Friday, November 28, 2014

Not My Leaders

Several people have asked if I had seen the full page ad in the New York Times purchased by 121 self identified “leaders” of the Presbyterian Church.  The ad, Presbyterians: We Can do Better than Divestment, denounced  last summer’s vote by the General Assembly to divest from three companies making profits from Israel’s occupation.  I do not know if my friends hoped I had seen it or hoped I had not seen it. But for what it’s worth, I found it disturbing.

I agree with much of what the “leaders” said in their ad. They claim a “deep commitment to a just and lasting peace between the Palestinian and Israeli peoples.” I certainly agree with that. They review the atrocities of this past summer and “long for justice for both peoples.” They hope to find the “true path” to a just and lasting peace for both sides.” Then, they denounce divestment as polarizing and declare that we can do better than that.

I agree. We can do better than divestment, but I doubt that we have in mind the same “better.”  Their better is:
To reaffirm boldly the church’s commitment to a two-state solution with Israel and Palestine living side by side in peace, each with secure borders, territorial integrity and a fair share of natural resources. We also restate our profound condemnation of the threats to a two-state solution, including: violence and terrorism, the Israeli settlements, and any denial of the legitimate aspirations of either party – including their rights to a viable and secure homeland. [1]
All of that sounds wonderful. However it ignores the history, the facts on the ground and 66 years of Israel’s oppression.

The state of Israel in 1948 came into being through acts of terror, murder of unarmed Palestinians and the expulsion of 750,000 from their homes, creating the largest and longest refugee  problem in history.  Arnold J. Toynbee said, “The treatment of the 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.” [2]

These refugees, many of whom have lived in camps their entire lives, yearn to return home.   I hear nothing in the leaders aspirations for a “deep and relational work that models peace and reconciliation with justice and compassion,” that even hints at including the millions of Palestinian refugees. All Israel hopes for is that the church in the US will join them in pushing the refugees into miserable little separated camps where they can be forgotten.

Since 1967, when Israel invaded Egypt and the West Bank, Gaza, Golan Heights and East  Jerusalem, Israel has consistently squeezed Palestinians into smaller and smaller  isolated bantustans. Palestine has been over run by settlements, Jewish only roads and an apartheid wall which leaves little possibility of a state living side by side with Israel. Right now, West Bank has no side. It is split up into little enclaves surrounded by Israeli  military while Netanyahu does everything possible to make sure Israel’s permanent domination will never change. He is delighted to have American church leaders parrot his “peace talk.”  as long as our leaders don’t create any real opposition to his program. Even to make public his actions through such nonviolent gestures as divestment, would be labeled “polarizing.”

Consider the history:

So, again, I agree. We can do better than divestment, But, the “better” I have in mind is that in addition to divestment the church could do a better job of speaking out for justice and speaking up for the oppressed.

These kind of things seem quite Christ like.  In his first sermon, Jesus defined his mission as freedom to the oppressed and release to the captives. In his last sermon he said, “I was hungry and you did not feed me, thirsty and you did not give me water, in prison and you did not see me.  When, Lord did we see you in need and fail to minister to you?”  Remember what he said, “When you did it not to the least of these, you did it not to me.”

I can’t think of any people who are presently among the “least of these” more than the Palestinians.  Israel destroys their crops until they are hungry. Israel steals their water.  Their children are sick because Israel bombed their hospitals and clinics and blockades the import of medicines. Palestinians are not occupied because they are “the least,” they are the least because they are occupied.

The two state solution to which the Presbyterian “leaders” commit themselves is no more than a cover up for continuing the theft of more Palestinian land and shutting Palestinians up in little enclaves, isolated from each other. It is a massive movement to ghettorize millions of people so that Israel might prevail as a nation for Jews with privileges for Jews only, such as Jewish only roads, buses and schools.  The question which never seems to be addressed is, what would a two state solution look like for a Palestinian state?

I would challenge my fellow Presbyterians to name just one policy or military action carried out by Israel, in the 66 years of its existence, which took seriously steps toward a viable two state solution, with secure borders.   I wish the leaders would ask themselves why Israel, to this day, has never declared its borders nor adopted a constitution granting liberty and justice for all.

The leaders talk about “shared resources” while Israel pumps 80% of the water out of Palestine for Israeli use and builds a wall around Qulqiliya, which sits on the largest aquifer in the West Bank.

Israel is yet to show good faith, respect or acceptance of Palestinian human rights and promises no indication of doing so in the future.

I would challenge the 121 signers of the NYT ad to go to Palestine and see for themselves.  If that is not feasible, at least read about what is happening there before making commitments to a centralist position based on the assumption that both sides are equally guilty, vulnerable, or able to defend themselves. As Desmond Tutu says, “When you are neutral in a situation of oppression, you have taken the side of the oppressor.”

The “leaders” may be Presbyterians. I am also Presbyterian, but they are not my leaders.  When it comes to working for peace with justice for the Palestinians, those who support divestment are way ahead of them.

Thomas Are
November 26, 2014

[1]  Ndew York Times, November 20, 2014
[2] .Na’im Ateek, Justice and Only Justice, Orbis Press, Maryknoll, New York, 1989.) p.32.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Harassment and Beyond

The question is, why does Israel constantly create sonic booms over Gaza, rip up olive trees, shut down entrance crossings and go out of its way to frighten children?  The answer is simple; to harass, to make life for the Palestinian as intolerable as possible.

As soon as Israel moved its settlers out in 2005, Palestinians, in Gaza were blasted day and night with sonic booms.  When American made F-16s break through the sound barrier at low altitude, it creates an earth rattling explosion feeling like a mega ton bomb. Windows shatter, walls crack and every object in the house rattles. These “sound bombs”  strike without warning, like a sledge hammer. They cause fear in men, miscarriages in women, and traumatize children. Even teenagers suffer anxiety attacks, experience muscle spasms, nose bleeds, loss of hearing and have difficulty breathing. Three or four times a night, these low level shock waves blast the nervous system , especially of infants and old people.  .  

One Gaza Mother asked:

Why punish all of Gaza’s Palestinians? Is it to make us all so afraid we can’t close our eyes? To make us beg for mercy? To make us want it to stop at any expense?  It is cruel. It is inhumane. It is collective punishment. It is psychological torture in its rawest, most disturbing form. And so the war on Gaza continues. Terror and torture[1]

This kind of intimidation has nothing to do with security, When our president says that Israel has a right to defend itself he chooses to ignore Israel’s sonic boom program which has no purpose other than to harass.  Could you imagine a surgeon operating on a loved one when suddenly… BOOM!  

And, how does the Israeli Defense Force ripping up newly planted olive trees defend Israel?  Since the second intifada in 2000, about 465,000 olive trees have been destroyed by the Israeli military. My friend, Bert Weaver, volunteered to go with a team to the West Bank and re-plant olive trees.  They worked for ten days, planting thousands of little seedlings while the IDF sat on a hill and watched. On the last day of their work, soldiers came down, announced that the field had been confiscated for 24 hours for “security reasons.”  As soon as Bert and his friends got out of the way, bulldozers came in and ripped up ever tree.  Why? The answer is not security.  That may be the excuse, but the real reason is harassment.

Bert wrote, “For our group it was a vivid experience of the gross injustice Palestinians live with every day. It is one thing to hear and read about injustice, but when you experience it first hand it carries a very different weight.”[2]

Another kind of harassment was expressed by Eran Efrats.  Some call him a traitor. Others say he is an enemy of Israel.  I think of him as simple a person of conscience.  He is one of the hundreds of Israeli soldiers who are now called “refusenics”. He refuses to continue serving in the Israeli military because of its record in the occupied territories.

Efrats tells of being ordered to enter a Palestinian home at 2 o’clock in the morning for “mapping”.  Mapping meant to arouse the family, rough them up a bit and draw a floor plan, showing rooms, closets, windows and doors.  This takes a few hours. In the meantime the family stands aside frightened and hoping no harm will come to their children.  When Sergeant Efrats turned his map into his superior officer, he was told to throw it away.  “We have mapped that home a hundred times.”  It was then the Efrats joined an organization of veteran Israeli soldiers working to raise awareness about the daily reality in the Occupied Territories.  He asked, what was the purpose of the mapping?   It was not security. It was harassment.[3]

Worse than having your home “mapped” is having your home destroyed..

Salim Shawamreh applied for a building permit every year for four years at the cost of $5,000 per application and had been turned down every time. So, facing the needs of his expanding family, he built on his own land, without Israel’s permission.  Then it happened. Salim responded to the banging on his door. There stood a Civil Administration inspector with an automatic weapon strapped across his chest looking more like a gangster than a government official, “Is this your house?”
            “Yes,” Salim answered, “It’s my house.”
            “No, now it is our house.”

In the next hour, Salim was beaten, handcuffed and forced to watch his home destroyed.  He had no permit. But, as Jeff Halper says, “Everyone knows that Israel does not give building permits to Palestinians.”[4]  Since 1967, more than 27,000 Palestinian homes have been destroyed.  Salim had just joined 160,000 other Palestinians who had seen their home, life investment and dignity stripped from them. 

When a man cannot provide a home for the safety and security of his family, he is emasculated. He looses not only his pride but his sense of worth. When a woman looses her home, she has no context in which to feel like a wife and mother. She either strives to survive on the streets or she bunks in with another family,  where some other women is keeper of the home  By the way, only 2% of homes  demolished are related to punishment for acts against Israel.   All the rest are for stealing land to give to Jews or for no more purpose than pure harassment.

A major form of harassment ignored by the world and supported by the U.S. is the hassle of waiting at crossing gates to enter or leave the Occupied Territories.

Americans going to see Dr. Yassine in Baltimore for medical treatment have no idea that he is not allowed to visit his wife in Gaza.  She has a Palestinian passport. He, on the other hand, born to parents living in a refugee camp in Beirut, is classified simply as a stateless “refugee.” His wife, Leila El-Haddad, can be with her husband only when she can get through the crossing point and visit him in America.  After which, she had to return to Gaza

On November 21, 2006, Leila found herself with her 2 year old son lined up with thousands of penniless Palestinians waiting to cross the Rafah gate. Hoping to get close to the head of the line, she arose predawn, packed her belongings, picked up her son and lined up for the crossing to open.  All day long, she waited, cared for a toddler while fighting to keep her place in line. From 4 AM until sunset, she waits. The gate did not open. So, she rushed back to the overnight ghetto seeking a room for another night. She tries again to enter Gaza the next morning. “It is hard not to believe that Israel “takes pleasure as we languish in uncertainty.”[5]  This went on every day for 15 days. Finally on December 6th, she and her son found themselves among the few who managed to make it through the Rafah crossing. She writes

I think the most disturbing and overwhelming feeling of all is having to come to grips with the realization that your life and how you live that life continue to be controlled wholly and absolutely by an Occupier and that its ability to deny you entry to your own home so abruptly, so arbitrarily, and yet so methodically – largely because of the acquiescence and complicity of the world—has become so accepted… You cannot fly. You cannot fish, you cannot move, you cannot breath, you cannot live. If you meet all these “cannots,” then you know you are from Gaza… Yet, the rest of the world goes on uninterrupted.[6]

Some actions of Israel go far beyond harassment in showing the Palestinians and the world just who has the upper hand.  I would put the killing of Hamas leaders in the category.  On December 14, 2006, Israel’s high court of justice ruled unanimously to legalize assassinations by Israeli forces against Palestinians.  “According to the Israeli human rights organization B’Tselem, 339 Palestinians have been extra-judicially killed over the past six years, almost half of them bystanders.[7]

One can only imagine how out of control our media and congress would be if Hamas had established a program of targeted killings of 339 Jews in Israel simply because Gaza did not like them.

And sometimes, just sometimes, harassment takes the form of humiliation.  Such as when a ten year old Palestinian girl is taken into a room by herself and ordered by Israeli soldiers, probably female soldiers, to remove her clothes. When she was down to nothing but panties and a tee shirt, she was forced to take them off also as though she could be carrying an automatic gun or grenade beneath her underwear.  The fourth Geneva Convention says, “No child shall be subject to … degrading treatment or punishment.”   It also says, “Women shall be especially protected against any attack on their honour.”

When an old woman, a holocaust survivor, who had become critical of Israel’s humiliating policies toward those who were not Jews, is taken aside and cavity searched because she is suddenly classified an a terrorist, that is a pure violation of the Geneva Convention’s standards for any civilized nation. Never the less, it gets worse.  

I don’t know what to call it when a young woman, with cerebral palsy, while being strip searched in the Ben Gurion airport before a long flight to the U.S. is forced to give up her maxi pad. According to, that is exactly what happened to Maysoon Zayad  on July 31, 2006. She was not allowed to buy sanitary products as she waited for hours. She said:

Nothing, can be more embarrassing for a woman than to be forced to sit there in a wheelchair and bleed all over herself.”[8]

Add to Israel’s list of harrassments a few things such as building more settlements, cutting off Palestinian freedom to move from one place to another within their own country by an apartheid wall and Jewish only roads, cutting off access to electricity,  water and even education, denying trade by disallowing exports, and denying such imports as medicines, sugar, coffee, shoes, blankets, diapers, toys and the list goes on and on, you will have a nation of frustrated and hopeless people. Over time, someone will pick up any weapon they can find and push back.  A people will endure only so much humiliation and neglect. Then something is bound to happen and it probably will not be good, not for Palestine, nor Israel or the United States.

            Thomas Are
            November 20, 2014.

[1] Laila El-Haddad Gaza Mom  (Just Word Books, Charlottesville, Virginia, 2013) p.96.
[2] From Bert’s written personal report of his trip to the West Bank,  February, 2009.
[3] Lecture delivered by Eran Efrats,  December 17, 2013 at Oakhurst Baptist Church, Decatur, Georgia.
[4] The story of  Salim Shawamreh  is found in Jeff  Halper’s book, An Israeli in Palestine,  (Pluto Press, 2012)  in association with The Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions.
[5] Laila El-Haddad, Gaza Mom, (Best World Books, Charlottesville, Virginia, 2013) p. 186.
[6] Ibid.,  p. 188-198.
[7] Ibid.,  p.204
[8] All three of these strip search stories come from a video Behind the Barbed Wire, on what we aren’t being told about Israel-Palestine but need to know, produced by

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

I Had Twenty-Nine

I had just finished sharing a meal with a friend when he said, “What you don’t realize is that there are not two people in this whole town that give a rat’s-ass about what happens to the Palestinians.” Right away, I caught on that he did not care about what was happening to the Palestinians, but I could not accept that he was right about the more than 5000 other people who  lived in  our small community. It was not that I needed to prove him wrong. It was more like I felt that I had to try and do something to make known the pain and suffering of those living under occupation.

I drove up to a state park, met with the banquet manager and signed up for a one day rental on their largest conference room. I came home and planned a six hour seminar on Israel/Palestine and sent out invitations.  I called on a lot of friends for leadership, especially those who had been there and had seen first hand the violence of Israel’s occupation.  Much to my delight, we had 82 to come, including 29 college students.

Why bring this up now? That was seven years ago. So, let me say it again, out of eighty-two people who attended our seminar, twenty-nine of them were college students.  I was thrilled. Young people are more sensitive to justice issues than most of us old birds.  Many expressed surprise at what they had learned. Some announced that it was an “eye opening experience.”   I thought to myself.  Wow, now we are on our way. I just knew that with so many new peace activists things would soon change for the human rights of the suffering people of Palestine, most of whom are also young people.  What I did not know was that my twenty-nine would be going back to college campuses and encountering “Birthright kids”.  I had never heard of Birthright Israel.

According to Wikipedia, Israel has, since 1999, invested $660 million in a program to bring young Jews on a free ten day trip to see Israel from the inside.  Since that time, more than 400,000 kids from 64 countries, 80% from U.S. and Canada, have been treated to a very sanitized view of their “birthright home.”  They never travel into the West Bank, Gaza or East Jerusalem. They are not allowed to visit and talk with the Israelis on their own.  One Birthright participant wrote:

Can blind support of a nation that has disobeyed international law ensure and strengthen your Jewish identity? Not necessarily. Does being Israeli mean to be Jewish? Not necessarily… Modern Zionism is a political movement that calls for a “Jewish” state, not a nation for all its citizens. .. If we take a closer look at Zionism’s goals, it is a movement of ethnic cleansing of an indigenous people. .. On my free trip to Israel, I did not find my long lost Judaism. What I did find was a hotbed of racial discrimination and a skewed view of Palestine.[1]

It is clear that Israel is panicked.  More Jews are leaving Israel than are moving to Israel.  No wonder they are courting young people even to the point of trying to entice them with erotic advertisement and the promise of a “Sexual Playground.” Jonathan Katz, referring to Birthright ads featuring smiling, shirtless, muscular Jewish men, writes:

The goals of these ads are to present Israel as a sexual playground… If this voyage is one intended to arouse all the senses, then it makes sense to speak of beach beauties of Tel Aviv and Eilat.  And if one goal is to prevent young Jewish men and women from shacking up with those goyim, then it is thus a natural progression that Israel is marketed as a romantic dreamland. A sexual playground.  Two messages surface: firstly, “You will have fun on this trip”; secondly, “you will meet some really hot people that make you happy in that very special way.”[2]  

Lawrence Davidson, history professor at West Chester University in Pennsylvania writes:

There have been studies originating both in Israel and abroad that show “as many as half of the Jews living in Israel will consider leaving…if in the next few years the current political and social trends continue.” This finding is in addition to the fact that yerida or emigration out of Israel, has long been running at higher numbers than iliyah, or immigration into the country.[3]

I am convinced that there is more Bible based Judaism in Atlanta than there is in Tel Aviv.  Why? because suddenly younger American Jews are learning about Israel’s history and ambitions and are finding Israel in huge conflict with their values.  Norman Finkelstein wrote, “The current Israeli government of Benjamin Netanyahu has become a source of embarrassment to many liberal American Jews.”

If Israel brings Birthright kids over to learn to love the state of Israel, in many cases, it is clearly not working  American Jews are not turning their backs on Israel because they don’t know enough of what Israel stands for, but, according to Finkelstein,  “If the romance of American Jews with Israel is coming to an end, it is because they now know too much.”[4]

Birthright kids are backed by Israel’s most powerful propaganda machines. My twenty-nine can’t even count on being backed by the U.S. media, their own political leaders or even their church.  All they have is a small group of dedicated people who do give a rat’s ass about what is happening to the Palestinians. Standing up for justice is worth standing up for even if you are in a vast minority. I’ll bet on my twenty-nine.

                                                                                    Thomas Are
                                                                                    November 5, 2014

[1] Hannah Friedstein, An Open Letter to Birthright Participants Past, Present and Future.  Mondoweiss, October 22, 2014.
[2] Jonathan Katz, Is My Birthright a Sexual Playground?  March 4, 2014.
[3] Lawrence Davidson, Israel’s Jewish Exodus.,  June 15, 2014
[4] Norman Finkelstein, Knowing Too Much,  Why the American Jewish Romance with Israel is Coming to an End. (OR Books, New York., 2012) p. 15,17.