Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Comments on "Letter To Obama" and My Response

Sent 26.Nov.2008

Having read my letter to Obama, a good friend sent me some comments, to which I also responded.

"..........I agree with you and others that the only solution is a two-state solution. But stating this solution is easy. Knowing what the solution is, is not difficult! The difficulty is in establishing the trust on both sides to enable each side to gamble on the vey many steps that must be taken by each to approach and achieve the two-state solution. Despite your own laudable individual activities to bring about better understanding with the people of a small town in the West Bank and even taken together with similar activities of other like minded persons, your and their activities are just that; activities taken by individuals. I imagine you feel that if only the peoples could act, as opposed to the governments acting, we would be closer to a solution. But the reality, through my eyes, is that agreements between national entities are made by governments, not by individuals. There is nothing that I know of (I am open to being enlightened) which suggests to me that the PLA is interested in a two state solution. I think that it has yet to unequivocally and publicly repudiate its stated goal of destroying Israel. I think they have yet to do much to curtail terrorist attacks against Israel. I think that through the tunnels connecting Gaza and Egypt, Hamas, the democratically elected government of the Arabs of Gaza and the West Bank are preparing to inflict great damage on Israel, not to mention the recently resumed rocket fire. I believe that if they had the power, the West Bank and Gazan Arabs would slaughter the Jews of Israel. I believe the only thing not allowing this is the power of Israel and the presence pf the IDF in the West Bank and around Gaza.

I am dismayed that you, like so many others, call on (Barack to call on) Israel alone to do this or do that or to stop this and stop that with no mention of any actions that the PLA should take. A lot of Palestinian and Lebanese terrorists and other riminals have been freed from Israeli jails; for what? How about asking for some gestures of good will from them. Why don't you also call on President Obama to call on the PLA to free Gilad Shalit instead of their using his as a pawn to blackmail Israel; to stop its indiscriminate rocketing of Sderot, Ashkelon (The separation of Gaza and the West Bank works very well for Abu Mazen, don't you think?); to allow the IDF to leave the West Bank by fulfilling their responsibility to curtail terrorists and the terrorist infrastructure. I know, it's Israel's fault that they aren't able to do this. What other government has ever given arms to a hostile government to build its internal security forces, even when that hostile government has a stated goal of its destruction; to clearly, unequivocally, and publicly in English, Arabic, and Hebrew repudiate the stated goals of the destruction of Israel and the establishment of an Arab State in all of Palestine; to re-write the public educational texts and change the everyday television programs which villify Israel (That's no way to prepare a people for a two-state solution, is it?); to change the Friday afternoon sermons of hate into messages of reconciliation and cooperation. Couldn't you have asked Barack for even one of these?

I do hope that President Obama pressures Israel to stop settlement expansion in the West Bank, but I hope this is done in a context which also requires steps by the PLA, some of which, I have mentioned above......."

..............I’ll spend the rest of this letter commenting on the “political” portion of your letter.This may be overly long-winded, but please bear with me. I fully respect your objections to my letter to Obama and feel that they deserve total attention and an attempt at a response. Being your letter is packed with statements (I think you know how to shorten things better than I) I’ve tried here to comment on those that seemed most provocative to me. So here goes:

You wrote“I imagine you feel that if only the peoples could act, as opposed to the governments acting, we would be closer to a solution. But the reality, through my eyes, is that agreements between national entities are made by governments, not by individuals.”Let’s not mix up between two things: what an individual can and should do vis-à-vis what a government should do. For example: Minimizing “poverty” within a country can only be done by government goals, policies and budgets. Volunteer work at a soup-kitchen will not solve the problem of poverty. That’s not a reason not to volunteer or support the help given by the soup-kitchen. (certainly so in an atmosphere where government policies only widen the gap between poor and rich.) of course soup kitchens at their best will never replace the work needed to be done by a government.
How well I know that my own (and a few others) involvement – very low keyed and sparse – with the farmers in the West Bank will leave hardly an imprint on the policies of our governments. Here and there we are a thorn in the system (a very slight pain in the ass), but non-consequential policy-wise.

My involvement is a result of two situations. One: the tremendous de-facto policy support given by all of our governments over the past three decades (and more) to the expansion and legalization of settlements on conquered lands. Second: the support (mainly by silence and turning away heads) given by our army and government to the daily illegal and immoral acts of our “legalized” settlers and settlements upon their Palestinian neighbors.

You write: “I am dismayed that you, like so many others, call on (Barack to call on) Israel alone to do this or do that or to stop this and stop that…”Wrong. I call on Barack to help in one thing alone……..convincing us of the urgent need to stop expansion of settlements in the west bank and getting our settlers out of land which is not ours. Without this there is no way that any call to the Palestinians “to do this or do that or to stop this and stop that…” can have any avail. To date, each time we promise to at least “freeze” the settlements, we have allowed unperturbed expansion. So long as “freeze” equals “expansion” we are doing nothing to lessen the “The difficulty….in establishing the trust on both sides to enable each side to gamble on the very many steps that must be taken”.

“There is nothing that I know of (I am open to being enlightened) which suggests to me that the PLA is interested in a two state solution. I think that it has yet to unequivocally and publicly repudiate its stated goal of destroying Israel.”This month marks the 20th anniversary of the adoption of a two state solution by the PLO and the public repudiation of the stated goal of destroying Israel……..which also led to the Oslo agreements. Ever since then even the Likud Governments and other right-wing parties have stopped asking for public repudiation (as you ask for in your letter). The public repudiation is now being asked of the Hamas in Gaza, not of the leadership in the West Bank. (I leave aside for now the varying levels of trust in public pronouncements.)

It is instructional and proper that all of your direct references to “that hostile government” which has a stated goal of the destruction of Israel, refer to actions by the Hamas government of Gaza (tunnels connecting Gaza and Egypt, rockets on Sderot and Ashkelon, Gilad Shalit). Yet you try not to differentiate between the situation in the west bank and that in Gaza as far as having some type of leadership willing to talk with us on the basis of a two state solution. Of course just as in Gaza we aided in the destruction of those willing to talk with us, we are on the road to doing something similar in the West Bank by constantly promising to remove the most criminal of the illegal settlements, while doing hardly anything of the sort.

"(The separation of Gaza and the West Bank works very well for Abu Mazen, don't you think?)"
Yes, I do think so. It can also work very well for us. But as we did our best to undermine his infrastructure in Gaza, we are on the road to do so in the west bank as well. If we thus succeed, we can be sure to see a Hamas win in the west bank as well, and there probably is not much time left.

You ask that I “call on President Obama to call on the PLA….. to allow the IDF to leave the West Bank by fulfilling their responsibility to curtail terrorists and the terrorist infrastructure”.As mentioned earlier I didn’t call on Obama to influence the IDF to leave the West Bank. We can leave the West bank only when we have a fairly viable agreement for a two state solution. The occupation, in and of itself, is not an obstruction to an agreement. Phasing out the military occupation is the carrot we have to offer in any negotiation. And by the way…..yes, there is a lot of joint work done by the Palestinian police and the IDF in locating terrorists. At least this is what we’ve been shown on Israeli TV. Of course, if getting to an agreement turns out to be a dead-end street, tables will be turned, Hamas will take over the streets, and the third intifada will have begun. So far, our settlement policy is assuring a dead-end street. Ergo, my call regarding settlements.

“Why don't you also call on President Obama to call on the PLA ………to re-write the public educational texts and change the everyday television programs which villify Israel (That's no way to prepare a people for a two-state solution, is it?); to change the Friday afternoon sermons of hate into messages of reconciliation and cooperation. Couldn't you have asked Barack for even one of these?”, etc…..
I sense that out of your objection to what I did ask the President-elect you have over-reacted regarding things which were not included in my letter. Please understand, we have been asking for all those things constantly, and justifiably so, during every American mediation effort that has come our way, though we full well know that these will not change much until a successful mediation. My call to the President-elect was to add to our mediation wish-list also the one item which our government does not ask of the mediation: help us to help ourselves in getting our settlers out of land not theirs, because we are evidently unable (or unwilling) to do this on our own.

“I believe that if they had the power, the West Bank and Gazan Arabs would slaughter the Jews of Israel. I believe the only thing not allowing this is the power of Israel and the presence of the IDF in the West Bank and around Gaza.”
I agree with you so, so much. For that reason I thought it wrong of Sharon to vacate Tzahal from Gaza (along with so many other things Sharon was wrong on throughout his public life). Nor can we pull Tzahal out of the West Bank. My letter to Obama made no mention of anything of the sort.(read again perhaps). I have always seen the conquered territories as our hostages, with our ransom demand being a non-belligerent relationship with our Arab neighbors fortified by a variety of guarantees. I repeat - my call to the president-elect was to add to our mediation wish-list the one item which our government does not ask of the mediation: help us to help ourselves in getting our settlers out of land not theirs, because we are evidently unable (or unwilling) to do this on our own.

Please understand the damaging results of our settlement policy:

1. we are stealing lands belonging to private arab owners.

2. we have made our soldiers the guardians of people who have stolen lands, brutally harassed the original owners, and see their theft and the entire conquered lands as a permanent extension of the State of Israel.

3. With so much of our army deployed to protect our settlers, we have turned much of our training into that of a police force rather than training for the probable eventuality of some terrible wars that are still ahead of us. (Our Second Lebanon War was a good example of police training needing to cope with bringing a war into enemy territory. What a military disaster!)

4. Our soldiers are returning home having learned that you can shoot children throwing stones if they are Arab, but look away when settlers they are guarding have their children throw stones, or if settlers attack Arab farmers trying to work their fields. These are moral lessons brought back home after the army tour is over. They are wrong moral lessons, and they have spread and grown.

5. protecting our settlers, building them roads and other infrastructure, grants and favorable deals for moving to the conquered areas – all these have drained enormous funds from infrastructure, education, welfare and more within the State of Israel. (I can expand on the nose-dive each of these has taken, but some other time.)

6. So long as we have settlers and expanding settlements in the conquered lands, there is no way of holding these lands as ransom for better days when we can reach some kind of modus Vivendi for a two state solution living non-belligerently next to each other. The settlements are a constant living physical proof to the Palestinians that we have absolutely no intention of giving up the occupied lands in lieu of some type of agreement.

7. the continued expansion and natural growth of settlements in the West Bank will eventually be so heavy in population numbers so as to make it impossible to exit our settlers (many say that we have already passed the point of no return.) At that stage a two-state solution will no longer be an option. The only democratic option that will be left is to incorporate the West Bank into the State of Israel (the talk is already there – among arabs!). We will then hold the Palestinians in guarded enclaves or make them Israeli citizens (as we did on the Golan and in Eastern Jerusalem). With the second option, We can say goodby to a “Jewish State”. Being a Zionist, I prefer our country unilaterally pulling out our Jewish settlers from all occupied lands – now, before its too late.

I was always disturbed by stories coming out of the occupied lands regarding the behavior of our Jewish settlers towards the local Palestinians and the lax attitude of our army towards the actions of the settlers they are guarding. I assumed that part of the hype was also manufactured as some political tactic. I was wrong. These past few years I’ve taken the time to be among the olive groves of towns near Shchem. I’ve walked the streets and hills of Hevron and I’ve visited the sparse landscape of the cave dwellers south of Hevron. Being there and seeing convinced me that your justified request of the Palestinians “to change the Friday afternoon sermons of hate into messages of reconciliation and cooperation” must also be requested of the community of Jewish settlers that encourage their children to hate and harass their Arab neighbors while they themselves either commit or turn a blind eye to criminal acts committed towards their Arab neighbors. And don’t turn to me saying “yes, but that’s how the Arabs would act towards our Jews (and much worse) if we gave them the chance”. I yearn for our moral code to be different and so much higher and better than that which you may think is theirs.

I realize these words don’t answer all your objections, nor will I attempt to comment line by line, but please realize that my concern for the plight of the Palestinians is perhaps secondary. My main concern is what our settlement policy is doing to us as a people and where I fear it brings us to in the future.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Another Response to my "Letter to Obama"

Sent 13.Nov.2008
In response to reading the message I wrote to Obama on his website, a friend wrote me the following comments, and I thought it important to reply. I also thought you too may be interested in our correspondence.
So here it is:

To Aaron
You cannot begin to imagine how toxic the environment is in the Jewish community; anyone from Israel with your views would be booed off a speaker's platform here in San Francisco and elsewhere.

With rare exceptions, and mostly in private, it is impossible in the American Jewish community to express sentiments one used to be able to find on a daily basis in Ha'aretz. The experience following the pullout from Gaza has, unfortunately, provided an extremely strong argument against the efficacy of reaching any kind of accommodation with the Palestinians, one that is not easily refuted. And so, if you have any time, or the inclination, I'd be interested in your response to those who say that the lesson of Gaza is not to yield an inch. My own inadequate response is that increasing the frustrations of an entire people is what got us to this juncture and that pursuit of an expansionist agenda can only lead to disaster.
My attempt at a response:

Hello ------,
Thanks for your comments on the message to Obama and your appraisals of sentiments in our American Jewish community. Yes, I am also aware of the simplistic backlash as a result of the Gaza pullout. A response to that backlash is not simple. Just as destroying something is simpler and quicker than building something. A response to the simplistic backlash needs listeners with patience to listen. We seldom find them.

What you call your “inadequate response” seems to be fairly adequate, but I understand your frustration. I too am frustrated by the fact that we can’t convince our people that what is happening is not right, not good, not moral, and not helping us in the long run. We live in a complex world both macro and micro. We are on the front line of a conflict between Western and Moslem civilizations. We are also a people grappling between an older opportunistic and humanistic Zionism and a newer neo-Zionizm drenched in messianic and jingoistic aspirations. We also have very real enemies (in both macro and micro) who would enjoy seeing us disappear from the Middle East.

Obviously none of us has all the answers and a good bit of where we stand on the issues depends on the chemical composition of our conscience. That’s probably the best we can ever do. Nevertheless, I think there are some conclusions which may help influence (sometimes) the thinking of others.

First some comments on Gaza:
1. The Israeli Left (see: Yosi Beilin) did its best to warn that leaving Gaza unilaterally without coming to an agreement with the Palestinian Authority is a mistake. Unfortunately, no attempt was made by the Sharon Government to reach an agreement. Nevertheless, as Beilin said begrudgingly, Leaving is better than staying.
2. Prior to the withdrawal from Gaza, our Government did its “awful best” to weaken the Fatah led Palestinian Authority, both before and after Arafat’s death. We succeeded immensely, and brought on the Hamas domination of Gaza (and its influential inroads into the West Bank as well).
3. The main obstruction to an agreement with the Palestinians is not the occupation itself. The military occupation (fazing it out) is the carrot we would be able to offer in any negotiation. The main obstructions are the settlements, both illegal and pseudo-legal. Their existence and expansion deny us the ability to use the military occupation (fazing it out) as a carrot.
4. In leaving Gaza we pulled out settlements and military supervision both at the same time. (and, of course, after having done an excellent job of weakening the Fatah led Palestinian Authority.) We did not leave the military in place as a negotiating carrot for a (probably gradual) withdrawal.

But the sins of occupation and the crimes of settlements are much more complex, and their effect on the profile of Israeli society runs much deeper than the localized question of Gaza.

We are a nation of soldiers, and our young soldiers return home marred and scarred from their few years in the army. In our army they learn that they are not there simply for the important task of protecting our country, as was (mainly) the task of soldiers who prepared and fought in ’56 and ’67 and ‘73. Today they learn that they are also in the army to protect settlers and settlements that are grabbing lands from an occupied people, and its O.K. ; Today they learn that in order to patrol an occupied people you also need to degrade and debase and humiliate them, and its O.K. too ; today they learn that shooting at children throwing stones is O.K. if they are Arab, not O.K. if they are Jewish, and that too is O.K. ; Today they learn things we once considered immoral and deeds we remember as criminal and this too is O.K.; after 2 or 3 or more years in the army, our young soldiers bring home a set of norms that set the background for the profile of the new Israel; and this has been going on with ever increasing inertia for a number of decades; and this too is O.K. ??

Our soldiers have spent most of their time during the past 40 years learning to police the occupied territories by forcefully controlling the Palestinian populace while heavily protecting the settlers and settlements. The occupation mixed with land-grabbing settlers have turned our army from soldiers to policemen (including Swat Teams and all). From high ranking officers down to the lowly private we have trained a successful police force. But police forces don’t fight wars and are ill trained to bring a battle into foreign enemy territory. We proved this with the operation and results of the Second Lebanese War in 2006. The future holds for us the danger of wars that threaten our existence infinitely more than a hostile Palestinian entity. For that eventuality we need an army of all soldiers trained for 21st century wars, not an efficient police force trained mainly to subdue and control Palestinians while protecting settlers and their settlements. In the long run, the policy of occupation and settlement remains the greatest threat to our future existence.

In 1967, after 6 days of war, I was exhilarated at the outcome. We won. The Western Wall was ours. Sinai and the West Bank were in our hands. I wondered how long it would be before we’d be able to negotiate a “peace for territories” agreement with our enemy neighbors. I hoped for “soon” but knew that it may also be a long time. We had two choices. Either graciously return conquered lands immediately (as we did in ’56) with the hope that our “generosity” would bring our enemies to decide on a peaceful modus-vivendi with us, or else we would hold on to the conquered territories as hostages in return for eventual peace agreements. I never foresaw the third alternative: holding on to the conquered territories with the desire of keeping them and expanding national boundaries.
When the first settlers landed in the West Bank I saw it as a criminal act that when compounded will bring on the demise of a democratic Jewish homeland. Forty years later, alongside so many Israeli and Palestinian corpses, I find a general apathy to the changed norms that have overtaken and rooted all around us. The plight of a subdued people is taken for granted as are traffic accidents. But also our own streets are more violent, our indifference to others misfortune is greater, we are no longer a united people pulling in fairly similar directions, and so many have no directions at all. No, not everything because of the occupation and settlements, but so much time and energy and money are expended on holding on to the territories and settlements that so much less is left for the tasks of molding a nation that is a “light unto the nations”.

O.K., I think I’ve begun to digress into our wider Israeli scenario, and anyways I doubt there will be many willing to listen to this much. Also, I know that all I’ve written has counter arguments that are delivered forcefully and convincingly. As I said earlier, a good bit of where we stand on the issues depends on the chemical composition of our conscience. That’s probably the best we can ever do.

My best wishes,

Monday, November 10, 2008

Letter to Obama

sent 10.Nov.2008
Dear Friends,
Like so many others, I've not yet gotten over the exhilaration of seeing Obama elected President. As an Israeli I also have special hopes regarding a changed American approach to our local conflict. As you may know Obama has a web sight where we can communicate our thoughts and hopes for an American "Change". I sent Obama a message thru this web site, and though I know that some of my friends would disagree with my message, I thought it would be well to share with you the things I wrote.
So here it is:

To our President-elect, Barack Obama
Re: your involvement with us in Israel

I was stunned by your election to the Presidency, and I thank whatever circumstances enabled your election aside from your truly wonderful attributes which make you what you are. I did not think those attributes of excellence would be enough to place you in the driver’s seat…..not in the America I knew.
But you are there……a combination of all that is YOU and circumstances not envisioned when you started on the road to the presidency.

I am a citizen of both the USA and of Israel. I am Jewish. I live in a kibbutz close to the Lebanese border. I am an ardent Zionist and believe in Israel as our Jewish Homeland. My fervent Zionist desire for a democratic Jewish Homeland is the basis for my belief that only a true two-state solution between Israelis and Palestinians can satisfy the desires and the future of our two peoples in the most just and democratic spirit.

A two state solution will never develop as long as we Israelis continue to settle and expand our settlements in the territories we conquered after being unilaterally attacked in the war of 1967. As long as we continue civilian settlement in occupied territory, as long as we continue to find legal and security excuses for shameful land-grabbing, we shall never arrive at a two state solution acceptable (even grudgingly) to both sides.

American Presidents in the past, and certainly during these past few decades, have given sound support to Israel in its stand within a hostile Arab world in the Middle East. But the American bear-hug has also allowed us to say we are truly looking for a two-state solution while blatantly continuing our settlement policy in Palestinian lands. This is a policy that will eventually destroy the democratic moral fiber of our country, and perhaps also lead to the physical melt-down of our Jewish democratic homeland.

If you are truly a friend of Israel as a democratic Jewish homeland, which I believe you are, please don’t continue the overdone bear-hug. Please be a true friend, one who takes us to task for those acts that are counterproductive to both our physical future and to our moral standing as a democratic Jewish homeland. I know that we here in Israel will make the final policy decisions. But our decisions have always taken into account the American bear-hug which has generally looked away from our failings in the occupied territories. Be a true friend. Stop looking away. If we need a detox period, help us bring it on.

I know….helping us as I ask may get you into hot water with many other American Jews who will paint you as an enemy of Israel. But this is not an election year anymore, and you have an eight year surge, and most of your contributions came via the web. Give us the proper guarantees while going thru detox. After we get to a two-state solution, my fellow American Jews will come around. But most of all, you will have done the right thing……..for us Israelis and for the Palestinians. It will not solve the conflicts in the Middle East, but it will alleviate some tensions enough to allow better dialogue between the United States and the Arab world. This is good for America. This is good for the world. This is good for us.

I am well aware that you have so many other issues to resolve in the immediate future. Our conflict will not top your list on the 21st of January. But remember us in February, because without your help, settlements will continue to grow and expand in the Palestinian occupied lands and our conflict will continue seeding a full blown conflagration that will also land at your doorstep.

Along with my sincere respect and admiration for you, I wish you the strength and stamina and wisdom that we so expect from you as the President of the United States.

Aaron Sharif
Kibbutz Gesher Haziv, Israel

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Olives at home and in Kafr Salaam

sent 21.Oct.2008
The olive season is upon us once more. On the Shabbat before Sukkot we had the entire family, children and grandchildren, filling every nook and corner of our house. We took the opportunity to continue an almost yearly family tradition and dragged everyone outside for an olive harvest. Lots of olives this year on many trees, but smaller than we’d like. Still, we chose a tree, surrounded it, climbed it, spread a tarp underneath it, and about 40 hands of all sizes harvested enough olives to fill about 100 liters of large jars. God bless a large family that works together. Then again, after getting the olives home, the long mundane tasks of sorting, cleaning, soaking, jarring and heaving them up to the top shelf of an outside closet were left up to Iris and me. Now we wait and hope we put the right amount of salt, peppers, lemons, garlic, dafna leaves and love into each jar.

On the week of Yom Kippur the olive harvest started also in the occupied territories of the West Bank. That week I spent Erev Yom Kippur watching, guarding and picking olives in the groves of Kafr Saalem outside of Shchem. Here the harvest is a lot more complicated and frustrating. The farmers of Saalem need to get special permission from the army each time they want to go work their own fields. For many reasons this turns out to be a long and arduous bureaucratic process. After getting permission the farmers are still fearful of going to work. The fields belonging to the families of Kafr Saalem are in the vicinity of the so-called “legal” settlement of Alon-Moreh and the “illegal” Scali Camp. Jewish settlers from both of these have harassed, attacked, assaulted, maimed and hospitalized farmers attempting to work their fields or pick their olives. Groves have been set ablaze, whole areas of trees have been hacked, butchered and destroyed. Saalem farmers dare enter their own olive groves only when accompanied by Israeli “do-gooders” who keep the settlers at a distance. For the past few years I’ve been coming to the groves of Saalem. My encounters with settlers have at worst been in the realm of name calling, from “leftist shit” to “traitor” and the such. On the day two settlers opened fire with their army rifles slightly over the heads of our group I wasn’t there. Today, on days the army allows the farmers and us to climb the hills leading to the olive groves, there is also somewhere nearby a police or army vehicle. They are there to prevent incidents between the Jewish settlers and the Israeli “leftist weirdoes”. They are not there to protect the farmers from the settlers. That’s why I continue going to the groves of Saalem, huffing and puffing my way up. The difficulty of working their own land is only one of the absurd and frustrating facts of life in Kafr Saalem. While being there we encounter the theft of land and water by the settlers of Alon-Moreh. We drive on a road forbidden to Arabs. Without army permits (each time) they can’t even cross it to get to their fields. Though they are almost a suburb of Shchem, they can only get there by a long round-about route to the Chawara Checkpoint where hours of waiting and frisking are the norm. Here, every so often someone dies or looses a baby while waiting to go thru the checkpoint in the hot sun or drenched rain. A complex situation. Some of the restrictions are to protect our country, but most are to protect the pseudo-legal and blatantly illegal Jewish settlers in the occupied territories. Sometimes I cry, but mostly I just make another trip to the olive groves of Saalem near the “pseudo-legal” Alon-More and the “illegal” Scali Camp. So be it.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

MaCain and Palin vs. Obama

Sent 25.Sep.2008

A friend of mine recieved a letter about the up and coming elections in the United States. She forwarded to me the letter with a remark that she "can’t dismiss her opinion out of hand". Being I greatly disagreed, I responded to her friend's letter.

This was her friend's letter:
Helen we don't agree on the US election in November. The world is suffering from a lack of leadership - USA - Israel - everywhere. The US is going through an extremely difficult financial crisis which I believe will have long lasting effects in this country and probably a strong negative effect on the world economy.
I am voting for the McCain Pallin Ticket.
I could not cast my vote for Barak Obama.
FYI I am an independent voter - I am NOT registered as a Democrat or a Republican as I don't feel that either party represents me. I also cannot tolerate the partisan politics in which both parties engage.

1. I don't respect a man, Barak Obama, who could sit in church for 20 years and listen to his Pastor spew hateful inciting racist statements I am not a racist and do support white or black racism. Obama claims he wasn't aware of these tirades. I cannot believe that in 20 years, such a bright man, was not aware of the hateful statements his pastor was spouting. Let us turn the tables around. Would either you or I sit in a synagogue for one half hour and listen to a Rabbi speak so hatefully? I don't think so. Would we consider voting for a white person who supported or listened without a response to these hateful ideas? I don't think so.
2. I cannot support a candidate who draws a moral equivalent between terrorist acts and the State of Israel. I believe he is very naive about foreign policy especially when I hear him say that he wants to evaluate and get to the core of the terrorist mentality so that he can understand why they act the way they do. Obama has frightened me when he identifies those whom I consider to be terrorists and gives them credibility by calling them "legitimate" seekers of peace" He believes in meeting with them without any pre-conditions. The UN did the same when they gave Yassar Arafat the same honor. They empowered him. Barak Obama would do the same. What have we learned from history?
3, John McCain has never drawn a moral equivalent between Israel's right of self defense and terrorist acts. He does not call terrorists "freedom fighters"
4. Mr. Obama, in my view, is an empty suit. He has served 3 1/2 years of his first 6 year term as Senator - half of which time he has spent campaigning.
Regarding Sarah Palin
5. Obviously this was a political decision on the part of John McCain. I do not agree with or support her views on abortion, gun control and hunting. I contribute to Planned Parenthood, and animal rights groups. Although I do not support her views on these issues I don't feel that it is valid to beat this woman up for her accomplishments as a Mayor of a small town and currently as Governor of the State of Alaska.
I am disappointed in Gloria Steinem who represented the voice of women and fought for Women's civil rights and equality. Sarah Palin is entitled to the same equality. She was probably able to rise to her current position partially because of the women's movement of the 60's 70 and 80's. It is ironic that the Republican Party has chosen a women as a VP candidate. Sarah Palin does not fit the "concept" of a liberated woman but in my view she is quite a strong and independent thinker and entitled to her choices. They may not be my choices but I don't believe that once we have paved the way for women to rise to powerful positions that we have the right to legislate her thinking and positions. It is one thing to disagree with a candidate's decisions but quite another to put the candidate down based on their gender, appearance, family life etc.
6. Although Sarah Palin practices and supports the concept of 'right to life" I don't believe that she is a proselytizer. Her political record shows supports this. Let us not forget the Thomas Jefferson, a man who wrote that "All Men Are Created Equal " owned more than 100 slaves.
7. Sarah Palin in her experience as Mayor and Governor has had more experience as a decision maker than Barak Obama as a Senator.
8. Did you know that the women employed by the Obama campaign are paid 82 cents on the dollar that men earn. In his acceptance speech at the Democratic convention Obama distinctly said that he would like to see a world in which his daughters would receive equal pay for equal work. The policy in his political office is therefore quite hypocritical and a disgrace.
Partisan Politics.
9. Most recently the Democrats have engaged in the worst kind of Partisan Politics. I am quite disappointed in Hillary Clinton's decision to withdraw her appearance at a rally scheduled to take place on Monday at the UN apposing Iran's potentially Nuclear Power and Ahmadinejad's scheduled appearance at the UN. Hillary decided to withdraw when she learned that Sarah Palin was also invited to appear as a speaker at the rally. . Senator Clinton represents NYS and is my Senator, I resent that she feels that this issue protesting Iranian Nuclear Power is less important than her appearing at the same rally with Sarah Palin. The issues and the best interest of the country should supersede petty partisan politics. FYI, the Democrats lobbied and asked that Sarah Palin's invitation be withdrawn and so no one of this stature will appear at the rally.
Although it was my intention to attend the rally I decided not to do so based upon the priorities of partisan politics.
10. It is my belief that John McCain is the candidate who will most likely put himself above Partisan Politics.

To this I replied:

I read the letter you received from A----, and being you wrote that you "can’t dismiss her opinion out of hand" I needed to respond. There were a number of things that bothered and perplexed me in her letter. I’m writing this to you, even though it is written as if to A----. So here goes, just a few points………

Hello A----,
I am not voting in the American elections. I am far away for many years and do not feel American enough to give me the right to vote. But being the US has such a large effect on the rest of us in the world, I do have the right of opinion. I read you letter to Helen about the elections and would like to comment on some of your conclusions:

1. I like John McCain. He gives a friendly honest impression. But he is backed by a party that is backed by businessmen, politicians and citizens who are backed by many of the values that I think are wrong, harmful and so often downright unethical. Some of those values and the policies they generate have made the US loose its leadership role in the world, and loose its ability to lead a united democratic front to oppose the rise of fundamentalist surges within the Moslem world. These are policies that have made the gap between poor and rich in the US the widest in the western world and have also kept the federal government from poking its nose into the unethical business finaglings that have recently greatly wounded US and global economies.

2. No president can “rule” without a solid backing of his backers. He will need his senators and congressmen to pass legislation, and these are the Party that holds the values mentioned above – regarding religion and state, regarding birth control, regarding immigration, regarding regulation of Fat-Cat earnings, regarding taxation of the rich, regarding gun control, regarding the dangers of global warming, alternative energy and oil and oil and oil, and don’t forget health care and social security. Even if McCain is a total “Democrat” on these issues (which he is evidently not), he will need to make tremendous compromises in order to get the backing of at least a fair part of the Republicans in the House and Senate (remember also who are the big financial backers of many of these elected Republicans?) During the campaign we already saw how McCain is able to backtrack and compromise on issues in order to get the backing he needs.

3. Palin ?!! It is difficult to understand how you can “not agree with or support her views on abortion, gun control and hunting….” And yet support her simply because she is “strong and independent”. It can only be understood if you actually support (and you have the right to do so) her other beliefs from “our mission from god” in Iraq to a disbelief in the dangers of global warming. If this is not so, then I can only gather that you support her only because she is a woman. This too is legitimate, but in my eyes (the eyes of a far away Hillary supporter), this is a dangerous choice considering her views and the fact that you are probably right in calling her “strong”. Considering her views, I would wish for her to be weaker. But more. Statistics of male life expectancy, give her a pretty good chance of becoming president. With her views ? support her just because she is a woman ?? Wow !! unless you also support most of her views. That would be understandable and legitimate.

4. I had difficulty understanding your decision not to attend the rally at the UN opposing Iran's potential Nuclear Power just because Hillary decided she doesn’t want to appear together with Pallin. Hillary made here decision according to her political sensors, whether you agree with them or not (remember the US is in the final month of a very special election campaign). But the moment the rally turns really non-partisan (neither Hillary nor Palin), you decide not to go because of partisanship. You, as Hillary, have a right to your priorities. But why knock her, when there is little difference between both your decisions?

5. Terrorists. Oh my. I’ve always been perplexed with the US administration’s black and white approach to what is a terrorist. I live in a country that constantly needs to cope with terror. In the past, Menachem Begin was a terrorist – who was fighting for a Jewish State and later on made one of the few peace agreement that we’ve made with an arab country. The US has also had it’s past terrorists: the Indians whose land was being taken from them, the Boston Tea Party, to name a few. And yes, Arafat was a terrorist. Having done everything in our power (with Liked governments) to undermine the Oslo agreements and his ability to present his people with a State, we ended up with the Hamas, and traded a fairly secular terrorism looking for a country with a fundamentalist terrorism looking for the world. Perhaps there are Statesmen in the US who are willing to differentiate between the two, seek a modus vivendi with the one, and through that to halt the tremendous surge of the other - fundamentalist terrorism. Obama seems to be saying that it’s a road that needs to be tested. MaCain and the Republican party are not (and certainly not Palin the huntress). I realize you are voting for them because you too see all terrorists as entities we can not talk to. It is a legitimate opinion, but hopefully a very wrong one.

OK. Enough. I really should say a few words about Obama and what you write about him (a very “White” approach to his background). But I’m not campaigning right now and I’ve commented enough.


Monday, September 1, 2008

appraising 43 years of questions.

sent Sept.2008
Recently, a close friend and relative asked to interview me as a prelude to deciding whether to engage in a study of secular Americans who made aliya. The question she and her group were thinking of investigating was the reasons for secular American Jews to leave the land of endless opportunities for the land of milk and honey. Some time during our talk I told her that I think the great majority of secular Americans came because they thought of themselves fulfilling a Zionist destiny. I ventured that the reasons for coming were not so diversified among this minority group of immigrants to Israel. It seemed to me that a much more interesting study would be to see the diversification of attitudes today towards their original Zionist decision. I said this of course because it’s a question which I think I’ve grappled with throughout the years since coming in 1965. I proceeded to give her a very short synopsis of my own attitudes.

In some sketchy form it would appear like this:

1. I grew up as a naïve social-Zionist who saw in the creation of Israel the embodiment of a revival of the Jewish people and the ability of our nation to exemplify to the world the meaning of social justice.

2. I came to Israel to be a builder of that revival and joined a kibbutz in order to work via the highest expression of social justice. As far as I was concerned Israel and the kibbutz were headed in the right direction.

3. My first years in Israel were occupied with adjusting, working and raising a family. I remained a naïve social-zionist clouded to the various processes developing around me.

4. My first awakening jolt came as a result of the war in 1967. No. not the war. And no, not the military occupation itself, but the rude and disturbing public awakening for a Greater Israel during the years after the war, accompanied by frenzied settlement in occupied territories.

5. The Israel of my youth began crumbling as through years of military occupation and harmful settlements, through years of having four sons serving in an army of occupation, Israel became a country with more and more people resolved to an environment of violence, extremism, discrimination, hate and corruption, while becoming consumer and dollar oriented led by the 20 or so families who control the country’s finances and have created one of the widest schisms between the poor and the rich in the western world; and less and less a country whose priorities are the search for peace, education, social welfare, and being a light unto the nations.

6. Having been a Yeshiva student from a secular home till the end of high school, I’d always seen the Jewish religion as part and parcel of my Jewish secular life. After years of seeing how the Israeli religious establishment and its followers have become the backbone of Jewish divisiveness between Jew and Jew, the mentors of hate and discrimination in the occupied territories, the supporters of illegal settlements, the teachers and preachers of right-wing extremism, and one of our main obstacles to learning to cope with our neighbors and enemies, my respect for our religious fellowship in Israel crumbled to ashes.

7. For many years I saw the kibbutz as a bulwark of a different society, a society where human value is measured in behavior rather than in wealth. I joined the effort to build and deepen such a society. In my own kibbutz, as in many others, that effort was waging a losing battle against the seeming opportunities of the consumer world and the kibbutz’s own inability to cope with individual aspirations within a diversified community. My model community slowly lost its meaning through internal disintegration, and then quickly turned into something else as it was consumed and assimilated by the larger surroundings.

8. The disappointment and frustration in the dissolution of my expectations and dreams regarding the triad of my younger naïveté, my religion – my country – my model society – did not succeed in driving me away from a hope that all three will eventually tread the golden road. Naïveté melted over years of reality while expectations were mellowed with the knowledge of uncertainty in the struggle to fulfill earlier and present hopes.

9. It is a moot point to ask whether I would still come here “then”, if I had known what I know today. “Then” I would still be younger and naïve without having the perspective of time. Even if I knew the situation of “today”, I would still not realize the difficulty in the struggle to change reality. Nor would I know the surprising abruptness of some changes in reality. At any rate, I’d like to think that the younger me would still hop on the boat for Israel with the challenge of changing the future.

10. The inertia of life molds some of the boundaries of our possibilities and opportunities. In the 1980’s I was already disappointed with the reality of my kibbutz community, from a community with vision to an empty shell of a kibbutz framework. I saw little hope in changing the direction of that reality. I was looking over the fence and probably would have liked trying other places, meaning other kibbutzim. By that time, in our 40’s, we had four sons and four elderly parents to take care of. We were anchored. We also thought of taking a leave via “shlichut” abroad for a few years, both as a mission and as a “breather”. That too was scuttled by the need to care for elderly parents. I don’t think at any point were we contemplating “leaving” the country. I don’t remember it ever even being an “if we could”. Nor was I ever going to leave the ideal of a kibbutz. Anyways, we were anchored. In the end, of course, the kibbutz left us and we were turned into a suburban center of the nearest town. The inertia of life has fairly impenetrable boundaries. Within them rest our possibilities and opportunities.

11. For many years now, I’ve entertained another important question: Knowing what we know today, and being frustrated with the possible future of our country, what would I suggest to my children? I am deeply worried for my four children and eight grandchildren. In 1982 when Katyusha rockets fell heavily around us for a period of three weeks before it was possible to silence them, we took our selves and our children into underground shelters never thinking of running down south to a safer haven. In August of 2006, when rockets were again pounding our area for over a month and most of the community drove south, Iris and I knew we weren’t going anywhere. We stayed put. Two of our children living here, now married and with two of their own, drove south and returned only after the war was over. I was very glad they went. But, I was also sorry that the feeling of “we shall not be moved from here” which was so natural in 1982 was almost totally missing in 2006. I know, there are reasons for it, and times have changed, and don’t judge one period thru the lens of another. Nevertheless, I think I silently rebuked my children for having “run away”. And yet, I was glad they went. These are conflicting emotions with no need to ease the conflict between them.

12. I could never leave the country unless I saw all hope for a future gone, or was forcibly driven into the sea. We live under the constant prediction of war. We are threatened with possible nuclear destruction. We are at the forefront of the storm brewing between Islamic fundamentalism and western civilization. All this goes far beyond the frustrations of religion/country/society gone sour. In reality, it is a perilous existence. Yet, I won’t leave. Through vision or delusion, I have hope. But what of our children and grandchildren ? Am I willing for them to gamble on my hope ? No problem….they’re grown up and make their own decisions. But should I tell them that I’d like them to leave for safer shores ? …….just in case……?........perhaps they’re not totally aware of the risk…..? Of course, if they were to leave I would probably silently rebuke them for “running away”, but perhaps I would be somewhat relieved that the family line has a better chance for a safe future. No matter…..I’ve never raised the issue out loud with our children. I probably never will. It’s a subject which will remain as one of my silent conflicts.