Sunday, December 18, 2011

The Big Lie

When I went to the movies as a kid, I always rooted for the cowboys. When I grew up I rooted for the Indians. Why? Because I read a little history and realized that the movies had lied to me.

If all we know about the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians is what we learn by watching The EXODUS by Leon Uris, or by listening to Fox News, or following the Republican Presidential debates, then we will root for the Jews. On the other hand, read any reliable historian and we will pull, work for, and pray for the Palestinians.

Now Newt Gingrich perpetuates the lie, portraying Israel as the victim. I wonder if he has ever read any of the many Jewish historians such as Gershom Gorenberg, Ilan Pappe, Norman Finkelstein, Marc Ellis, Mark Braverman, Jeff Halper, Sarah Roy or Rachelle Marshall, among many others. If so, he would have never declared the Palestinians an “invented people.” Of course, he did not just make up this little bit of propaganda. When she was Prime Minister of Israel, Golda Meir declared:

It was not as though there was a Palestinian people in Palestine … and we came and threw them out and took their country away from them. They did not exist.[1]

Even as she said it, she knew that she was ignoring history. What she denied was exactly what Israel had done and she later admitted it. Alan Hart, one of the few reporters Golda Meir publically respected and referred to as her good friend writes that Golda had sent Lou Kaddar, her most trusted confidant to visit him with a message:

“Do you remember the TV interview in which Golda told you that there was no such thing as a Palestinian and that Palestinians did not exist?”

“My dear Lou” I replied, “not only do I remember, the whole world remembers and will never forget.”

Lou continued, “Golda told me to give you a message, but she made me promise I would not deliver it until she was dead. She told me to tell you that as soon as those words left her mouth, she knew they were the silliest damn thing she had ever said.”

She was right. In writing of that time period, historian Arnold Toynbee declared:

The treatment of Palestinian Arabs in 1947 (and 1948) was as morally indefensible as the slaughter of six million Jews by the Nazis … Though not comparable in quantity to the crimes of the Nazis, it was comparable in quality.[3]

Newt Gingrich is an historian, but he is also a politician and he knows how the system works. He knows that 76 percent of American Jewry is concentrated in six states – New York California, Pennsylvania, Illinois, Ohio and Florida. These states control 181 of the 270 electoral votes needed to elect the next president. Alan Hart writes, “Politicians have been mesmerized by fear of the ‘Jewish vote’ and by those who claim they can deliver the ‘swing vote’ in a hotly contested state.”[4] You just can’t be elected president without those swing votes

Of course, Mitt Romney also knows this. So we hear him saying such things as, “I’d get on the phone to my friend Bibi Netanyahu and say, ‘Would it help if I said this? What would you like me to do?”

Could it be that presidential candidates are willing to put aside their sense of justice and feelings of compassion for votes?

I fear that until promoting such a lie and licking the boots of Bibi Netanyahu costs them as many votes as it generates, some candidates will say anything even if it is contrary to history, morality and the teachings of their own faith.

However, just for the sake of argument, let’s say that the Republican politicians are right and that there has never been a people called Palestinians. There is one now. Does that in any way justify Israel’s aggression?

The question is:

Who is occupying whose land?
Who is stealing whose water?
Who is killing whose children and bombing their schools?
Who is assassinating whose elected leaders?
Who is pushing who into the sea?
Who, in reality, is denying whose right to exist?

Palestinians now live on 22 percent of what used to be their land and have offered peace with Israel just to allow them to survive on what is left to them. Who sabotages peace talks by increasing settlements and who gets punished with blockades and roadblocks for democratically electing their own government?

To portray Israel as the victim may get votes, but it’s a lie and any reader of history should know it, including Newt.

Thomas Are
December 18, 2011

[1] Naim Ateek, Justice and Only Justice, (Orbis Press, 1989) p.36.
[2] Alan Hart, Zionism, The Real Enemy of the Jews, Volume One, (Clarity Press, 2009) p. 61.
[3] Ibid. p.32.
[4] Ibid., p. 192 Hart goes on to say, “The inordinate Israelist influence over the White House, the Congress and other elected officials, stems principally from the ability to pander to the alleged ‘Jewish vote’ as well as fill the campaign coffers of both parties with timely contributions on a national as well as local level, while taking advantage of the anachronistic system by which American Presidents are elected. p. 193.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Presbytery Vote - Part Three

“Are you not being hard on the Presbyterians? ” Someone challenged.

“Well, yes, I am.” I said. “You see, that my crowd. I have been a part of the Presbyterian family my whole life. I know the great works in which we are engaged and I know the benevolent and caring heart of the Presbyterian Church. That is why I am so baffled by this ‘blind spot’ when it comes to justice for the Palestinians. The issue is too serious to be side-stepped.”

When it came time to vote to support the Christian leaders of Israel/Palestine during the Presbytery meeting I attended, someone asked, “How can we vote for a people whose government, Hamas, trains kids to strap bombs on their bodies and walk into a crowd to kill people?” He was grossly concerned about the deaths caused by rockets and suicide bombers. After all, eleven Israelis were killed during the three years prior to Israel’s “deployment” from Gaza. However, he expressed no concern for the one thousand, two hundred-fifty Gazans, including two hundred twenty-two children, killed by the Israeli army during that same time.[1] Norman Finkelstein reports:

Hamas agreed to accept any peace agreement negotiated between the leaders of the PLO and Israel … Israel officials knew full well before they attacked Gaza that despite the charter a diplomatic settlement could have been reached with Hamas.”[2]

I agree with the speaker, suicide bombers and rockets are bad. They kill innocent people and that is always bad. Not only that, I don’t believe they work. For there to be peace between Israel and Palestine, both sides are going to have to compromise and reach across the table with forgiveness and respect. Suicide bombers are not going to bring down the IDF. Israel’s military is the fourth largest in the world. Suicide bombers and rockets will only make the average Israeli feel insecure. We don’t reach out with trust and respect as long as we feel insecure. Threaten me and I will trench in and come out swinging. I wish there were no bombs and rockets.

However, having said that, I can understand the frustration which drives a defenseless people, being mistreated and misrepresented for decades to strike out in any way they can. Why are we not asking, what is so bad that it would cause a young boy or girl to take their own life just to make a statement? We have one life to live. What drives these kids to sacrifice themselves?

Last week I quoted Philip Slater, as saying, “The Gaza Strip is little more than a large Israeli concentration camp, in which Palestinians are attacked at will, starved of food, fuel, energy – even deprived of hospital supplies.” He goes on to say, “It would be difficult to have any respect for them if they didn’t fire a few rockets back.”

I don’t think it is a matter of respect. It’s a matter of pain. Imagine yourself living in a refugee camp with no hope of ever gaining a better life, no matter what you do. After all, your parents have lived their entire life in these camps. They have never committed a crime, never been charged with a crime, never been to any court. They just happened to live in a village that was given to European Jews to be the State of Israel by the United Nations sixty two years ago. Bear in mind that the first suicide bombing was in 1994. That was 46 years after Israel destroyed 418 villages and drove 750,000 of your people into exile and 27 years after Israel again occupied your land and began treating you like an animal, and six weeks after Baruch Goldstein walked into a Mosque in Hebron and shot to death 29 of your neighbors as they prayed. During all this time, the world, including the church, said nothing. You are invisible and forgotten. How long before you would strike back?

Gideon Levy, award winning Israeli journalist, writes:

Nobody would have given any thought to the fate of the people of Gaza if they had not behaved violently. That is a bitter truth, but the first twenty years of the occupation passed quietly and we did not lift a finger to end it.[3]

Then when the Christian leaders of Palestine begged the church in the United States to at least become informed as to what is happening to them, our Presbytery voted 37 to 65 to ignore their plea. So, yes, I will try to continue to be “hard on us.” If we are to be the church, we must do better. It’s as much for our sake as for the Palestinians.

Rabbi Michael Lerner, in his magazine Tikkun, writes about “The Violence of Not Seeing.” Think about it.

Thomas Are
November 21, 2011

[1] Norman Finkelstein, This Tine We Went Too Far, (OR Books, 2011) p.26
[2] Ibid., p. 45
[3] Gideon Levy, The Punishment of Gaza, (Verso, New York, 2010) p.21.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Presbytery Vote - Part Two

Historian Normal Finkelstein writes:

European Jews for a Just Peace issued a statement headlined, “German Jews Say NO to Israeli Army Killings.” In Canada eight Jewish women occupying the Israeli consulate called on “all Jews to speak out against this “massacre,” and celebrated Canadian pianist Anton Kuerti declared, “The unbelievable war crimes that Israel is committing in Gaza … make me ashamed to be a Jew.” In Australia two award winning novelists and a former federal cabinet minister signed a statement by Jews condemning Israel’s “grossly disproportionate assault.”[1]

In Georgia, the Presbytery voted to raise no objection to Israel’s abuse of Palestinians. About the same time that the Presbytery was voting to say “nothing,” NEWSWEEK Magazine quoted Ruth Dayan, the widow of Israeli military “hero” Moshe Dayan, criticizing Israel’s policies toward the Palestinians:[2]

What’s going on today is awful. They’re ruining this country. .. I am a peacemaker, but the current Israeli government does not know how to make peace. We move from war to war, and this will never stop. I think Zionism has run its course.

Today, we use foreign labor to work in Israel because Palestinians are not allowed. And this continuous expansion of the settlements everywhere – I cannot accept it. I cannot tolerate this deterioration in the territories and the road blocks everywhere. And that horrible wall! It’s not right.

For Netanyahu, peace is just a word, and that (current Foreign Minister Avigdor) Leiberman … he is the most terrible man in this country. … I reject Netanyahu’s policy; it is a recipe for disaster…. The number of settlements has increased from 60 to 200, the military checkpoints are everywhere, and freedom of movement is virtually non existent. Violence is still the only spoken word.

Avindav Begin, grandson of former Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin, who refuses to stand during the Israeli national anthem and participates in protests against the apartheid wall, speaks with even harsher words: “Murderous blood flows in Israeli arteries.”[3]

While a 2003 poll of the European Union named Israel the biggest threat to world peace, a 2008 survey of global opinion named Israel the biggest obstacle to achieving peace in the Israel-Palestine conflict, and the late Tony Judt asserted that “Israel today is bad news for the Jews.” Philip Slater, author of the classic sociological study The Pursuit of Loneliness declared, “The Gaza strip is little more than a large Israeli concentration camp, in which Palestinians are attacked at will, starved of food, fuel, energy – even deprived of hospital supplies." American Jews for a Just Peace, circulated a partition calling on “Israeli soldiers to Stop War Crimes” [4]

Students of Cornell University, the University of Rochester, University of Massachusetts, New York University, Columbia University, Haverford University, Bryn Mawr College and Hampton College among others have demonstrated to “divest from American corporations that directly profit from the occupation.” When historians, journalists, artists, numerous human rights organizations and even students are speaking out, where is the voice of the church?

Our Presbytery had nothing to say, 37 to 65.

Thomas Are
November 17, 2011

[1] Norman G, Finkelstein, This Time We Went Too Far, (OR Books, New York, 2011) p 120
[2] Newsweek, November 7, 2011. p. 58-63.
[3] Interview with Israeli newspaper Yediot Aharonot, February 13, 2010,
[4] Finkelstein, p. 111 - 124

Monday, November 14, 2011

Presbytery Vote - Part One

I went to bed sad. I woke up angry. Where is the church? I am not talking about the building on the corner, but the church envisioned by Jesus. The church which seeks to be faithful to the teachings of Jesus.

His very first sermon was; The spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor… proclaim release to the captives … to set at liberty those who are oppressed…. to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord. His last sermon was; I was hungry and you fed me…when you did it to the least of these, you did it unto me. His parables almost always included the marginalized; Invite the poor to your banquet… Sell what you have and give to the poor… Whatever it cost to restore him to health, I will pay it. On and on; when you give a banquet, invite the poor and the lame. During his ministry, Jesus hung around the poor, the sick, and a large group whom he simply referred to as sinners, prostitutes and tax collectors.” There is no doubt about the focus of his heart.

Last week, I attended the meeting of a Presbytery, (a representative gathering of leaders from all the Presbyterian churches in a district). I joined the rhetoric of their worship literature. Almost every prayer, litany and song included such words as “justice” and “peace.” Those words rolled from our lips with ease. Yet, when it came time for a vote to seek “justice and peace” for the oppressed people of Palestine, there was a major disconnect.

I have never known a Presbytery to do a better job of offering its members an opportunity to be informed as to why a ‘justice for the oppressed’ motion was coming up for a vote. At its previous meeting, the JUSTPEACE Committee had arranged for the Presbytery to meet and hear Mark Braverman, a Jewish activist who is seeking to apply his Jewish faith to the policies and conduct of the State of Israel. In addition to Braverman, the Presbytery heard Dr. Fahed abu Akel, past moderator of the Presbyterian General Assembly, and a Palestinian, tell his story of being separated when 4 years old, from his mother during the bitter displacement of over 750,000 Palestinians by the Israelis in 1948. In addition to having these eyewitnesses address the Presbytery, the JUSTPEACE committee sponsored three workshops within the Presbytery to address the motions which would support justice and peace for the Palestinians.[i]

The Presbytery had been asked to respond to THE KAIROS DOTRINE, a plea by Christian leaders in Israel and the occupied territories to the church in Americas to know what is happening to them. In the midst of pledging peace and love for their Jewish oppressors they acknowledged that they were rapidly coming to the end of their rope, saying:.

We, a group of Christian Palestinians, after prayer, reflection and exchange of opinions, cry out from within the suffering of our country, under the Israeli occupation, with a cry of hope in the absence of all hope, a cry full of prayer and faith in a God ever vigilant, in God’s divine providence for all the inhabitants of this land.

Why Now? Because today we have reached a dead end in the tragedy of the Palestinian people.

The Presbytery voted to kill both motions. The Palestinians were left to be forgotten and on their own. I listened to the debate in astonishment:

--- The first speaker said that she was going to vote against the motion because she knew so little about the situation there. (I sat silently thinking that if she announced the first part, that she was going to vote against the motion, she did not have to confess to the second part. It would be obvious that she knew very little about the situation.
--- Several speakers described Hamas as a terrorist government that sponsored suicide bombers and had pledged to wipe Israel off the map.
--- Another said that he could not vote “against Israel” because the people there were happy and their faces were full of smiles and laughter, that we should not take anything away from the Jews who are the “Children of God.”

---Several people supporting the motions spoke from their experience of actually having seen the conditions in Israel/Palestine. They were rebutted by a pious plea that, before we do anything, we must hear “the Jewish side.” (As if we ever hear anything else on the news or from our pulpits.)

I was a “visitor” at this meeting of Presbytery and did not have the privilege of the floor or the right to speak, therefore, I sat there feeling a great disappointment for those who had worked so hard to inform the voting members of the urgency of these motions and feeling a personal frustration that ignorance so easily prevailed. Mainly, I felt deep concern for the men, women and children living in deplorable conditions in the West Bank and Gaza. Had those voting members known what is happening in the Occupied Territories, they would have been totally on the side of the oppressed.

So I will take out my frustration on you. I will address those points of debate in my next several blogs. In the meantime, I will feel frustration remembering the words of Desmond Tutu, “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.” That is exactly what the Presbytery did; 37 to 65.

Thomas Are
November 14, 2011

[i] JUSTPEACE made two motions

First motion:

JUSTPEACE, the Justice and Peacemaking Action Team, with the support of the Spiritual Formation and Discernment Ministry Team, requests the Presbytery to approve the following statements and actions:

We hear the cry of you, our Christian brothers and sisters in Palestine, and we acknowledge the realities of why the Christian population is dwindling that you communicate to us in Kairos Palestine: A Moment of Truth recommended for study by the 2010 General Assembly. In response:
-- we will continue to study Kairos Palestine: A Moment of Truth carefully and prayerfully,
-- we repent of our own silence, indifference, and lack of communion,
-- we affirm the need of the Church to ―speak the Word of God courageously,
-- we pledge to resist evil in all its forms with methods that enter into the logic of love,
-- we will come, as we are able, to visit you, our brothers and sisters, to see for ourselves what
injustices you face,
-- we endorse JUSTPEACE‘s decision to pledge $1,000 of our Presbytery‘s portion of the
Peacemaking Offering to help underwrite the November 10-12, 2011, Friends of Sabeel--North
America (FOSNA) Regional Conference at Trinity Presbyterian Church in Atlanta, to spread
your story,
-- we will pray and work that the Kingdom of God come, ―a kingdom of justice, peace and
-- we will explore other ways in which we as a Presbytery can act on behalf of justice for you,
our Palestinian brothers and sisters in order to secure a lasting peace for you, the Israelis and all
the people of the Middle East, and
-- we will communicate these commitments to you so that your hope may be strengthened.
Vote: 37 YES, 65 NO, 1 UNDECIDED

Second motion:

JUSTPEACE also requests the Presbytery to approve the following statements
and actions:

-- we will join in the boycott of products produced in the West Bank as recommended by and
updated by the Israel/Palestine Mission Network of the PC(USA), and
-- we support the recommendation of the Mission Responsibility Through Investment Committee (MRTI) of the PC(USA) to divest all PC(USA) funds from Caterpillar, Motorola, and Hewlett-Packard, all of whom sell products which support in significant ways the occupation of the West Bank and the oppression of Gaza and will communicate this support to the 220th General Assembly.
Vote: 40 YES, 58 NO

[ii] Kairos Palestine Doctrine

Friday, October 28, 2011

Two Letters

I have suggested to many of our fellow travelers that they write to their political leaders. Almost invariably their response is, “I wouldn’t know what to say.” Thus, below are two letters. One is a letter I sent to my Senator, Johnny Isakson, this week and the other is a letter to the Editor written by a friend in Nashville. I think it would be wonderful if each of us would write a letter to someone in Washington expressing concern for America’s ignorant support of Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians. .

October 18, 2009
Dear Senator,

It has just come to my attention that you have again cast votes seeking to block the Palestinian’s quest for statehood. I have in mind your letters to President Obama and to various African leaders seeking to influence their vote at the U.N. Then you voted to cut off aid to the Palestinian Authority unless they withdraw their request to the United Nations.

The peace talks you promote are a joke. Only one side of the negotiating teams has anything with which to negotiate. Only one side has an army with tanks and bulldozers. In the last “war” with the citizens of Gaza, the kill ratio was 100 to 1. Only one side had the capacity to fight and Israel knew it.

I am sure that you want peace for Israel. However, the problem is the OCCUPATION with its settlements, road blocks, apartheid wall, the uprooting of trees and crops and the assassination of Palestinian leaders.

I agree, it may be too late for a two state solution for all the “facts on the ground” listed above. Perhaps the only route to peace is a democratic Israel for all its citizens including those living in the occupied territories, with a constitution guaranteeing equal rights to all.

I have no authority except my voice, but I am sure that you are aware that the mood toward Israel in America is changing, including and perhaps most significantly, among our younger Jewish citizens.

I urge you to learn more about what is actually happening in the West Bank and Gaza before you cut off funds.


The second letter is by my friend Iley Behr to his local newspaper:

Tuesday, September, 27, 2011

Gaza, West Bank conditions are overlooked in Debate .

“Dad, is the coffee you drink fair-trade coffee?”

“Isabel,” I replied, “do you even know what fair trade means?”

I didn’t expect my 10-year-old to know it, but she was pretty close. “It means a fairer price for those who are down.” So when she asked what my bumper sticker, “Free Palestine, End the Occupation” means, I didn’t get into discussions of settlements, restricted movement within one’s own country, checkpoints, and very tall walls. I simply said, “It’s a fairer way of life for those who are being put down.” She understood that.

I hope our 81 congressmen who recently visited Israel were shown the conditions in which people are forced to live in Gaza and the West Bank, but my hunch is they may not have heard a single word about Palestinian human rights.

“Dad, will ending the occupation work?” Isabel asked. I didn’t get into money and politics. I said, “Yes, in time because there can be no Israeli peace without Palestinian justice, and peace and justice are a fairer way to live.”

My goodness, what will she ask me when she turns 21?
Iley Behr

I don’t write my political leaders as often as I should. But the important thing is not that they get more letters from one or two people, but that they receive something from many different people. I wish you would write a letter to someone/anyone in Congress asking about justice for the Palestinians.

Thomas Are
October 28, 2011

Sunday, October 2, 2011

We Need a Declaration of Independence ... from Israel

How I wish for a Thomas Jefferson. The United States needs another Declaration of Independence. This time, from Israel.

Like Thomas Paine’s 1776 plea, in his Common Sense, for America’s independence from England, I fail to see, in 2011, a single advantage that America reaps by being connected with Israel.

As for the bad effects of the “unbroken bond” our politicians continue to cement, I think of the loss of so many American lives because of our blind support of Israel’s conduct, such as: the 34 sailors who died in Israel’s attack on the USS Liberty in 1967, the 1983 bombing of the US Marine barracks in Lebanon killing 241, the attack on the USS Cole in 2000 by angry extremist which took the lives of 17 sailors, and at least partially, according to the declarations of Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden, the attack on the World Trade Center which pulled us into a war with Afghanistan and Iraq.[1]

The argument is made that Israel is like our aircraft carrier in the Middle East in case of a war with one of the radical Islamic nations. I ask, why would any Muslim nation want to declare war on the US were it not for Israel’s abuse of its Muslim neighbors, including and especially, the Palestinians?

The injury and pain we have sustained by our connection with Israel are without number. Any dependence upon Israel has a tendency to involve the U.S. in wars and quarrels and sets us up at odds with nations who would otherwise seek our friendship.

Paine said, “Everything that is right or reasonable pleads for separation.”[2] I say that the death of so many of our men and women, the cost of oil embargos, the loss of our reputation as a righteous and “justice for all” nation cry out, it’s time for a Declaration of Independence from Israel.

Without our backing, who knows, Israel might be forced to act more as a neighbor in the Middle East community and less as a bully.

Thomas Are
October 2, 2011
[1] Bin Laden’s “Letter to America” (published in The Guardian, November 24, 2002): ask, “Why are we fighting and opposing you? Because you attacked us and continue to attack us in Palestine.” Ilan Pappe, Jewish author of The Forgotten Palestinian reminds us of Hussein’s promise to withdraw his army from Kuwait if the Israeli army left the Palestinian occupied territories.” (p. 192)
[2] See A Peoples History of the United States, By Howard Zinn. p. 69.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Let's Knock 'em Down Again

Come on. Let’s knock ‘em down one more time. After all, we are America so we can do anything we want and who is there to stop us.

We, the United States/Israel have:

- Taken their country
- Stolen their land
- Up-rooted their trees
- Torn down their homes
- Built an apartheid wall through their towns and farms
- Locked them behind barbed wire fences and check points
- Bombed their schools, mosques and hospitals
- Attacked any relief vessel ship or truck attempting to deliver supplies
- Checker-boarded their land with Jewish only roads.

So, come on. If they ask for recognition by the United Nations, let’s threaten to cut off all aid to them and any UN member who would vote to include them.

After all, we are America, the nation that goes to war to defend democracy everywhere in the world, even where it doesn’t exist, like in Israel.

“If they really wanted peace,“ politicians say, “Why don’t they come to the table and negotiate?”

Why? Because they have been to the table, over and over again while Israel continued to build the wall snaking down through Palestinian lands walling off water, farms and communities, stepped up the building of Jewish settlements, created more checkpoints and continued to arrest, imprison and assassinate Palestinian leaders. All this was done with the encouragement, protection and money supplied by the United States.

I don’t know what is going to happen this week at the United Nations but if the vote looks like the slightest criticism of Israel, or the slightest concern for the Palestinians, the US will knock ‘em down one more time.

And, somebody, on the evening news, or on the presidential debate platform or from a pulpit needs to ask, “What have the Palestinians ever done to the United States or Americans to deserve our wrath?”

Thomas Are
September 23, 2011

Saturday, August 27, 2011

The Best Congress Israel can Rent

I can understand why the president needs a vacation. But I doubt that ten days at Martha’s Vineyard will do it. I am not sure that the President of the United States ever gets a vacation. I can imagine that there is always someone following him around wherever he goes with a telephone and news reports. He would probably love to have a few days beyond the criticism of those who seem to be appalled that during a time of financial crisis he could think of anything but addressing their concerns.

What I don’t understand is how so many members of our Congress who delight in questioning the President’s loyalty to the American people can take their own recess to spend time, not among their constituents, but in Israel. During this time of financial anxiety, members of Congress from all across America, are not home listening to the concerns of their own people. They are in Israel listening to the moans of the Israeli government. While Americans plead for action, our law makers are focused on the expansionist ambitions of another country. What a profound commitment for those elected to represent the needs of the people who voted for them.

I am also offended that the media in such countries as Britain, Iran, India and Lebanon found this conduct news worthy, while our own U.S. media has offered little, if any, coverage of this action of about a fifth of our congress who act as thought they have been elected to represent Israel.

Of course, to be fair, I understand that their first class trip to Israel is not just a free junket. In the words of Stephen Walt, our 55 Republican and 26 Democrat members of Congress are expected to dance to the piper’s tune:

Why do Congresspersons do this, especially when it is obvious that they ought to be worrying about conditions here at home? Mostly because such junkets burnish a legislator’s ‘pro-Israel’ credentials and facilitate campaign fundraising. … Steny Hoyer (D-Maryland) has reassured Israelis that financial challenges “will not have any adverse effect on America’s determination to meet its promise to Israel.” Translation: we may be cutting Medicare and Social Security for U.S. citizens, but Israelis – whose country has the 27th highest per capita income in the world – will continue to get generous subsidies from Uncle Sucker.[1]

Josh Ruebner is more specific:

Members of Congress will be expected to sing for their lavish dinners by honoring President Bush’s 2007 pledge to provide the Israeli military with $30 billion of taxpayer-funded weapons, between 2009 and 2018. So far, proposed increases in military aid to Israel have been spared from the budgetary chopping block by President Obama and a compliant Congress that treats Israeli militarism as more sacrosanct than medical care for seniors.[2]

One thing for sure, our eighty-one will not be shown the conditions in which people are forced to live in Gaza and the West Bank. They will celebrate the greatness of Israel without giving one thought to the blood, pain and suffering that other people are paying for that “greatness.” They will not hear a word about Palestinian human rights or the right of Palestinians to live free of occupation. They will come home filled with the memory of Yad Vashem and a fear of saying anything that might offend Benjamin Netanyahu.

My main concern is not just the inability of Congress to address the financial needs of so many Americans but the lack of compassion on the part of our leaders for the suffering people of Palestine they so eagerly finance. Money to Israel means misery for the Palestinians. It’s unbelievable that our leaders cannot see this, or worse still, can see it very well and just don’t care.

Thomas Are
August 26, 2011

[1] Stephen M. Walt, The Greatest Elected Body that Money can Buy, (, August 11, 2011).
[2] Josh Ruebner, Robbing Peter to Pay Israel, (Antiw August 12, 20110

Thursday, August 4, 2011

I Would Hate To Be President

I would hate to be the president of the United States. I can only imagine the agony of knowing what you were elected to do and being unable to follow through because to do so would cost you your job. And it’s not just a job; it’s having the opportunity to make so many other things right, or at least better… such as health care, protecting the environment, gay rights, welfare for the needy and race relations.

The thing that bothers me the most is how a president who seeks so hard to care for the “least of these,” can do so little to address the suffering of the Palestinian people.

“ Some nations may be able to turn a blind eye to atrocities in other countries. The United States of America is different,” said the president when sending bombs against Muammar Qaddafi. of Libya. At the same time he was silent when Israel bombarded Gaza, killing more than 1400 people. including 350 children.

Others spoke out.[i] According to Norman Finkelstein:

Israel had to cope with a mountain of human rights reports condemning its crimes in Gaza that began to accumulate after the ceasefire. Because of the sheer number of them, the wide array of reputable organizations issuing them, and the uniformity of their major conclusions, these reports could not be easily dismissed.”[ii] I don’t think this humanitarian crisis is easily dismissed by Barack Obama, but Israel’s conduct is in every affect dismissed, even when it cost American lives.

Obama is not the first president to turn his back on American citizens in peril. In 1967 Israel attacked the U.S.S. Liberty, an intelligence gathering ship with no combat capability, killing 34 U.S. service men and wounding 171 others, two thirds of it crew. When the Aircraft Carrier, The U.S.S. Saratoga, thirty minutes away, launched fighter jets in response to the Liberty’s call for help, Lyndon Johnson, unwilling to embarrass an ally, ordered them back. It was dawn of the next day, 15 hours after the attack, before medical aid reached our wounded. Of course, Israel said it was a “mistake.” Immediately, Johnson ordered a cover-up. The surviving crew, upon pain of court marshal, were ordered to not speak of the attack to anyone, not even their families.
Admiral Thomas Moorer, no less than Chair of the Joint Chief of Staff said,

The clampdown was not actually for security reasons but for domestic political reasons. I don’t think there is any question about it. What other reason could there have been? President Johnson was worried about the reaction of Jewish voters… I will never buy the idea that the pilots did not know this was an American ship. The attack was deliberate.[iii]

Dean Rusk, Secretary of State agreed, “I never accepted the Israeli explanation.”

Even if it was a mistake, which no one believes anymore, deliberately shooting up life rafts in the water of a ship in distress is a war crime. If it’s not, it should be. Yet, to this day, there has been no congressional investigation of the attack on the Liberty. Was Johnson afraid of Israel? Hardly. He was afraid of the ire of the American Jewish voting community and its lobby.

George Ball, former undersecretary of state wrote, “If America’s leaders did not have the courage to punish Israel for the blatant murder of American citizens, it seemed clear that their American friends would let them get away with almost anything.[iv]

That was in 1967. Little has changed. Last month, Stephen Zunes, professor of politics and chair of Middle Eastern Studies at the University of San Francisco charged:

The Obama administration appears to have given a green light to an Israeli attack on an unarmed flotilla, carrying peace and human rights activists – including a vessel with 50 Americans on board – bound for the besieged Gaza Strip. At a press conference on June 24, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton criticized the flotilla organized by the Free Gaza Campaign by saying it would “provoke actions by entering into Israeli waters and creating a situation in which the Israelis have the right to defend themselves.”[v]

Two questions need to be addressed; Since when did the entire Mediterranean become Israel’s waters and in what way does an unarmed humanitarian ship threaten any civilized nation? This effort is one of a series of flotilla seeking to deliver aid to Gaza. The previous one (May 13, 2010) resulted in a commando rid on the Mavi Marmara which killed nine people, including an American.

How can our elected officials be so blind to Israel? I remember our congress jumping up and down like a jack in the box, 29 times giving standing ovations to Benjamin Netanyahu. One can only imagine what President Obama could do for the American people and the hurting people of the world if congress would give that kind of support to him. And why does he not have that support? Does anyone think our politicians, who after being elected and sent to Washington to represent us, might be afraid of AIPAC, the American Jewish Committee, an anemic media and the Christian Right’s obsession with a wild haired end of the world scenario?

There are times when I wish the president would simply declare himself to be a one term president and do the things he knows are right and just. On the other hand, I realize that it would not just be his downfall, but many others in congress. Those who would be defeated in 2012 would be the very ones who in their hearts support the kind of peace through justice for which so many of us are working. Again, I would hate to be the president of the United States.

Thomas Are
August 5, 2011

[i] Some of those organization who have consistently condemned Israel for its abuse of the Palestinians would include: The International Court of Justice. Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, B’Selem, International Red Cross, Save the Children, Doctors without Borders. and the United Nations Human Rights Council. In fact, I have read of no critic of Israel who after investigation became pro-Israel.

[ii] Norman Finkelstein, This Time We Went Too Far., (OR Books, New York, 2011) p.55.
[iii] Paul Findley, They Dare to Speak Out. (Lawrence Hill, New York., 1989) p. 179
[iv] James Scott, The Attack on the Liberty, Simon and Schuster, 2009.) p.287.
[v] Stephen Zunes, Washington Okays Attack on Unarmed U.S. Ship,, July 2, 2011. As of July 19, 2011, The American Ship, The Audacity of Hope is being held up in Greece. Two other ships of the flotilla have been sabotaged and severely damaged.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Dear Mr. President

On June 27th, forty-four outstanding Christian clergy, including Jimmy Allen, Ron Sider and Tony Campolo, wrote to President Obama supporting his “call for progress in bringing about an agreement to end the conflict between Israel and Palestine.” They expressed appreciation for his “important and helpful proposals concerning the issues of borders and security as a basis for negotiations.” They even asked for a “statement that addresses all final status issues, including the need for Jerusalem in the future to be the shared capital of both states, a just resolution to the issue of all refugees, and assured access for all faiths to their holy places.”

I appreciate their letter and commend them for writing it. It’s a letter that the president might actually get to read. However I wish they could have been more specific. They write, “There are of course other concerns, but they should not be allowed to interfere with making real progress toward an agreement on borders, security, Jerusalem and refugees”

Israel makes sure that Americans don’t forget what it feels like to be afraid of suicide bombers in the shopping mall, how much Israel is forced to invest in protecting its streets and guarding its citizens against suspicious characters. No one denies how hard it must be to live under such threat.

But what about the thousands who have been killed by Israeli planes, tanks and mortars, and those who die of ill health because of Israel’s blockade of food and medicine and those thousands more, including children, languishing in Israeli prisons?

History has shown that any president or politician who speaks out against such Israeli atrocities will suffer the loss of the Jewish vote and contributions. It’s not just that Obama might be a one term president; it will also mean the loss of numerous democratic seats in congress.

I wish the letter could have been more specific. I am not sure how much impact letters, or in fact any other statements, make when talking in generalities.

For instance, there is the specific matter of our ship, The Audacity of Hope, carrying American citizens currently being prevented from proceeding to Gaza with humanitarian aid. In fact, according to Stephen Zunes, professor of Politics and Chair of Middle Eastern Studies at the University of San Francisco:

The Obama administration appears to have given a green light to an Israeli attack on an unarmed flotilla carrying peace and human rights activists – including a vessel with 50 Americans on board – On June 24, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton criticized the flotilla organized by the Free Gaza Campaign by saying it would “provoke actions by entering into Israeli waters and creating a situation in which the Israelis have the right to defend themselves.”

Zunes goes on to say:

Clinton did not explain why a country had “the right to defend themselves” against ships which are clearly no threat.

The flotilla has been stopped in Greece and its passengers; doctors, writers, professors, political figures, clergy from various faith traditions and a holocaust survivor, plus nearly three thousand tons of supplies necessary to sustain life in Gaza have been held up. The captain of our American ship is now in jail and has yet to be visited by anyone from the U.S. Embassy.[1] Still, our president is silent. And who can blame him. The deck is stacked. Following last years attack on the Mavi Marmara in which Israeli commando killed nine unarmed humanitarian volunteers:

329 out of 435 members of the U.S. House of Representatives signed a letter that referred to Israel’s attack as an act of “self defense” which they “strongly support.” A Senate letter – signed by 87 out of 100 senators – went on record “fully supporting what it called Israel’s right to defend itself.”[2]

The American president must use stronger language than “unsustainable” in light of the fact that the United States has contributed billions of dollars every year to sustain Israel’s persecution of the Palestinians.

And how can any letter of concern to the president not mention the wall snaking down through the West Bank claiming the aquifers at Qalqilya on the Israel side, forcing 350,000 Palestinians to live in “the dead zone,” separated from their families, schools, hospital and farms. Then there is also the matter of continued destruction of Palestinian homes in East Jerusalem.

Isn’t it time to raise the question of harassment by illegal settlers living on Palestinian land who attack citizens, beat children on their way to and from school, and shoot holes in water tanks.

And surely it is time for our president to raise the question of Palestinian security. Hamas is a democratically elected government. It’s a cheap shot to just label them terrorist and do all that can be done to disempower them. It is time to acknowledge the “State terrorism.” of Israel which continues to kill Palestinians every month. If the president addresses these issues, maybe even the media would be forced to report them and maybe the president would gain the support of public opinion without which it seems even he becomes irrelevant.

Peace is an interesting and safe subject. Everyone supports peace. But what about justice, Mr. President? Fourteen hundred Palestinians were killed during Operation Cast Lead last winter and all the presidential candidates were silent. Nine humanitarian aid volunteers were cut down last May by Israeli commandoes including a nineteen year old American citizen and the White House remained silent. Israel’s continued blockade of Gaza leaves a million and a half people imprisoned in that overcrowded little walled in strip of land and the president says nothing.

It’s easy to say, let’s talk peace. It’s quite another to seek justice, without which there can be no peace.

Thomas Are
July 16, 2011

[1] Philip Weiss, US Flotilla Passengers Begin Fast at US Embassy in Athens, Mondoweiss, July 3, 2011.
[2] Stephen Zunes, Washington Okays Attack on Unarmed U.S. Ship. Foreign Policy in Focus. Paul Craig Roberts writes, “If there were ever any doubts, this dispels it. The U.S. government is the complete and total puppet of Israel.” (Email, June 30, 2011)

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Historians Unknown to Larry

This week a friend who had read my blogs asked if I were making any headway with my Jewish friend, Larry. I answered that I do not expect to change Larry’s understanding of the Israel/Palestinian situation. After all, he is going to be slow to accept or believe anything I say. I am not Jewish. My only hope is that he might be influenced by the numerous Jewish authors, journalists and historians who are writing with more clarity and passion than I ever could. Larry shares their respect for the moral teachings of Judaism which I believe sooner or later will touch his conscience.

Of course, Larry has probably never heard of these courageous Jewish writers, but I can’t help but wonder how he would respond to them if he ever would read them. Would he think that they also needed to be enlightening?

Michael Lerner - - Editor of Tikkun

--- We call upon Jews in Israel and around the world to...adopt a stance of
open-hearted repentance for the unnecessary pain Israel has inflicted on the Palestinian people.[i]

--- Israel’s attempt to regain control by denying food to hundreds of thousands of men, women and children, by raiding homes and dragging out the their occupants in the middle of the night to stand for hours in the cold, by savagely beating a civilian population and breaking its bones — these activities are deplorable in any civilized human being.

--- Stop the beatings, stop the breaking of bones, the late night raids on people’s homes, stop using food as a weapon of war, stop pretending that you can respond to an entire people’s agony with guns and blows and power. Publically acknowledge that the Palestinians have the same right to national self-determination that we Jews have...”[ii]

Norman Finkelstein

---Yet by 1948 the Jew was able not only to “defend himself” but to commit massive atrocities as well. Indeed, according to the former director of the Israeli 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.”[iii]

Joel Kavel

--- The Two State notion is essentially a code word for the maintenance of the status quo … More than a half-century of chewing and gnawing away at Palestinian land has left the latter more a rag-doll on a stick than the framework for a living social organism. Down to some 8 percent of the original territory, surrounded by the IDF, laced with Jewish-only roads, and peppered with hundreds of settlements that arrogate the water and best land, a dumping ground for Israeli waste, its fields and olive trees destroyed, its land carved up by the “apartheid wall,” the potential Palestinian state is no more than a bad joke… more aptly called a concentration camp than a state-in-waiting.[iv]

Ilan Peppe

--- Today, Israel could have security, normalization of relations, and integration into the region. But it very clearly prefers illegal expansion, conflict, and repeated exercise of violence, actions that are not only criminal, murderous, and destructive but are also eroding its long-term security.[v]

Marc Ellis

---has identified what he calls the myth of Jewish innocence … It has the effect of making only our suffering important and erasing that of others, even where the others’ suffering is caused by us. The interest of the Jews always occupy center stage; the experience or point of view of others is secondary.[vi]

Jeff Helper

--- As of 2009, more than 24,000 Palestinian homes have been destroyed – homes, we must add, of people who had already lost their homes inside Israel in 1948 and after.[vii]

---Some 350,000 Palestinians, trapped between the border and the wall, face impoverishment, alienation from their land and water, and eventual transfer. Entire cities like Qalqiliya and Tulkarm have been completely encircled.[viii]

Mark Braverman

--- You may not give out information about the abridgement of human rights in occupied Palestine, or talk about targeted assassinations, house demolitions, humiliating and life threatening restrictions on movement, or any other examples of Palestinian suffering, without presenting what is usually termed the “other side.” The “other side” is the recognition of the suffering of the Israelis, who are faced with terrorist attacks and the threat of annihilation… In my experience, the demand for “balance” is almost always made as a way to invalidate and neutralize scrutiny if those actions of Israel that are, in my view, the root cause of the threat to its own well-being and survival.[ix]

Larry’s conflict is not with me. It is not even with the Palestinians. His real conflict is with his own faith. There is no way that he can reconcile the teaching of the Jewish prophets with the conduct of the State of Israel.

I remember Marc Ellis saying that Jews today are in exactly the same spot where Christians were in the fourth century. Christians had to choose between the ethics and morality of their faith and the power of Constantine. He said that the Christians made the wrong choice then and we have not recovered yet. Jews today, he argues are having to choose between the ethics and morality of their faith and the power of the State of Israel. He cries when he sees so many of his fellow Jews making the wrong choice .

Thomas Are
June 22, 2011

[i].Michael Lerner, Healing: Israel/Palestine, (Tikkun Books, San Francisco, 2003) p. 137
[ii].Rosemary Radford Ruether and Marc Ellis, Beyond Occupation, (Beacon Press, Boston., 1990) p. 99-100.
[iii] Norman Finkelstein, Image and Reality of the Israel-Palestine Conflict. P.110.
[iv] Joel Kovel, Overcoming Zionism, (Pluto Press, London, 2007) p.216
[v] Norm Chomski and Ilan Peppe, Gaza in Crisis, p. 123.
[vi] Mark Braverman, Fatal Embrace. p.93.
[vii] Jeff Halper, Obstacles to Peace, p.46.
[viii] Ibid., p.38.
[ix] Mark Braverman, Fatal Embrace, p. 9.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Larry's Six Day War Myth

On their way to church last Sunday (June 5th) in New York City, some friends of mine passed through a parade on Fifth Avenue. Thousands from the Jewish community, in fact more than 30,000 according to the New York Times, celebrated Israel’s expansionist war of 1967.

My Jewish friend Larry would have joined the march with pride. To him the war of 1967 proved not only Israel’s superior courage and valor, but also God’s endorsement of Israel’s occupation of the Sinai, West Bank, Golan Heights, Gaza and East Jerusalem. Larry sees the Six Day War as a “miracle” which established Israel as the dominant force in the Middle East. And it was all a gift from Nasser who gave Israel no choice but to defend itself. According to Larry’s article to our neighborhood paper, the taking of all this Arab land by force was justified because “Israel’s neighbors threatened Israel’s existence threatening to drive them into the sea.”

This is a myth and I have written about this previously and even listed the following quotes. I do not like repeating myself. However, this history needs to be known and repeated. Larry’s defense of the Six Day War is not only a distortion of the facts, his version is almost universally believed. I feel compelled to respond to it again.

One of the biggest myths imposed upon the American people is Larry’s claim that the Six Day War of 1967 was begun by Egypt and Israel only defended itself. But, not so according to some of Israel’s leaders:

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.”[i]

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.”[ii]

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.” [iii]

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.” [iv]

Moshe Sharett - Former Prime Minister, years before the six Day War said- “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.”[v]

King Abdullah II of Jordan has been dealing with Israel’s aggression since he was five years old. I think he gets it just about right when he says:

One of Israel’s greatest talents has been exaggerating the threat posed by countries it considers strategic enemies, perpetrating the story of it being a tiny nation, surrounded by hostile powers. This myth has allowed the Israelis to portray their own calculated acts of aggression as self-defense and, in some cases, to persuade other nations to attack its enemies in its stead.[vi]

No sooner than Israel declared itself to be a state than its expansion goals were announced. When asked about borders, David Ben-Gurion said,

As for setting borders, it’s an open ended matter. In the Bible as well as in our history, there are all kinds of definitions of the countries borders. There is no real limit. No border is absolute. If it is a desert, it could just as well be the other side. If it is a sea, it could also be across the sea.[vii]

To this day, after 62 years of statehood, and 44 years of occupying Palestinian lands, Israel has yet to declare its borders. It seems obvious to anyone willing to see that 1967 was not a defensive war, but a part of a larger master plan to claim Arab lands. Either Larry knows something that all of these leaders of Israel missed, or the truth is just too hard for him. I guess its almost impossible to understand something if your self image is dependent upon your not understanding it.
Thomas Are
June 14, 2011

[i].Paul Finley, Deliberate Deceptions, Facing the Facts about the U.S., Israeli Relationship, (Lawrence Hill Books, Chicago,. 1993.) p. 36.
[ii]. Clifford A. Wright, Facts and Fables: The Arab-Israeli Conflict, (Kegan Paul International, New York, 1989.) p.132.
[iii].Paul Finley, Deliberate Deceptions, Facing the Facts about the U.S., Israeli Relationship, (Lawrence Hill Books, Chicago,. 1993.) p. 36.
[iv].Clifford A. Wright, Facts and Fables: The Arab-Israeli Conflict, (Kegan Paul International, New York, 1989.) p.132.
[v].Ralph Schoenman, The Hidden History of Zionism, (Veritas Press, Santa Barbara, California, 1988) p.59.
[vi] King Abdullah II, Our Last Best Chance, (Viking Penguin, 2011) p. 17
[vii].Knowledge Products audio Cassette on The Middle East, narrated by Harry Reasoner. 1991., (Carmichael and Carmichael, Nashville, Tennessee.)

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Lunch with Larry

It’s been a while since my last blog , (Feb. 24th), but I have not retired from the cause. Last January, I taught a four weeks class using Steadfast Hope, an excellent study of the Israel/Palestine issue published by the Presbyterian Church.

I share this as a lead in to a challenge I received from a Jewish neighbor who was “shocked” at the report of my class because he found it to be “much misleading and inaccurate from a factual and historical point of view. I think it is you who needs to be enlightened and have a wake up call,” he wrote. He submitted a long criticism of my position to the neighborhood paper for publication. However, he offered to meet with me one on one that he might “enlighten” me. I immediately contacted him for a lunch and we finally got together this past week.

Larry is a very likable and devoted Jew, committed to the Torah and to the State of Israel. I am grateful for the time I had with him. However, I found his knowledge of Israel’s history somewhat lacking. He built his case on three arguments. Most of all, “God gave that land to the Jews and the Arabs should accept the will of God and get out.” He also declared that Jews are smart and therefore Israel is an intelligent and moral nation, the only democracy in the Middle East with the most moral army on the globe. Finally, Larry lifted up the suffering of Jews as a justification for anything Israel wanted to do. I came to believe that the only way Larry could reconcile his respect for the teachings of the prophets with the actions of Israel over the past 64 years is to deliberately avoid knowing or believe the “stories” of Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians.

Larry is unaware of, or will not admit knowing about, the ethnic cleansing of 1948. He believes the Six Day War of 1967 was the work of Nasser. And he justifies the wall by saying it stopped suicide bombers, but he had no interest in the route of the wall or the pain it causes Palestinians. He feels that settlements simply need to be negotiated, keeping in mind that Samaria and Judea were given to the Jews by God. He admires Netanyahu and cannot understand why Presbyterians would be picking on Israel. I hope I have not misrepresented Larry. I did like him. However, in my next few blogs, I will respond to Larry, but I will address only his written article, not our private conversation. The words in bold print are his words.

Larry wrote, there has “never been a country of Palestine ruled or governed by Palestinians; in fact there has never been a Palestinian people per se.”

I say, not so. In fact, there is a Palestinian people now, governed by Palestinians. I have met Palestinians who proudly presented their Palestinian passports. They were issued by Jordan but they were passports of Palestinian citizens, not Jordanians. But let’s suppose Larry is right. Just because the Palestinians had no government to protect them, would that give Israel the right to kill, destroy homes, steal water, imprison and exile because they were “not a people?” Larry is echoing what Golda Meir said, “It’s not as though we came in and drove them out and took their land, they did not exist.”[1] On page 160 of Jeff Sharlet’s The Family, he writes about the efforts of Germans to forget what they had allowed to happen during the war.

In Nuremberg, a little girl asked her mother where the Jews of “Jew Street” are. Hush, There are none, darling, there never were.

How hard it must be for those who have been oppressed for so long to admit that they have now become the oppressors.

The point is, Palestinians are human beings who share this planet with the rest of us. They work, educate and feed their children. They love and respect the rights of others, like all civilized people do, and they worship God

Larry proudly pointed out that “Israel was the first country on the ground in Haiti after last years earthquake." I agree, and this was Israel at its best.
However, Larry was shocked to learn that without much fanfare, the Palestinians in Gaza, because of their religion, and out of their poverty, took offerings for the people of Haiti

At the same time, Israel did not respond to the “earthquake” caused by Israel right next door in Gaza during December-January 2009. Rather Israel bombed hospitals, schools, sewage plants and community centers, destroying 22,000 buildings. Israel called it a war. Over 1400 Palestinians were killed, mostly women and children. Israel lost 13, six by friendly fire. Israel did drop leaflets warning Palestinians to get out. But all the exit routes were closed by Israel. Where was a mother and her small children supposed to go to be safe?

There were no medical teams like those sent to Haiti. Rather, Israel enforced a barricade blocking out fuel, food, and medicine. This closure remains in effect until this day.

None of this was acknowledged by Larry who still insisted that Israel is the most moral nation on the globe.

More response to Larry in my next blog.

Thomas Are
June 9, 2011

[1] There are numerous sources for this quote. I read it first in Naim Ateek’s, Justice and Only Justice, (Maryknoll, New York, Orbis Books, 1989). p. 36

Thursday, February 24, 2011


Susan Rice, Ambassador to the UN wants to be clear. She defended her veto of the UN Security Council resolution calling for Israel to stop the building of settlements by saying, “Our opposition to the resolution before this Council today should not be misunderstood to mean that we support settlement activity. On the contrary, we reject in the strongest terms the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlement activity.” She went on to stress, “that the Obama administration agreed with the resolution’s sponsors but had to oppose it for political reasons.” All fourteen other members of the Council backed the resolution. “Our goal is to bring the sides back to the negotiating table.” She explained

Sounds noble, but with what do the Palestinians have to negotiate? Israel’s military might has already taken everything it wants; land, water, control of Palestinian borders, freedom and dignity.

With what would I have to negotiate when the neighborhood thug takes over my house, occupies every room and forces me to live in the garage? Even when the police come, he continues stealing everything he wants. I find little comfort when the cops say, “We are not going to stop his thieving, even as he hauls away the stuff in your garage. We want you to sit down, make peace and negotiate.” All my other neighbors are beside themselves in the shadow of this bully. After all, they could be next. They protest in the streets and call the sheriff. But, nothing happens. The thug makes huge reelection contributions to the sheriff. So, he says, “I think it is best to just let them talk it out.”

Back to today’s situation. It happens over and over and over again. The United States first used its veto power over the United Nations Security Council on behalf of Israel in 1973. Since then, whether it concerns a condemnation of the assassination of Ahmed Yassin, the leader of Hamas, or objecting to the construction of the apartheid wall or the killing by Israeli forces of United Nations personnel, the US has covered Israel’s guilt forty one times with its veto power.[1] Since the attack on the USS Liberty in 1967, Israel has known that it can do anything it wants without a word of condemnation from the US government.

As the world declares the settlements “illegal,” the strongest language coming out of the US government is “We are deeply disappointed by the announcement. (of new settlements). State Department spokesman Philip J. Crowley found it “counterproductive.” (Whatever that means.) Hillary Clinton said that the settlements were not “illegal,” but simply “illegitimate.” All the while, she “reiterated America’s unshakable commitment to Israel,” and in an 8-hour session with Netanyahu, they reached a tentative agreement that slowed, but did not stop, further settlement expansion.”

In exchange for a mere 90-day “partial” halt, the U.S. would provide Israel with $3 billion worth of F-25 attack jets, make no further demands for a settlement freeze and veto all U.N. resolutions critical of Israel as well as any attempt by the Palestinians to gain U.N. support for a declaration of statehood. Israel will therefore receive a payoff of $1 billion a month for the brief three months it refrains from building more settlements – money that might have been spent putting Americans back to work, rebuilding roads and bridges, caring for the elderly, poor or reducing class size in cash-strapped school districts.

A significant provision of the agreement excludes East Jerusalem from the proposed freeze, giving Israel a free hand to continue replacing the Arab population with Jews….[2]

How long will the citizens of the US look the other way while our “AIPAC bought” politicians continue to do the wrong thing? We talk about being on the side of freedom and self determination but seldom speak of what we are doing to the Palestinians.

So far, the street demonstrations in the Middle East seems to be focused on their internal economic suffering. But both the US and Israel must be asking for how long.

Fahed Abu Akel, past moderator of the Presbyterian Church USA, warns:

The journey to end the Israeli military occupation over the lives of 4 million Palestinians in the West Bank and East Jerusalem and Gaza is very long. We need to be clear that our work is in the USA not in Israel or Palestine. We must end the AIPAC occupation over our International policy. The advisors to our president must be on drugs and must be crazy. After what is taking place in Tunis, Egypt and what is going to be in other Arab countries in the near future - our action in the UN is 50 years behind history and we are acting like a colonial power who wants to protect what is wrong in day light. This action at the UN is going to play against our interest all over the Arab and Muslim world.

Israel has made clear that it will not stop building settlements on Palestinian land. Period.
The U.S. has made clear that it will say…What? … Well, Nothing. and Palestinians will continue to be forced from their homes for Jewish only settlements.

Thomas Are
February 24, 2011

[1] Report of the Middle East Study Committee to the 219th General Assembly (2010) of the Presbyterian Church, (U.S.A.) Breaking Down the Walls, p.103.
[2] Rachelle Marshall, U.S. Elections Mean a Big Win for the Israeli Right, The Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, January/February 2011, p.9.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Marc Ellis

About 20 years ago, while teaching a Bible class, I backed into an interest in justice for the Palestinians. We had been studying the book of Exodus. When we finished, someone asked, “Why don’t we continue this study to bring us up to date as to what is happening in Israel now?” I answered, “Because I don’t know that history.” But, I was challenged and started to confront my ignorance. I read a book by Naim Ateek, called Justice and Only Justice and I was shocked. I had never heard this side of the story and here was a Christian pastor writing things that angered and confused me. I was angry because I claimed to be somewhat of an educated person and here was a narrative which I should have known, yet, it was totally new to me. I was confused, wondering if I could trust what I was reading. In his book, Ateek referenced a Jewish writer named Marc Ellis. I ordered his book thinking that now I will hear the “other side,” the only story with which I was familiar, the story with which I was comfortable. I could not have been more wrong.

I am not by nature a hero worshipper. I never stand in line to get an author to autograph the book I just purchased. But having said that, I have to admit, Marc Ellis is a hero to me. Marc, (I can call him by his first name because he has been a friend for twenty years.) is a devoted Jew who is critical of Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians. Judaism, to Marc, stands for the triumph of good over evil, freedom over injustice, and peace over violence. He declares that “God is notoriously biased, forever taking the side of the weak, the oppressed, and the down-trodden against the kings and powerful elite.”[1] There are others, Noam Chomsky, Norman Finkelstein, Michael Lerner and dozens of others, but Marc Ellis was, for me, the first to criticize Israel. Many America Jews, maybe most, seem to have a blind spot when it comes to Israel and its policies toward the Palestinians.

Ellis began his adult life living and working among the poor of New York, Atlanta and New Orleans. In houses of hospitality he looked into the faces of those who lined up each morning for soup and bread and saw fellow human beings. He said, “I was living within a system that created tremendous wealth for the few among whom were many Jews.”[2]

Marc Ellis, who now teaches at Baylor University in Waco, Texas, is a man who seeks to take seriously the ethics and morality of his Jewish faith, taught by the prophets in the Hebrew Bible. He once said to me, “As I grew up and encountered the State of Israel, I wondered what had happened to my Jewish faith?” He continued on a quest for justice… and at a great personal price. He risked rupturing his relationship with fellow Jews, his synagogue and endured rejection by the very people with whom he identified the most. He exposed himself to all manner of criticism, being called a ‘self hating Jew,” and worse. He engaged himself in dialogue both here in the US and in Israel/Palestine when his personal safety was at risk. Few people appreciated his honesty and passion for justice. He still operates under a very Godly principle: If you are doing something and you know it is wrong, then stop it!

The first time I met Marc Ellis, I asked about his book Beyond Occupation. “You open your book with a story of soldiers breaking the legs of teenage boys. It’s barbaric. Is it really true?”

“I didn’t write a novel.” he replied. “That account is a matter of record, the testimony of the soldier involved.” In 1988, an Israeli captain entered the village of Hawara and ordered the local mukhtar to round up twelve Arab boys, all teenagers. Yossi Sarid describes what happened:

The soldiers shackled the villagers, and with their hands bound behind their backs, they were led to the bus. The bus started to move and after 200-300 meters, it stopped beside an orchard. The “locals” were taken off the bus and led into the orchard in groups of three, one after another. Every group was accompanied by an officer. In the darkness of the orchard, the soldiers shackled the Hawara residents’ legs and laid them on the ground. The officers urged the soldiers to “get it over with quickly, so that we can leave and forget about it.” Then flannel was stuffed into the Arabs mouths to prevent them from screaming and the bus driver revved up the motor so that the noise would drown out their cries. Then the soldiers obediently carried out the orders they had been given: To break their arms and legs by clubbing the Arabs, to avoid clubbing them on their heads, to remove their bonds after breaking their arms and legs, and to leave them at the site.” The mission was carried out.[3]

I met Marc Ellis at Ghost Ranch, a Presbyterian Conference center in New Mexico. After giving a lecture on the Israeli/Palestinian situation, he walked out on the porch and shed tears. I felt a little insensitive invading his thoughts but I ask him what in particular had brought the tears. He responded, “Judaism, my faith, the faith that I love, is now at the same point you Christians were in the fourth century. You had to choose between the integrity of your faith and the power of Constantine. Jews today are being forced to choose between the integrity of our faith or the power of the State of Israel. You made the wrong choice and you have never recovered. It looks like we are going to make the same mistake.”

In 1990, Ellis wrote about the testimony of Ari Shavit, a young Israeli soldiers ordered to serve in Ansar II, one of Israel’s prisons for Palestinians, reported in Ha’aretz -

Perhaps the fault lies with the screams: At the end of your watch, on the way from the showers, you hear horrible screams...from over the galvanized tin fence of the interrogation section come hair-raising human screams. I mean that literally. Hair-raising. And you of course have read the B’Tselem report...And you ask yourself, what is going on here five meters away? Is it someone being tied in the “banana” position? Or is it a simple beating? You don’t know. But you do know that from this moment forth you will have no rest. Because 50 meters from the bed where you try to sleep, 80 meters from the dining hall where you try to eat, human beings are screaming. And they are screaming because other people wearing the uniform as you are doing things to them to make them scream. They are screaming because your state, your democratic state in an institutional systematic manner — and definitely legal — your state is making them scream.” [4]

Because Israel so consistently identifies itself as a Jewish nation and insists on keeping that distinction, last year, Ellis published a book with the title, Judaism does Not Equal Israel. He bemoans the fact that, “For more Jews, self-identification with Israel is more important than religious observance.” He goes on to say, “What has been done to us, we have done to others.”[5]

From Ellis I learned about what he calls Holocaust theology and the Ecumenical Deal. If I understand him, Holocaust theology means: "We have suffered, therefore, we are innocent. We are empowered, therefore, we are entitled.” The ecumenical deal is an unspoken agreement that when Christians and Jews get together for community service and dialogue, Israel is not to be mentioned. Period. “The Israeli government is placed on a pedestal and to criticize it is to be immediately dubbed anti-Semitic.”[6]

The question is, “Can Jews justify gaining security at the expense of another people?”[7] Ellis answers: “God is present in the struggle of the poor… God is against injustice and against those who structure society in an unjust way for their own benefit…. This biblical God still stands with the world’s poor and marginalized.”[8]

If a hero is “a man who shows courage and has noble qualities,” how could Marc Ellis not be called a hero? He does both.

Thomas Are
February 4, 2011
[1] Marc Ellis, Judaism Does not Equal Israel, (The New Press, New York. 2009) p.vii.
[2] Ibid., p.37
[3] Rosemary Radford Ruether and Marc H. Ellis, Beyond Occupation, (Boston: Beacon Press. 1990), p.1.
[4].Marc Ellis, Beyond Innocence and Redemption, (Harper and Row Publishers, San Francisco, 1990,) p.73.
[5] Marc Ellis, Judaism Does not Equal Israel, (The New Press, New York. 2009) p.xi, xiv.
[6] Ibid., p.138
[7] Ibid. p.20.
[8] Ibid., p.43