Independence, acts were committed which are defined as war crimes, such as murder, massacres, and rapes.”[4]

Tanya Reinhart writes, “Israel can continue to imprison the Palestinians, to bombard them from the air, deprive them of the means of substance, steal their land in the West Bank --- and still be hailed as the peacemaker in the Israel-Palestine conflict.”[5]

Ilan Pappe, an Israeli historian writes, “The 1948 War of Independence involved one of the largest forced migrations in modern history. Around a million people were expelled from their homes at gunpoint, civilians were massacred, and hundreds of Palestinian villages destroyed. Denied for almost six decades, had it happened today it could only have been called ‘ethnic cleansing’”.[6]

Last Saturday, I attended a conference in Atlanta and met Mark Braverman, the grandson of a fifth-generation Palestinian Jew who spoke of the “civil war” taking place in the hearts of many Jews, a war between their love for Israel and their recognition of the price paid by Palestinians for Israel’s “right to exist.” Growing up in Pennsylvania, he visited family in Israel for the first time as a teenager and was devastated by what he saw. After holding that pain inside for decades, with courage and scholarship, Braverman writes about Israel’s destruction of Palestine. “A growing number of Jews in Israel and outside the state see this, and for us the effect has been shattering; the shock, horror, and crisis of identity I experienced as a Jew witnessing the crimes being committed in my name are not unique.”[7]

I scratch my head and think, Wow, what is going on?

Then, the latest issue of THE NATION features as its cover story: American Jews Rethink Israel:

This year has seen a dramatic shift in American Jews’ attitudes toward Israel. In January many liberal Jews were shocked by the Gaza war, in which Israel used overwhelming force against a mostly defenseless civilian population unable to flee. Then came the rise to power of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman, whose explicitly anti-Arab platform was at odds with an American Jewish electorate that had just voted 4 to 1 for a minority president. Throw in angry Israeli writings about the “rot in the Diaspora,” and it’s little wonder young American Jews feel increasingly indifferent about a country that has been at the center of Jewish identity for four decades.[8]

All this is new. Several years ago, I was invited to speak about the history of Zionism to a study group in Jacksonville, Florida. I had just begun when suddenly I was interrupted by a loud and dynamic voice. “Politics! This is all your politics and I resent it. I have a Jewish friend and if he were here, you would not be saying these things.”

He may have been right. I may have been intimidated if there were a Jew sitting in the room. However. I would have been wrong to be silent. What Israel was doing then and is still doing now is wrong and we are equally wrong to remain silent while it’s being done.

These authors are brave and they pay a great emotional and personal price for speaking out even when their concerns are for and not against Israel. They need our support.

Also, there are many authorities on Middle East affairs who tell us that unless something is done to curb Israel’s expansionism, Israel may be dragging us into a long disastrous war with the Muslim world that we are not going to win.

By the way, Marc Ellis has just published a new book. Judaism Does Not Equal Israel, which I have not as yet had time to read.

Thomas L. Are
October 27, 2009

[1] Michael Lerner, The Occupation: Immoral and Stupid. Cited in: Rosemary Ruether and Marc Ellis, Beyond Occupation, (Beacon Press, Boston, 1990.) p. 99.
[2] Ibid., p.116.
[3] Check out his, The Fateful Triangle.
[4] Norman Finkelstein, Image and Reality of the Israeli-Palestine Conflict. Second Edition, Verso, 2003,)
p. 110
[5] Tanya Reinhart, The Road Map to Nowhere, (Verso, 2006.) p. 143
[6] Ilan Pappe, The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine. (Oneworld, Oxford, England, 2007.) Jacket blurb.
[7] Mark Braverman, Fatal Embrace, (Synergy Books, 2010) p.25
[8] Adam Horowitz and Philip Weiss, American Jews Rethink Israel: A New Generation, and a New Lobby, Challenge Old Attitudes, The Nation, November 2, 2009. p.13.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

History (Part 4) - The Six Day War

The Question omitted by the media, never addressed by the politicians, and totally distorted by the Christian Right is: Whose land is it? All of these so called “authorities” on the matter of Israel/Palestine often proclaim, “Israel has offered to give land, (mostly small disconnected enclaves like city-states surrounded by Israel’s military), back to the Palestinians in exchange for the recognition of Israel’s right to all the rest of it including control of borders, air space and water. The question remains. When it comes to the West Bank and Gaza, Whose land is it?

The biggest myth concerning the occupied Palestinian territory is the claim that the Six Day War of 1967 was begun by Egypt and poor Israel only defended itself. Those who hold to the opinion that Israel was the victim claim to know more than some of Israel’s most respected leaders. For instance:

Yitzhak Rabin - “I do not believe that Nasser wanted war. The two divisions he sent into Sinai on May 14 would not have been enough to unleash an offensive against Israel. He knew it and we knew it.”[1]

Mattiyahu Peled - Israeli General Staff - To pretend that the Egyptian forces massed on our frontiers were in a position to threaten the existence of Israel constitutes an insult not only to the intelligence of anyone capable of analyzing this sort of situation, but above all an insult to the Israeli Army.”[2]

Mortecai Bentov - Israeli Cabinet - 1972 - “Israel’s “entire story” about the “dangers of extermination” was “invented” of whole cloth and exaggerated after the fact to justify the annexation of new Arab territories.” [3]

Menachem Begin - 1982 - “The Egyptian army concentrated on the Sinai approaches do not prove that Nasser was really about to attack us. We must be honest with ourselves. We decided to attack him.” [4]

Moshe Sharett - Former Prime Minister, writing years before '67 exposed the "defence/security" screen - “Israeli political and military leadership never believed in any insuperable Arab dangers to Israel. They sought to maneuver and force Arab states into military confrontations which the Zionist leadership were certain of winning so Israel could carry out the destabilization of Arab regimes and the planned occupation of additional territory.”[5]

Egypt was no threat. The U.N., the U.S., and Israel’s political leaders knew that Nasser had no intention of aggression but Israel had its excuse. Early Monday morning, June 5, 1967, Israeli jets flying low across the Mediterranean to avoid radar detection, turned south and struck the Egyptian air bases from Suez to Cairo. In less than three hours, the Israelis had broken the back of Egypt’s air force. By Wednesday, Israel had taken Jerusalem; then by Thursday, the Egyptians, who had fought a bloody battle in Suez and Gaza, surrendered. Three days later, Israel attacked the Golan Heights. By the end of the week, Israel’s occupation of Arab land was four times the size of Israel before the war. All the territory that had been allotted to the Palestinian Arab State by the 1947 U.N. Partition Plan was now under Israeli control.

During this war, Israel captured East Jerusalem, West Bank, the Golan Heights and Gaza Strip. Immediately the Israeli government and the fundamentalists, from Tel Aviv to Texas, referred to these occupied lands as “Judea and Samaria,” claiming some God endorsement for its actions. God outranks the Geneva Convention, to which Israel is a signatory.[6] At any rate, the results of this war left Israel with 78% of what had previously belonged to the Palestinians.

So, when we hear something like, “Israel, after being attacked by its Arab neighbors, only kept the land it needs to defend itself,” which is exactly what I heard someone say last week, we would do well to remember just whose land are we talking about.

Thomas L. Are
October 16, 2009
[1].Paul Finley, Deliberate Deceptions, Facing the Facts about the U.S., Israeli Relationship, (Lawrence Hill Books, Chicago,. 1993.) p. 36.
[2]. Clifford A. Wright, Facts and Fables: The Arab-Israeli Conflict, (Kegan Paul International, New York, 1989.) p.132.
[3].Paul Finley, Deliberate Deceptions, Facing the Facts about the U.S., Israeli Relationship, (Lawrence Hill Books, Chicago,. 1993.) p. 36.
[4].Norman Finkelstein, Image and Reality of the Israeli – Palestinian Conflict, (Verso, London, 2003) p. 192
[5].Ralph Schoenman, The Hidden History of Zionism, (Veritas Press, Santa Barbara, California, 1988) p.59.
[6] Article 49 (1949) “The Occupying Power shall not deport or transfer parts of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies.”

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Netanyahu's Hilton Head

If it served his purpose, Netanyahu, the once again Prime Minister of Israel, could convince me that Hilton Head Island is a poverty stricken ghetto. After all, he would point out that when my county in North Georgia wanted to start a free medical clinic for those who had no insurance and little income, we went to Hilton Head to see how they helped their poverty stricken population. He would go on to declare that all over that Island homes are for sale and churches are offering food and clothes to those who live in poverty. The newspapers are full of work wanted ads and businesses are closing. Walk around Hilton Head and you will see teen agers in jeans with holes in the knees, AA operating full time and the streets full of people who have not worked at a job in years.

Apply Netanyahu logic and I am convinced. After all, he has the facts to build the case that Hilton Head is a poverty stricken ghetto. Then last week. I actually went to Hilton Head and saw what life there is really like. Wow. In spite of the fact that everything he could have said about Hilton Head is actually true, it is mostly a play ground for the super rich. The beaches are lined with multi-million dollar homes. Luxury yachts fill the harbors. Restaurants serve hundred dollar dinners for two and I could not count all the pristine golf courses.

What’s my point? Select the statistics and stories and you can paint even Hilton Head anyway you want it to be.

Now, what does that have to do with anything? I am frustrated by what I so often hear on the news and from right wing “Christian” pulpits about the Palestinians, such as: They are blood thirst terrorists. They are ungrateful, uncouth, unwashed and backward. All they want to do is destroy Israel and kill infidels. I even heard one news announcer say that the Palestinians have never had life so good as since Israel has been “helping” them. On and on it goes until the case is made that Palestinians are somewhat subhuman and nobody could live next door to them.

But, I have been there and the Palestinians are no more filled with hate than Hilton Head is filled with poverty. Palestinians are families seeking to give their children an adequate education, to offer them a degree of safety and dignity as they play in their own yard and to live a life free of bombs, assassinations, hunger, imprisonment and torture. Palestinians want the freedom to worship God without being denigrated and misrepresented by those who seek to remove them from their homes.

That is why I was so confused by Netanyahu’s speech to the United Nations. I realize that he was actually not speaking to the delegates, but to the American TV audience. The UN delegates knew him too well and they know the other side of the story. He actually compared the Hamas rockets that killed one person during the year leading up to the peace truce of last June to the Nazi blitz of British civilians during World War Two. (He failed to mention that 49 Palestinians were killed every month during that time by the IDF and settlers.) In describing Israel’s “care” in protecting the citizens of Gaza, he failed to mention the closures of the life line, denying food and medicines to desperate Palestinians. He presented the conflict as though it were a battle between two equal forces. He did not explain why Israel suffered 13 deaths, almost half by friendly fire, while more than 1400 Palestinians were killed, many of whom died a very painful death due to white phosphorus dropped on civilians by Israel.

Netanyahu even attacked the report of the UN Human Rights Fact Finding Mission appointed to investigate all violations of human rights laws in Gaza. While the Goldstone Report condemns the firing of rockets by Palestinian groups as “constituting war crimes and may amount to crimes against humanity,” the weight of the report is focused on the actions of Israel:

NEW YORK/GENEVA – The UN Fact-Finding Mission led by Justice Richard Goldstone on Thursday released its long-awaited report on the Gaza conflict, in which it concluded there is evidence indicating serious violations of international human rights and humanitarian law were committed by Israel during the Gaza conflict, and that Israel committed actions amounting to war crimes, and possible crimes against humanity.[1]

The report includes facts that the prime minister would prefer that the American audience not hear, such as the deliberate firing on civilians, the shooting of families carrying white flags while trying to get to safer shelters, the bombing of hospitals and ambulances and locking Palestinians into buildings and blowing them up. One international human rights group after another accuses Israel of war crimes.

Palestinians are ordinary people, probably no better and no worse than the rest of us. But, in order to know that, you almost have to go there.

Thomas L.Are
October 8, 2009
[1] PRESS RELEASE, September 15, 2009, United Nations Fact Finding Mission on the Gaza Conflict.