Thursday, June 24, 2010

Gilad Shalit and a Woman Called Ooma

Sent  24.June.2010

Dear friends and acquaintances,
A few observations re: some recent activity……………

Gilad Shalit is an Israeli soldier captured by the Hamas and held for 4 years concealed somewhere in Gaza with no possibility of contact with family or Red Cross. This morning Iris and I (and Marcia Greenfeld) joined a few thousand other Israelis in a march from Gilad Shalit’s home in Hilla all the way to Jerusalem via Nahariya during the first day of the 12 day march in support of securing Gilad’s release. Along the way Iris and I were interviewed by some TV network who asked me why I was there and whether I thought the march would do any good. I told them that I’m there in order to help keep the affair of Gilad Shalit alive in the public eye as one more issue screaming to our government that its policies towards Gaza, Hamas, and the Palestinians in general are so deeply flawed and not working.

Let me digress a bit (bear with me, and we’ll get back to Shalit)….…….

A few days earlier, with a very small group, I visited Ooma’s home in the Palestinian town of Burin not far from Shchem (Nablus). The town of Burin with its population of almost 3,000 sits on a low hill between two very hostile Jewish settlements. The settlement of Yitzhar sits on a higher hilltop to the south, and the settlement of B’racha sits on a higher hilltop to the north. Ooma is a mother of a few young children. She and her husband and a set of grandparents live in a house on the periphery of Burin right below the overlooking hilltop of Yitzhar. Ooma’s house has windows with bars….but not only. Each window is also covered with a sturdy meshed net as protection against the stones thrown at them on many occasions, but mainly at night, by both youngsters and adults from the settlement of Yitzhar. A few years ago Ooma’s family still had a herd of goats and sheep. The goats were set on fire (!!) while grazing on the side of the hill close to home. Later Yitzhar settlers came and led away all of their 40 sheep. While this was happening they had time to call the police who came and saw the sheep being led away. They asked Ooma’s husband for papers of ownership. There are none. Sheep have been in the family for generations. Ooma’s husband asked them to use the true and tried Palestinian method of identification: allow the sheep to freely make their Pavlovian way to their memorized home. This was unacceptable to our Israeli police who never asked for papers of ownership from the Yitzhar sheep-robbers. The sheep kept being led up the hill to their new home in Yitzhar. The goat and sheep pens outside of Ooma’s house remain empty. Ooma is also a “Video Volunteer” for the NGO B’tzelem. She received a video camera to record whatever she can of violent excesses by the settlers of Yitzhar. Outside of Ooma’s home, facing the hilltop of Yitzhar is the family olive grove. Some time ago Ooma managed to film Yitzhar settlers setting fire with bales of hay to a section of the grove and smashing trees and branches in another section. Her film went via B’tzelem to the proper authorities. No settler was ever taken into custody for questioning. The settlers of Yitzhar and B’racha have a well known and recognized policy. It’s called a “Price Tag”. If the police or army attempts to pressure them as a result of their actions, an immediate additional “Price Tag” is paid by the local Palestinian towns, especially Burin and Hawarra. Cars are set aflame, rocks are thrown, people are injured, homes are graffitied ….all by settlers bearing legal rifles. Ooma’s family has been living this life for thirty years, since first Yitzhar graced their hilltop. The settlers of Yitzhar are radical orthodox Jews who see the use of violence as a proper method of letting the Palestinians know who are the lords of the land, and as a way of pressuring the local populace to begin accepting the need to leave. We, the Israeli public and our various governments have allowed Ooma and her family to live like this for thirty years.

This brings me back to our soldier Gilad Shalit……..

What help can be expected by thousands of us marching from Hilla to Jerusalem?? Should we really release 1450 prisoners, many with murdered Israelis in their resumes, in exchange for one soldier?? (something unheard of in the history of prisoner exchanges…..except in Israel.) Without releasing all those prisoners how can we face Gilad’s parents and the parents of other young soldiers who we send out to defend us with a promise of always being there for them?? Yet how can we face the parents or wives or children of murdered Israelis by releasing their murderers??...and, perhaps, the real issue is what is best in the long run for our problematic country as a whole?? No, I can’t comfort myself with clear answers. I tend to hope that we are strong enough and will be wise enough to create policies which will inhibit a return to violence and terrorism by those we release. But my confidence is awfully hesitant. Of some things, though, I am certain. As long as Ooma and her family in the town of Burin live the way they do with the Yizhar hilltop overlooking their home; as long as there are so many other Oomas and their families throughout the occupied territories; as long as there are so many settlements like Yitzhar with violence so transparent or even subtly hidden under the guise of “fringe elements”; as long as all of that continues, we will have more Gilad Shalits and we will have many more prisoners with which to make (or not make) exchange deals.


Sunday, June 13, 2010

And the Siege of Gaza Continues

Sent 13.June.2010

And the siege of Gaza continues:
It's difficult to follow events without commentating.

I read in yesterday’s newspaper that following the world condemnation of Israel as a result of the Marmarac tragedy, we (Israel) will now allow some more items, such as cinnamon, instant coffee and some herbs, to enter Gaza. Perhaps this announcement symbolizes the type of idiotic siege we have executed on the population of Gaza. The list of allowable items is short. We contend justifiably that we are in a state of violent hostility with the Hamas (and certainly they are with us). Even when they assert an acceptance of a Two-State agreement between us and the Palestinian Authority, they hedge and call this is a very temporary arrangement - until they take over all the Zionist held Lands. Perhaps we have a justifiable right to see to it that weapons of all sorts do not end up in the arsenal of those who wish to destroy us. Right ?? But wait a minute…… Instant coffee?? Cinnamon ??

The possibilities of a sea embargo on weapons of all kind are many and varied. We could have justified it to some sympathetic nations who could have been involved in participating with us in an embargo which pinpoints weapons of every kind. But….We didn’t want anyone’s participation. Anyways, would anyone agree to join us in an embargo of coffee and cinnamon ???

An embargo on cement and building materials was justified by us as a way of frustrating the ability of Hamas to build bunkers that would make it easier for them to resist any attack, while they fire rockets on Israel. Meanwhile, rebuilding destroyed homes from our last invasion remains greatly hindered for lack of building materials. Of course, we could have asked for some type of international supervision on the use of building material, but we did not. After all…who can we trust ?? And still, what have cinnamon and instant coffee got to do with building materials ??

As a result of a siege that put instant coffee and cinnamon on a comparable level with weapons and building material for Hamas bunkers, we will now be depicted as capitulating to the voice of a hypocritical and sanctimonious world opinion rather than to the voice of reason, morality, and just plain better long-term world politics.

We didn’t want anyone’s participation in how we handle the siege. We don’t trust anyone. They’re all against us. This seems to be a basic element of our policy decisions. But is it true and should it pervade our strategic thinking ??

Policies based wholly or partly on the principle of “the whole world is against us anyways”, is wrong politics, self-fulfilling, counter-productive, and also simply a deviation of the truth. We have strategic allies at a given moment. We have countries who do their best to support us for whatever (!!) reasons (e.g. Poland and Germany) We have a friend like the United States (its not like family, but it is a friend), we have friends in many Western countries who would stand up for us if we gave them a chance and behaved in a way that would enhance those friendships rather than put them in an untenable position.

A defensive siege of the Hamas ?? For that we even have allies in the Middle East among our closest neighbors. The Egyptian, Jordanian and Saudi governments, and most certainly the Palestinian Authority supported the weapons siege of Gaza, and even building materials. But….we allowed our solo policy, our distrust of any other participation, our interpretation of how to execute the siege, and our solo tragic bungling out at sea, to bring it all down to instant coffee and cinnamon, and to the inability of our supporters in the siege to raise their voice.

There will be more humanitarian boats to break the siege. But now, even if each boat were filled with known terrorists, or loaded with a shipment of rockets, Israel will still be the violent aggressor. Unless………..Israel can still convince allies and friends to enter a joint agreement for a supervised defensive blockade……It’s a bit late, but perhaps they’ll agree…….at least we and the world will be aware that we tried…..maybe.


Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Leftist comments to Leftist Friend

Sent  9.June.2010

Dear Friends,

During this past week, as a result of the Marmarac Boat fiasco and tragedy, my 9th Workshop group has had a somewhat feverish interchange of mail. Much of it has been between my friend M-----, a very Active and true peace activist, and others who have cast doubt on her loyalties and intentions.

For anyone interested, I bring here M-----’s latest respond (and, afterwards, my own letter which I then forwarded to her):

(M-----'s letter to our Workshop group):
Dear -------- [9th Workshoper who wrote to M----]

I guess we have a fundamental disagreement here. And that is about who (or, more precisely, to my mind, what) our enemy is. One thing that I've come to believe, based on my experience over the years, is that the enemies that are most important to deal with are not people but systems (governments, political ideologies, militaries, and the like). I do know what side I'm on. I try to take the side against oppression (be it of Jews or Blacks or Aboriginal peoples in North America, or of Palestinians in Israel and the territories it controls; Tibetans, Fulan Gong, etc.) and for as much justice as possible. This doesn't make an enemy, for instance, of my mainland Chinese friend who tells me how right his government is in their treatment of the last two, and how stories of abuse of the FG are probably fabricated . . . Nor does it make enemies of Palestinians who may or may not have voted for Hamas (not my favourite party) or who might prefer a single democratic state to the regional confederation I favour--or, of course, of workshoppers or others who seem to me to be overly mistrustful of people whom I have mostly found to be both trusting and trust-worthy.

I too believe that the survival of the Jewish people is of fundamental importance. But I do not accept the argument that the Jewish people are in danger of being obliterated. The evolution of an ethnocentric "Jewish state" called Israel into another sort of entity, whether a distinct part of a confederation or a less distinct component of a single state does not mean the obliteration of the people of that state, which, I contend, is the important thing, and not the state in and of itself.

To me, peace is also not an end in itself. Peace without a reasonable measure of justice and equitable relations between both "sides" (in a political sense) is not, in my view, worthy of the name, nor is it sustainable--as we know from history. I apologize if my words seem to you to be venomous and hate-filled. They are not intended to be either, although I do get a bit hot under the collar when folks start calling me names for sharing reports and opinion pieces, from Israeli and first-hand witness sources, of a different view than theirs. Exasperation is my overwhelming feeling--certainly not hatred!

I don't think the "integrity and forthrightness" you speak of having admired in me has somehow morphed into "mauvais foi" (which I'm assuming translates as 'bad faith') and suspect motives. I see myself as being pretty consistent--and I hope true to the memory of my dad,who walked the picket lines of other unions that he agreed with (e.g., longshoremen and daycare teachers) when his own (municipal employees) wasn't allowed to strike and supported the IPP even when accused by a friend who worked for the FBI of being a card-carrying Communist (which he wasn't, incidentally, though many of his other friends were). I was taught, in my largely secular home, and in my Conservative sunday school, that human and civil rights were something that Jews fought for side-by-side with those to whom they were being denied. When the U.S. acted in a way he found reprehensible, he spoke out; I try to do so vis-a-vis both of my countries of citizenship, Canada and Israel--having returned my U.S. passport in 1969 along with a statement explaining my disgust, first at the VietNam war, and then (the straw that broke this particular camel's back) its going ahead with (what turned out to be only the first set) underground atomic tests in the Amchitka Islands, ignoring the predictions (thankfully eroneous) of many scientists that this could result in tidal waves along the West Coast of both Canada and the US (not sure about Mexico).

…….. I don't think I'm saying anything now very different than I was back in 1986 (Israelis and Palestinians working to end their common enemy: the occupation),………. But I realize …… what has changed is that since then, I actually lived in Jerusalem for seven years, during most of the first intifada and the first two years after the signing of the Oslo Accords, and have visited eight times since then--and I've seen Israel's "mauvais foi" in action . . . .in perpetuating and strengthening this "enemy"--the occupation, and becoming increasingly oppressive in its policies and actions. It sickens me to think about it, because, as someone pointed out, this is family. I'm an only child, but if I had brothers, I think this is how I'd feel if my brothers and sisters were mistreating my cousins. We're so close in so many ways; we need to smarten up before we destroy each other. But (and this is the bit you can't forgive me for, I suspect) I place the primary responsibility on the stronger party; the country with a recognized and governable land base and a well-equipped military . . .

So I guess we'll agree to disagree, hopefully not as "enemies."

(My letter to M----- after reading her response to a letter from another of my Workshoppers.) :

Dear M-----,

We agree on so many things, that often I find it unnecessary to add to your comments. In the larger picture, I too know which side you’re on, and am proud to stand beside you as we “take the side against oppression”. I have certainly envied you at your ability to spend so much time actively in the pursuit against oppression. My own involvement, whether in the West Bank or with Israeli Arabs or with “writing about”, have unfortunately been all too marginal to the needs of work and family. I wish I had done so much more. I shall continue to genuinely salute you even as I point out some of my disagreements with you once we descend from the “big picture” to the nitty-gritty of what we are striving for.

You are so right in stating that “the enemies that are most important to deal with are not people but systems - governments, political ideologies, militaries, and the like.” (I probably would have added religious establishments at the top of that list….). Such being the case, here in Israel we need to fight and oppose the actions and policies of our government, its political ideologies, and its cooperation with religious messianism. Likewise, we need to convince the “people” that our opposition is justified. Up to this point I think we are in complete agreement. But you seem to find it more difficult accepting the fact that Israel has enemies who are “real” and are actually intent on its demise, and that these enemies are fairly well entrenched within the Palestinian community and the Middle east community as a whole. Hamas, Hezbollah, Iran are all symbolic of that which is possible within our Middle East and which also has inroads into the Palestinian community. I try not to read too much of what my own country says that “they” say about us. I try to be attuned (in English) to what they say in the Arab and world media. Unfortunately, peace and mutual understandings are not their message. And each, to its own people, applies also a zealous system of oppression. This means that there is much need to also fight the policies and actions of these governments, political ideologies, and extremist religious regimes. And, above all, this is not a separate issue. It is closely intertwined within our Arab/Israeli conflict and to the alternatives we offer while being opposed to the policies and actions of our own government.

However, a really deep chasm separates our individual understanding of the future we seek regarding the State of Israel. You write:

“I too believe that the survival of the Jewish people is of fundamental importance. But I do not accept the argument that the Jewish people are in danger of being obliterated. The evolution of an ethnocentric "Jewish state" called Israel into another sort of entity, whether a distinct part of a confederation or a less distinct component of a single state does not mean the obliteration of the people of that state, which, I contend, is the important thing, and not the state in and of itself.”
Your ability to see us as some “less distinct component of a single state” - is notably a statement accepting the demise of Israel and placing ourselves as an (eventual) minority within a Palestinian State surrounded by the fundamentalist ideologies within the Middle East, ideologies which are slowly enveloping a greater part of the Middle East. One of our fights with the Israeli government is the fact that its policies are destroying the Two-State resolution and bringing us exactly to the future which you are offering.

In the 1920’s I may have joined the Brit-Shalom movement in Palestine, a movement seeking a one-state entity of the kind you envision. In the first half of the 1920’s the British actually tried to push the setting up of a joint government with a great Arab majority. The Palestinian powers-to-be wanted neither Brit-Shalom nor the British proposals. Since then much water has flooded and crippled the bridge. Perhaps with two separate states (or even an equal confederation of states) we will eventually learn to accept and respect each other.

Today a one state solution will be a Jewish State with a totally undemocratic approach to 40% of its population (and eventually to the majority of its population), with a continuation of violence from both sides. Down the Road it will be a country with an Arab Majority either being oppressed or taking over and oppressing. No, as you write, this “does not mean the obliteration of the people”, the Jewish people, but it will mean the obliteration of a Jewish homeland. It is amazing how quickly the generations forget that the strength and security of the Jewish people in the lands of the Diaspora are umbilically tied to the existence of Israel as a Jewish homeland. (a very imperfect homeland, but that’s why we continue our opposition to those terrible imperfections.)

A few days prior to the Marmarac fiasco and tragedy an acquaintance/friend of mine working in B’tzelem sent me mail asking what my opinion was about cooperating with other NGO’s outside of Israel who are grouped loosely as “BDS” (Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions). Should we join them directly in their struggles regarding the Palestinians? My answer to her is below. It may be relevant to what we are both writing about.

I find myself in a reverse role to that which I am accustomed to. I am a constant critic of my government’s actions and policies towards the Palestinians as people, towards a political settlement thru two-States, and towards the Arab citizen’s of Israel. At times, though (like now), I need to proclaim that within the need to decide between black and white we cannot be blind to the grey between them.

I look forward to our meeting once more, next time you are in Israel.
Stay well and active,

Friday, June 4, 2010

Flotilla, Flotilla

Sent  4.June.2010
This Flotilla Festival has had me alternating between moaning, crying, ignoring, agonizing, lots of Facebooking, and also laughing.

Moaning at the incredible blunder which placed our soldiers in an untenable miscalculation, and at our leadership who placed them in that situation.

Crying at the loss of life, at the pain of those wounded soldiers and (well-prepared) activists, at the absurd type of Gaza siege which invited such a confrontation, and at the naivety, hypocrisy, duplicity, and sanctimoniousness pursued by most of the world press and nations.

Ignoring it all for brief moments of tranquilizing calm by shutting down those awful house pets, the TV, radio, computer and Facebook extremists who would appreciate our acceding immediately to the demise of our country.

Agonizing, and lots of it, at how our citizenry has allowed us to be stuck with a government that has brought us this past year to the heights of idiocy. A government whose main concern is "Security", while creating a totally insecure future for us. A government that does what it wants because it says "the whole world is against us anyways"….and is doing everything to make that statement come true.

Facebook-ing a bit in a number of "flotilla" groups defending my country, but not it's policies. Condemning the duplicity of "peace-loving" activists, but also the way the Gaza siege is handled. (it ain't easy in a Facebook full of extremists on all sides.)

Laughing, yes, also laughing. They say that laughing begins when things are too serious for crying…..well, here we are.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Majed Abusalama manages a fairly prolific page on Facebook called “Bridges of Peace between Gaza and Israel”. Some time ago I had joined that page. A few times I wrote to Majed Abusalama complaining about his use of the page to castigate Israel while not at all noting the failures towards peace of the Hamas government in Gaza. (I've never received a response, and it has me questioning the true motives of the Facebook Page. Is the page a "front" or is Majed Abusalama actually afraid to answer...?? ). My latest message to Majed Abusalama (I think I sent him an e-mail) was during the first days of the Flotilla Tragedy and Fiasco. Here it is:

Dear Majed Abusalama.
As I am a long time activist for Palestinian rights in the West Bank against the criminal and immoral activities of Israeli settlers in the West Bank, and as an opponent to Israel's actions and policies towards Gaza, I must admit that the tragedy at sea seems to have been caused by both sides. This, after seeing all the video clips taken by both sides and which have so far appeared for us to see (though I admit to writing this before any inquiry is able to give us even more info on what happened). Israel's actions and policies towards Gaza and the siege are unacceptable and we need to wake Israeli and world public opinion against the siege of civilian progress. By the way, the organizer of the Flotilla said that this was not simply for bringing humanitarian supplies. The main purpose was to break the siege over and over again. That is why they could not accept having the supplies delivered by Israel or the Red Cross. This is definitely justified. What is not justified is the preparation ahead of time to cause a violent incident on one of the boats, using knives-iron bars-chains-Molotov cocktails-etc, essentially trying to maim (and perhaps kill) while fighting in close quarters face to face, before a larger group of soldiers manages to board the boat. To do this and not to expect a violent response is improbable. the violent response came just as was expected and indeed desired by that group of fighters on that one boat. they are as much at fault for the tragedy and the deaths as is Israel for the way it conducts a siege on Gaza.

Therefore, dear Majed Abusalama. I mourn the tragic death of victims in the Palestinian/Israeli conflict. Israel’s policies and actions towards Gaza and the siege are wrong, destructive and counter-productive. But in order to be what you call yourself, “Bridges of Peace between Gaza and Israel”, you cannot see just one side of the conflict. Conflicts move towards peace only when both sides begin understanding each other’s pain. In your many good messages you never call for a mutual end to violence. You never ask for a stoppage of rocket fire from Gaza into Israel, or for Red Cross privileges to a captured soldier, or for a Hamas government which recognizes a permanent two-state resolution of the conflict. In the Flotilla tragedy you very justly denounce Israel’s policy of siege and the tragic deaths, But you evidently accept as legitimate the active preparation to fight the soldiers who boarded the boat with knives-iron bars-chains-Molotov cocktails-etc, essentially trying to maim and (perhaps) kill while fighting in close quarters face to face in order to stop more soldiers from boarding the boat. They meant to initiate violence as a tactic. But it is a tactic that becomes a full partner to the tragic deaths that follow. Violence brings more violence. You will not really become “Bridges to Peace” until you acknowledge and denounce the violence from both sides. Peace will have a chance only thru a mutual rejection of violence. I will continue to be an active opponent of my government’s policies and actions towards Gaza and the siege. Hard as it is, please join me as a Bridge by doing the same on your side of the siege. can you make that happen ??