Category Archives: IDF

#AIPAC2017

IMG_20170326_141847221I’ve never attended the annual protest at the AIPAC policy conference in Washington DC, and I was ambivalent about attending this year.

AIPAC is the notoriously strong Israeli lobby that successfully (from its perspective) bamboozles our members of Congress into towing Israel’s objectives, even when they arguably may not be in the US interest to do so.  I’ve written about AIPAC here, here and here (among other posts).

I hopped on the train in Baltimore and arrived at the Convention Center in Washington, DC a couple of hours after the protest was announced to begin. I decided to go as an observer, wearing my keffiyeh but not carrying a sign.

IMG_20170326_142521260The protest was noisy (YEAH!) and there appeared to be a number of different groups involved (YEAH!).

I was left with two big impressions: (1) The large number of American Jews standing and yelling outside the convention center must have given the Jews inside a moment of pause. I hope that fact also makes our elected officials stop and think.

(2) The youth are not only the future of this movement to end the occupation, they have stepped up and are now the leaders.  It’s time for the old folks to take a back seat.

A woman holding the sign of a martyr killed in Ramallah by Israel last week really moved me. I don’t know if she was a family member or someone raising awareness of the ongoing killing of Palestinians, almost daily. Can my Congresswoman and two Senators not see the horrible nature of this occupation?

The young man was known as Abu Saleh, his nickname. He was the only child in the family.

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We don’t have to choose violence

In a follow-up to my post on September 6, Choosing Violence, I’m mailing letters to the President, and my members of Congress, with a copy of the article from the Boston Review.

(L to R – President Obama, Senator Tom Udall, Senator Martin Heinrich, Congresswoman Michelle Lujan-Grisham)

September 14, 2016

An Open Letter to President Obama, Senator Tom Udall, Senator Martin Heinrich and Congresswoman Michelle Lujan-Grisham:

We need to address someone who might actually listen, even if at present they cannot hear. They might be distant, but we must believe, if our conviction is to make sense to us, that there is a real chance they will receive our message. Conviction relies on a community, real or really possible, that subscribes to different standards than those of the majority.” — Oded Na’aman in Choosing Violence (Boston Review, August 15, 2016)

This letter is about choosing a different path.

I am writing because I believe each of you may hear my message. If you can’t hear it today, I’m convinced you will in the near future because each of you has shown intelligent compassion mixed with creative thinking in actions that you’ve taken in the past.  Those are the qualities we need today more than ever before.

I’m referring specifically to the tragedy in Israel-Palestine unfolding for all sides there, but my message is just as germane in every conflict the U.S. is engaged in abroad, as well as conflicts at home.

Oded Na’aman, a Postdoctoral Fellow at Stanford University, was a soldier in the Israeli Defense Forces in the early 2000s, and he’s written an insightful article entitled Choosing Violence which I’ve enclosed and encourage you to read.

The take-away message from Mr. Na’aman’s article is that violence and war are not tragedies that befall us but rather a choice we make. We choose war as a tool to respond to difficult challenges. I’m convinced we can make other choices using our compassionate intelligence and creative thinking.

The common wisdom in the United States, in Congress, and in the mainstream media, is that we must use violence to fight the terrorists. We must defend ourselves and our values with violence. We believe that our violence, as abhorrent as we may agree it is, is not by choice but by necessity.

I’ve wondered (especially after returning from my 9-month teaching sabbatical in Gaza three years ago) whether I’m a kook for believing that we can choose another path. In 2012-2013, while I was teaching young people about climate change in Gaza, I didn’t find the terrorists that my government warned me about before I traveled. I met with Hamas officials at their offices and in their homes, and I found humans struggling to lead under a long-term siege and occupation. I found humans making mistakes, as all leaders do, but trying to make life better for their people. Hamas’ tactics might be ill-advised, just as I would argue that many of Israel’s tactics are ill-advised, but I didn’t meet any terrorists.

Certainly each side argues why its use of violence is one of necessity and is justified. I’ve heard justifications ad nauseum from people in both Israel and Palestine. The truth, however, is that regardless of which side initiates the violence or defends itself against violence – both are trapped in a cycle of violence which must stop. Neither can get off the treadmill by himself. The United States must help.

Given our significant military aid to Israel, the U.S. has leverage to hold each side accountable for choosing a different path.  Why aren’t we using our leverage?

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The MOU expected to be signed this week embodies our decision to choose violence once again by pledging to give Israel $38 billion in military aid over ten years. The agreement might speak about “security” but the weapons do not represent future security for Israel but rather prolong Israel’s illegal occupation and humiliation of Palestinians.

Israel’s “qualitative military edge” undermines the possibility of building a just and long-term peace with its neighbors. Instead, we should be helping Israel build a “qualitative peaceful edge.” Israel must remain strong militarily but even stronger as a role model for respecting human dignity and human rights. What path would the U.S. be forging if our financial aid to Israel was directed towards sustainable development projects for both Israel and Palestine?

There may be quiet, private reasons for Congress’s decision to add fuel to the fire in the Middle East. I understand the historical relationship between Israel and the United States; the powerful influence that AIPAC wields in Congress and in elections. I understand how the military aid package to Israel benefits our laboratories and jobs in the U.S., which translates into votes each election cycle. There is no justification, however, for the tremendous pain and destruction perpetrated by the violence we support.

We have a choice.  Violence doesn’t choose us, we choose violence.  

I may sound like a “deluded crank” to you, but I’m convinced beyond a shadow of a doubt that true justice and the moral high ground will prove me right, hopefully sooner rather than later.

I simply ask that you step on the right side of history.  Please choose a different path away from violence.

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Choosing Violence

Sometimes, the best laid plans get side-tracked when something more pressing comes along. That happened today when a friend shared an article with me from the Boston Review.  Choosing Violence by Oded Na’aman (August 15, 2016). I dropped everything, read it from beginning to end, more than once, and then printed several copies to send to friends and to my members of Congress.

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Oded Na’aman

The author, Oded Na’aman, is a Jewish Israeli who grew up in Israel and served in the Israeli Defense Forces in the early 2000s. My hunch is that his insights are shared by many more veterans, certainly by the Israeli soldiers in Breaking the Silence.

As the title suggests, Mr. Na’aman believes that Israel chooses violence, rather than the common ethos that violence chooses Israel. He writes:

I believe that we, Israelis, did and do have choices. But how might a whole society be mistaken about such a fundamental aspect of its existence? Conversely how can individual members of society, such as me, come to doubt widespread, deeply seated belief? Sometimes actions most see as entirely reasonable are, in fact, abhorrent. At times, imperatives to which whole societies subscribe amount to mere prejudice; communities commit grave injustices while fully believing they are in the right.

These questions, perhaps not stated quite so clearly, have been rummaging around in my head ever since I returned from Gaza in May 2013.

How could my previous assumptions and understanding about the “conflict” between Israel and Palestine be so wrong? How did I come to doubt the “truth” that my country’s leaders, my family and many colleagues, and most everyone in the U.S., have absorbed as easily as the sun’s rays on a beautiful afternoon?

Am I a kook? ———- Seriously, I have wondered sometimes.  Oded Na’aman writes:

How, then, could men and women who face moral isolation tell whether they are, to use [Bernard] Williams‘s phrase, solitary bearers of true justice or, instead, deluded cranks? Put another way, how might such persons be not only just but sane, not only moral but reasonable?

He doesn’t actually answer his question —- my question —- but I’m rejoicing that someone has so eloquently given voice to my fear.  And I know I’m not a kook.

Please read his article.

Consider Israel’s ongoing campaign in Gaza, which continue to escalate in spite of obvious errors. Any reasonable review of these engagements reveals a consistent, perhaps obsessive, repetition of mistaken estimates, failures of foresight, unjustified use of force, and lack of clear objectives. If anything, strategic mistakes and moral failures have worsened with every campaign. The number of casualties illustrates this most poignantly. In the Gaza War (December 2008 – January 2009), more than 1,400 Palestinians and 13 Israelis were killed. During the last campaign, the 2014 Israel-Gaza Conflict (July – August 2014), more than 2,200 Palestinians and 72 Israelis were killed. A comparison helps to clarify just how disproportionate Israeli actions were: in the first three weeks of the 2003 invasion of Iraq, the American military destroyed 1,600 armored vehicles; in Gaza in 2014, Hamas had no armored vehicles, yet, on average, an Israeli tank fired seven times more shells per day than did an American tank in the invasion of Iraq. Israeli helicopters loosed twiced as many Hellfire missiles as American helicopters did in those three weeks of 2003. Yet no one in Israel doubts that another war in Gaza, probably harsher than the last, is in the offing.

I read those words and my heart rate jumps, I feel a silent scream rising inside, and I want to shake everyone out of their complacency.

Indifference to pain and loss — one’s own and others’ — is a prerequisite to war. Entire societies must grow numb to suffering.   … [War] punishes sanity and rewards insanity.

In the second half of his article, Mr. Na’aman writes about conviction, and maybe that IS the answer I’m looking for.

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a-Shuhada Street in Hebron, also called Apartheid Street.

He shares a true story of an incident when he and two of his friends were walking late at night up a-Shuhada Street in Hebron towards the home of a Palestinian friend. They passed a group of Jewish teens who asked them where they were going. They replied “Tel Rumeida” – the Jewish neighborhood next to their friend’s home – and walked on. One of them yelled, “Are you crazy? What are you doing walking here, in Hebron, in the middle of the night, without any protection? The Arabs will kill you! You will be slaughtered!”

They were not worried and continued walking. Observing the reaction, the kid turned to his friends and exclaimed victoriously, “I told you they are leftists!”

You see, as young as he was, the boy understood that, within Israeli society, only settlers and activists know Hebron for what it really is. Neither group subscribes to the Israeli ethos of necessary violence. The settlers condone violence and choose violence in the service of religious and ethnic causes; the activists condemn and reject it for moral and religious reasons. But both settlers and activists act from conviction rather than fear. For only conviction—the inward and full persuasion of the mind—can withstand the capriciousness of politics.

I must find a way to give voice to my conviction that the violence we see in the Middle East — Israel and Palestine — in Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere — is and has always been a violence of choice. And we can choose another path. I’m convinced.

 

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Fairness and Justice

Rabbi Baltimore

Rabbi Oberstein in the middle. Credit: Baltimore Jewish Life

Rabbi Oberstein in Baltimore wrote a letter to the Baltimore Sun (5/19/2016) to point out that “the onus [to make peace] is too much on Israel and not a little bit on the Palestinians. That is not fair or just.”

The Rabbi failed to mention these tangible signs of how Israel is treated so unfairly:

  1. Total U.S. aid to Israel is approximately one-third of the American foreign-aid budget, even though Israel comprises just .001 percent of the world’s population and already has one of the world’s higher per capita incomes. See here.
  2. The Congressional Research Service writes: “Since the establishment of limited Palestinian self-rule in the West Bank and Gaza Strip in the mid-1990s, the U.S. government has committed more than $5 billion in bilateral economic and non-lethal security assistance to the Palestinians, who are among the world’s largest per capita recipients of international foreign aid.”  Lora adds: compare this to the $3+ billion that U.S. gives to Israel annually.  A conservative estimate is that the U.S. has given more than $130 Billion in direct aid to Israel.
  3. Israel has access to some of the most advanced weaponry and defense systems in the world, including the Iron Dome and nuclear weapons.

    After five decades of pretending otherwise, the Pentagon has reluctantly confirmed that Israel does indeed possess nuclear bombs, as well as awesome weapons technology similar to America’s.

    While the BBC notes the assymetrical firepower between Israel and Palestine.  Palestinian militants have “Grad and Qassam rockets with ranges of up to 48km (30 miles) and 17km respectively.  … They also have the longer range Fajr-5, sometimes also designated the M75. It can reach up to 75km, threatening major population centres like Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.”

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    Israel’s iron dome missile defense system. Credit: abcnews.go.com

    We might also mention the unfairness of Israel’s economy versus Palestine’s economy; the unfairness of Israel’s freedom of movement versus Israel’s control of movement of every Palestinian; the number of civilian deaths in Israel due to violence between the two sides versus the number of civilian deaths in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip.

The story of the injustices and unfairness goes on and on, but then most everyone knows the difference between an occupying power and the people who are occupied.  Except Rabbi Oberstein.

 

 

 

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نكبة in 2016

Israel has not succeeded in burying the Nakba of 1948 (the “catastrophe” – the forcible expulsion of over 700,000 Palestinian Arabs from their homes, businesses and villages in what is known as the State of Israel today).  The Nakba is in every Palestinian’s memory because the tragedy has been passed on from one generation to another.

The Zionists have perpetuated the tragedy every . single . day . since . 1948 through violence, through overt policies of discrimination and expulsion, and through their dehumanizing treatment of Palestinians (let me count the ways).

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Israeli soldier taking a selfie in Jerusalem – February 2016

This week alone, I’ve learned about two examples of the Nakba. In 2016. Nearly 70 years after the forcible expulsions that turned hundreds of thousands of Palestinians into refugees.

First case. A young Palestinian refugee in Gaza, a professional engineer in his 20s, collaborated with me on researching and writing a paper about Gaza. We’ve been invited to present our paper at an international conference in Rome in June. My colleague has tried to get permission from Israel to travel abroad but Israel has rejected his requests.  He is essentially imprisoned in Gaza, unable to travel. As is the case with most Palestinian refugees in Gaza, he’s even unable to visit family in the West Bank or to travel a few miles to Jerusalem to pray at Al Aqsa Mosque.  THIS IS THE NAKBA IN 2016.

Second case. An older Palestinian refugee from Gaza, also a professional engineer who recently obtained his American citizenship and U.S. passport, was informed by Israeli border control agents this week that he can’t return to Gaza.  His aging mother is in Gaza. Other family members are in Gaza. He was turned away at the border with Jordan and now sits in limbo waiting for Israeli officials to reconsider their decision.  THIS IS THE NAKBA IN 2016.

I have no words for the disgust I feel today.

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Israel’s separation wall 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Gideon Levy: Does unconditional support for Israel endanger Israeli voices?

“Israel has lost connection with the world.”

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Israeli journalist Gideon Levy

In April 2015, Gideon Levy (the Haaretz columnist who writes frankly about Israel’s occupation of Palestine) spoke in Washington, DC with the same clarity and honesty about the change needed to save Israel from itself.

“Israel is surrounded by walls; not only concrete walls but mental walls.”

Levy shared extremely important insights about the State of Israel and Israelis.  A must watch (21 minutes) for Americans and others who wish to understand the “situation” in Israel-Palestine. There is very little hope that change will occur as long as the U.S. enables Israel’s occupation.

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“Why can’t the Palestinian leaders build a state like the Zionists did after the Holocaust?”

“Why aren’t the Palestinian leaders building a country like my parents, survivors of the Holocaust and millions like them, did with Israel, instead of building tunnels, shooting missiles and subjecting their people to untold horrors?”

I gasped when I read this question sent to me by a well-educated, university professor in Israel. It was a serious question, deserving a serious response.

Where to begin?

To dissuade my friend of any notion that Palestinians might be incapable of building a country, I’ll remind him of the cities, industry, agriculture, schools and civic life that flourished in Palestine before my friend’s parents and other Zionists arrived. Please watch this 10 minute video.

When I returned from Gaza two years ago, I wrote my layman’s version of the history of Palestine here and here. Israel’s 67 years of dispossession, ethnic cleansing, and occupation of Palestine — as well as current events, including the Palestinian resistance and Israel’s successive military operations in the West Bank and Gaza — can only be understood in the context of the Nakba. I believe my Israeli friend’s question is sincere because either he doesn’t know about the Nakba (past and present) نكبة or he has decided to ignore and minimize the ongoing impacts of the Nakba.

I credit Ilan Pappe and Noam Chomsky for opening my eyes about the Nakba.

In the late 1980s, a group of Israeli historians, including Ilan Pappe and Benny Morris, began to challenge the commonly accepted version of Israeli history based on newly declassified Israeli government documents. Morris called them the New Historians. They went head-to-head with the traditional historians who cast Israel as the peace-seeking victim in a hostile Arab world, the David-and-Goliath narrative. The New Historians shared a more nuanced history of the exodus of the Palestinians and the reasons for the persistent political deadlock with the Arab states in the region.

Professor Ilan Pappe’s book “Ethnic Cleansing” was my education about the Nakba. I hope my friend will read it. In this video, Pappe describes in great detail about the Zionists who committed the Nakba crimes. He urges us to know the names of the perpetrators, the victims, the places and events of the Nakba. Pappe also speaks about the “conspiracy of silence” by the international community in 1948. Please watch.

So . . . . . why can’t the Palestinian leaders do what the Zionists have done (are still doing) in creating the State of Israel?

  • If my friend’s parents and other Zionists had decided to live peacefully side-by-side with the indigenous population when they arrived in Palestine, as Jews, Christians and Muslims had lived for many years, we would certainly be watching very different events unfold in the Middle East today.  The footage in this short clip shows a time when Palestinians of all faiths lived and worked side by side in harmony.
  • If the Zionists believed in a democracy that values plurality rather than an apartheid regime that values Jews over non-Jews, we would certainly be watching very different events unfold in the Middle East today. Saree Makdisi explains apartheid very well here and in his book “Palestine Inside Out: An Everyday Occupation.”

“Apartheid” isn’t just a term of insult; it’s a word with a very specific legal meaning, as defined by the International Convention on the Suppression and Punishment of the Crime of Apartheid, adopted by the U.N. General Assembly in 1973 and ratified by most United Nations member states (Israel and the United States are exceptions, to their shame).

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  • If Israel had not waged three military campaigns in Gaza over the past six years, Operation Cast Lead (2008-2009), Operation Pillar of Defense (2012) which I witnessed first hand from the ground in Gaza, and the most recent Operation Protective Edge (2014), and if Israel lifted the multi-year siege and blockade of Gaza, and if Israel allowed Palestinians in Gaza to travel freely to pursue educational opportunities, visit family, accept jobs, seek medical attention, etc., — if none of these inhumane actions had occurred and were still occurring — we certainly would be witnessing a vibrant economy in Gaza with the next generation of Palestinians living in hope, not despair. Instead, the U.N. is predicting that Gaza will be uninhabitable by 2020. Some of my blog posts from Operation Pillar of Defense are here, here and here.

I can hear your retort now, my friend.  It sounds something like this.  (I hope you are not offended, but I’ve heard the same words spoken seriously by many, many Jews.)

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So long as the Zionists maintain the brutal occupation and dehumanization of the Palestinians, as they have for decades, resistance will continue.  Resistance in the form of political resistance at the United Nations, resistance at the International Criminal Court, cultural resistance such as teaching the next generation the Palestinian traditions, economic resistance, non-violent resistance in Budrus, resistance with the pen, and violent resistance.

I’ll conclude with Noura Erakat’s well-reasoned explanation of why Israel’s occupation is illegal. As an attorney yourself, I hope you will give Ms. Erakat the time and respect she deserves by reading her paper.

I appreciate your question which initiated this blog post, and I hope we will continue this discussion. Even more, I hope the occupation and dispossession of Palestinians from their land, which your parents and other Zionists started so many years ago, will come to an end very soon.

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