Saturday, January 31, 2009

Venezuelian Antisemitism Jacks It Up a Notch

Venezuelan society seems to have crossed the line from Anti-Zionism to Anti-Semitism. And it appears to be state sanctioned.

According to AP:
The vandalizing of a Caracas synagogue late Friday only underscores the feeling of growing anti-Semitic sentiment in the South American nation, Jewish community members said over the weekend.

A group of people - reports run as high as 15 - broke into Caracas's Sephardic synagogue late on Friday, held the guard at gunpoint, wreaked havoc on the building and damaged the Torah scrolls.

Before leaving at around 3 a.m., the vandals scrawled "Death to the Jews" and "We don't want Jews here" on the synagogue's walls.

The damage was discovered by community members on Saturday morning. The guard was found on the floor, one community leader said. ...

The suggestion of government sanction for the attack was heard many times from Venezuelan Jews over the weekend, though most of them would not speak on the record.

"I do not expect the law to be enforced," [Jewish Community spokesman Paul] Hariton said simply. ...

Chavez called on the Venezuelan Jewish community to "declare itself against this barbarity" - Israel's recent offense against Hamas in Gaza - in a January 6 interview with Venezuela's state-run VTV television network. ...

According to Miami Herald columnist and Latin America expert Andres Oppenheimer, "Chavez-backed regional media carry anti-Semitic - and not just anti-Israel - stories almost daily." For example, he relates, "As I'm writing this [on Thursday], a quick look at the Web site of Telesur, the Venezuela-based regional television network ... shows me a story entitled 'Gaza's Ruins,' which accuses Israel 'and the world's Jews' of failing to denounce alleged atrocities by Israeli troops and 'Jewish planes' in Gaza." ...

"We were afraid something like this would happen. The official press was becoming more and more anti-Israeli and anti-Jews. There are hundreds of anti-Semitic articles, ads and fliers." ...

"You can disagree with Israel. That's fine," said Hariton. "But you can't go to a place where we worship and destroy it. That's clearly anti-Semitism."

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Duh !

Prof. Ruth Gabizon a member of the Israel's Winograd Commission that investigated - and condemned - Israels actions in the Lebanon 2 war said at a forum today that there are disturbing similarities between the Gaza and Lebanon wars
Prof. Ruth Gabizon says that like the war against Hizbullah in 2006, the goals of recent military offensive in Strip were unclear and it ended with 'insufficient ceasefire'
For this we killed 1300, wounded 5-7000, brought the anger of the world on us, and convinced even more Arabs then ever that Israel is not interested in peace and prefers war to negotiations?

So why is there not an outcry in Israel, as there was in 2006? Well, obviously, less Israelis where killed and less damage was done by enemy rockets. But maybe this comment by Winograd Commission chair Eliyahu Winograd helps explain it too.
The IDF's conduct during the operation in Gaza proved that it had drawn lessons from the war in Lebanon, at least as far as its relationship with the media was concerned.

There were no leaks by senior officers; the decision to prohibit soldiers from bringing their cell phones to Gaza was implemented in full, and the policy of accessibility to the press, which was supported by the previous chief of staff was abandoned.

The entrance of reporters into the battle zone in Gaza was carried out in coordination with the army, and the IDF Spokesperson's Unit was the main source of information for the media.

It appears that the reporters and anchormen internalized the lessons of the Second Lebanon War and did not compete with one another for scoops. The press cooperated with the Military Censor.
Thank God for the "Free Press"! No wonder Israelis suffer so much from group-think in these matters.

See ynet for the full story.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Is This The Judaism We Want?

The Israeli Military Rabbinate, and official body of the IDF has Rabbis in army field units providing spiritual guidance and religious services to the troops.
According to chief army rabbi, Brigadier General Avichai Rontzki, officers and soldiers reported that they felt "spiritually elevated" and "morally empowered" by conversations with rabbis who gave them encouragement before the confrontation with the Palestinians.

A reservist battalion rabbi told the religious newspaper B'Sheva last week that Rontzki explained to his staff that their role was not "to distribute wine and challah for Shabbat to the troops," but "to fill them with yiddishkeit and a fighting spirit."

Yiddishkeit and Fighting Spirit !!! To me those are contradictory concepts. Fighting may be necessary sometime - but it is always a necessary evil. All the Rabbis of Judaism I have known would agree. But not according to these Rabbis of Zionism.

Here are some quotes from official army leaflets written by these army Rabbis and distributed by the IDF to its troops - to give them "spiritual sustenance and inspire them."
"[There is] a biblical ban on surrendering a single millimeter of it [the Land of Israel] to gentiles, though all sorts of impure distortions and foolishness of autonomy, enclaves and other national weaknesses. We will not abandon it to the hands of another nation, not a finger, not a nail of it."
"Is it possible to compare today's Palestinians to the Philistines of the past? And if so, is it possible to apply lessons today from the military tactics of Samson and David? A comparison is possible because the Philistines of the past were not natives and had invaded from a foreign land ... They invaded the Land of Israel, a land that did not belong to them and claimed political ownership over our country ... Today the problem is the same. The Palestinians claim they deserve a state here, when in reality there was never a Palestinian or Arab state within the borders of our country. Moreover, most of them are new and came here close to the time of the War of Independence."
"When you show mercy to a cruel enemy, you are being cruel to pure and honest soldiers. This is terribly immoral. These are not games at the amusement park where sportsmanship teaches one to make concessions. This is a war on murderers. 'A la guerre comme a la guerre.'"
"our enemies took advantage of the broad and merciful Israeli heart ... we will show no mercy on the cruel."
In addition to the official publications, right-wing groups also bring pamphlets into IDF bases. One such flyer is attributed to "the pupils of Rabbi Yitzhak Ginsburg" - the former rabbi at Joseph's Tomb. It calls on
"soldiers of Israel to spare your lives and the lives of your friends and not to show concern for a population that surrounds us and harms us. We call on you ... to function according to the law 'kill the one who comes to kill you.' As for the population, it is not innocent ... We call on you to ignore any strange doctrines and orders that confuse the logical way of fighting the enemy."
Praise God and pass the ammunition! Cruelty has now become a Jewish value! This is a real chilul hashem (desacration of God's name) and I hope all real Rabbi's (and all Jews) come out clearly against this perversion of religion, of Judaism, and of all that is decent.

See full story in Haaretz.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

60 Minutes:
"The Two State Solution Is Dead"

Watch CBS Videos Online

This is quite a hard hitting piece, by the most mainstream U.S news show of all. (You will have to suffer through the embedded commercials) The Jewish establishment will no doubt be up in arms. Even Peace Now will rail against it.

"While my heart still wants to believe in a two state solution, my brain tells me it is dead".

- Dr. Mustafa Barghouti

60 Minutes seems to agree.

New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman is only slightly less pessimistic for a two state solution in his column today. He feel we still may have a year or so to pull it off.

The anti-Zionist bloggers are already celebrating. Now, they say, "The choice is clear: ethnic cleansing, or one state with democracy for all. And the world will not let Israel engage in ethnic cleansing." What they fail to consider is the possibility of just muddling along as we have been for the past 40 years, with increased violence and increased misery all round. That would be a disaster for the Palestinians and a disaster for the Jews, but that doesn't mean it cannot happen.

What to do? Read my previous entry.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

What Is To Be Done?

(With apologies to V.I Lenin.)

I want to try to outline what I think needs to happen to lead to some modicum of “Peace and Justice” in /Palestine. I want to provide an answer for those of my friends who ask: “What else could Israel do? The enemy is intractable.” as well as my friends who ask: “What else could the Palestinians do? How can they agree to go on living with so much misery and injustice?” as well as to my friends who are just sickened by all the violence and don’t know what to do or think. I will also try to give some advice to any influential politicians who might be reading this – (Obama are you there?)

First let me say, that short of the coming of the Messiah, I don’t believe that absolute peace and justice is possible – and certainly not in Israel/Palestine. Absolute Peace would require a total absence of conflict, complete harmony of purpose and means, and full agreement of all individuals to “play by the rules”. This is, simply put, a dream. Similarly, Justice is not an objective thing: it is subjective concept. And since we will never get everyone to agree on what is Just, we will never obtain “Justice For All.”

Furthermore, the Talmud notes that – as opposed to the contemporary protest slogan “No Justice. No Peace!” – justice and peace are often at odds, as the losing party harbors a grudge. The Rabbis recommended solution? Meditation and compromise wherever possible.

This does not mean that we should not strive towards peace and justice, merely that we should recognize that these are not absolutes. We should also be happy if we can “only” achieve less violence and some justice: because that is actually a lot. We should remember that charity and compromise and forgiveness are also values.

We should remember that, as Voltaire put it, “The perfect is the enemy of the good”, and that, just as schar averah averah (the wages of sin are more sins), so too schar mitzvah, mitzvah (the reward for good deeds, is more good deeds.) Simply put (maybe over-simply, I admit) Israel should not expect zero terror attacks, and the Palestinians should not expect to get their pre-1948 homes in Jaffa back. But they both should expect to get more of what they want and need. And they should remember that a little bit now will lead to more later. Start the positive feed back loop, and then keep it going.

This approach does not preclude grand geo-political “solutions” – the “Two State Solution,” the “One State Solution,” (anyone for the “No States Solution,” or the “Seven Percent Solution”) – but it de-emphasizes them. Without mutual trust, respect and good will, neither solution works. With them, either could work – and the difference becomes a matter of tactics and taste.

Any solution, and any path to get there, must address root causes. What do people reasonably want and need? Safety, some prosperity, reasonable freedoms, a supportive society, and a familiar and stimulating culture. What are the roadblocks to these? Fear, hate, hopelessness, greed, self-centeredness, lack of knowledge, and mistrust.

So what should people do to build towards a solution – any solution – while at the same time taking steps to improve conditions now, as the basis for that solution? Depends who you are.

If you are the Israeli leadership, what should you do? You should move on two broad fronts. First you should move decisively to improve the daily lives of the Palestinian population. Second you should declare openly, publicly, definitively and clearly, that you have no intention of annexing land in the occupied territories (or, alternately, that you are willing to trade land for whatever land you hope to keep) and then take real steps to show you are serious.

Ideas that could improve the daily lot of the Palestinians include: joint economic projects; tax free zones on the green line; development of infrastructure (roads, water lines, electrical lines, schools, etc.) that benefit the Palestinians and not just Israeli settlers; encouragement of and cooperation with European and American investment and development aid to the Palestinian territories; passing on of all tax revenue collected from Palestinians to the Palestinian authorities (Israel regularly collects various taxes from Palestinians and then withholds them); equitable water allocation; handing over of all local government function – including building permitting – to the local Palestinian authorities; a significant easing of all checkpoints within the West Bank; re-routing the security wall/fence to follow the green line and not separate Palestinians from their lands, and make West Bank travel circuitous in the extreme; a lifting of the commercial blockade (siege) of Gaza; opening a travel corridor between Gaza and the West Bank; etc. etc. etc. There is no shortage of ideas, if there is a will.

But some of the above steps would negatively affect Israeli security you say? No – they only negatively affect the security of Israeli settlers in the West Bank. For instance the reason there are checkpoints all over the West Bank, and not just on the crossing points into “Israel Proper”, is that there are Israeli settlements all over the West Bank. The reason there are “Israeli Only” roads in the West Bank, is for the safety and convenience of the settlers. The reason the “Wall” snakes through and around Palestinians villages and fields is so that it can protect Israeli settlers.

Which leads us to the second point. Israel must renounce its policy of supporting and promoting Israeli settlers in the occupied territories. It must renounce its territorial ambitions there. Even if Israel feels it must keep the territories under its control because of security fears, there is no need for settlements or settlers. Perhaps it can’t dismantle all the existing settlements today. But it must announce that it will in the future; or alternately, that it is will to give up exclusive Jewish control over them. And it must start this process now. Yes this is a big political problem for Israel. But there is no other way. The settlements are the root cause of most of the negatives in the West Bank: resentment, unequal economic development, land theft, security problems.

How can I be sure of that? Haven’t West Bank Palestinians always violently opposed Israel’s right to exist? No. From 1967 to 1987 there was relative peace and harmony in the West Bank. The Israeli Occupation brought both tourists and Israelis to the West Bank, and they brought their money, and the Palestinians where, if not delighted, willing to swallow their national pride to make a good living. In addition, many Palestinians found jobs inside Israel – mostly menial to be sure, but better than what had been available prior to the 1967 war. In those years an Israeli could safely go hiking in the West Bank or looking for bargains in the shops of Kalkilyah, Tulkarem, or East Jerusalem. In those days, there where relatively few terror attacks by Palestinian groups, and virtually all where planned and executed by overseas Palestinian groups. What changed to spark the first intifada, to bring the fight to the West bank and Gaza? Mostly it was the build up of the settlements, and the associated land expropriations (or outright theft), unequal development, and the humiliations to Palestinians by and “to protect” the settlers.

Israel should ratchet down the violence. Israel has become so convince that the best defense is a good offense, that it now regularly engages in deterrent strikes and pre-emptive war: both doctrines apply to Gaza, as well as many of Israel’s regular security operations. The hatred these engender on the other side, makes them part of a feed back loop, which only perpetuates the hatred and violence.

Finally Israel must reform its education system to teach about Palestinian history and claims as well as about Jewish history and claims. It must acknowledge the harm its national project has done to Palestinians. It must work to reduce the stereotyping and hatred of Arabs that is common in Israel. And it must work to end administrative and legal discrimination, against its own Arab citizens.

If you are the Palestinian leadership, what should you do? You should make both declarative statements and take actions to back them up. You should publicly, definitively, and clearly state that Jews have the right to live in peace and freedom in Israel/Palestine, and that it is not your intent to drive them out nor to demand lost property back from them. You should announce that you will first and foremost use diplomatic means and non-violent means to achieve your goal. You should tell the Palestinian people, that most of them will not be able to “go back”, but that you will fight for other compensation and other measures to improve their lives. Would that be difficult politically? Yes. But there is no other way. Palestinians cannot win a military fight, and, in fact, it only debases them and alienates support – both in Israel and around the world, and its physical consequences only further impoverish them. They cannot all go back, there is often nowhere to go back to.

On the ground, you should impose an effective “monopoly of force” – that is create a single entity that can control the use of force – that is the pre-requisite for any effective government, and it is a prerequisite to others trusting you enough to negotiate any serious deal. You should enforce your non-violence pledge vigorously, and certainly against civilian targets. (Go ahead and organize boycotts if you want – that is a reasonable tactic if all else fails.) You should work actively to increase the economic conditions of your people. You should change your internal education and propaganda to reduce hatred and stereotyping of Jews and the pining for unrealistic goals. You should teach something of Jewish history and Jewish claims.

If you are a Jew, what should you do? Encourage and support Israel to undertake the measures described above. As Jews voice your qualms about Israel’s policies publicly. It is both more likely to have weight with Israel than non-Jewish criticism, and it may give politicians backbone to stand up to Israeli intransigence – something Israel needs right now. It might also help to build trust with Palestinians.

Move the discussion within the Jewish community, from a tactical one – “What else could Israel do?” – to one based on values and goals. It amazes and worries me that otherwise liberal Jews, who would oppose any sort of religious or ethnic discrimination in Canada or the U.S., are supportive of Israel’s discriminatory policies in favour of Jews over Arabs; that Jews, who opposed Bush’s doctrine of pre-emptive war in Iraq, favour it when Israel does the same; that Jews who where appalled by American military atrocities in Iraq (and earlier in Vietnam) refuse to take seriously atrocities committed by the Israeli military. Forcing other Jews to face hard facts and square them with their own values will accomplish two things. It might help by building pressure on Israel to do the right things. But equally important, it might break the perceived total congruence of Judaism with Israel, and it might save the help soul of the Jewish people even if Israel slowly smothers its own. Remember that the dream of a Jewish State was to serve Judaism, Jewish values, and Jews, not to have Jews and Judaism serve the State.

Express your support for those aspects of Israel you admire. Express your concern for the Israeli people. Do not “Support Israel” unconditionally, as the Jewish establishment demands of you. Do not support Israelis by vilifying Palestinians. Oppose the negative stereotypes and generalizations about Palestinians, Arabs, Muslims, which we hear all to often in our community.

Don’t be “holier than the Pope”: don’t shy from naming and confronting anti-Semitism in the guise of anti-Zionism.

Do something to build bridges to Muslims and Palestinians.

If you are a Palestinian, what should you do? Encourage and support the Palestinian leadership to undertake the measures described above. As Palestinians, voice your qualms about excessive Palestinian violence and other stupid or immoral Palestinean policies publicly. It may have some influence on the Palestinian leadership. It will give more, rather than less, weight to your core arguments about past and present injustices done to the Palestinian people. It also might also help to build trust with Jews.

Do something to build bridges to Israelis and Jews.

If you are a Western leader (Obama are you listening yet?), what should you do? Knock some heads together. Threaten, cajole, bribe. Invest your political capital. Send effective international forces to enforce peace. Make the Palestinians prosperous enough to retreat from their “house-key” pipe dreams. Make the Israelis scared enough to retreat from their have-our-cake-and-eat-it-too pipe dreams.

Help solve one of the most intractable aspects of the problem. Pressure Lebanon and other Arab countries, to give the children and grand children of the 1948 refugees living on their soil citizenship, the permission to work and to own land, and encourage western countries to help resettle those who wish to emigrate. Help fund reparations for all Palestinian refugees.

Finally, no matter who you are, don't wait for others to do their part first. All these ideas stand on their own. Keep in mind that the goal is not only to bring more peace and justice; it is to keep the very ideas of peace, justice, and morality alive. In this conflict, all three, have too often been thrown to the wind, and are in danger of dying altogether.

Keep emphasizing that in the end we want security, prosperity, and freedom for all the residence of Israel/Palestine, and that the ends do not justify the means.

And take the long view. Take small victories where you can. That way if a "Solution" takes another 100 years to come, we will have done some good and kept decency alive in the meantime.

As the Talmud teaches: “It is not incumbent upon you to finish the task, but neither are you free to refrain from it.”

In The Hills of Ayalon.

In the hills of Ayalon above the broken earth
Two boys shout and play with a ball on a field of shrub and dirt
Divided sons of Abraham exhausted embrace
Prince of Islam, pride of Judah know each other's face
"If we met on the sands of Sinai under a molten sky
And if you held me in your sights and looked me in the eye
What would you do?"
"If we met on the sands of Sinai under a molten sky
And if I held you in my sights and looked you in the eye
I would shoot you dead."

In the hills of Ayalon that once were no man's land
Shepherds chase their wandering sheep and lead them home again
"My grandfather died at Dachau, never will I forget"
"The British set fire to my grandfather's village and left twelve moslem dead"
"If we met on the cliffs of Haramoun stunned by the rocket's flash
And if you found my heart exposed and a pistol in your grasp
What would you do?"
"If we met on the cliffs of Haramoun stunned by the rocket's flash
And if I found your heart exposed and a pistol in my grasp
I would take you prisoner, hide you away, then set you free."

In the hills of Ayalon the young ones play a game
Toss an orange in the air and call each other's name
Ricky, Shimon, Shalom, Naomi -- catch it before it falls
Youssef, Hassan, Amal, Amira tear down the walls
"If we met by the River Jordan under a rain of nails
And if you raised your rifle up and your aim could not fail
What would you do?"
"If we met by the River Jordan under a rain of nails
And if I raised my rifle up and my aim could not fail
I would put down my gun, open my arms, and weep.”

- a song by Fred Small

with thanks to Peter.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Israelis Move to the Right

The next Prime Minister of Israel?

War is good for the hawks. It is true in Gaza, where the recent war has only brought more support to Hamas, not less, and it is true in Israel too.

According to Haaretz:
A Channel 2 election poll revealed on Wednesday that Likud has opened a significant lead over Kadima, which stands at eight seats.

According to the poll, in next month's general election Likud will win 30 seats, as opposed to 22 for Kadima. [Last week it was 28 to 24.] Labor under Defense Minister Ehud Barak wins 14 seats, as opposed to 16 in last week's poll.

Avigdor Lieberman's far-right party Yisrael Beiteinu [which advocates expelling Israeli Arabs] has gained unprecedented popularity, and now wins 16 seats. Shas grows stronger too, and wins 11 seats. [There are 120 seats in the Israeli Knesset (Parliament).]

Most Israelis, it seems, feel that the war was not pursued far enough. That the IDF should have gone further and struck harder. Sad but true.

Schar averah, averah, say our sages: the payback for sinning is more sinning.

What Jerks!

The Rabbinical Council of America - the main Rabbinic body of "Modern Orthodoxy" - sure knows how to through cold water on feelings of tolerance , unity and understanding.

According to an official press release from the U.S. Presidential Inaugural Committee, describing the National Prayer Service held yesterday, with and for President Obama (emphasis mine:)

WASHINGTON, D.C. - Today, as part of an Inauguration for all Americans, the 2009 Presidential Inaugural Committee announced the spiritual leaders from the diverse array of our nation’s religious traditions who will participate in the National Prayer Service on Wednesday, January 21st. The National Prayer Service, a tradition dating back to the Inauguration of George Washington, will be held at the National Cathedral at the conclusion of the inaugural activities. The service will include scripture readings, prayers, hymns and blessings delivered by faith leaders from across the United States.

“President-elect Obama’s faith is a central part of his life and he will begin the first full day of his Administration with a service of interfaith prayer and reflection,“ said Presidential Inaugural Committee Communications Director Josh Earnest. “The National Prayer Service, which will embody the themes of tolerance, unity and understanding, is a worship service for all Americans. “

The National Prayer Service will include a traditional prayer for civil leaders, a prayer for the nation, a selection by the Washington, D.C.-based Children of the Gospel Children’s Choir, and, for the first time, feature a sermon delivered by a woman.

After listing various clerical participants an their roles, including representatives from Episcopalians, Baptists, independent black churches, Greek Orthodox, Catholics, the Disciples of Christ, the Reform Church of America, Reform Judaism, it goes on to list clerics who will be given particularly significant roles:
Responsive prayers given by six leaders will symbolize America’s traditions of religious tolerance and freedom:

—Dr. Ingrid Mattson, President, Islamic Society of North America, Hartford, CT
—Rev. Suzan Johnson-Cook, Senior Pastor, Bronx Christian Fellowship, New York City
—Rabbi Jerome Epstein, Director, United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, New York City
—Rev. Carol Wade of the Washington National Cathedral
—Dr. Uma Mysorekar, President, Hindu Temple Society of North America, New York City
—Rev. Jim Wallis, President, Sojourners, Washington, D.C.
Rabbi Haskal Lookstein, Congregation Kehilath Jeshurunm (Orthodox), New York City
—Pastor Kirbyjon Caldwell, Senior Pastor, Windsor Village United Methodist Church, Houston, TX.
Most American (and Canadian) Jews are, I am sure, pleased to see the general tolerance, inclusiveness and diversity displayed by the selection of this list of participants, and particularly pleased that three rabbis where on the overall program.

But not the Rabbinic Assembly. It issued a condemnation of Rabbi Lookstein !
NEW YORK (JTA) -- The main Modern Orthodox rabbinical association says a prominent member violated its rules by participating in the National Prayer Service.

A Rabbinical Council of America official told JTA that Rabbi Haskel Lookstein, the religious leader of Congregation Kehilath Jeshurun in New York City, broke the organization's rules by participating in the service Wednesday at the National Cathedral on the morning after Barack Obama's inauguration.

“The long-standing policy of the Rabbinical Council of America, in accordance with Jewish law, is that participation in a prayer service held in the sanctuary of a church is prohibited," the RCA said in a statement. "Any member of the RCA who attends such a service does so in contravention of this policy and should not be perceived as representing the organization in any capacity."

The RCA said that Lookstein’s participation was problematic both because the service was held in the sanctuary of a church, which Orthodox Jews are prohibited from entering, and because it was an interfaith prayer service, which the RCA discourages for fear that such participation could allow missionaries to legitimize their argument that Jews can indeed embrace Jesus.

“To go into a cathedral, in this case an Episcopalian cathedral in the main sanctuary, is certainly by most accounts not appropriate," the executive director of the RCA, Rabbi Basil Herring, told JTA. "If one wants to visit the Sistine Chapel to view the art of Michelangelo it is problematic ...

(See full report from the JTA here.)

If the Modern Orthodox want to be separatists, that is there right, but then why are they different then the haredim who live in their ghettos and have as little to do with the outside world as they can. How are they "Modern". This just emphasizes and re-enforces the rightward drift (and increasing irrelevance) of the Modern Orthodox. Too bad. This movement once had promise of bridging the divide between the traditional Jewish communities and liberal Jewish communities. No more.

Judaism is bifurcating and there seems to be no middle ground.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

We Won !

The first two headlines in today's Jerusalem Post:
Barak declares victory as IDF completes Gaza withdrawal
"We won in a big way...Hamas was dealt a blow it never imagined and will be quiet now for a long time," says defense minister.

Gaza smuggling routes operational again
Footage shows truck being filled with petrol from tunnel

Obama Gets It.

"Let me have men about me that are fat, sleek-headed men and, such as sleep o’nights. Yond Cassius has a lean and hungry look ... such men are dangerous."
- William Shakespeare, Julius Caesar Act I, scene ii

Obama gets it.

Over an above whatever historical, religious or ideological reasons that cause Palestinians to hate Israelis, they hate them because they are miserable and suffering daily. Palestinians are willing to risk all, including their lives, because they feel they have so little. "When you got nothing, you got nothing to lose" On the other hand, rich and satisfied people, or the most part, do not easily go marching off to war - at least if they understand the horrors of war; and the Palestinians do understand that. People who have something, have something to protect. They are more willing to entertain compromise.

According to the JTA (emphasis mine):
President Barack Obama told Ehud Olmert and three other Middle East leaders he is determined to stop Hamas from smuggling arms.

According to a statement from White House press secretary Robert Gibbs, the new president placed phone calls Wednesday morning to Olmert, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and King Adullah of Jordan.

The statement said that Obama "emphasized his determination to work to help consolidate the cease-fire by establishing an effective anti-smuggling regime to prevent Hamas from rearming, and facilitating in partnership with the Palestinian Authority a major reconstruction effort for Palestinians in Gaza."

Obama in the statement pledged that the United States, working with the international community, "would do its part to make these efforts successful."

He also communicated to the four leaders "his commitment to active engagement in pursuit of Arab-Israeli peace from the beginning of his term" and "his hope for their continued cooperation and leadership."
It is also encouraging that he made these phone calls on the morning of his first full day in office. It would seem to show that he is serious about re-engaging the U.S. in a mid east peace process.

If Israel had any brains, it would help in efforts to make the Palestinians prosperous. It would find a face saving excuse to open the borders of Gaza to full commercial traffic. It would build "tax free zones" at the border, and encourage companies to open plants there and give Palestinians jobs. It would keep its long standing promise to provide a travel corridor from Gaza to the West Bank. It would invest in infrastructure on the West Bank that helped not just Jewish settlers but the Palestinians to live a better life. It would stop the myriad administrative and security barriers that damp down economic life. It would understand that, in the long run, the only thing that can bring peace to Israel is satisfied Palestinians.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Inaugural Benediction

I just finished watching the Obama inauguration.

If, as Mordecai Kaplan said, "God is the Power that makes for salvation": God is that which gives meaning to our lives, that gives us hope for the future, and a belief in the ideal - then the traditional Jewish blessing on seeing a king or head of state is indeed appropriate:
Blessed art Thou the Lord our God, Sovereign of the universe, who gives from His glory to flesh and blood.
Obama, has not shied away from a big agenda of tikun olam. He is attempting to wipe away cynicism, and restore peoples belief that large and postive change, based on our better natures, is possible. In that sense, he is already doing "God's work."

In the long run, of course, he will can only succeed by delivering the goods. May we all wish him well in that endeavor.

May we all, in whatever way we can, help fix the world.


Huge crowds fill the National Mall hours before the inauguration of Barack Obama

Watching the Obamarama now taking place on the American media - All Obama All The Time - I was reminded of something I knew, but had forgotten: change is possible. It took a CNN retrospective of the Civil Rights movement of the 50s and 60s to remind me.

Invited to the inaugural festivities are 7 of the "Little Rock Nine", the first black students to attend a white school anywhere in the South. That was in 1957, and required President Eisenhower to send in the 101st Airborn Division of the U.S. Army to enforce the court ordered integration. (Arkansas Governor Orvil Faubus had previously ordered the 10,000 member Arkansas National Guard onto the streets to keep the black children out of the schools.) The year Obama was born, 1961, it was illegal for blacks and whites to marry in 7 states (including Virginia and North Carolina, which voted for Obama in November.) His parents would have been arrested had they met at the University of Mississippi instead of the University of Hawaii. Prior to 1964 Civil Rights Act, blacks could not eat at the same lunch counters as whites even in Washington D.C. - even in Federal Government Buildings. Prior to the 1965 Voting Rights Act blacks where effectively barred from voting throughout the South.

When Martin Luther King made his "I have a dream speech" in 1963, he was not the universally acclaimed hero he is today. The FBI had him under surveillance as dangerous radical. Congress had not passed either of the monumental Acts that formally dismantled Jim Crow. And King only dared dream (at least out loud), that black and white kids could play together, not that a black man could be President.

Yet 45 years later, here we are.

As Judaism teaches us: miracles are possible. God does - occasionally - intervene in history. As Levinas puts it, to deny miracles is to deny the revolutionary possibility.

I (we?) need to remind ourselves of this fact as we look at the seemingly hopeless situation in Israel/Palestine. Forty years from now there could be peace and justice. But as the civil rights movement proved, it requires a determined struggle, patience, and a seemingly naive faith in the possibility of change even in the face of long odds.

It also required brave and principled outside intervention. Can Obama play Eisenhower, to the Israeli and Palestinian Faubus's ?

Sunday, January 18, 2009

The Boss Has Gone Mad

Veteran Israeli peacenik Uri Avnery begins his latest online essay quoting a chilling and prescient poem by Heine. Adressing Christian Europe (labeled Edom in the poem) Heine wrote:
For a thousand years and more
We have had an understanding
You allow me to breathe
I accept your crazy raging

Sometimes, when the days get darker
Strange moods come upon you
Till you decorate your claws
With the lifeblood from my veins

Now our friendship is firmer
Getting stronger by the day
Since the raging started in me
Daily more and more like you.

Avnery then goes on to write:
In this war, politicians and generals have repeatedly quoted the words: “The boss has gone mad!” originally shouted by vegetable vendors in the market, in the sense of “The boss has gone crazy and is selling the tomatoes at a loss!” But in the course of time the jest has turned into a deadly doctrine that often appears in Israeli public discourse: in order to deter our enemies, we must behave like madmen, go on the rampage, kill and destroy mercilessly.

In this war, this has become political and military dogma: only if we kill “them” disproportionately, killing a thousand of “them” for ten of “ours”, will they understand that it’s not worth it to mess with us. It will be “seared into their consciousness” (a favorite Israeli phrase these days). ...

It is impossible to understand the viciousness of this war without taking into account the historical background: the feeling of victimhood after all that has been done to the Jews throughout the ages, and the conviction that after the Holocaust, we have the right to do anything, absolutely anything, to defend ourselves, without any inhibitions due to law or morality.

He concluded with this sad and scary prediction:
HOWEVER, THE worst results of this war are still invisible and will make themselves felt only in years to come: Israel has imprinted on world consciousness a terrible image of itself. Billions of people have seen us as a blood-dripping monster. They will never again see Israel as a state that seeks justice, progress and peace. The American Declaration of Independence speaks with approval of “a decent respect to the opinions of mankind”. That is a wise principle.

Even worse is the impact on hundreds of millions of Arabs around us: not only will they see the Hamas fighters as the heroes of the Arab nation, but they will also see their own regimes in their nakedness: cringing, ignominious, corrupt and treacherous.

The Arab defeat in the 1948 war brought in its wake the fall of almost all the existing Arab regimes and the ascent of a new generation of nationalist leaders, exemplified by Gamal Abd-al-Nasser. The 2009 war may bring about the fall of the current crop of Arab regimes and the ascent of a new generation of leaders – Islamic fundamentalists who hate Israel and all the West..

In coming years it will become apparent that this war was sheer madness. The boss has indeed gone mad – in the original sense of the word.

Read the full essay here.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Yehoshua vs Levy

The past few days have seen an exchange of open letters between Israeli author A.B. Yehoshua and Israeli journalist Gideon Levy.

I would characterize Yehoshua as a "liberal" (ala the Phil Ochs song) who imagines himself at the enlightened edge of the Israeli consensus. He initially supported both the Lebanon 2 war and the current war in Gaza. Then, in both cases, came out with a call for the government to end the operations as soon as possible. In the case of Lebanon it took him two weeks. In the case of Gaza three days.

I would characterize Levy as a "radical" who understands himself to be outside the consensus, and is perhaps even proud of that. His columns continuously and mercilessly expose the short sightedness and crimes of Israel's occupation.

Levy had been writing some scathing criticism of Israel's actions in the current Gaza war. Yehoshua, despite his one call to end the war over two weeks ago, suddenly took offense to Levy's "tone" and published an open letter to Levy in Haaretz. Today, Levy responded, also in Haaretz.

I reproduce both letters below. They are instructive into the different perspectives of Israeli "liberals" who think Israel's errors are merely tactical, and that in any case there is no one who talk to so what does it really matter, and Israeli "radicals" who think Israel's errors are moral and/or statgic and its "sins" matter very much.

(I myself stand in between: but closer to Levy than Yehoshua.)

An open letter to Gideon Levy
By A.B. Yehoshua

Dear Gideon,

You remember that in recent years I called you occasionally to praise you for your articles and your writing about the wrongs done to the Palestinians in the administered territories, whether by the army or by the settlers. Physical wrongs, land expropriations, acts of abuse, perversions of justice and so on. I told you that it is very difficult to read what you write, because it weighs on our conscience, but that the work you are doing and the voice you are sounding are extremely important. I was also concerned about your physical safety, knowing that you risked your life by visiting such hostile places.

I did not ask you why you did not visit Israeli hospitals in order to tell the painful stories of Israeli citizens who were hurt in terrorist attacks. I accepted your position that there are plenty of other journalists doing this and that you had taken on the crucial mission of telling the story of the afflictions of the other side, our enemies today and our neighbors tomorrow. Accordingly, it is from this position of respect that I find it necessary to respond to your recent articles on the war in which we are engaged today, so that you will be able to preserve the moral validity of your distinctive voice for the future. A few years ago, when the Hatuel family - a mother and her four children, of blessed memory - were killed on the way to one of the settlements in Gush Katif, I believed that this terrible death pained you as it did all of us but that like many of us you said in your heart: Why should these Israelis endanger their children by living provocatively, hopelessly, dangerously and immorally in Gush Katif? By what right do 8,000 Jews expropriate a sizable area in the densely overcrowded Gaza Strip in order to build blossoming villages before the eyes of hundreds of thousands of refugees living in such abysmal conditions? You were angry, as I was, at the parents and at those who sent them. And even though I believe that like all of us you felt the pain of the children who were killed, you did not brand the leaders of Hamas "war criminals" as you did the Israeli leaders, and you did not demand the establishment of an international tribunal to try them.

When I asked you after the disengagement from Gaza, Gideon, explain to me why they are firing missiles at us, you replied that they want us to open the crossings. I asked you whether you truly believe that if they fire missiles the crossings will be opened, or the opposite. And whether you truly believe that it is right and just to open crossings into Israel for those who declare openly and sincerely that they want to destroy our country. I did not get an answer from you. And even though the crossings were in fact opened many times, and were closed in the wake of the missile attacks, regrettably I still did not see you standing firmly behind a moral position which says: Now, people of Gaza, after you expelled the Israeli occupation from your land, and justly so, you must hold your fire.

The doleful thought sometimes crosses my mind that it is not the children of Gaza or of Israel that you are pining for, but only for your own private conscience. Because if you are truly concerned about the death of our children and theirs, you would understand the present war - not in order to uproot Hamas from Gaza but to induce its followers to understand, and regrettably in the only way they understand in the meantime, that they must stop the firing unilaterally, stop hoarding missiles for a bitter and hopeless war to destroy Israel, and above all for the sake of their children in the future, so they will not die in another pointless adventure.

After all, now, for the first time in Palestinian history, after the Ottoman, British, Egyptian, Jordanian and Israeli conquests, part of the Palestinians has gained a first and I hope not a last piece of land on which they are to maintain a full and independent government. And if they start building, developing and pursuing social endeavors, even according to Islamic religious law, they will prove to the whole world, and especially to us, that the moment we terminate the occupation they will be ready to live in peace with their surroundings, free to do as they wish, but also responsible for their deeds.

There is something absurd in the comparison you draw about the number of those killed. When you ask how it can be that they killed three of our children and we cause the killing of a hundred and fifty, the inference one can draw is that if they were to kill a hundred of our children (for example, by the Qassam rockets that struck schools and kindergartens in Israel that happened to be empty), we would be justified in also killing a hundred of their children.

In other words, it is not the killing itself that troubles you but the number. On the face of it, one could answer you cynically by saying that when there will be two hundred million Jews in the Middle East it will be permissible to think in moral terms about comparing the number of victims on each side. But that is, of course, a debased argument. After all, you, Gideon, who live among the people, know very well that we are not bent on killing Palestinian children to avenge the killing of our children. All we are trying to do is get their leaders to stop this senseless and wicked aggression, and it is only because of the tragic and deliberate mingling between Hamas fighters and the civilian population that children, too, are unfortunately being killed. The fact is that since the disengagement, Hamas has fired only at civilians. Even in this war, to my astonishment, I see that they are not aiming at the army concentrations along the border but time and again at civilian communities.

Please, preserve the moral authority and concern that you possessed, and your distinctive voice. We will need them again in the future, which promises further ordeals on the road to peace. In the meantime, it would be best for us all - we and the Palestinians and the rest of the world - to follow the simple moral imperative of Kantian philosophy: "Act only according to that maxim by which you can at the same time will that it should become a universal law."

In friendship always,
Here is Gideon Levy's response.
Gideon Levy / An open response to A.B. Yehoshua

Dear Bulli,

Thank you for your frank letter and kind words. You wrote it was written from a "position of respect," and I, too, deeply respect your wonderful literary works. But, unfortunately, I have a lot less respect for your current political position. It is as if the mighty, including you, have succumbed to a great and terrible conflagration that has consumed any remnant of a moral backbone.

You, too, esteemed author, have fallen prey to the wretched wave that has inundated, stupefied, blinded and brainwashed us. You're actually justifying the most brutal war Israel has ever fought and in so doing are complacent in the fraud that the "occupation of Gaza is over" and justifying mass killings by evoking the alibi that Hamas "deliberately mingles between its fighters and the civilian population." You are judging a helpless people denied a government and army - which includes a fundamentalist movement using improper means to fight for a just cause, namely the end of the occupation - in the same way you judge a regional power, which considers itself humanitarian and democratic but which has shown itself to be a brutal and cruel conqueror. As an Israeli, I cannot admonish their leaders while our hands are covered in blood, nor do I want to judge Israel and the Palestinians the same way you have.

The residents of Gaza have never had ownership of "their own piece of land," as you have claimed. We left Gaza because of our own interests and needs, and then we imprisoned them. We cut the territory off from the rest of the world and the occupied West Bank, and did not permit them to construct an air or sea port. We control their population registrar and their currency - and having their own military is out of the question - and then you argue that the occupation is over? We have crushed their livelihood, besieged them for two years, and you claim they "have expelled the Israeli occupation"? The occupation of Gaza has simply taken on a new form: a fence instead of settlements. The jailers stand guard on the outside instead of the inside.

And no, I do not know "very well," as you wrote, that we don't mean to kill children. When one employs tanks, artillery and planes in such a densely populated place one cannot avoid killing children. I understand that Israeli propaganda has cleared your conscience, but it has not cleared mine or that of most of the world. Outcomes, not intentions, are what count - and those have been horrendous. "If you were truly concerned about the death of our children and theirs," you wrote, "you would understand the present war." Even in the worst of your literary passages, and there have been few of those, you could not conjure up a more crooked moral argument: that the criminal killing of children is done out of concern for their fates. "There he goes again, writing about children," you must have told yourself this weekend when I again wrote about the killing of children. Yes, it must be written. It must be shouted out. It is done for both our sakes.

This war is in your opinion "the only way to induce Hamas to understand." Even if we ignore the condescending tone of your remark, I would have expected more of a writer. I would have expected a renowned writer to be familiar with the history of national uprisings: They cannot be put down forcibly. Despite all the destructive force we used in this war, I still can't see how the Palestinians have been influenced; Qassams are still being launched into Israel. They and the world have clearly taken away something else from the last few weeks - that Israel is a dangerous and violent country that lacks scruples. Do you wish to live in a country with such a reputation? A country that proudly announces it has gone "crazy," as some Israeli ministers have said in regard to the army's operation in Gaza? I don't.

You wrote you have always been worried for me because I travel to "such hostile places." These places are less hostile than you think if one goes there armed with nothing but the will to listen. I did not go there to "tell the story of the afflictions of the other side," but to report on our own doings. This has always been the very Israeli basis for my work.

Finally, you ask me to preserve my "moral validity." It isn't my image I wish to protect but that of the country, which is equally dear to us both.

In friendship, despite everything,

LRB on Gaza War

The London Review of Books web site is hosting a Forum on Gaza. It is hardly “balanced” and virtually all the criticism is leveled at Israel and not all of it is legitimate, IMO. Some the “facts” presented are patently false: e.g. “his [Obama’s] chief of staff is an ex-Israeli soldier”

Nevertheless many of the comments are intelligent. Here are some snippets I found insightful or at least thought provoking:

Tariq Ali

A few weeks before the assault on Gaza, the Strategic Studies Institute of the US Army published a levelheaded document on ‘Hamas and Israel’, which argued that ‘Israel’s stance towards the democratically-elected Palestinian government headed by Hamas in 2006, and towards Palestinian national coherence – legal, territorial, political and economic – has been a major obstacle to substantive peacemaking.’ …

The war on Gaza has killed the two-state solution by making it clear to Palestinians that the only acceptable Palestine would have fewer rights than the Bantustans created by apartheid South Africa. The only acceptable alternative is a single state for Jews and Palestinians with equal rights for all. Certainly it seems utopian at the moment …

Even victory has its drawbacks. After the Six-Day War in 1967, Isaac Deutscher warned his one-time friend Ben Gurion: ‘The Germans have summed up their own experience in the bitter phrase “Mann kann sich totseigen!” — you can triumph yourself to death. This is what the Israelis have been doing. They have bitten off much more than they can swallow.’…

David Bromwich

… To judge by the nomination of Hillary Clinton as secretary of state and of Dennis Ross as Middle East envoy, Obama wants to be seen as someone who intends no major change of course. In a televised interview on 11 January, he said he would deal with Israel and Palestine in the manner of the Clinton and Bush administrations. The unhappy message of his recent utterances has been reconciliation without truth; and reconciliation, above all, for Americans. This preference for bringing-together over bringing-to-light is a trait of Obama’s political character we are only now coming to see the extent of. …

Alastair Crooke

‘We have to ask the West a question: when the Israelis bombed the house of Sheikh Nizar Rayan, a Hamas leader, killing him, his wives, his nine children, and killing 19 others who happened to live in adjoining houses – because they saw him as a target – was this terrorism? If the West’s answer is that this was not terrorism, it was self-defence – then we must think to adopt this definition too.’

This was said to me by a leading Islamist in Beirut a few days ago. He was making a point, but behind his rhetorical question plainly lies the deeper issue of what the Gaza violence will signify for mainstream Islamists in the future. …

Yonatan Mendel

It’s very frustrating to see Israeli society recruited so calmly and easily to war. Hardly anyone has dared to mention the connection between the decision to go to war and the fact that we are only a few weeks away from an election. …

I am terribly sad about all this, and frustrated. On the first day of the operation I wrote an article for the Walla News website and within four hours I had received 1600 comments, most calling for my deportation (at best) or immediate execution (at worst). It showed me again how sensitive Israeli society is to any opposition to war. It is shocking how easily this society unites behind yet another military solution, after it has failed so many times. Hizbullah was created in response to Israel’s occupation of Lebanon in 1982. Hamas was created in 1987 in response to two decades of military occupation. What do we think we’ll achieve this time? …

This shows once again how efficient the Israeli propaganda and justification machine is, and how naturally people here believe in myths that have been disproved again and again. If people were saying, ‘We killed 1000 people, but the army is not perfect, and this is war,’ I would say it was a stupid statement. But Israelis are saying: ‘We killed 1000 people, and our army is the most moral army in the world.’ This says a lot about the psychology of the conflict: people are not being told what to think or say; they reach these insights ‘naturally’. …

I have a friend whose brother is a pilot in the IDF. I asked to speak to him. I told him what I thought about Israel’s behaviour and he seemed to agree with my general conclusions. He said, however, that a soldier should not ask himself such questions, which should be kept to the political sphere. I can’t agree. But the second thing he told me was more important. He told me that for pilots, a day like the first day of the war, when so many attacks are being made simultaneously, is a day full of excitement, a day you look forward to. If you take these words into account, and bear in mind that in Israel every man is a soldier, either in uniform or in reserve, there is no avoiding the conclusion that there are great pressures for it to act as a military society. Not acting is damaging to the IDF’s status, budget, masculinity, power and happiness, and not only to the IDF’s. This could explain why in Israel the military option is almost never considered second best. …

Israel's Unilateral Cease Fire Starts
How Long Will It Last?

Israel's unilateral cease fire in Gaza went into effect about 2 hours ago. Israeli troops are still in Gaza. They still surround Gaza City and occupy virtually all the area to the north of the city. If they where doing this while they worked out a longer term deal with Hamas, this might make some sense. But Israel doesn't want a deal with Hamas.

So how long will they stay? Israeli sources say - until Hamas stops shooting. And in the meantime the IDF has been told to return fire if fired upon, and to strike against every rocket launch site.

Does any one expect Hamas to not fire at Israeli soldiers inside Gaza, or to cease it rocket fire without making any gains e.g. open borders to Egypt.

We will see, but I doubt it. Hope I am wrong.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Israel to Sign Ceasefire Deal with Egypt and U.S.
Not with Hamas

That's right. You read the headline correctly.

According to the Jerusalem Post, the Israeli Cabinet will tomorrow decide whether to call a unilateral cease file after signing agreements withe U.S. and Egypt to step up aid in stopping Hamas arms smuggling into Gaza. According to the Post, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert prefers not sign any deal with Hamas so as not give it legitimacy.


1) Isn't this partly how we got into this mess to begin with? - by unilaterally withdrawing from Gaza without any coordination or any agreements with the PA, because Sharon didn't want to give them legitimacy?

2) If all we wanted was this agreement, why not have stopped the war after two days? Surely we had "taught Hamas a lesson" by then.

3) Is this "refusing to talk to Hamas so as not to give them legitimacy" just like the Arab states, from 1948 through the early 1970s, who refused to talk to Israel so as not give it legitimacy. (Henry Kissinger had to engage in shuttle diplomacy because the Arabs would not meet directly with Israelis. Arab diplomats used to walk out, if an Israeli diplomat entered the room.) The Arabs, of those days, looked petty, spiteful, and self destructively stubborn.

4) Here is the cease fire deal Hamas was proposing and Israel seems to prefer to ignore. It did not even see fit to offer counter proposals.
a. Immediate Reciprocal Cease Fire - to last 1 year with options to renew.
b. Immediate influx of humanitarian aid into Gaza
c. All Isreali troops to exit Gaza within 1 week.
d. Borders at Rafah to open again with joint Egyptian, Turkish, and PA control of the crossing points (letting the PA back in is a significant concession by Hamas)
e. Ending the Israeli embargo of commercial goods on Gaza
5) Wouldn't it be a GOOD thing to get Hamas to sign agreements with Israel. As much as it shows Israel acknowledging Hamas it shows Hamas acknowledging Israel. Isn't one year, at least, of quiet better than the crap shoot Israel's alternate idea will produce. Isn't it better to get Hamas incrementally to agree to deals with Israel. It may become habit forming.

6) The approach the Israeli cabinet is considering does nothing to defuse the situation in Gaza. It does nothing to remove the motivation for confronting Israel. It leaves the embargo in place, and deliberately humiliates the enemy. The cabinet seems to think it can win by force alone.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Victory is Near !!!?

According to today's Jerusalem Post (hardly a bastion of lefty opposition to the Gaza War.)
The military and political setbacks ... have thus far failed to bring Hamas to its knees. Buoyed by the support of the Arab and Muslim street, Hamas appears determined to cling to power regardless of the heavy price.

Although Hamas has been hit hard, not a single Palestinian in the Gaza Strip has raised his voice against the movement and its leaders. Hopes that the massive IDF operation would encourage Palestinians to revolt against a weakened Hamas have not materialized.

If anything, many Palestinians agree, the Israeli offensive has actually boosted Hamas's popularity and undermined the so-called moderates in the Arab world.
So is peace nearer of farther as a result of this war? Should Israel continue to refuse to talk to Hamas, or should it finally bite the bullet and talk to the people who hold de-facto power in Gaza?

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Ken Yirbu - may there be many more like this

A group of Jews, Muslims, and Christians leaders in Boston have come together to sign a petition calling on both Israel and Hamas to cease fire and negotiate. The statement says (in part):

We, members and leaders of the Muslim, Jewish, and Christian communities in Greater Boston ... are anguished by the events unfolding in Israel and Gaza. Recognizing the legitimate needs of all peoples, including all those living in the Middle East, for dignity, peace, safety and security --regardless of religion, race, or national origin -- we issue this joint statement...

As guiding principles, ...

We observe that violence by any side begets more violence, hatred, and retaliation

We deplore any invocation of religion as a justification for violence against others, or the deprivation of the rights of others ...

We believe the conflict can be resolved only through a political and diplomatic solution and not a military one. ...

We call upon the United States and the international community immediately to intercede to help reestablish a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas, toward the goal of a permanent cessation of hostilities

We call upon Hamas immediately to end all rocket attacks on Israel, and upon Israel immediately to end its military campaign in Gaza ...

We call for lifting of the blockade on Gaza as to all non-military goods, for an immediate and significant increase in humanitarian aid to address the needs of the people of Gaza, and for all parties involved to join in taking responsibility to address those human needs ...

Through this joint statement we affirm our commitment to engage with one another, even, and especially, during times of great stress. We also affirm our common humanity and our common belief - as Jews, Muslims and Christians - that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict must cease, that there is no military or violent solution, that all human life is valued, and that all parties must cooperate to make the peace - a just and lasting peace desperately needed and deserved by all the peoples of the region.

See the full text of the petition and the list of signatories, and sign up yourself, at

Tit for Tat

Just moments after I published my previous posting, which mentions Israel's use of white phosphorous munitions, I came across this on ynet:

One of the mortar shells fired from northern Gaza at the Eshkol Regional Council Tuesday contained white phosphorus.

The council's security chief, Nikki Levy, said that "the potential danger of using such a rocket is enormous. It is far more dangerous than other Qassam rockets and mortal shells. This is an escalation in the type of explosives the Palestinians use on civilians."

This is indeed bad news. But an escalation ! Israel has been using white phosphorous in Gaza since at least Jan 3.

How Israel Loses Even While It Wins

Israel's disregard for Gaza'a civilians is not only immoral, it is against its own best interests.

In the end this war is all about deterrence: making the enemy think twice about attacking Israel, knowing how fierce Israel's retaliation will be. Ehud Barak has admitted that this - not removing Hamas' military capabilities - is the real goal. According to Haaretz,
Barak believes Operation Cast Lead has achieved its main objectives, first and foremost bolstering Israel's deterrent power.
(Ironically, it now appears to be the political level, headed by Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, arguing to "let the IDF win": i.e. totally destroy Hamas.) Barak's position is, in fact, long standing IDF doctrine, dating back to Ariel Sharon's command of unit 101 in the early 1950s. "For every Israeli civilian killed we will kill 10 Arab civilians," was its unofficial motto, as it undertook reprisal raids against "fedayeen" raiders into Israel from, then Egyptian controlled, Gaza. The policy didn't work then, and it won't work now - even if the IDF has now upped the us to them ratio to somthing approaching to 1 to 100.

The reason is not that there is no deterrence effect. Certainly some people are deterred, and the Hamas leadership will think twice and plan more carefully in the future. But there is a countervailing effect as well: an increase in bitterness, hatred of Israel that motivates, and a hopelessness and dispair that leads to an "I no longer care if I die" attitude. Over the 60+ years of Israel/Palestine conflict this Palestinian bitterness has overcome the deterrence effect every time. As long as Israel continues to sow bitterness, all its deterrent power will do it no good.

This was brought home in the following story from the New York Times. Commenting on the fact that an estimates 100,000 Gazan's have now fled there homes, the Time writes:

Palestinians interviewed in Gaza on Monday cited another reason for their flight: Israel soldiers, they said, are firing rounds of a noxious substance that burns skin and makes it hard to breathe.

A resident of southwest Gaza City on Monday showed a reporter a piece of metal casing with the identifying number M825A1, which Marc Garlasco, a military analyst with Human Rights Watch, identified as white phosphorus, typically used for signaling, smoke screens and destroying enemy equipment.

In recent years, experts and rights advocates have argued over whether its use to intentionally harm people violates international conventions.

[IDF] Major Dallal would not say whether Israel was using white phosphorus, but said, “The munitions we use are consistent with international law.”

Still, white phosphorus can cause injury, and a growing number of Gazans report being hurt by it, including in Beit Lahiya, Khan Yunis, and in eastern and southwestern Gaza City. When exposed to air, it ignites, experts say, and if packed into an artillery shell, it can rain down flaming chemicals that cling to anything they touch.

Luay Suboh, 10, from Beit Lahiya, lost his eyesight and some skin on his face Saturday when, his mother said, a fiery substance clung to him as he darted home from a shelter where his family was staying to pick up clothes.

The substance smelled like burned trash, said Ms. Jaawanah, the mother who fled her home in Zeitoun, who had experienced it too. She had no affection for Hamas, but her sufferings were changing that. “Do you think I’m against them firing rockets now?” she asked, referring to Hamas. “No. I was against it before. Not anymore.”

That last line explains all you need to know about why Israel's current "deterrent" policy is self defeating.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Israel in Gaza: Unjustifiable Tactics ...

While Israeli spokespersons may claim they care about Palestinian civilians:
Israeli officials say that they are obeying the rules of war and trying hard not to hurt noncombatants but that Hamas is using civilians as human shields in the expectation that Israel will try to avoid killing them.
(New York Times, 11 Jan. 2009)
In fact, they don't really seem to care about Gaza's civilian casualties at all, beyond the negative publicity they cause.

The same New York Time Article states:
The most important strategic decision the Israelis have made so far, according to senior military officers and analysts, is to approach their incursion as a war, not a police operation.

Civilians are warned by leaflets, loudspeakers and telephone calls to evacuate battle areas. But troops are instructed to protect themselves first and civilians second.

Officers say that means Israeli infantry units are going in “heavy.” If they draw fire, they return it with heavy firepower. If they are told to reach an objective, they first call in artillery or airpower and use tank fire. Then they move, but only behind tanks and armored bulldozers, riding in armored personnel carriers, spending as little time in the open as possible.

As the commander of the army’s elite combat engineering unit, Yahalom, told the Israeli press on Wednesday: “We are very violent. We do not balk at any means to protect the lives of our soldiers.”

... Today, he said, “the mind-set from top to bottom is fight and fight cruel; this is a war, not another pinpoint operation.”
Again yesterday, Israel dropped leaflets telling Gazans that Israel is about to increase its offensive, and that civilians should take steps to protect themselves. But how do you protect yourself, when you live in a city that is surrounded. Where do you run to?

In contrast, Jewish law and ethics, demands that you protect civilians, even if it negatively impacts your military goals.

The following was originally published, last May, in the London Jewish Chronicle.
Hardly a day has gone by in recent years when Kassam rockets and mortar shells launched by militants in Gaza have not landed on the Western Negev. Inevitably, Israel’s military response has provoked controversy in the wider world because of civilian casualties. Israel counters that it is not always possible to protect civilians when returning fire in densely populated areas like Gaza.

But should Israel be worried about protecting them at all? Some rabbis do not believe so. The Yesha Rabbinical Council, the settler umbrella organisation, recently ruled that it was permitted to return indiscriminate fire on Palestinian civilian areas whence an attack had been launched. In 2006, under the leadership of Rabbi Dov Lior, the council issued an even sterner ruling. It stated that there is no such thing as a civilian in warfare, and that such a view was attributable to the influence of so-called “Christian morality”.

However, there exists a halachic tradition that offers a radically different approach to civilians in war. In his book Laws of Kings and Wars, Maimonides codifies the religious obligations pertaining to the siege of a city. A siege, he writes, should not surround the city on all four sides, but only on three, allowing an escape path for anyone who wishes to save his life (Mishneh Torah, Hilchot Melachim 6:7). It is an opinion that the Rambam bases on a Talmudic reading of the Israelite war against Midian.

A law requiring besiegers to leave open the fourth side of a city flies in the face of military logic. After all, a city besieged on three sides is not really besieged. Allowing open passage could aid the escape of civilians, but it could also facilitate the passage of supplies and weapons into the city. Gaza is a case in point. Unsurprisingly, it is an approach that stands in marked contrast to siege warfare as practised throughout European history.

So why take the risk? Nachmanides, in his commentary on the Book of Commandments (Hasagot Haramban L’sefer Hamitzvot, positive commandment 5), explains: “God commanded us that when we lay siege to a city, we leave one of the sides without a siege so as to give them a place through which to flee. It is from this commandment that we learn to deal with compassion even with our enemies, even at a time of war.”

When the fourth Chief Rabbi of Israel, the late Rabbi Shlomo Goren, was asked whether this law would not aid the armament of terrorists, he defended it, saying: “We do not understand the secrets of God” — in other words, the God who gave the law will save us. Our concern should be to act ethically and in accordance with the commandments.

Aharon Barak, the former president of the Israeli Supreme Court, argued in a similar vein in an influential legal opinion in 1999. He stated: “This is the destiny of a democracy — it does not see all means as acceptable, and the ways of its enemies are not always open before it. A democracy must sometimes fight with one hand tied behind its back. Even so, a democracy has the upper hand.”

On this view, the purpose of the halachah is to teach us to remain sensitive to the value of human life. Military strength must be balanced with a concern for the human cost. The law makes it clear that there are two types of individuals in war: civilians and combatants. These two populations must be separated before the onset of battle. Protection must be offered to civilians and restrictions must be placed on the military in the event that civilians are unable to escape. And it states unequivocally that this protection of civilians is a religious obligation.
Intriguingly, a biblical story makes a similar point. It concerns Abraham’s confrontation with the four kings. Lot, Abraham’s nephew, has been taken captive and Abraham launches a military campaign to free him. Abraham is victorious, yet after the fighting, God tells him: “Fear not, Abraham” (Genesis 15:1). This is somewhat puzzling. Surely the time to be afraid would have been before or during the battle. Why be afraid after the battle is over?

The following midrash makes a striking suggestion: Abraham was afraid he might have caused the deaths of innocent people. “Abraham was filled with misgiving, thinking to himself, ‘Maybe there was a righteous or God-fearing man among those troops whom I slew’” (Bereishit Rabbah 44:4).

From the outset, our tradition makes it clear that military strength, while necessary, is not sufficient. Abraham was courageous in going to war to free his nephew from captivity. Yet courage is not the only value. Our tradition also attributes to Abraham moral concern regarding the harming of civilians in the midst of that war.
We read in Proverbs: “Praiseworthy is the one who is always afraid” (28:14). How can it be praiseworthy to be fearful? Again, a midrashic commentary suggests a possible explanation: “This refers to Abraham, who was worried lest he had caused the deaths of innocent people in battle” (Tanchuma Lech Lecha 19).

As Israel continues to negotiate the difficult road ahead, we should take strength from Abraham’s courage. However, we should also be guided by Abraham’s imperative not to harm the innocent among the enemy. It is an imperative that forms the nucleus of an ethic codified in our law and authentically grounded in the Jewish tradition.
Too bad that, today, anyone who today takes such a position, is branded, by the majority, as a fryer (a sucker), or a bogen (traitor.) An exception to this is the Israeli paper Ha'aretz. In today's editorial it writes:
Around two weeks after the start of fighting in Gaza, there are only vague reports on Israel's success in damaging Hamas' terrorist infrastructure. On the other hand, statistics on the harm done to civilians accumulate. More than 800 Palestinians have been killed and around 3,000 have been wounded, an overwhelming majority of them from air strikes. According to UN figures, half of those killed are civilians, and half of the civilians killed are women and children.

Alongside reports on the number of dead and injured are reports of doctors being denied entry, the inability of aid groups to reach refugees and give them food, and a serious shortage of medicine and supplies. Blame does not rest with the Israel Defense Forces for all these issues. Hamas and other Palestinian organizations deliberately fired at a food convoy heading to Gaza because it sought to enter the Strip through a different crossing than what Hamas had desired. Hamas also liquidates its adversaries at home and is not ready to adopt the Egyptian cease-fire initiative. But these cannot serve as a pretext for a cruel, all-out war against 1.5 million Palestinian civilians.

Yesterday Israel announced, by dropping leaflets into densely populated areas in Gaza, that it plans to escalate its military operation. This stirs concerns that, similar to what occurred during the Second Lebanon War, the reason for going to war has been forgotten and replaced by an unrealistic desire to topple the Hamas regime in the Strip. If a few years ago the public cried out in protest over the bombing of a home in Gaza and the statement by former pilot and chief of staff Dan Halutz, who said he felt a "slight shudder on the wing" when he bombed a house, today it responds indifferently, even satisfactorily, to the harming of Palestinians.

The lessons of previous wars, during which the IDF destroyed infrastructure targets and the homes of civilians but did not gain the quiet it had sought, have not been internalized. Israel's justified rationale in acting against rocket launchers has been increasingly damaged over two weeks. The legitimacy and understanding extended to Israel melt away amid the pictures of killing and ruin. Accusations of war crimes are already being bandied about in Israel. This war needs to move immediately to the diplomatic track and agreements that will end the fantasies and delusions of both sides.

... and Bad Strategy

Once the war starts, there are few good tactics. What is needed is a political/strategic approach that avoids the war to begin with. One that leads to longer term quiet. On that provides gains for both sides.

Israeli commentator Haim Baram, writing in the Israeli weekly Ha'ir, puts it well:

We (the Left) are always asked for answers to situations that were deliberately brought about by the Establishment's policies that are diametrically opposed to our own. We cannot deny that the Kassams on the development towns and the areas near Gaza are an intolerable situation, nor that we emotionally identify with our citizens in the South. But we have always recommended a different policy, a policy that entailed a constant struggle with those elements in the country who prefer territorial expansion in the Occupied Territories, anti-Arab racism, mixed up with real and imagined security anxieties, to peace.

What is needed is a strategic, and not just a tactical, structural change in Israel's thinking – but there is no leader who is able or willing to lead such a change.

The steps that we should have taken in the past – and, in my opinion, we can still take are as follows. First, in the declarative sphere: Israel must recognize the results of the PA elections, and to declare its willingess to negotiate with any responsible element in Palestine which is prepared for dialogue. It must emphasize that in the middle and long run it has no intention to hold any territory whatsoever that it captured in the 67 War. In exchange for these declarations, Israel will demand of Hamas to cease immediately the rocket fire from the Gaza strip, and the terrorist activities with Israel. Both side will agree to station European forces on the border.

The Israeli government should involve the Europeans more in both the Palestinian and Syrian tracks, and ask the Obama administration to suggest new ways to break the impasse in negotiations and to support the Obama's policy of engagement with Iran. A negotiated peace with Syria, a durable cease-fire with Hizbollah, and a statement against the Islamaphobic "clash of civilizations" mentality, will help improve relations not only between israel and and Islamic countries, but between Jews and Muslims throughout the world

It is almost unnecessary to say that this change will lead to opening the Gaza border, supplies of food for its inhabitants, the renewal of movement between the West Bank and Gaza, and Israeli aid for development of health and educational institutions. All of these steps will improve Israel's image in the world, reduce the bloodshed, and will alleviate the burders of the Israeli inhabitants in the South….

Those who read the above and dismiss it as hopelessly utopian have nothing to offer in its stead -- except further bombing, disastrous ground operations, the intensifying of hatred on both sides, and a complete end to the process of dialogue with the Palestinians and the Syrians.

There is no serious element in the Chavinistic Center [Baram's favorite description of Likud, Kadima, Labor, and elements of Meretz -JH] that can offer any alternative plan, to what I have advocated here…

But, since there is no chance that the Israeli voters will choose to talk with Hamas, and it is reasonable to assume that the political arena will move even further to the right in the coming months, we [on the left] can do nothing but to grit our teeth and say the truth as we see it
-found on The Magnes Zionist

Friday, January 09, 2009

Rumi, On War and Conflict

- found at

Move beyond any attachment to names.
Every war and every conflict
between human beings
has happened because of some disagreement
about names.
It’s such an unnecessary foolishness,
because just beyond the arguing
there’s a long table of companionship,
set and waiting for us to sit down.
What is praised is one, so the praise is
one too,
many jugs being poured into a huge
All religions, all this singing, one song.
The differences are just illusion and
Sunlight looks slightly different on this
wall than it does on that wall.
and a lot different on this other one,
but it is still one light.
We have borrowed these clothes,
these time-and-space personalities,
from a light,
and when we praise,
we pour them back in.

Video of Anti War Protest - Tel Aviv

- found on . thanks for the posting!

Call to protest: Oppose warmongers and haters on both sides

Sadly, only in New York - so far.

I wish to propose a third way: A counterdemonstration to both the pro-Israel and pro-Palestinian demonstrations. That is, I wish to propose a pro-peace demonstration.

I invite individuals who favor an immediate ceasefire, oppose the occupation, support the two state solution, and who believe in the rights of both Israelis and Palestinians to live in peace and security to join in action against those who justify violence and hatred on either side, and against those who claim a monopoly on representing our voices in this matter.

I wish to see not just a contingent waving Israeli flags and another waving Palestinian flags, but also a contingent waving Israeli and Palestinian flags together, carrying peace signs and banners with slogans like, “Fighting for peace is like f*cking for virginity” and “Peace cannot be achieved militarily.”

See more here.

Israel Ignores The Ladder It Has Been Handed

The Israeli cabinet announced this morning, despite the UN resolution calling for a ceasefire, that the IDFs offensive in Gaza will continue.

"The State of Israel has a right to defend its citizens, and therefore the IDF will continue to operate (in Gaza) in order to complete its mission, which is to bring about a change in the security situation in south Israel in accordance with plans that had been approved prior to the launching of the offensive."

What those plans are, and what the goals of this war are no one seems to know.

From a military point of view there is always the temptation to take one more hill, destroy one more arms cache, kill one more enemy combatant. Short of total victory and unconditional surrender, there will never be a reason to stop.

Politically Israel can only lose (more) by continuing. The UN gave Israel a ladder with which to climb down from its high horse. It could stop the fighting, claiming to be acceding to the international will, and then demand that the international community put its money where its mouth is and help stabilize Gaza.

Instead it will continue another few days or weeks. It will, indeed, destroy a few more weapons and kill a few more Hamas operatives, but it will also kill many more civilians, increase the bitterness and anger of the Palestinians (manna for Hamas), and increase anti-Israel public opinion around the world - even American public support for Israel is beginning to wain, and lose a few more of its one soldiers both dead and wounded. And when Isreal does cease fire and withdraw, it will allow Hamas to say it fought Israel to a draw, and simply by surviving, forced Israel to retreat.

Better to stop the war now.

But the Israeli leadership still thinks it can win by force alone. After decades of conflict that have learned nothing.

A Death In Gaza

I just received this email from my daughter Yona.

She is reacting to an email she received from a friend. Yona has worked the past few years as an international development worker in Thailand and Indonesia. The reference in the first line is to a friend of hers, a Canadian aid worker, killed in Afghanistan.

Yona had sent this email to a group of friends and relatives.

* * *

Hi everyone, I'm sorry; I wasn't going to post this, because it's so sad, and brings back many memories of my own friend who was killed in Kabul this year. But maybe that's all the more reason to post it. One of the workers for CARE's food distribution program, Mohammed Al-Samouni, was killed on Monday in an attack that killed most of his extended family. His ten-month-old son was seriously injured - he died in hospital. Mohammed's wife is pregnant, and now has nowhere to live with her surviving children. I never met Mohammed, but my colleague in Gaza tells me he was a very kind, giving person. When Mohammed died, he was trying to help his neighbours, whose house had just been bombed. The last time my colleague saw him, Mohammed brought bread for his family. Nobody has anything in Gaza right now, and Mohammed shared his bread. Such a small, but poignant act of human kindness, in the midst of such chaos. And now Mohammed, and his baby son, are dead.

To anyone and everyone working to make the world a better place, please keep doing what you're doing. Anything. It's the only thing that keeps us human.

Press release

Worker for CARE's food distribution project killed in Gaza
CARE condemns the killing of civilians

Gaza, Occupied Palestinian Territories (Jan. 7, 2009) – CARE International is mourning the loss of a worker for CARE's food distribution project in Gaza, who was killed Monday in an aerial bombing. Mohammed Ibrahim Samouni, a father of six, was killed and his son was critically injured.

"Gaza is one of the most densely populated areas in the world. Borders are closed and there is nowhere safe for civilians to flee. This is further evidence that any attack, even a targeted one, will result in civilian casualties," said Martha Myers, CARE's Country Director in West Bank and Gaza. "Mohammed was dedicated to providing aid to Palestinians, who are becoming more and more desperate as each day of attacks go by."

"Our sincere condolences go out to Mohammed's family. We hope that his son will recover from his injuries, but no child will ever fully recover from the loss of his father. This is further evidence of the terrible toll Palestinian families are paying for this war."

Samouni worked at one of the packing stations managed by CARE's partner, General Union of Palestinian Peasants, on CARE's Gaza Fresh Food Project, funded by the European Commission Humanitarian Aid Office (ECHO). The project delivers fresh fruit and vegetables to 60,000 people, hospitals and orphanages a week. Since the attacks started Dec. 27, CARE has only been able to deliver food twice. The people who normally receive distributions from CARE have no other source of fresh food. Farmers who provide the produce cannot tend their fields for fear of attack, and the bombs have destroyed farmland. Sewage mains have been damaged, causing raw sewage to contaminate crops, posing a further health risk for Palestinians.

"People are running out of food," said Myers. "Food distributions cannot continue because of the bombings. And the very people who are trying to deliver aid – paramedics, and now a worker for CARE's distribution project – are being killed. The killing of civilians is unacceptable. CARE calls for an immediate, permanent ceasefire, from all parties. For the sake of the families of Israel and Palestine, this war cannot continue."

About CARE: CARE is one of the world's largest humanitarian aid agencies, providing assistance in nearly 70 countries. CARE has been working in Israel, West Bank and Gaza since 1948, implementing programs in food security, health and water, support for civil society groups, and distributions of fresh food. Since the Israeli attacks started Dec. 27, CARE has distributed fresh food, medical supplies, heaters, blankets and plastic sheeting to hospitals, families and feeding centres in Gaza.

Media contacts:
Juliette Seibold (in Jerusalem), +972.547797730,
Melanie Brooks (in Geneva), +41.795903047, brooks@careinternational.o

* * *

This is the story of one death. Have been 760 dead in Gaza this past two weeks. Aproxiamtely 50% are civilians.