U.S. Senators tell Netanyahu to stop!

Dianne-Feinstein-with-Susiya-residents

Senator Diane Feinstein (D-CA) with residents of the Village of Susya

I’m really amazed that U.S. Senator Martin Heinrich (D-NM) — my Senator — added his name, along with nine other Senators, to a letter to Prime Minister Netanyahu urging him not to destroy the Palestinian village of Susya. I haven’t seen Senator Heinrich’s support for Palestine in past years, but maybe I need to be looking closer. His signature on this letter certainly earns my appreciation.

In September 2017, I shared Rabbi Arik Ascherman’s testimony to Congress about Susya here.  Another very good summary of the history of the conflict pertaining to Susya was written by a religious Jew, Zionist and former IDF soldier — Shaiya Rothberg. Here’s the link to that Tikkun article in December 2016.

Susiya-Tent

Photo credit – Guy Butavia, The New York Review of Books – ‘I Am an Illegal Alien on My Own Land’ by David Shulman

Rothberg writes: “The Israel-Palestine conflict is complex, but Israeli policy in Susya is simple: It consists of destroying Palestinian Susya by dispossessing and expelling her residents, and in parallel building Jewish Susya, populated by Israeli Jews.

First, it is clear that this is not legitimate government. Why do we respect the authority of the state to plan our shared spaces? Because as citizens we can equally participate in the state’s decision making process and because the state is responsible for our wellbeing. But the Palestinians of Susya do not live in the State of Israel and are not Israeli citizens. They are denied any role in state decisions regarding them. And the state does not seek their wellbeing but rather to destroy their village and build a settlement for Israeli Jews in almost the same spot. This is not legitimate government but a form of organized crime. To argue that the homes of Palestinian Susya are “illegal”, because our discriminatory regime authorizes building for Jews but prohibits it for Palestinians, is a mockery of the idea of law.

Susya is a national test for Israel. I believe that anyone who cares about Israel or Judaism must help us break out of this immoral and self-destructive cycle. We need you to take a stand. Destroying Susya will cause terrible suffering, unjust and unnecessary, and endangers the lives of us all. If you care about Israel, this is the time to raise your voice in protest – and wake up your community to do the same – before our bulldozers are sent to destroy the homes of the defenseless residents of Palestinian Susya.”

The Senators’ letter is unusually strong but until Congress is willing to make demands of Israel that carry some consequences, I fear these words won’t stop Netanyahu from carrying out his plans.

November 29, 2017

His Excellency Benjamin Netanyahu
Prime Minister of Israel

Dear Prime Minister Netanyahu:

We write today to urge your government not to demolish the Palestinian village of Susiya and the Bedouin community of Khan al-Ahmar. The displacement of entire communities would be an irreversible step away from a two-state solution, and we urge your government to abandon its efforts to destroy these villages.

As you know, Susiya sits atop private Palestinian land in “Area C” of the West Bank, and has existed in the South Hebron Hills since at least since the 1830s. Today, approximately 45 families—including 85 children—call Susiya their home and survive through subsistence farming and shepherding.

Khan al-Ahmar is a Bedouin community of 170 people situated east of Jerusalem and adjacent to the settlement of Ma’aleh Adumim. It has a mosque and a local school built of recycled tires and mud, which serves more than 150 children from the surrounding area. Because of the community’s location, demolishing Khan al-Ahmar would make it increasingly difficult to establish a contiguous Palestinian state as part of any future two-state solution.

Earlier this year, we were alarmed by the public comments of Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman, who said that “work was being done to implement plans to evacuate the Palestinian villages of Susiya in the South Hebron Hills and Khan al-Ahmar near Ma’aleh Adumim within a few months.”

Instead of forcibly evicting these communities, we encourage your government to fairly re-evaluate Susiya’s professionally-developed master plan and provide the residents of Khan al-Ahmar equal building rights. Your government’s threats to demolish these communities are particularly distressing in light of the Israeli Civil Administration’s efforts to dramatically expand settlements throughout the West Bank.

According to the Israeli non-government organization Peace Now, in 2017, Israel advanced 88 plans that include 6,742 housing units in 59 separate settlements, a 258 percent increase in the number of housing units proposed in 2016. Further, your government officially approved the construction of the new settlement of Amihai, which is in addition to the 19 settler outposts that have been retroactively legalized since 2011.

We have long championed a two-state solution as a just resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Yet, your government’s efforts to forcibly evict entire Palestinian communities and expand settlements throughout the West Bank not only directly imperil a two-state solution, but we believe also endanger Israel’s future as a Jewish democracy. We urge you to change course so that you do not foreclose the possibility of establishing two states for two peoples.

Sincerely,

Dianne Feinstein
United States Senator

Bernard Sanders
United States Senator

Patrick Leahy
United States Senator

Richard J. Durbin
United States Senator

Tom Carper
United States Senator

Al Franken
United States Senator

Elizabeth Warren
United States Senator

Martin Heinrich
United States Senator

Jeff Merkley
United States Senator

Brian Schatz
United States Senator

 

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Palestinian child prisoners – H.R. 4391

Betty McCollum

Rep. Betty McCollum

A brave Congresswoman from Minnesota (Betty McCollum) recently introduced a bill to end the Israeli military detention of Palestinian children.  H.R. 4391

GovTrack predicts it has less than a 5% chance of passing. So why would she subject herself to the inevitable vitriol from Zionists and ardent supporters of Israel with those odds?  Because real leaders don’t do what’s expedient, they do what’s right.

 

Cowardice asks the question – is it safe?

Expediency asks the question – is it politic?

Vanity asks the question – is it popular?

But conscience asks the question – is it right?

And there comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular; but one must take it because it is right.  Martin Luther King, Jr.

Twelve other members of Congress acting from a place of conscience have cosponsored the bill as of this date. I’m going to ask my Congresswoman Lujan-Grisham to sign on.

Blumenauer, Earl [D-OR3] (joined Nov 14, 2017)
Carson, André [D-IN7] (joined Nov 14, 2017)
Conyers, John [D-MI13] (joined Nov 14, 2017)
Davis, Danny [D-IL7] (joined Nov 14, 2017)
DeFazio, Peter [D-OR4] (joined Nov 14, 2017)
Grijalva, Raúl [D-AZ3] (joined Nov 14, 2017)
Gutiérrez, Luis [D-IL4] (joined Nov 14, 2017)
Pingree, Chellie [D-ME1] (joined Nov 14, 2017)
Pocan, Mark [D-WI2] (joined Nov 14, 2017)
Jayapal, Pramila [D-WA7] (joined Nov 15, 2017)
Johnson, Eddie [D-TX30] (joined Nov 15, 2017)
Khanna, Ro [D-CA17] (joined Nov 15, 2017)

In a world where the Rights of the Child should not be controversial, and protecting those rights should be as easy as protecting Grandma’s apple pie, the U.S. Congress will be avoiding H.R. 4391 like a hot potato.

The bill is short and reads like a homework assignment in human rights.  Share it with your member of Congress and ask where they fall on Martin Luther King, Jr’s spectrum. Are they a coward or a person of conscience?

A BILL

To require the Secretary of State to certify that United States funds do not support military detention, interrogation, abuse, or ill-treatment of Palestinian children, and for other purposes.

Short title

This Act may be cited as the Promoting Human Rights by Ending Israeli Military Detention of Palestinian Children Act.

Findings

Congress finds the following:(1) Israel ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child on October 3, 1991, which states—

(A) in article 37(a), that no child shall be subject to torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment;

(B) in article 37(b), that the arrest, detention or imprisonment of a child shall be used only as a measure of last resort and for the shortest appropriate period of time;

(C) in article 37(c), that every child deprived of liberty shall be treated with humanity and respect for the inherent dignity of the human person, and in a manner which takes into account the needs of persons of his or her age; and

(D) in article 37(d), that [e]very child deprived of his or her liberty shall have the right to prompt access to legal and other appropriate assistance, as well as the right to challenge the legality of the deprivation of his or her liberty before a court or other competent, independent and impartial authority, and to a prompt decision on any such action.

(2) In the Israeli-occupied West Bank, there are two separate legal systems, with Israeli military law imposed on Palestinians and Israeli civilian law applied to Israeli settlers.

(3) The Israeli military detains around 500 to 700 Palestinian children between the ages of 12 and 17 each year and prosecutes them before a military court system that lacks basic and fundamental guarantees of due process in violation of international standards.

(4) Approximately 2,700,000 Palestinians live in the West Bank, of which around 47 percent are children under the age of 18, who live under military occupation, the constant fear of arrest, detention, and violence by the Israeli military, and the threat of recruitment by armed groups.

(5) Since 2000, an estimated 10,000 Palestinian children have been detained by Israeli security forces in the West Bank and prosecuted in the Israeli military court system.

(6) Children under the age of 12 cannot be prosecuted in Israeli military courts. However, Israeli military forces detain children under the age of 12 and question them, for several hours, before releasing them to their families or to Palestinian authorities.

(7) Human Rights Watch documented, in a July 2015 report titled Israel: Security Forces Abuse Palestinian Children, that such detentions also included the use of chokeholds, beatings, and coercive interrogation on children between the ages of 11 and 15 years.

(8) The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) concluded, in a February 2013 report titled Children in Israeli Military Detention,that the ill-treatment of children who come in contact with the military detention system appears to be widespread, systematic and institutionalized through­out the process, from the moment of arrest until the child’s prosecution and eventual conviction and sentencing.

(9) The 2013 UNICEF report further determines that the Israeli system of military detention of Palestinian children profoundly deviates from international norms, stating that in no other country are children systematically tried by juvenile military courts that, by definition, fall short of providing the necessary guarantees to ensure respect for their rights.

(10) UNICEF also released reports in October 2013 and February 2015 noting that Israeli authorities have, since March 2013, issued new military orders and taken steps to reinforce existing military and police standard operating procedures relating to the detention of Palestinian children. However, the reports still found continued and persistent evidence of ill-treatment of Palestinian children detained by Israeli forces.

(11) In 2013, the annual Country Report on Human Rights Practices for Israel and the Occupied Territories (Annual Report) published by the Department of State noted that Israeli security services continued to abuse, and in some cases torture minors, frequently arrested on suspicion of stone-throwing, in order to coerce confessions. The torture tactics used included threats, intimidation, long-term handcuffing, beatings, and solitary confinement.

(12) The 2013 Annual Report also stated that signed confessions by Palestinian minors, written in Hebrew, a language most could not read, continued to be used as evidence against them in Israeli military courts.

(13) The 2016 Annual Report noted a significant increase in detentions of minors in 2016, and that Israeli authorities continued to use confessions signed by Palestinian minors, written in Hebrew. It also highlighted the renewed use of administrative detention against Palestinians, including children, a practice in which a detainee may be held indefinitely, without charge or trial, by the order of a military commander or other government official.

(14) The nongovernmental organization Defense for Children International Palestine collected affidavits from 429 West Bank children who were detained between 2012 and 2015, and concluded that—

(A) three-quarters of the children endured physical violence following arrest;

(B) under Israeli military law, children do not have the right to a lawyer during interrogation;

(C) 97 percent of the children did not have a parent present during their interrogation;

(D) 84 percent of the children were not properly informed of their rights by Israeli police;

(E) interrogators used stress positions, threats of violence, and isolation to coerce confessions from detained children; and

(F) 66 children were held in pre-trial, pre-charge isolation for interrogation purposes for an average period of 13 days.

(15) Amendments to Israeli military law concerning the detention of Palestinian children have had little to no impact on the treatment of children during the first 24 to 48 hours after an arrest, when the majority of their ill-treatment occurs.

(16) In 2002, the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child, which monitors implementation of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, reviewed Israel’s compliance with the Convention and expressed serious concern regarding allegations and complaints of inhuman or degrading practices and of torture and ill-treatment of Palestinian children during arrest, interrogation, and detention.

(17) In 2013, the Committee declared that Palestinian children arrested by Israeli forces continue to be systematically subject to degrading treatment, and often to acts of torture and that Israel had fully disregarded the previous recommendations of the Committee to comply with international law.

Purpose

The purpose of this Act is to promote and protect the human rights of Palestinian children and to ensure that United States taxpayer funds shall not be used to support the military detention of Palestinian children.

Sense of Congress

It is the sense of Congress that the detention and prosecution of Palestinian children in a military court system by the Government of Israel—

(1) violates international law and internationally recognized standards of human rights;
(2) is contrary to the values of the American people and the efforts of the United States to support equality, human rights, and dignity for both Palestinians and Israelis;
(3) undermines efforts by the United States to achieve a just and lasting peace between Israel and the Palestinians; and
(4) should be terminated and replaced with a juvenile justice system in which Israeli authorities do not discriminate between the treatment of Israeli and Palestinian children and that adheres to internationally recognized standards of human rights and obligations.

Statement of policy

It is the policy of the United States not to support the military detention of Palestinian children, a practice that results in widespread and systematic human rights violations against Palestinian child detainees and is inconsistent with the values of the United States.

Prohibition on United States funds to support military detention of Palestinian children

(a) Prohibition

Notwithstanding any other provision of law, none of the funds authorized to be appropriated for assistance to Israel may be used to support the military detention, interrogation, abuse, or ill-treatment of Palestinian children in violation of international humanitarian law or to support the use against Palestinian children of any of the following practices:

(1) Torture or cruel, inhumane, or degrading treatment.
(2) Physical violence, including restraint in stress positions.
(3) Hooding, sensory deprivation, death threats, or other forms of psychological abuse.
(4) Incommunicado detention or solitary confinement.
(5) Administrative detention, as described in section 2(13).
(6) Denial of access to parents or legal counsel during interrogations.
(7) Confessions obtained by force or coercion.
(b) Certification

Not later than October 15, 2018, and annually thereafter, the Secretary of State shall submit to the Committee on Appropriations of the House of Representatives and the Committee on Appropriations of the Senate—

(1) a certification that none of the funds obligated or expended in the previous fiscal year for assistance to the Government of Israel have been used by such Government to support personnel, training, lethal materials, equipment, facilities, logistics, transportation or any other activity that supports or is associated with any of the activities prohibited under subsection (a); or
(2) if the Secretary cannot make such a certification, a report describing in detail the amount of such funds used by the Government of Israel in violation of subsection (a) and each activity supported by such funds.
(c) Additional matter in existing reports

The Secretary of State shall include, in each report required under section 116 of the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961 (22 U.S.C. 2151n), a description of the nature and extent of detention, interrogation, abuse, or ill-treatment of Palestinian children by Israeli military forces or police in violation of international humanitarian law.

Olive harvest and children

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Turn ‘Black Friday’ into Golden Generosity

“Black Friday” represents good shopping deals to some, and the cash register ringing for retailers when their bottom line goes from red to black, but for me it’s become a day symbolizing what’s rotten about the USA and I can’t pretend to hide my scorn.

Few realize the origin of “Black Friday” —

The first recorded use of the term “Black Friday” was applied not to holiday shopping but to financial crisis: specifically, the crash of the U.S. gold market on September 24, 1869. Two notoriously ruthless Wall Street financiers, Jay Gould and Jim Fisk, worked together to buy up as much as they could of the nation’s gold, hoping to drive the price sky-high and sell it for astonishing profits. On that Friday in September, the conspiracy finally unraveled, sending the stock market into free-fall and bankrupting everyone from Wall Street barons to farmers.

The modern version spells bad news for the climate, the economy and the human spirit. But rather than itemize the doom and gloom of crass consumerism and why it’s so bad for our souls and the planet, I’m sharing some tips for alternative “shopping” if people have greenbacks in their wallets. Avoid your credit cards. If you don’t have the cash in hand, you shouldn’t be caught up in holiday shopping of any kind. Sit down, stretch your imagination and make your gifts.

Two years ago, I blogged about gift ideas from my perch in Cairo, see here.

Idea #1 – Remember the refugees.

More than 20 million refugees have fled their homes. Most are living in dire circumstances today, caught between violence, disease, lack of security and respect, and an uncertain future. Treat yourself and family to Ai WeiWei’s documentary ‘Human Flow’ perhaps playing at a theatre near you.  The filmmaker suggests some actions we can take, check it here.  (My sister has been making microloans with Kiva for years. I’m going to follow her example.)

A store is opening in London, the first of its kind, where shoppers can stop by and purchase gifts for refugees. The retail space has been donated by a real estate investment trust. The organization, Help Refugees, will get the gifts into the hands of refugees and an online store is planned soon. If you’re not in London, you can donate here.

Friends in Washington, DC can purchase a Palestinian falafel sandwich for $3 and a portion of each dollar will be sent to help feed refugees worldwide. Check it out here.

Give a gift to a Palestine refugee through UNRWA-USA, the agency that’s been working closely with refugees in Gaza, the West Bank, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon. Check out the button on the top right corner here.

If you have the time, flexibility and desire to help refugees directly, there are many opportunities. I recommend Advocates Abroad currently operating in Greece.

Idea #2 – Double the impact.

Good journalism requires eyeballs and subscribers. Give holiday subscriptions to family and friends. You’ll be supporting the journalism you appreciate and sending a subtle message to the gift recipients where their attention should be focused.  Of course, a digital subscription is preferable.

My favorite recommendations include:

Yes! Magazine — “YES! Magazine reframes the biggest problems of our time in terms of their solutions.”

The Nation and the Christian Science Monitor are my two picks for keeping informed on international and local news.

Idea #3 – The children in your life.

This might be the toughest part of holiday giving, at least for me. I remember my own childhood and unwrapping tons of gifts Santa had spread under the tree. I want children today to feel the same anticipation and excitement.

Olive harvest and children

Children in Gaza – 2013

Children everywhere need security, love, education, a planet that can sustain them, and adults who respect their needs today and in the future. If the TV commercials would only drum that message into consumers’ heads rather than the latest iPhone 10 and electronic gadgets.

Books are a good gift for any age, and if you can find them at your local independent bookstore, that’s even better.

P for Palestine

P is for Palestine – A Palestine Alphabet Book sold out within days of its launch in November 2017 but you can preorder your copy of the second edition for delivery in Spring 2018 here.

Other titles to consider:

White and Black – Political Cartoons from Palestine by Mohammad Sabaaneh (2017) for teens and adults.

The Last Earth – A Palestinian Story by Ramzy Baroud (2017) has not been released yet but can be pre-ordered here.

The Anteater and the Jaguar by Rayek R. Rizek (2017) is another book I’m ordering. It’s available on Amazon.

In addition to books, give your time to the children in your life. Itemize your talents (cooking, drawing, story-telling, sewing, knitting, hiking, writing, photography, fishing, etc.) and prepare a home-made gift certificate with a promise to share your talent with your child in a real and meaningful way.

Family photo album with names, dates and stories about family members is a gift I wish I’d received as a child, and I wish I’d given to my own. My family photos are scattered in boxes in storage now.

Time with the children is the best gift any parent can give any child of any age. Their time is priceless because many parents are working two jobs just to put food on the table. Carving out a day, a weekend, or an hour every evening just for your child may be challenging, but the effort will reap rewards for everyone. (This goes for Grandparents, Aunts and Uncles, and everyone else.)

hiking

Photo Credit: Michelle Lake 

Idea #4 – Put your money where your heart is.

I don’t believe our hearts reside in Wal Mart #1 retailer, Costco #2 retailer, or Kroger #3 retailer in the U.S.  Shop with thoughtful intention during this holiday season and every day.

Chain store proliferation has weakened local economies, eroded community character, and impoverished civic and cultural life. Moreover, consolidation has reduced competition and may harm consumers over the long-term. See here and here.

Remember, you’re the role model for your family and friends. Happy Holidays!

 

 

 

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Dreaming of Freedom

dreaming-of-freedom

Dear Representative McCollum,

Thank you for sponsoring H.R. 4391, Promoting Human Rights by Ending Israeli Military Detention of Palestinian Children Act.  I want to help educate your colleagues in Congress about the serious abuses perpetrated upon Palestinian children by Israel, including military detention and torture.

Your legislation requires that the Secretary of State certify that American funds do not support Israel’s military detention, interrogation, abuse, or ill-treatment of Palestinian children. This measure should be a no-brainer, but I know that the Israeli lobby will fight tooth and nail to obfuscate the issues.

I highly recommend a book on this subject “Dreaming of Freedom: Palestinian Child Prisoners Speak” (June 2016).  I hope the testimonies of Palestinian child prisoners who have been subjected to Israeli detention and torture will be part of the public record.

I will ask my member of Congress from New Mexico to cosponsor your bill. If there’s anything further I can do to help, please let me know.

Sincerely,

 

 

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When is “anti-Semitism” NOT anti-Semitism?

antisemitism

The program on Baltimore’s WYPR caught my attention because it was focused on a discussion about anti-Semitism with Ira Forman, a distinguished visiting professor at Georgetown University and senior fellow at the University’s Center for Jewish Civilization. Professor Forman, who has worked for more than forty years as a leading advocate for Jewish culture and community, is currently teaching a course in Contemporary Anti-Semitism. Previously, he spent four years as the State Department’s Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism.

This 40 minute program is worth a listen, here.

I thought the host, Tom Hall, did a great job with the discussion about BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) but, unfortunately, his guest’s mischaracterization of anti-Semitism went unchallenged. I wrote him a letter to point out the problem.

Dear Mr. Hall,

I listened to your program today with Ira Forman and was pleased with your discussion about BDS.
However, Mr. Forman was incorrect with his 3Ds (Delegitimize, Demonize, Double Standards) to describe an anti-Semite.
Wikipedia notes that “the 3D Test of Antisemitism is a set of criteria put forth by Natan Sharansky to distinguish legitimate criticism of Israel from antisemitism. The three Ds stand for Delegitimization [of Israel], Demonization [of Israel], and [subjecting Israel to] Double standards, each of which, according to the test, indicates antisemitism. It was published in the Jewish Political Studies Review in 2004. The test is intended to draw the line between legitimate criticism towards the State of Israel, its actions and policies, and non-legitimate criticism that becomes antisemitic.”
Although the 3D test has been adopted by the State Department and has gained wide acceptance among Zionists and Israel lobbyists, it is a recent aberration which the State of Israel has been vigorously pushing.
The correct definition of anti-Semitism is “hostility toward or discrimination against Jews as a religious, ethnic or racial group.”
The clear danger of the Israeli government’s definition is the chilling impact it has on legitimate free speech. The potential sting of being called an anti-Semite silences many (most?) people who have legitimate criticisms about Israel’s 50-year occupation of Palestine.
Shielding the State of Israel from criticism has been a major foreign policy objective for its government for decades, but recent efforts have intensified in response to the growing success of the BDS movement.
I hope there will be an opportunity to correct the record on your program sometime in the future.
Sincerely,
Lora Lucero

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Dystopia

A question for my friends who are history buffs.

Were there any journalists in Germany in the 1930s writing about the shocking and disgusting actions occurring in the concentration camps? I’m talking about contemporaneous reporting that provided the truth behind the barbwired fences.

Dachau

Inmates in Dachau line up. This photograph was on the cover of the Munchen Illustierte Press edition on July 16, 1933. Photo credit: USHMM Photo Arhives

Although I found this photo published in 1933, my hunch is that the German people were not informed about the atrocities occurring in the camps — the medical experimentation, the severe deprivations of food and other basics of life, and the gas chambers.  The Germans didn’t know about all of that, right?  (Please correct me if I’m wrong.)

In Israel today, thanks to journalists like Gideon Levy and Amira Hass, the average Israeli has access to the brutal facts about Israel’s occupation and 10+ years blockade of Gaza, the largest open air prison on the planet.

Although Israel has prevented Israeli journalists from entering Gaza for many years, reports are getting out, like this report [Gaza Kids Live in Hell: A Psychologist Tells of Rampant Sexual Abuse, Drugs and Despair] from Israeli psychologist, Mohammed Mansour.

Mohammed Mansour

Mohammed Mansour, a psychologist who volunteers in Gaza with Physicians for Human Rights. Tomer Appelbaum – Hareetz

Gideon Levy writes: Mansour describes dystopia, a society that is falling apart. Devastation. Gazans demonstrate astonishing endurance, spirit and solidarity in their families, villages, neighborhoods and camps, after all the plagues they have suffered: refugees, children of refugees, grandchildren of refugees and great-grandchildren of refugees, are falling apart.

Mansour described an all-out struggle for survival, with addiction to painkillers as the last refuge. Nothing is left of the Gaza we knew. Nothing reminds us of the Gaza that we loved. “It will be difficult to restore Gaza’s humanity. Gaza is hell,” says Mansour.

This is a man-made, evil catastrophe just as Hitler’s concentration camps were …. there is no difference, and no justification.

Maybe Germans didn’t know what their leader was doing to an entire generation of Jews secreted away in those concentration camps. The Israelis today have no excuse for the state’s inhumane cruelty perpetrated on several generations of Palestinians. History will judge Israel, its leaders and its people harshly, as it should.

 

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Why we pretend to know things*

*Thanks to Sean Illing for writing about Steven Sloman‘s work as a cognitive scientist in “Why we pretend to know things, explained by a cognitive scientist” published on Vox.com on November 3, 2017 here. I encourage you to read it.

This is my response to Illing’s provocative article mentioned above.

Most of us know that we’re living in information bubbles, especially those of us who frequently rely on social media (Facebook and Twitter) for our news diet.

But Steven Sloman, a cognitive scientist, provides a thoughtful explanation about our bubbles.

The author of The Knowledge Illusion: Why We Never Think AloneSloman’s research focuses on judgment, decision-making, and reasoning. He’s especially interested in what’s called “the illusion of explanatory depth.” This is how cognitive scientists refer to our tendency to overestimate our understanding of how the world works.

The decisions we make, the attitudes we form, the judgments we make, depend very much on what other people are thinking,” he said.

So let’s take Donna Brazile’s “bombshell” that she dropped on Americans about the “secret agreement” in 2015 between the Clinton campaign and the DNC as an example.  Clinton agreed to make serious infusions of cash into the bankrupt DNC in exchange for control on certain DNC hiring and other decisions during the primary.

I watched the furor unfold on Facebook.  Bernie Sanders’ supporters roared “We knew the primary was rigged, and Donna’s disclosure has proven it.” Many heaped praise on Brazile for her “courage.”

Clinton’s supporters yelled “Treason” and “Foul play!” and quickly condemned both the message (“a lie” “every candidate signs the same agreement”) and the messenger as a self-promotional, treasonous bitch.

Steven Sloman says:

I really do believe that our attitudes are shaped much more by our social groups than they are by facts on the ground. We are not great reasoners. Most people don’t like to think at all, or like to think as little as possible. And by most, I mean roughly 70 percent of the population. Even the rest seem to devote a lot of their resources to justifying beliefs that they want to hold, as opposed to forming credible beliefs based only on fact.

Damn right, Steven.  I was shocked by the vituperative attacks against Donna Brazile, most led by Clinton’s supporters or Dem Party loyalists. I understood the self-congratulatory tone that many Bernie supporters took, but even they were disconnected from any facts. They don’t know (still don’t know) what kind of influence the Clinton campaign actually wielded on the DNC during the contested primary season.

I’d just finished reading Clinton’s memoir “What Happened” the night before Brazile’s “bombshell” landed. I wanted to give Clinton the benefit of the doubt and hoped that she, or her spokesperson, would provide a quick and thorough explanation to put the whole controversy to rest. I waited. And waited. Her spokesperson finally issued an unresponsive press release. Guess I shouldn’t have been surprised.

I watched as everyone formed their opinions about this “bombshell” and it was clear no one knew what they were talking about. Steven Sloman explains:

One danger is that if I think I understand because the people around me think they understand, and the people around me all think they understand because the people around them all think they understand, then it turns out we can all have this strong sense of understanding even though no one really has any idea what they’re talking about.

No shit, Sherlock!

But some people do try to rise above the crowd: to verify claims independently, to give fair hearing to others’ claims, and to follow the data where it actually leads. In fact, many people are trained to do that: scientists, judges, forensic investigators, physicians, etc. That doesn’t mean they always do (and they don’t always), just that they’re supposed to try.

Well, I pride myself for being an “independent thinker” — at least trying.  But I catch myself and kick myself for falling into “group think” and so I know it’s impossible to disentangle oneself completely from the sway of public opinion.

I applaud Steven Sloman’s goal and share it.

I like to live in communities that put a premium on getting things right even when they fly in the face of social norms. This means living with constant tension, but it’s worth it.

Now, what does this have to do with Israel / Palestine and Gaza, the subject of my blog?

Many self-described activists for Palestine will easily condemn Zionists and everyone else who cheers for Israel as thoughtless dupes who don’t know the “truth” about the 50-year occupation.

Many self-described Zionists will condemn the activists for being Hamas stooges and bleeding heart leftists.

Neither side will give the other any credit for exercising independent judgment and analysis. And now it appears, based on Steven Sloman’s work, both sides may have a valid point.

The Zionists stay within their circles chanting their mantras about the Palestinians, and Arabs generally, having a murderous intent to destroy Israel.

The Palestine activists remain within their “small” networks to prop up their feeling of “rightness” and “righteousness” in the firm belief that they know the truth.

The internet is clearly making it worse in the sense that we can reach out and form these online communities of fellow believers. And the fact that our news is getting individualized makes it much worse. So, even if I want to understand what the other side sees, Google is constantly feeding me the things I want to see.

And that’s bad for all of us.

In 2011, I decided to get out of my bubble, to visit Palestine and see for myself where the “facts on the ground” might lead me. I didn’t actually make it into Gaza until September 2012, but for the next nine months I learned a lot. I tried to keep an open mind. I questioned everyone, and more importantly, I questioned myself.

Now I’m writing a book about that experience.

Steven Sloman concludes:

People who are more reflective are less susceptible to the illusion. There are some simple questions you can use to measure reflectivity. They tend to have this form: How many animals of each kind did Moses load onto the ark? Most people say two, but more reflective people say zero. (It was Noah, not Moses who built the ark.)

The trick is to not only come to a conclusion, but to verify that conclusion. There are many communities that encourage verification (e.g., scientific, forensic, medical, judicial communities). You just need one person to say, “are you sure?” and for everyone else to care about the justification. There’s no reason that every community could not adopt these kinds of norms. The problem of course is that there’s a strong compulsion to make people feel good by telling them what they want to hear, and for everyone to agree. That’s largely what gives us a sense of identity. There’s a strong tension here.

My colleagues and I are studying whether one way to open up discourse is to try to change the nature of conversation from a focus on what people value to one about actual consequences. When you talk about actual consequences, you’re forced into the weeds of what’s actually happening, which is a diversion from our normal focus on our feelings and what’s going on in our heads.

Maybe Steven Sloman has the answer. Lets try to change the nature of the conversation and focus on the consequences in the Middle East of no justice, no peace, no resolution to the conflict.

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